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.'


  1. A picture to provoke envy in the heart of every scholar!
    I've been enjoying the Seneca letters, very readable and full of good advice. In your earlier post you asked how one would choose between Epicureanism and Stoicism and whether there could be a synthesis. On my somewhat limited understanding, the Hellenistic philosophers generally,and not just Epics and Stoics were concerned with leading us towards ataraxia, so perhaps alot of the general advice would apply as well to one school as another. I guess there are deeper issues, so the Stoics seem to think that there is some kind of 'divine' plan, whereas the Epics don't and I'm sure there are other things (ie the Good being Pleasure or Virtue). Of course, we're lucky that we don't have to choose, though I think temperamentally I'm more of an Epicurean.

    I was listening to a podcast on Cicero today and wondered whether we might think about rounding off our Epic/Stoic foray with one of his works. One called On Ends sounds like it compares the Ends of Epics and Stoics from a Sceptic perspective. Just an idea.

  2. Yes, if we take an ataraxic state as the telos in common of the Hellenistic philosophers then I feel like you that there is a considerable amount of crossover or common roads to that condition. One of the key bones of contention is that of purpose or one's role once one has reached an ataraxic state,or the promontory of the wise man, seemed to be to Epicurus, one of refuge but for the Stoics and especially Seneca..merely a temporary respite or island of contemplation from which to launch back into public life. I still can't really see any Roman elite class member worth his salt actually staying in the Garden (of ataraxia) and on this point Seneca mentions in one of the letters "On Worldliness and Retirement'addressing Lucillus: 'tibi liberum non est. In medium te protulit ingenii vigor, scriptorm elegantia, clarae et nobiles amicitiae. Iam notitia te invasit.' Your ability and energy have thrust you into the work of the world; so have the charm of your writings and the friendships you have made with famous and notable men. Renown has already taken you by storm.' So this is why I am thinking what are the Roman Stoics really saying here. Epicurus famously said 'Lathe Biosas' Life in obscurity. Something ideally suited to the Garden but not to the Cursus Honorum...

  3. As far as a figure to round this series off, I would personally go for either Marcus Aurelius or Plutarch. MA because he is a sort of Stoic influenced but post-stoic too since he was living in a later time and thus able to have picked up some modern influences as well as the ancients, plus he is quite accessible. Plutarch because he puts the boot into the Stoics and thats always fun! To be fair to Seneca though I do think that he was a closet Epicurean, mainly due to the number of times he comes out with quotes from the 'enemy' camp carefully prefaced by "I do think that although he was an Epicurean and wrong in many ways, he said something really good about...' and seems peculiarly fond of Epicurus, some might say too fond for a card carrying member of the Stoa. The Romans were nothing if not a nation and later an empire with a mission and this is where Stoic divine Providence neatly dovetails into their narratives of the preordained masters of the known in accordance with nature..the nature of the strong over the weak. History (of the West anyway) has been plagued with such grand narratives of divine/political purpose ever since.

  4. Plutarch and MA wrote in

    I want to be able to publish quotes in Ionic/Attic Greek in the future and I have downloaded TP Ionic Trufont. Its a free downloadable font so might be worth getting it..I dont think I will need to use it yet but you never know in the future.

    The font can be located prettty easily from many learn Classical/Ancient Greek sites (Thrasymachus fro example).