June 04, 2015

#04-027: Seneca (the Younger), Stoic

marble bust of a bald, bare-faced man; another bust seems to be attached to the back of his head, back-to-back
Seneca (a "double herm" with Socrates behind)

Note: Seneca promoted a philosophy called "Stoicism"--though he didn't exactly practice what he preached! Witness his hypocrisy in this lesson.

Get Ready: Who do you think is happier, rich people or poor people?

Seneca, or Seneca the Younger (about 4 BCE-65 CE) was born in Spain with the full name Lucius Annaeus Seneca. He moved to Rome at quite a young age, and lived there at the same time as Pliny the Elder (see Lesson #04-025). His father was also called Seneca; his older brother Gallio is mentioned in the Christian Bible; and his nephew Lucan was a well-known Roman poet.

Seneca was a philosopher, playwright, and statesman. He wrote of the philosophy called "Stoicism," though his way of living was seldom stoic at all!

The principles of Stoicism are still important today. These include the optimistic ideas that:

  • happiness comes from living a simple life, in touch with nature and in cooperation with one's government;
  • human suffering and a sense of mortality can help us improve ourselves; and
  • continual study is another means of self-improvement.

Although none of his ideas were original, he was praised for the way he communicated the ideas of Greeks and earlier Romans to the people of his day--and those who came after. His writings have remained popular through the ages; he has been admired by such great writers and thinkers as Dante, Chaucer, Montaigne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Seneca was the tutor to the young emperor Nero, and later became one of his closest advisers, especially in the early years of the emperor's reign. Later, however, when a plot to assassinate Nero was uncovered, Seneca admitted that he had discussed the plan with the conspirators, and was forced to commit suicide.

It's easy to see why some claimed that his life did not follow Stoic philosophy. He preached simple living, but lived like a rich man; and he taught against flattery, but regularly flattered Nero and other leaders. However, late in life he requested permission to retire to his estates in the countryside, where he lived a quiet life of study.

When Nero was told that Seneca was part of the plot against him (although some contemporary sources claim Seneca was innocent), he ordered Seneca to kill himself. With friends standing by, he died in a warm bath after opening his veins to let the blood flow out.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seneca_the_Younger

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. assassinate
  2. conspirators
  3. cooperation
  4. flattery
  5. mortality
  6. nephew
  7. optimistic
  8. playwright
  9. reign
  10. veins

  1. positive; with a cheerful outlook
  2. awareness that one will die
  3. people who plan together to do something wrong
  4. working together
  5. the giving of compliments when one doesn't mean them, in order to gain something
  6. son of an aunt or uncle
  7. period of rule by a king or emperor
  8. kill a famous figure, like Abraham Lincoln was killed
  9. dramatist; person who creates works for the stage
  10. with the arteries, the "tubes" that carry the blood inside the body

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 4, 2015

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. c; 3. d; 4. e; 5. b; 6. f; 7. a; 8. i; 9. g; 10. j