Friday, 28 June 2013

Green Covers - Booker T and the Miriam G's

I have got my machete out and have started hacking my way into the thick amazonian jungles of 'Seneca- Philosopher in Politics'. Its definitely a tome aimed at hardcore classicists, since all the references to other works are left in the original and each page has its bottom third devoted to footnotes and other references to scholarly articles and publications. Nevertheless, eminently readable and fascinating despite the relative dearth of hard data on Seneca's life outside a few sources (Suetonius, Tacitus, Dio etc). The family name ANNAEUS seems to have originated in the eastern provinces (Illyricum) which indicates that Seneca was born and grew up in Spain in an educated family that themselves had immigrated into the country from the East and did well for themselves, his father being quite a name in Corduba and a scholar himself, spending much time in Rome in the pursuit of rhetoric and oratorical learning.

I am at the point where the meat of the book starts or the more substantial foliage, to continue the metaphorical imagery, where Griffin looks carefully at the advisory role and activities of Seneca after his recall from Claudian imposed exile (c.41-49 CE) in Corsica and according to Claudius' wife Agrippina's wishes (who engineered his pardon and recall from exile - so this tutor gig may well have been a payback thing) becomes tutor to the boy Nero  (Domitius), who assumed the toga virilis at the precocious age of thirteen.

I am still not sure at this point at what kind of man Seneca really was. Most scholars now are agreed that its really not wise to try to rely wholesale on his works, eloquent as they often are, to recreate the qualities and character of the actual man - something which may be lost to history but there still seems to be a new book or article out on him every year ever in pursuit of the face behind the legend.

I have this sort of nightmare in connection with this subject of time travelling into the far future (the year 3489 A.D.) where I overhear a couple of scholars discussing a 'great man of ancient belles lettres of the pre-fusion era 'Earopa' and wondering if they can reconstruct his character from his excellent fragment of which seems to describe his experiences in exile in a strange place which he calls a ' HMP Wormwood Scrubs'...the name of this ancient genius? Jeffrey Aaachear. Let that be a warning to those of us who wish to view these ancient genii through overly roseate lenses.

And on that thoroughly chilling note...let me remind you that unless I hear otherwise the list of letters stands as is!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Seneca is in the building

Today I picked up the L.ANNAEI SENECAE AD LUCILIUM EPISTULAE Vol. I-III and M.T. Griffin's [Seneca, A Philosopher in Politics Oxford OUP 1976 (not the 1992 Clarendon reprint)].  So now, I will be able to get right into the letters and hopefully do some background reading on the strange days of Nero. I will keep you posted regarding any interesting facts that arise from Griffin. The Latin does seem particularly crisp and eminently quotable. This from Letter 1. 'On Saving Time' :

'Quicquid aetatis retro est, mors tenet.'

'In hoc enim fallimur, quod mortem prospicimus;magna pars eius iam praeterit. Quicquid aetatis retro est, mors tenet.'

'For we are mistaken when we see death ahead of us; the major part of which has already gone before. Whatever years are behind us, are in deaths hands.'

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Letters List, Crunching Aristotle and Senca as Statesman

So here is the list of Seneca's letters I have have drawn up based upon suggestions and with a couple of additions. Please let me know in comments if you have any changes or additions or..well, comments!

1. On Saving Time

4. On the Terrors of Death

16. On Philosophy, the Guide of Life

19. On Worldliness and Retirement  (or why go back to Plato's cave once you have left it?!)

41. On the God within us

49. On the Shortness of Life (cf. Bede's Sparrow)

58. On Being

87. Some Arguments in Favour of the Simple Life

97. On the Degeneracy of the Age

119. On Nature as our best Provider

123. On the Conflict between Pleasure and Virtue

Let me know what you think. I am off to delve into Aristotle's Physics Book VI..which looks very crunchy indeed.

There is also a book which I will be looking into called: 'Senca as a philosopher in politics' Miriam Griffin OUP 1992, which tries to construct Seneca's career and place him as a philosopher within the context of Roman statesmanship of the transitional period between the Republic and the Principate. Some boning up on Neronian statecraft and realpolitik might also be useful Seneca reminds us..time 'aint long.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Heffers Classics blog added to Blogroll

I have added heffersclassics to the blogroll at the bottom of the page. It's a good source of recent and forthcoming publications. A new translation of Herdodotus' Histories is out - Translated by Tom Holland. There is also a very interesting looking title on The Hanging Gardens of Babylon...worth a look!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Man, the Legend, the Podcast

Codex Ambrosianus
Some more source material on Seneca. Firstly a very good article form the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Seneca - which is quite informative, relatively up to date with good source references and bibliography.

If you are interested in listening to a podcast on Seneca, there is a rather good philosophy series (available on iTunes and from the website) called The History of philosophy by Peter Adamson of King's College, London. the episode dealing with Seneca is called Anger Management: Seneca and is again worth checking out. Peter Adamson has a very in depth style and quite entertaining as well.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Seneca and Nero - Philosophers and Madmen

Hail in the name of the Emperor!

I have ordered what I think to be the 3 volume Loeb series parallel texts of the Senecan Letters of a Stoic..there is something else I have found which is a study of Seneca as a philosopher in the political context of his times. Its interesting to note for example that he was Nero's tutor and is often regarded as having tempered his excesses at least during the first part of his reign. But in the later reign, terror became master of Rome under his cruel excesses. What is the nature Senecas involvement at this stage? How much is he really a philosopher as opposed to a politician out for fame and riches?

I wonder what effect if any Stoic teachings had on the young Emperor and why they ceased to be able to curb his excesses. Other accounts look upon Seneca as someone who did not follow his own philosophy and was possibly hypocritical in some ways, note his railing and pleading to be allowed back to court during his exile. Surely as a Stoic he should have been delighted to avoid the 'evils of the crowds' (Letter VII).

Worth discussing when we next meet since Stoicism seems at least upon a cursory glance such a decent and solid ethic self training system, as much then as it potentially is now...but does it stack up? And how would someone choose between Stoicism and there a possible synthesis....?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Second Meet and Seneca


The second meeting, on a relatively sunny evening and in a secluded and peaceful (dare I say Epicurean)location went extremely well and we managed to cover quite a few topics of discussion regarding Lucretius (in particular topics related to Book 1 and 2), the text as a whole and some of the issues surrounding the author, the science and the ethics. Determinism v Free Will and how they can interact.

The discussions were wide ranging and I can't remember them all but it was very fruitful and thought provoking and above all very enjoyable. It still surprises me how relatively easy it was to get this group up and running and with the help and contributions of all I am confident that we shall long continue! Thanks to all attending who made it such a success.

Aristotle in Book 6 of his Physics comments on the Epicurean atomic theory and it was suggested that we have a closer look at this text to see if it can throw any light on some of the concepts - the nature of atoms, how they interact and so on.

Discussions about the times in which Lucretius was living and of the rival schools of thought competing for the attention of the Roman literate class led on to Stoics and we will therefore be looking at Seneca (The Younger) and his Letters of a Stoic or Stoic Letters.

A version of this text can be found online here and the Latin text can probably be located at the Perseus Project website. Since it is rather long, and there are a plethora of letters, we have all been given the homework of selecting a few to suggest to the group to focus on for the next session (which is July the 14th as far as I recall and same location, again as far as I recall..please comment if this is not quite right!). So to recap, for next time: Leave your suggestions in the comments below and I will try to boil them down to a finalish list upon which to focus our attentions.

1. Aristotle Physics VI

2. Seneca's Letters of a Stoic (selections) If you find anything germane to Stoics or Stoicism please bring it in!

Thanks to our host for being excellent in all ways! Vale!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Stoics - Core Concepts and Divine Providence

It's Systematic, it's's greased Lightnin' (or Zeno's version of it anyway)

Sort of Place Zeno and Friends might have strolled in

Stoicism seems to have started out with a more systematic approach than Epicurean thought and as a result it has had a greater influence on philosophical systems to come due to its rational and ordered appearance. It went on to influence later systems of thought concerned with epistemology and ethics as well as logic.

So what are the core ideas?

Its all connected

Firstly that there is a coherent system to philosophy all parts of which mutually support each other to result in a harmonious whole. So its all connected and everything links to something else to build up the total world view of the Stoic. Note that this is in contrast to the claims of Socrates who said that he need not know about the cosmos in order to enquire into the nature of virtue. For Stoics, if you don't have the whole picture, you cant know anything properly.

Second. All fundamental philosophical questions are related. this seems to follow on from a extension from the first idea. So its all connected and you need to make all the connections to see things properly.

Thirdly, Zeno's assertion that ' our chief goal in life is to live in agreement with nature'. But there are difficulties with what nature might be understood as being and not being, for it to accord with a morally meaningful position. At least that appears to be a common contention of other thinkers of the time.

Fourthly, that 'ratio' rationality or reason is the only thing that can be called good. What we have control over and what we can be held responsible for are our inner moral impulses (presumably in accordance with Stoic ' nature'). Stoics should rely only on the inner as the compass of the soul and not by any external contingencies (the vagaries of life and 'fate').

Divine Providence vs. Random Access Memories

Stoics in contrast to Epicurus strongly adhered to the providence of the gods and a determined divine rational plan and order for the universe. In other words Stoicism was a deterministic system. You could be true to your inner self and that resulted with you falling in line with the divine plan. It must be the case that the gods or God (as embodiment of the universal supreme reason) existed for the Stoics but beyond that general statement it is not fleshed out in any detailed cosmology or physical description of the nature of the universe. It is here that we find the greatest division with Epicurus, and also what constituted a strong appeal to Christian thought with its 'divine plan'.

Epicurus: God is not there or he is not listening, Stoics: God has a plan for all of us and there is no or limited free will.

It seems that the mood of the times was such that Epicureans would have had a very hard time convincing people that the gods just didn't exist or care about us and that ' it is all random - there is no divine plan..and that the deviation in the fall of atoms provides just enough random effect for free will to be a viable idea. Epicureans are still on an uphill struggle..2,000 years later!