Who was Seneca? (c.3 BCE-65)
Seneca was the precocious son of a noble Spanish family whose influence, in addition to his exceptional skill as an orator, gave him access to the inner circle of Roman power at an early age. He was also a serious student of philosophy and a prolific writer even while accumulating one of the greatest fortunes in the ancient world. When he was questioned about how he could be a Stoic and attract such great wealth, he simply replied that a wise man used money while a fool was used by it.
So renowned was he for wisdom and statesmanship that Nero’s mother Agrippina asked him to be a tutor to her troublesome child. Sadly, the exhortations of even such a man as Seneca were largely ignored, and Nero became the coward and fool the world still knows him to be. At the end of their relationship, Seneca was accused of treason based on false charges brought against him by politicians who were envious of his reputation, charges that Nero was always ready to hear and believe. Out of deference to his old teacher, however, Seneca, now retired and in feeble health, was allowed the honor of killing himself rather than being killed outright by the emperor’s soldiers.
Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic and his many other literary efforts are among the most researched and best remembered writings of antiquity. There will always be those who question his commitment to Stoic principles because of his ability to prosper at a time of such brutality and widespread corruption, but anyone who has read Tacitus’ account of his death knows he died a Stoic. And that’s the ultimate test for us all.
Seneca was really a great man. He is an example of how adversity can make us think clearly or be creatives. He is my role model in Stoicism, although am certain even in 50 years, i will never achieve his level of philosophical thinking. He was a genius!