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Who is Seneca?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2014
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Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman philosopher and dramatist of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He served as tutor to the emperor Nero and later became his advisor. Seneca's philosophical works are of the Stoic school, emphasizing the importance of reason, learning, simplicity of lifestyle, and calm acceptance of suffering and death.

Little is known of Seneca's early life. He was the son of rhetorician Lucius Annaeus Seneca, known as Seneca the Elder. Seneca the Younger was born sometime around 4 BCE and lived in Rome since early childhood. His family was from Corduba in modern day Spain.

Seneca began studying Stoic philosophy in his youth under the tutors Attalos and Sotion. He spent some time in Egypt with his aunt, returning to Rome in 31 CE, where he campaigned to become a magistrate. Seneca clashed with the emperor Caligula and later with Messalina, the emperor Claudius' wife, who ordered his exile to Corsica in 41. The philosopher spent his time in exile studying and writing.

Seneca returned to Rome in 49 at the request of Claudius' new wife, Agrippina, who retained the philosopher as a tutor for her son, Nero. When Claudius died in 54 and Nero became the new Emperor, Seneca acted as his advisor along with the Praetorian prefect Burrus. Over the years, Nero's advisors came to have less influence over him, and Seneca retired in 63, following Burrus' death, and committed himself to intellectual life.

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Nero ordered Seneca to commit suicide in 65 on suspicion that he had been involved in a plot against the emperor's life. After opening his veins and poisoning himself proved unsuccessful, Seneca entered a hot bath in order to make his blood flow out more quickly and asphyxiated on the steam.

Seneca's philosophical works are classic examples of Stoic thought. He also wrote tragedies, which were widely read and revered in medieval Europe and became an influence of such dramatists as Jean Racine and William Shakespeare. Seneca also wrote a satire on the reign of Claudius and a seven-volume work on meteorology.

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