Seneca the Elder
Lucius or Marcus Annaeus Seneca, known as Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Rhetorician (ca. 54 BC – ca. 39 AD), was a Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

ian and writer, born of a wealthy equestrian
Equestrian (Roman)
The Roman equestrian order constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians , a hereditary caste that monopolised political power during the regal era and during the early Republic . A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques...

 family of Cordoba
Córdoba, Spain
-History:The first trace of human presence in the area are remains of a Neanderthal Man, dating to c. 32,000 BC. In the 8th century BC, during the ancient Tartessos period, a pre-urban settlement existed. The population gradually learned copper and silver metallurgy...

, Hispania
Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....

. Seneca lived through the reigns of three significant emperors; Augustus (ruled 27 BC - 14 AD), Tiberius (ruled 14 AD - 37 AD) and Caligula (ruled 37 AD - 41 AD).


His praenomen
The praenomen was a personal name chosen by the parents of a Roman child. It was first bestowed on the dies lustricus , the eighth day after the birth of a girl, or the ninth day after the birth of a boy...

is uncertain, but in any case Marcus is an arbitrary conjecture of Raphael of Volterra. During a lengthy stay on two occasions at Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, Seneca attended the lectures of famous orators and rhetoricians, to prepare for an official career as an advocate
An advocate is a term for a professional lawyer used in several different legal systems. These include Scotland, South Africa, India, Scandinavian jurisdictions, Israel, and the British Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man...

. His 'ideal
Ideal (ethics)
An ideal is a principle or value that one actively pursues as a goal. Ideals are particularly important in ethics, as the order in which one places them tends to determine the degree to which one reveals them as real and sincere. It is the application, in ethics, of a universal...

' orator was Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

, and Seneca disapproved of the florid tendencies of the oratory of his time. A passage in Controversiae expresses a critique of the Asiatic style
Asiatic style
The Asiatic style or Asianism |Brutus]] 325) refers to an Ancient Greek rhetorical tendency that arose in the third century BC, which later became an important point of reference in debates about Roman oratory....

 of Arellius Fuscus
Arellius Fuscus
Arellius Fuscus was an ancient Roman orator. He spoke with ease in both Latin and Greek, in an elegant and ornate style. Charles Thomas Cruttwell says Arelius was an Asiatic, that is, a practitioner of an elevated oratorical style....

, calling "his ornament too contrived, his word arrangement more effeminate that could be tolerated by a mind in training for such chaste and rigorous precepts" (2 pr. 1). Yet Seneca's own writing for fictitious speakers and situations aims above all at a striking effect on the audience and is characterized by "mannerism," "exaggerated use of the colores" and "use of a brilliant, precious style, one that has recourse to all the artifices of Asianism, from the accumulation of the rhetorical figures to densely epigrammatic expression to care over the rhythm of the period."

During the civil wars
Caesar's civil war
The Great Roman Civil War , also known as Caesar's Civil War, was one of the last politico-military conflicts in the Roman Republic before the establishment of the Roman Empire...

, his sympathies, like those of his native place, were probably with Pompey
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey or Pompey the Great , was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic...

, as were those of his son and his grandson (the poet Lucan). By his wife Helvia of Corduba, he had three sons: Lucius Annaeus Novatus, adopted by his father's friend, the rhetorician Lucius Junius Gallio, and subsequently called Lucius Junius Annaeus Gallio
Junius Annaeus Gallio
Junius Annaeus Gallio , son of the rhetorician Seneca the Elder and the elder brother of Seneca the Younger, was born at Corduba about the beginning of the Christian era....

; Seneca the Younger
Seneca the Younger
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero...

; and Annaeus Mela, the father of the poet Lucan
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus , better known in English as Lucan, was a Roman poet, born in Corduba , in the Hispania Baetica. Despite his short life, he is regarded as one of the outstanding figures of the Imperial Latin period...


As he died before his son was banished by Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

 (41; Seneca, ad Helviam, ii. 4), and the latest references in his writings are to the period immediately after the death of Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

, he probably died about AD 38.


At an advanced age, at the request of his sons, he prepared, it is said from memory, a collection of various school themes and their treatment by Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 and Roman orators. These he arranged in ten books of Controversiae (imaginary legal cases) in which seventy-four themes were discussed, the opinions of the rhetoricians upon each case being given from different points of view, then their division of the case into different single questions (divisio), and, finally, the devices for making black appear white and extenuating injustice (colores).

Each book was introduced by a preface, in which the characteristics of individual rhetoricians were discussed in a 'lively' manner. The work is incomplete, but the gaps can be to a certain extent 'filled up', with the aid of an epitome
An epitome is a summary or miniature form; an instance that represents a larger reality, also used as a synonym for embodiment....

 made in the 4th or 5th century for the use of schools. The romantic elements were utilized in the collection of anecdote
An anecdote is a short and amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person. It may be as brief as the setting and provocation of a bon mot. An anecdote is always presented as based on a real incident involving actual persons, whether famous or not, usually in an identifiable place...

s and tale
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

s called Gesta Romanorum
Gesta Romanorum
Gesta Romanorum, a Latin collection of anecdotes and tales, was probably compiled about the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th...

. For Books I, II, VII, IX, and X we possess both the original and the epitome; for the remainder, we have to rely upon the epitome alone. Even with the aid of the latter, only seven of the prefaces are available.

The Controversiae were supplemented by the Suasoriae (exercises in hortatory or deliberative oratory), in which the question is discussed whether certain things 'should, or should not be done'. The whole forms the most important authority for the history of contemporary oratory.

Seneca was also the author of a lost historical work, containing the history of Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 from the beginning of the civil wars almost down to his own death, after which it was published by his son. Of this we learn something from the younger Seneca's De vita patris (H. Peter, Historicorum Romanorum fragmenta, 1883, pp. 292, 301), of which the beginning was discovered by Barthold Georg Niebuhr
Barthold Georg Niebuhr
Barthold Georg Niebuhr was a Danish-German statesman and historian who became Germany's leading historian of Ancient Rome and a founding father of modern scholarly historiography. Classical Rome caught the admiration of German thinkers...

. The father's claim to the authorship of the rhetorical work, generally ascribed to the son during the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, was vindicated by Raphael of Volterra and Justus Lipsius
Justus Lipsius
Justus Lipsius was a Southern-Netherlandish philologist and humanist. Lipsius wrote a series of works designed to revive ancient Stoicism in a form that would be compatible with Christianity. The most famous of these is De Constantia...



  • Faber (Paris, 1587)
  • JF Gronovius
    Johann Friedrich Gronovius
    Johann Friedrich Gronovius was a German classical scholar and critic....

     (Leiden, 1649, Amsterdam, 1672)
  • (critical) Conrad Bursian
    Conrad Bursian
    Conrad Bursian was a German philologist and archaeologist.He was born at Mutzschen in Saxony. When his parents moved to Leipzig, he received his early education at Thomasschule zu Leipzig, and entered the university in 1847...

     (Leipzig, 1857)
  • Adolf Kiessling
    Adolf Kiessling
    Adolf Kiessling was a German philologist born in Culm; today Chełmno, Poland.He studied at the University of Bonn under Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker, Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, Franz Bücheler and Otto Jahn...

     (Leipzig, 1872)
  • Hermann Johannes Müller (Prague, 1887, with many unnecessary conjectures)

Further reading

  • Article by O. Rossbach in Pauly-Wissowa's Realencyklopädie, i. pt. 2 (1894)
  • Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist. of Roman Literature (Eng. trans., 1900), 269
  • Martin Schanz, Geschichte der römischen Litteratur, ii. 1 (1899)
  • The chapter on The Declaimers, in George Augustus Simcox
    George Augustus Simcox
    George Augustus Simcox was a British classical scholar and poet. He was a Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford.He was educated at the University of Oxford. He was also a critic and busy literary reviewer, in magazines such as the Argosy, the Fortnightly Review and the Academy; and essayist for The...

    , History of Latin Literature, i. (1883)

On Seneca's style, see:
  • Max Sander, Der Sprachgebrauch des Rhetor Annaeus Seneca (Waren, 1877-1880)
  • August Ahlheim, De Senecae rhetoris usu dicendi (Giessen, 1886)
  • Eduard Norden, Die antike Kunstprosa (1898), p. 300
  • On his influence upon his son the philosopher, E. Rolland, De l'influence de Sénéque le père et des rhéteurs sur Sénéque le philosophe (1906)
  • on the use of Seneca in the Gesta Romanorum, see Ludwig Friedländer
    Ludwig Friedländer
    Ludwig Henrich Friedlaender was a German philologist.He studied at the universities of his hometown Königsberg, Leipzig, and Berlin from 1841 to 1845...

    , Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms (Eng. trans., iii. p. 16 and appendix in iv.).
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.