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Seneca (3BC - 65AD)

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (The Younger) was born into a wealthy family in present-day Córdoba, Spain, in 3 BC. His father was a famous teacher of Rhetoric in Rome where Seneca was schooled in, and deeply influenced by, Stoic philosophy.

Seneca was not only a philosopher; he was a great orator, dramatist and statesman.

In AD 49 he was made a praetor (a municipal officer of Rome) and appointed tutor to Nero, the adopted son of the Emperor Claudius.

Although Seneca's philosophy was considered to be neither original, nor of particular depth, it was simple, practical, and virtuous; so much so that Christian writers on morality and ethical conduct have referred to him frequently over the centuries. In fact, his writings contain phrases that are suggestive of some of the spiritual doctrines of Christianity including the idea of forgiveness, that all men are brethren, and of the holy spirit.

He understood well the challenges of life and the weaknesses of human nature. He felt the role of the philosopher to be that of a spiritual advisor. Like the Epicureans, he believed philosophy should have high therapeutic value, including the Stoic viewpoint which advocates not worrying or stressing about those things over which you have no control.

Unlike the Epicureans, however, Seneca explained that by making pleasure an ideal it would mean that good resides in the senses. To the contrary, the Stoics found that good resides in the intellect, which is able to judge what is good or bad according to virtue and honor.

Seneca also wrote that the mind and courage are given to withstand what is sad, dreadful, and hard to bear. By maintaining poise and dealing with everything that occurs, good people become more capable because they regard all adversity as an exercise to gain strength. They turn hardship and difficulty into advantage. What matters is not what you bear, but how you bear it. A soft and easy life tends to produce weak people.

Letters from a Stoic

Seneca's writings also include essays on anger, divine providence, Stoic impassivity, and peace of soul. He wrote that anger is the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions calling it temporary insanity. He felt that humans were born to help each other, whereas in anger, they destroy each other. He referred to Plato's analysis that both punishment and anger are not consistent with good because one injures, and the other takes pleasure in injuring.

Seneca adhered to the Stoic premise that the happy person is one guided by reason and is free from attachment to either fear or desire. The happy life is one attained with a sound mind that is courageous, virtuous and energetic. The mind can never be exiled, because it is divine and free to explore all time and space.

Seneca's writings not only helped to make Stoicism a popular Roman philosophy, his philosophy greatly influenced the essays of Montaigne, Elizabethan tragedy, the theology of Calvin, and the doctrines of the French Revolution.

Enjoy These Seneca Quotes
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