Infomotions, Inc.Seekers after God / by the Rev. F.W. Farrar. / Farrar, F. W. (Frederic William), 1831-1903

Author: Farrar, F. W. (Frederic William), 1831-1903
Title: Seekers after God / by the Rev. F.W. Farrar.
Publisher: London : Macmillan & Co., 1881.
Tag(s): seneca, lucius annaeus, ca. 4 b.c.-65 a.d; marcus aurelius, emperor of rome, 121-180; epictetus; seneca; marcus; nero; aurelius; marcus aurelius; emperor
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Identifier: seekersaftergod00farr
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REV. F. W. FARRAR, D.D., F.R.S., 





GUSTAVE MASSON, Esq. B.A. Univ. Gall. 








I HAVE endeavoured in the following pages to give 
in a popular manner as full an account of the lives 
and opinions of three great heathen philosophers as 
was possible in the space at my command. In the 
title of the book they are called " Seekers after God," 
and surely they deserve that title if it may be given 
to men who, amid infinite difficulties and surrounded 
by a corrupt society, devoted themselves to the 
earnest search after those truths which might best 
make their lives ** beautiful before God." 

The Divine declaration that '' every one that askcth 
receivetJi ; and he that seeketh^ findetJi ; and to him that 
knocketh it shall be ope?ied," does not apply to Chris- 
tians only. It would indeed be a bitter and bigoted 
view of the world's history which should refuse to 
acknowledge the noble standard of morality and 
practice to which the invisible workings of God's 
Holy Spirit enabled many of the heathen to attain. 
We know that there were those amon^ them wliose 
virtue and charity, in spite of their dim and imperfect 

viii PREFACE. 

knowledge, might put many a Christian to the blush ; 
we may believe with unfeigned gratitude that in 
" seeking after the Lord, if haply they might feel 
after Him and find Him," they learned to recognise 
that deep and ennobling truth to which some of their 
own poets had given expression, that " He is not 
far from every one of us, for in Him we live, and 
move, and have our being." 

Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius are not only the 
most clear-sighted moralists among ancient philoso- 
phers, but are also, with the single exception ot 
Socrates, the best and holiest characters presented 
to us in the records of antiquity. In many respects 
Seneca is wholly unworthy to be placed by their 
side, nor have I attempted to gloss over his terrible 
inconsistencies. Yet in spite of all his failures, he 
was a good man, and we must apply to those who 
speak of him without consideration or generosity, 
the censure of Gothe : — 

" Und steh' beschamt wenn Du bekennen musst 
Ein guter Mensch in seinem dunkeln Drange 
1st sick des rechtcs We^es wokl bewusst^ 

Had more space been at my command, that further 
examination of his widtings which formed part of my 
original plan would perhaps have placed him higher 
in the reader's estimation ; but I have entered into 
the details of his life because I had the ulterior object 
of showing what was at that time the moral and 


political condition of the Roman world, and in what 
atmosphere the influences of Christianity were forced 
to work. The two subsequent biographies will show 
us how in every estate of life the grace of God was 
sufficient to enable men to struggle successfully with 
immense temptations, — sufficient to make any man 
pure and holy who aimed at being so, — sufficient to 
give humility, and patience, and tenderness to an 
irresponsible Roman Emperor, and freedom, and con- 
tentment, and imperial magnanimity to a persecuted 
Phrygian slave. 

People sometimes talk and write as though Pagan 
truth were one thing and Christian truth another ; 
but Truth comes only from Him who is the Truth, 
and neither Jewish prophet nor heathen philosopher 
can attain to it, or act up to it, save by His aid. 
The reader must ill have understood these pages if 
he sees in them any glorification of Stoicism as com- 
pared with Christianity, or of natural as opposed to 
revealed religion. Surely even the most ignorant 
might deduce from them the lesson that in every 
Sunday-school — 

" Each little voice in turn 

Some glorious truth proclaims, 
What sages would have died to learn 

Now taught by cottage dames. " 

A Seneca, a Musonius Rufus, an Epictctus, a 
Marcus Aurelius might have been taught by the hum- 
blest Christian child about a Comfort, an Example, 


a Hope, which were capable of gilding their lives 
with unknown brightness and happiness, — capable of 
soothing the anguish of every sorrow, of breaking 
the violence of every temptation, of lightening the 
burden of every care. And yet with all our know- 
ledge and enlightenment we fall far short of some 
of them ; we are less stem with our own faults, less 
watchful, less self-denying, less tender to one another. 
With our superior gifts, with our surer hopes, with 
our more present means of grace, what manner of 
men ought we to be .'' We ought to have attained to 
far loftier moral altitudes than they, but we have not. 
Let us admit with shame and sorrow that some 
among these heathens showed themselves to be 
nobler, loftier, holier, freer from vanity, freer from 
meanness, freer from special pleading, freer from false- 
hood, more spiritual, more reasonable, on some points 
even more enlightened, than many among ourselves. 
The very ideal of the Christian life seems to have 
been dwarfed to a poor, and vulgar, and conventional 
standard. Perhaps the contemplation of virtue, and 
zeal, and integrity, and consistency, even in heathen 
lives, may produce at least some infinitesimal effect 
in arousing some of us to a desire for "something 
more high and heroical in religion than the present 
age affecteth." If so, these pages will not have been 
written quite in vain. 

F. W. F. 






















senega's recall from exile . , 106 





















THE "manual" and "FRAGMENTS" OF EPICTETUS. . . . 221 


















To/ace 271 



** Ce nuage frange de rayons qui touche presqu' a I'immortelle aurore 
des verites chreriennes." — -Pontmartin. 


On the banks of the Baetis — the modern Guadal- 
quiver, — and under the woods that crown the south- 
ern slopes of the Sierra Morena, lies the beautiful 
and famous city of Cordova. It had been selected 
by Marcellus as the site of a Roman colony ; and 
so many Romans and Spaniards of high rank chose 
it for their residence, that it obtained from Augustus 
the honourable surname of the *' Patrician Colony." 
Spain during this period of the Empire exercised no 
small influence upon the literature and politics of 
Rome. No less than three great Emperors — Tra- 
jan, Hadrian, and Tlieodosius, — were natives of 
Spain. Columella, the writer on agriculture, was 
born at Cadiz ; Quintilian, the great writer on the 
education of an orator, was born at Calahorra ; the 
poet Martial was a native of Bilbilis ; but Cordova 



could boast the yet higher honour of having given 
birth to the Senecas, an honour which won for it 
the epithet of ** The Eloquent." A ruin is shown 
to modern travellers which is popularly called the 
House of Seneca, and the fact is at least a proof 
that the city still retains some memory of its illus- 
trious sons. 

Marcus Anngeus Seneca, the father of the philo- 
sopher, was by rank a Roman knight. What causes 
had led him or his family to settle in Spain we do 
not know, and the names Anneeus and Seneca are 
alike obscure. It has been vaguely conjectured that 
both names may involve an allusion to the longevity 
of some of the founders of the family, for Annasus 
seems to be connected with annus, a year, and Sen- 
eca with senex, an old man. The common English 
composite plant ragwort is called senecio from the 
white and feathery pappus or appendage of its seeds ; 
and similarly, Isidore says that the first Seneca was 
so named because " he was born with white hair." 

Although the father of Seneca was of knightly 
rank, his family had never risen to any eminence ; it 
belonged to the class of noiiveaux riches, and we do 
not know whether it was of Roman or of Spanish 
descent. But his mother Helvia — an uncommon 
name, which, by a curious coincidence, belonged 
also to the mother of Cicero — was a Spanish lady ; 
and it was from her that Seneca, as well as his 
famous nephew, the poet Lucan, doubtless derived 
many of the traits which mark their intellect and their 
character. There was in the Spaniard a richness and 


splendour of imagination, an intensity and warmth, 
a touch of "phantasy and flame," which we find in 
these two men of genius, and which was wholly 
wanting to the Roman temperament. 

Of Cordova itself, except in a single epigram, 
Seneca makes no mention ; but this epigram suffices 
to she v\ that he must have been familiar with its 
stirring and memorable traditions. The elder Seneca 
must have been living at Cordova during all the 
troublous years of civil war, when his native city 
caused equal offence to Pompey and to Caesar. 
Doubtless, too, he would have had stories to tellof th'i 
noble Sertorius, and of the tame fawn which gained 
for him the credit of divine assistance ; and contem- 
porary reminiscences of that day of desperate disaster 
when Caesar, indignant that Cordova should have 
embraced the cause of the sons of Pompey, avenged 
himself by a massacre of 22,000 of the citizens. From 
his mother Helvia, Seneca must often have heard 
about the fierce and gallant struggle in which her 
country had resisted the iron yoke of Rome. Many a 
time as a boy must he have been told how long and 
how heroically Saguntum had withstood the assaults 
and baffled the triumph of Hannibal ; how bravely 
Viriathus had fought, and how shamefully he fell ; 
and how at length the unequal contest, which reduced 
Spain to the condition of a province, was closed, when 
the heroic defenders of Numantia, rather than yield 
to Scipio, reduced their city to a heap of blood- 
stained ruins. 

But, whatever may have been the extent to which 


Seneca was influenced by the Spanish blood which 
flowed in his veins, and the Spanish legends on which 
his youth was fed, it was not in Spain that his lot 
was cast. When he was yet an infant in arms his 
father, with all his family, migrated from Cordova to 
Rome. What may have been the special reason for 
this important step we do not know ; possibly, like 
the father of Horace, the elder Seneca may have 
sought a better education for his sons than could be 
provided by even so celebrated a provincial, town as 
Cordova ; possibly — for he belonged to a somewhat 
pushing family — he may have desired to gain fresh 
wealth and honour in the imperial city. 

Thither we must follow him ; and, as it is our object 
not only to depict a character but also to sketch the 
characteristics of a very memorable age in the world's 
history, we must try to get a glimpse of the family 
in the midst of which our young philosopher grew 
up, of the kind of education which he received, and 
of the influences which were likely to tell upon him 
during his childish and youthful years. Only by such 
means shall we be able to judge of him aright. 
And it is worth while to try and gain a right con- 
ception of the man, not only because he was very 
eminent as a poet, an author, and a politician, not 
only because he fills a very prominent place in the 
pages of the great historian, who has drawn so 
immortal a picture of Rome under the Emperors ; 
not only because in him we can best study the in- 
evitable signs which mark, even in the works of men 
of genius, a degraded people and a decaying litera- 


ture ; but because he was, as the title of this vokime 
designates him, a " SEEKER AFTER GoD." Whatever 
may have been the dark and questionable actions of 
his life — and in this narrative we shall endeavour to 
furnish a plain and unvarnished picture of the manner 
in which he lived,— rit is certain that, as a philosopher 
and as a moralist, he furnishes us with the grandest 
and most eloquent series of truths to which, unillumi- 
nated by Christianity, the thoughts of man have 
ever attained. The purest and most exalted philo- 
sophic sect of antiquity was " the sect of the Stoics ; " 
and Stoicism never found a literary exponent more 
ardent, more eloquent, or more enlightened than 
Lucius Annaeus Seneca. So nearly, in fact, does he 
seem to have arrived at the truths of Christianity, 
that to many it seemed a matter for marvel that he 
could have known them without having heard them 
from inspired lips. He is constantly cited with appro- 
bation by some of the most eminent Christian fathers. 
Tertullian, Lactantius, even St. Augustine hiTr»self, 
quote his words with marked admiration, and St. 
Jerome appeals to him as ** our Seneca." The 
Council of Trent go further still, and quote him as 
though he were an acknowledged Father of the 
Church. For many centuries there were some who 
accepted as genuine the spurious letters supposed to 
have been interchanged between Seneca and St. 
Paul, in which Seneca is made to express a wish to 
hold among the Pagans the same beneficial position 
which St. Paul held in the Christian world. I'he 
possibility of such an intercourse, the nature and 


extent of such supposed obligations, will come under 
our consideration hereafter. All that I here desire to 
say is, that in considering the life of Seneca we are 
not only dealing with a life which was rich in 
memorable incidents, and which was cast into an age 
upon which Christianity dawned as a new light in the 
darkness, but also the life of one who climbed the 
loftiest peaks of the moral philosophy of Paganism, 
and who in many respects may be regarded as the 
Coryphaeus of what has been sometimes called a 
Natural Religion. 

It is not my purpose to turn aside from the 
narrative in order to indulge in moral reflections, 
because such reflections will come with tenfold force 
if they are naturally suggested to the reader's mind 
by the circumstances of the biography. But from 
first to last it will be abundantly obvious to every 
thoughtful mind that alike the morality and the 
philosophy of Paganism, as contrasted with the 
splendour of revealed truth and the holiness of 
Christian life, are but as moonlight is to sunlight. 
The Stoical philosophy may be compared to a 
torch which flings a faint gleam here and there 
in the dusky recesses of a mighty cavern ; Chris- 
tianity to the sun pouring into the inmost depths 
of the same cavern its sevenfold illumination. The 
torch had a value and brightness of its own, but 
compared with the dawning of that new glory it 
appears to be dim and ineffectual, even though its 
brightness was a real brightness, and had been drawn 
from the same ethereal source. 



The exact date of Seneca's birth is uncertain, but 
it took place in all probability about seven years 
before the commencement of the Christian era. It 
will give to his life a touch of deep and solemn 
interest if we remember that, during all those guilty 
and stormy scenes amid which his earlier destiny 
was cast, there lived and taught in Palestine the 
Son of God, the Saviour of the world. 

The problems which for many years tormented his 
mind were beginning to find their solution, amid far 
other scenes, by men whose creed and condition he 
despised. While Seneca was being guarded by his 
attendant slave through the crowded and dangerous 
streets of Rome on his way to school, St. Peter and 
St. John were fisher-lads by the shores of Genne- 
sareth ; while Seneca was ardently assimilating the 
doctrine of the stoic Attalus, St. Paul, with no less 
fervency of soul, sat learning at the feet of Gamaliel ; 
and long before Seneca had made his way, through 
paths dizzy and dubious, to the zenith of his fame, 
unknown to him that Saviour had been crucified 


through whose only merits he and we can ever attain 
to our final rest. 

Seneca was about two years old when he was 
carried to Rome in his nurse's arms. Like many 
other men who have succeeded in attaining eminence, 
he suffered much from ill health in his early years. 
He tells us of one serious illness from which he 
slowly recovered under the affectionate and tender 
nursing of his mother's sister. All his life long he 
was subject to attacks of asthma, which, after suffering 
every form of disease, he says that he considers to 
be the worst At one time his personal sufferings 
weighed so heavily on his spirits that nothing save a 
regard for his father's wishes prevented him from 
suicide ; and later in life he was only withheld from 
seeking the deliverance of death by the tender affection 
of his wife Paulina. He might have used with little 
alteration the words of Pope, that his various studies 
but served to help him 

" Through this long disease, my life.''* 

The recovery from this tedious illness is the only 
allusion which Seneca has made to the circumstances 
of his childhood. The ancient writers, even the 
ancient poets, but rarely refer, even in the most cur- 
sory manner, to their early years. The cause of this 
reticence offers a curious problem for our inquiry, but 
the fact is indisputable. Whereas there is scarcely a 
single modern poet who has not lingered with undis- 
guised feelings of happiness over the gentle memo- 
ries of his chilclhood, not one of the ancient poets 


has systematically touched upon the theme at all. 
From Lydgate down to Tennyson, it would be easy 
to quote from our English poets a continuous line of 
lyric songs on the subject of boyish years. How to 
the young child the fir-trees seemed to touch the sky, 
how his heart leaped up at the i?lght of the rainbow, 
how he sat at his mother's feet and pricked into 
paper the tissued flowers of her dress, how he chased 
the bright butterfly, or in his tenderness feared to 
brush even the dust from off its wings, how he learnt 
sweet lessons and said innocent prayers at his father's 
knee : trifles like these, yet trifles which have been 
rendered noble and beautiful by a loving imagination, 
have been narrated over and over again in the songs 
of our poets. The lovely lines of Heniy Vaughau 
might be taken as a type of thousands more : — 

" Happy those early days, when I- 
Shined in my Angel infancy. 
Before I undei^tood diij place 
Appciptcd for my second race, 
Or taught my soul to fancy aught 
But a white celestial thought ; 

» * -n- 

Before T taught my tongue to wound 
My conscience with a sinful sound ; 
Or had the black art to dispense 
A several sin to every sense ; 
But felt through all this fleshly dress, 
Bright shoots of everlastingness." 

The memory of every student of English poetry 
will furnish countless parallels to thoughts like these. 
How is it that no similar poem could be quoted from 
the whole range of ancient literature } How is it 


that to the Greek and Roman poets that morning of 
Hfe, which should have been so filled with '' natural 
blessedness," seems to have been a blank ? How is it 
that writers so voluminous, so domestic, so afifectionate 
as Cicero, Virgil, and Horace, do not make so much 
as a single allusioif to the existence of their own 
mothers ? 

To answer this question fully would be to write an 
entire essay on the difference between ancient and 
modern life, and would carry me far away from my 
immediate subject* But I may say generally, that 
the explanation rests in the fact that in all probability 
childhood among the ancients was a disregarded, and 
in most cases a far less happy, period than it is with 
us. The birth of a child in the house of a Greek or 
a Roman was not necessarily a subject for rejoicing. 
If the father, when the child was first shown to him, 
stooped down and took it in his arms, it was received 
as a member of the family ; if he left it unnoticed, 
then it was doomed to death, and was exposed in 
some lonely or barren place to the mercy of the wild 
beasts, or of the first passer-by. And even if a child 
escaped this fate, yet for the first seven or eight years 
of life he was kept in the gynaeceum, or women's 
apartments, and rarely or never saw his father's face. 
No halo of romance or poetry was shed over those 
early years. Until the child was full grown the abso- 
lute power of life or death rested in his father's 

* See, however, the same question treated from a somewhat different 
point of view by M. Nisard, in his charming Etudes sur les Pontes de la 
Decadence^ ii. 17, sqq. 


hands ; he had no freedom, and met with little notice. 
For individual life the ancients had a very slight 
regard ; there was nothing autobiographic or intro- 
spective in their temperament. With them public 
life, the life of the State, was everything; domestic 
life, the life of the individual? occupied but a small 
share of their consideration. All the innocent pleasures 
of infancy, the joys of the hearth, the charm of the 
domestic circle, the flow and sparkle of childish 
gaiety, were by them but little appreciated. The 
years before manhood were years of prospect, and in 
most cases they offered but little to make them 
worth the retrospect. It is a mark of the more 
modern character which stamps the writings of 
Seneca, as compared with earlier authors, that he 
addresses his mother in terms of the deepest affec- 
tion, and cannot speak of his darling little son except 
in a voice that seems to break with tears. 

Let us add another curious consideration. The 
growth of the personal character, the reminiscences 
of a life advancing into perfect consciousness, are 
largely moulded by the gradual recognition of moral 
laws, by the sense of mystery evolved in the inevi- 
table struggle between duty and pleasure, — between 
the desire to do right and the temptation to do 
wrong. But among the ancients the conception of 
morality was so wholly different from ours, their 
notions of moral obligation were, in the immense 
majority of cases, so much less stringent and so 
much less important, they had so faint a disapproval 
for sins which we condemn, and so weak an indigna- 


tion against vices which we abhor, that in their 
early years wc can hardly suppose them to have 
often fathomed those " abysmal deeps of personality," 
the recognition of which is a necessary element of 
marked individual growth. 

We have, therefore, no materials for forming any 
vivid picture of Seneca's childhood ; but, from what 
we gather about the circumstances and the character 
of his family, we should suppose that he was ex- 
ceptionally fortunate. The Senecas were wealthy ; 
they held a good position in society ; they were a 
family of cultivated taste*, of literary pursuits, of high 
character, and of amiable dispositions. Their wealth 
raised them above the necessity of those mean cares 
and degrading shifts to eke out a scanty livelihood 
which mark the career of other literary men who 
were their contemporaries. Their rank and culture 
secured them the intimacy of all who were best worth 
knowing in Roman circles ; and the general dignity 
and morality which marked their lives would free 
them from all likelihood of being thrown into close 
intercourse with that numerous class of luxurious 
epicureans, whose unblushing and unbounded vice 
gave an infamous notoriety to the capital of the 

Of Marcus Annaeus Seneca, the father of our 
philosopher, we know few personal particulars, except 
that he was a professional rhetorician, who drew up 
for the use of his sons and pupils a number of 
oratorical exercises, which have come down to us 
under the names of StiasoricE and Controversies. 


They are a series of declamatory arguments on both 
sides, respecting a number of historical or purely 
imaginary subjects ; and it would be impossible to 
conceive any reading more utterly unprofitable. But 
the elder Seneca was steeped to the lips in an 
artificial rhetoric ; and these highly elaborated argu- 
ments, invented in order to sharpen the faculties for 
purposes of declamation and debate, were probably 
due partly to his note-book and partly to his memory. 
His memory was so prodigious that after hearing two 
thousand words he could repeat them again in the 
same order. Few of those who have possessed such 
extraordinary powers of memory have been men of 
first-rate talent, and the elder Seneca was no ex- 
ception. But if his memory did not improve his 
original genius, it must at any rate have made him a 
very agreeable member of society, and have furnished 
him with an abundant store of personal and political 
anecdotes. In short, Marcus Seneca was a well-to-do, 
intelligent man of the world, with plenty of common 
sense, with a turn for public speaking, with a profound 
dislike and contempt for anything which he con- 
sidered philosophical or fantastic, and with a keen 
eye to the main advantage. 

His wife Helvia, if we may trust the panegyric of 
her son, was on the other hand a far less common- 
place character. But for her husband's dislike to 
learning and philosophy she would have become a 
proficient in both, and in a short period of study she 
had made a considerable advance. Yet her intellect 
was less remarkable than the nobility and sweetness 


of her mind ; other mothers loved their sons because 
their own ambition was gratified by their honours, 
and their feminine wants supplied by their riches ; but 
Helvia loved her sons for their own sakes, treated 
them with liberal generosity, but refused to reap any 
personal benefit from their wealth, managed their 
patrimonies with disinterested zeal, and spent her 
own money to bear the expenses of their political 
career. She rose superior to the foibles and vices of 
her time. Immodesty, the plague-spot of her age, 
had never infected her pure life. Gems and pearls 
had little charm for her. She was never ashamed of 
her children, as though their presence betrayed her 
own advancing age. " You never stained your face," 
says her son, when writing to console her in his exile, 
*' with walnut-juice or rouge ; you never delighted in 
dresses indelicately low ; your single ornament was a 
loveliness which no age could destroy ; your special 
glory was a conspicuous chastity." We may well say 
with Mr. Tennyson — 

" Happy he 
With such a mother ! faith in womankind 
Beats with his blood, and trust in all things high 
Comes easy to him, and, though he trip and fall. 
He shall not blind his soul with clay." 

Nor was his mother Helvia the only high-minded 
lady in whose society the boyhood of Seneca was 
spent. Her sister, whose name is unknown, that aunt 
who had so tenderly protected the delicate boy, and 
nursed him through the sickness of his infancy, seems 


to have inspired him with an affection of unusual 
warmth. He tells us how, when her husband was 
Prefect of Egypt, so far was she from acting as was 
usual with the wives of provincial governors, that she 
was as much respected and beloved as they were for 
the most part execrated and shunned. So serious 
w^as the evil caused by these ladies, so intolerable was 
their cruel rapacity, that it had been seriously debated 
in the Senate whether they should ever be allowed 
to accompany their husbands. Not so with Helvia's 
sister. She was never seen in public ; she allowed no 
provincial to visit her house ; she begged no favour 
for herself, and suffered none to be begged from her. 
The province not only praised her, but, what was still 
more to her credit, barely knew anything about her, and 
longed in vain for another lady who should imitate her 
virtue and self-control. Egypt was the head-quarters 
of biting and loquacious calumny, yet even Egypt 
never breathed a word against the sanctity of her life. 
And when during their homeward voyage her husband 
died, in spite of danger and tempest and the deeply- 
rooted superstition which considered it perilous to sail 
with a corpse on board, not even the imminent peril 
of shipwreck could drive her to separate herself from 
her husband's body until she had provided for its safe 
and honourable sepulture. These are the traits of a 
good and heroic woman ; and that she reciprocated 
the regard which makes her nephew so emphatic in 
her praise may be conjectured from the fact that, when 
he made his d^but as a candidate for the honours of 
the State, she emerged from her habitual seclusion, 


laid aside for a time her matronly reserve, and, in ordei 
to assist him in his canvass, faced for his sake the 
rustic impertinence and ambitious turbulence of the 
crowds who thronged the Forum and streets of Rome. 

Two brothers, very different from each other in 
their habits and character, completed the family 
circle, Marcus Annoeus Novatus and Lucius Anna^us 
Mela, of whom the former was older, the latter 
younger, than their more famous brother. 

Marcus Annaeus Novatus is known to history 
under the name of Junius Gallio, which he took 
v/hen adopted by the orator of that name, who was 
a friend of his father. He is none other than the 
Gallio of the Acts, the Proconsul of Achaia, whose 
name has passed current among Christians as a pro- 
verb of complacent indifference.* 

The scene, however, in which Scripture gives us a 
glimpse of him has been much misunderstood, and to 
talk of him as " careless Gallio," or to apply the ex- 
pression that " he cared for none of these things " 
to indifference in religious matters, is entirely to 
misapply the spirit of the narrative. What really 
happened was this. The Jews, indignant at the suc- 
cess of Paul's preaching, dragged him before the 
tribunal of Gallio, and accused him of introducing 
illegal modes of worship When the Apostle was 
about to defend himself, Gallio contemptuously cut 
him short by saying to the Jews, " If in truth there 
were in question any act of injustice or wicked mis- 
conduct, I should naturally have tolerated your coni- 

* Acts XXV. 19. 


plaint. But if this is some verbal inquiry about 
mere technical matters of your law, look after it 
yourselves. I do not choose to be a judge of such 
matters." With these words he drove them from 
his judgment-seat with exactly the same fine Ro- 
man contempt for the Jews and their religious 
affairs as was subsequently expressed by Festus to 
the sceptical Agrippa, and as had been expressed 
previously by Pontius Pilate* to the tumultuous 
Pharisees. Exulting at this discomfiture of the 
hated Jews, and apparently siding with Paul, the 
Greeks then went in a body, seized Sosthen( s, the 
leader of the Jewish synagogue, and beat him in 
full view of the Proconsul seated on his triounal. 
This was the event at which Gallio looked ou with 
such imperturbable disdain. What could it possibly 
matter to him, the great Proconsul, whether the 
Greeks beat a poor wretch of a Jew or not ? So 
long as they did not make a riot, or give him any 
further trouble about the matter, thev miijht beat 
Sosthenes or any number of Jews black and blue 
if it pleased them, for all he was likely to care. 

What a vivid glimpse do we here obtain, from 
the graphic picture of an eye-witness, of the daily 

* Matt, xxvii. 24, " See ye to it." Cf. Acts xiv. 15, " L >nk ye to it." 
Toleration existed in the Roman Empire, and the ma^^istrates often 
interfered to protect the Jews from massacre ; but they absohitely and 
persistently refused to trouble themselves with any attempt to under- 
stand their doctrines or enter into their disputes. The tradition that 
Gallio sent some of St. Paul's writings to his brother Seneca is utterly 
absurd ; and indeed at this time (a. d. 54), St. Paul had written nothing 
except the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. (See Conybcare ard 
Ilowson, St. Paul, vol. i. ch. xii. ; Aubertin, Senhjiie et St Paul.) 

1 8 SENECA. 

life in an ancient provincial forum ; how completely 
do we seem to catch sight for a moment of that 
habitual expression of contempt which curled the 
thin lips of a Roman aristocrat in the presence of 
subject nations, and especially of Jews ! If Seneca 
had come across any of the Alexandrian Jews in 
his Egyptian travels, the only impression left on his 
mind was that expressed by Tacitus, Juvenal, and 
Suetonius, who never mention the Jews without ex- 
ecration. In a passage, quoted by St. Augustine 
{^De Civit. Dei^f vi. ii) from his lost book on Super- 
stitions, Seneca speaks of the multitude of their pro- 
selytes, and calls them '-'-gens scelei'atissima.^^^^ " a 
inost criminal 7'ace,^^ It has been often conjec- 
tured — it has even been seriously believed — that 
Seneca had personal intercourse with St. Paul and 
learnt from him some lessons of Christianity. The 
scene on which we have just been gazing will show 
us the utter unlikelihood of such a supposition. Pro- 
bably the nearest opportunity which ever occurred to 
bring the Christian Apostle into intellectual contact 
with the Roman philosopher was this occasion, when 
St. Paul was dragged as a prisoner into the presence 
of Seneca's elder brother. The utter contempt and 
indifference with which he was treated, the manner 
in which he was summarily cut short before he could 
even open his lips in his own defence, will give us 
a just estimate of the manner in which Seneca would 
have been likely to regard St. Paul. It is highly 
improbable that Gallio ever retained the slightest im- 
pression or memory of so every-day a circumstance 


as this, by which alone he is known to the world. It 
is possible that he had not even heard the mere name 
of Pa-ul, and that, if he ever thought of him at all, it 
was only as a miserable, rai^ged, fanatical Jew, of dim 
eyes and diminutive stature, who had once wished to 
inflict upon him an harangue, and who had once come 
for a few moments " betwixt the wind and his no- 
bility." He would indeed have been unutterably 
amazed if any one had whispered to him that well 
nigfh the sole circumstance which would entitle him 
to be remembered by posterity, and the sole event 
of his life by which he would be at all generally 
known, was that momentary and accidental relation 
to his despised prisoner. 

But Novatus — or, to give him his adopted name 
Gallio — presented to his brother Seneca, and to the 
rest of the world, a very different aspect from that 
under which we are wont to think of him. By them 
he was regarded as an illustrious declaim cr, in an age 
when declamation was the most valued of all accom- 
plishments. It was true that there was a sort of 
" tinkle," a certain falsetto tone in his style, which 
offended men of robust and severe taste ; but this 
meretricious resonance of style was a matter of envy 
and admiration when affectation was the rage, and 
when the times were too enervated and too corrupt 
for the manly conciseness and concentrated force of 
an eloquence dictated by liberty and by passion. 
He seems to have acquired both among his friends 
and among strangers the epithet of '* dulcis," " the 
charming- or fascinating Gallio:" "This is more," 


says the poet Statius, " than to have given Seneca to 
the world, and to have begotten the sweet Gallio.'' 
Seneca's portrait of him is singularly faultless. He 
says that no one was so gentle to any one as Gallio 
was to every one ; that his charm of manner won 
over even the people whom mere chance threw in his 
way, and that such was the force of his natural good- 
ness that no one suspected his behaviour, as though 
it were due to art or sim.ulation. Speaking of flattery, 
in his fourth book of Natural Questions he says to 
his friend Lucilius, " I used to say to you that my 
brother Gallio {tvhoin every one loves a little, even 
people who cannot love him more) was wholly ignorant 
of other vices, but even detested this. You might try 
him in any direction. You began to praise his intel- 
lect—an intellect of the highest and worthiest kind, 
. . . and he walked away ! You began to praise his 
moderation ; he instantly cut short your first words. 
You began to express admiration for his blandness 
and natural suavity of manner, . . . yet even here he 
resisted your compliments ; and if you were led to 
exclaim that you had found a man who could not be 
overcome by those insidious attacks which every one 
else admits, and hoped that he would at least tolerate 
this compliment because of its truth, even on this 
ground he would resist your flattery ; not as though 
you had been awkward, or as though he suspected 
that you were jesting with him, or had some secret 
end in view, but simply because he had a horror of 
every form of adulation." We can easily imagine that 
Gallio was Seneca's favourite brother, and we are not 


surprised to find that the philosopher dedicates to 
him his three books on Anger, and his charming 
little treatise " On a Happy Life." 

0( the third brother, L. Annaeus Mela, we have 
fewer notices ; but, from what we know, we should 
conjecture that his character no less than his reputa- 
tion was inferior to that of his brothers ; yet he seems 
to have been the favourite of his father, who distinct- 
ly asserts that his intellect was capable of every ex- 
cellence, and superior to that of his brothers.* This, 
however, may have been because Mela, "longing 
onl}' to long for nothing," was content with his fath- 
er's rank, and devoted himself wholly to the study of 
eloquence. Instead of entering into public life, he 
deliberately withdrew himself from all civil duties, 
and devoted himself to tranquillity and ease. Appa- 
rently he preferred to be a farmer-general {pnblica- 
fitcs) and not a consul. His chief fame rests in the fact 
that he was father of Lucan , the poet of the decadence 
or declining literature of Rome. The only anecdote 
about him which has come down to us is one that sets 
his avarice in a very unfavorable light. When his 
famous son, the unhappy poet, had forfeited his life, 
as well»as covered himself with infamy by denoun- 
cing his own mother Atilla in the conspiracy of Piso, 
Mela, instead of being overwhelmed with shame and 
agony, immediately began to collect with indecent 
avidity his son's debts, as though to show Nero that 
he felt no great sorrow for his bereavement. But this 
vvas not enough for Nero's malice ; he told Mela tha* 

* M. Ann. Sciicv. Contnn'. ii. Pmf. 


he must follow his son, and Mela was forced to obey 
the order, and to die. 

■Doubtless Helvia, if she survived her sons and her 
grandsons, must have bitterly rued the day when, 
with her husband and her youngs children, she left the 
quiet retreat of a life in Cordova. Each of the three 
boys grew up to a man of genius, and each of them 
grew up to stain his memory with deeds that had 
been better left undone, and to die violent deaths by 
their own hands or by a tyrant's will. Mela died as 
we have seen ; his son Lucan and his brother Seneca 
were driven to death by the cruel orders of Nero.- 
Gallio, after stooping to panic-stricken supplications 
for his own preservation, died ultimately by suicide. 
It was a shameful and miserable end for them all, 
but it was due partly to their own errors, partly to 
the hard necessity of the degraded times in which 
they lived. 



For a reason which I have already indicated — I 
mean the habitual retience of the ancient writers 
respecting the period of their boyhood — it is not 
easy to form a ver}^ vivid conception of the kind 
of education given to a Roman boy of good family 
up to the age of fifteen, when he laid aside the 
golden amulet and embroidered toga to assume a 
more independent mode of life. 

A few facts, however, we can gather from the scat- 
tered allusions of the poets Horace, Juvenal, Martial, 
and Persius. From these we learn that the school- 
masters were for the most part underpaid and de- 
spised,* while at the same time an erudition alike 
minute and useless was rigidly demanded of them. 
We learn also that they were exceedingly severe in 
the infliction of corporal punishment ; Orbilius, tlie 
schoolmaster of Horace, appears to have been a per- 
fect Dr. Busby, and the poet Martial records with 

* For the miseries of the literary class, and especially of school- 
u. asters, see Juv. Sa/. vii. 

D 23 


indignation the barbarities of chastisement which he 
daily witnessed. 

Tne things taught were chiefly arithmetic, grammar 
— both Greek and Latin — reading, and repetition of, 
the chief Latin poets. There was also a good deal 
of recitation and of theme-writing on all kinds of trite 
historical subjects. The arithmetic seems to have 
been mainly of a very simple and severely practical 
kind, especially the computation of interest and 
compound interest ; and the philology generally, 
both grammar and criticism, was singularly narrow, 
uninteresting, and useless. Of what conceivable ad- 
vantage can it have been to any human being to 
know the name of the mother of Hecuba, of the 
nurse of Anchises, of the stepmother of Anchemolus, 
the number of years Acestes lived, and how many 
casks of wine the Sicilians gave to the Phrygians .? 
Yet these were the despicable minuticB which every 
schoolmaster was then expected to have at his fingers' 
ends, and every boy-scholar to learn at the point of 
the ferule— trash which was only fit to be unlearned 
the moment it was known. 

For this kind of verbal criticism and fantastic 
archaeology, Seneca, who had probably gone through 
it all, expresses a profound and very rational contempt. 
In a rather amusing passage* he contrasts the kind of 
use which would be made of a Virgil lesson by a phi- 
losopher and a grammarian. Coming to the lines, 

*• Each happiest clay for mortals speeds the first, 
Then crowds disease behind and age accurst," 

* Ep. cviii. 


the philosopher will point out why and in what sense 
the early days of life are the best days, and how 
rapidly the evil days succeed them, and consequently 
how infinitely important it is to use well the golden 
dawn of our being. But the verbal critic will content 
himself with the remark that Virgil always usts fugio 
of the flight of time, and always joins " old age " with 
" disease," and consequently that these arc tags to be 
remembered, and plagiarised hereafter in the pupils' 
^^ original composition." Similarly, if the book in 
hand be Cicero's treatise " On the Commonwealth," 
instead of entering into great political questions, our 
grammarian will note that one of the Roman kings 
had no father (to speak of), and another no mother ; 
that dictators used formerly to be called " masters of 
the people ; " that Romulus perished during an 
eclipse ; that the old form of rcipsa w^as reapse, and 
of se ipse was sepsc ; that the starting-point in the 
circus which is now called creta, or "chalk," used to 
be called calx, or career ; that in the time of 
Ennius opera meant not only " work," but also 
" assistance," and so on, and so on. Is this true 
education } or rather, should our great aim ever be to 
translate noble precepts into daily action .'* " Teach 
me," he says, " to despise pleasure and glory ; after- 
wards you shall teach me to disentangle difficulties, to 
distinguish ambiguities, 'to see through obscurities ; 
now teach me what is necessary." Considering the 
condition of much which in modern times passes 
under the name of " education," we may possibly find 
that the hints of Seneca are not yet wholly obsolete. 

26 SENi':CA. 

What kind of schoolmaster taught the little Seneca 
when under the care of the slave who was called 
pccdagogiis, or " boy-leader " (whence our word 
pedagogue), he daily went with his brothers to school 
through the streets of Rome, we do not know. He 
may have been a severe Orbilius, or he may have 
been one of those noble-minded tutors whose ideal 
portraiture is drawn in such beautiful colours by the 
learned and amiable Ouintilian. Seneca has not 
alluded to any one who taught him during his early 
days. The only schoolfellow whom he mentions by 
name in his voluminous writings is a certain Claranus, 
a deformed boy, whom, after leaving school, Seneca 
never met again until they were both old men, but 
of whom he speaks with great admiration. In spite 
of his hump-back, Claranus appeared even beautiful 
in the eyes of those who knew him well, because his 
virtue and good sense left a stronger impression than 
his deformity, and " his body was adorned by the 
beauty of his soul." 

It was not until mere school-lessons were finished 
that a boy began seriously to enter upon the studies of 
eloquence and philosophy, which therefore furnish some 
analogy to what we should call " a university educa- 
tion." Gallio and Mela, Seneca's elder and younger 
brothers, devoted themselves heart and soul to the 
theory and practice of eloquence ; Seneca made the 
rarer and the wiser choice in giving his entire en- 
thusiasm to the study of philosophy. 

I say the wiser choice, because eloquence is not a 
thing for which one can give a receipt as one might 


give a receipt for making eau-de-Cologne. Eloquence 
is the noble, the harmonious, the passionate expression 
of truths profoundly realized, or of emotions intensely 
felt. It is a flame which cannot be kindled by 
artificial means. RJietoric may be taught if any one 
thinks it worth learning ; but eloqjicnce is a gift as 
innate as the genius from which it springs. " Ciijits 
vitafulgttr^ ejus verba tojiitriia'^'' — " if a man's life be 
lightning, his words will be thunders." But the kind 
of oratory to be obtained by a constant practice of 
declamation such as that which occupied the schools 
of the Rhetors will be a very artificial lightning and a 
very imitated thunder— not the artillery of heaven, 
but the Chinese fire and rolled bladders of the stage. 
Nothing could be more false, more hollow, more per- 
nicious than the perpetual attempt to drill numerous 
classes of youths into a reproduction of the mere 
manner of the ancient orators. An age of unlimited 
declamation, an age of incessant talk, is a hotbed in 
which real depth and nobility of feeling runs miserably 
to seed. Style is never worse than it is in ages which 
employ themselves in teaching little else. Such teach- 
ing produces an emptiness of thought concealed under 
a plethora of words. This age of countless oratorical 
masters was emphatically the period of decadence 
and decay. There is a hollow ring about it, a falsetto 
tone in its voice ; a fatiguing literary grimace in the 
manner of its authors. Even its writers of genius were 
injured and corrupted by the prevailing mode. They 
can say nothing simply ; the)' are always in contor- 
tions. Their very indignation and bitterness of heart, 



genuine as it is, assumes a theatrical form of ex 
pression.* They abound in unreahties : their whok 
manner is defaced with would-be cleverness, with 
antitheses, epigrarns, paradoxes, forced expressions, 
figures and tricks of speech, straining after originality 
and profundity when they are merely repeating 
x-ery commonplace remarks. What else could one 
expect in an age of salaried declaimers, educated 
in a false atmosphere of superficial talk, for ever 
liciraiiguing and perorating about great passions 
which they had never felt, and great deeds which they 
would have been the last to imitate ? After per- 
petually immolating the Tarquins and the Pisis- 
tratids in inflated grandiloquence, they would go to lick 
the dust off a tyrant's shoes. How could eloquence 
survive when the magnanimity and freedom which 
inspired it were dead, and when the men and books 
which professed to teach it were filled with despicable 
directions about the exact position in which the 
orator was to use his hands, and as to whether it was 
a good thing or not for him to slap his forehead 
and disarrange his hair.-* 

The philosophic teaching which even from boyhood 
exercised a powerful fascination on the eager soul of 
Seneca was at least something better than this ; and 
more than one of his philosophic teachers succeeded in 
winning his warm affection, and in moulding the prin- 
C'ples and habits of his life. Two of them he mentioiis 

* "Juvenal, eleve dans les cris de I'ecole 

Poussa jusqu'a I'exces sa mordante hyperbole." — 



with special res^ard, namely, Sotion the P3^thagorean, 
and Attalus the Stoic. He also heard the lectures 
of the fluent and musical Fabianus Papirius, but 
seems to have owed less to him than to his other 

Sotion had embraced the views of Pythagoras 
respecting- the transmigration of souls, a doctrine 
which made the eating of animal food little better 
than cannibalism or parricide. But, even if any of his 
followers rejected this view, Sotion would still main- 
tain that the eating of animals, if not an impiety, was 
at least a cruelty and a waste. '* What hardships does 
my advice inflict on you } " he used to ask. ** I do 
but deprive you of the food of vultures and lions." 
The ardent boy — for at this time he could not have 
been more than seventeen years old — was so con- 
vinced by these considerations that he became a 
vegetarian. At first the abstinence from meat was 
painful, but after a year he tells us (and many vege- 
tarians will confirm his experience) it was not only 
easy but delightful ; and he used to believe, though 
he would not assert it as a fact, that it made his 
intellect more keen and active. He only ceased to 
be a vegetarian in obedience to the remonstrance of 
his unphilosophical father, who would have easily 
tolerated what he regarded as a mere vagary had it 
not involved the danger of giving rise to a calumny. 
For about this time Tiberius banished from Rome all 
the followers of strange and foreign religions ; and, as 
fasting was one of the rites practised in some of them, 
Seneca^ father thought that, perhaps his son might 


incur, by abstaining from meat, the horrible suspicion 
of being a Christian or a Jew ! 

Another Pythagorean philosoper whom he admired 
and whom he quotes was Sextius, from whom he 
learnt the admirable practice of daily self-examina- 
tion : — " When the day was over, and he betook him- 
self to his nightly rest, he used to ask himself, What 
evil have you cured to-day ? What vice have you 
resisted ? In what particular have you improved ? " 
" I too adopt this custom," says Seneca, in his book 
on Anger, "and I daily plead my cause before myself, 
when the light has been taken away, and my wife, 
who is now aware of my habit, has become silent ; I 
carefully consider in my heart the entire day, and 
take a deliberate estimate of my deeds and words." 

It was however the Stoic Attains who seems to 
have had the main share in the instruction of Seneca ; 
and his teaching did not involve any practical results 
which the elder Seneca considered objectionable. 
He tells us how he used to haunt the school of the 
eloquent philosopher, being the first to enter and the 
last to leave it. "When I heard him declaiming," 
he says, " against vice, and error, and the ills of life, 
I often felt compassion for the human race, and 
believed my teacher to be exalted above the ordinary 
stature of mankind. In Stoic fashion he used to call 
himself a king ; but to me his sovereignty seemed 
more than royal, seeing that it was in his power to 
pass his judgments on kings themselves. When he 
began to set forth the praises of poverty, and to 
show how heavy and superfluous was the burden 

HIS ED UCA 7 ION. 3 1 

of all that exceeded the ordinary wants of life, I 
often longed to leave school a poor man. When 
he began to reprehend our pleasures, to praise a 
chaste body, a moderate table, and a mind pure 
not from all unlawful but even from all superfluous 
pleasures, it was my delight to set strict limits 
to all voracity and gluttony. And these precepts, 
my Lucilius, have left some permanent results ; for 
I embraced thorn with impetuous eagerness, and 
afterwards, when I entered upon a political career, 
I retained a i^\N of my good beginnings. In con- 
sequence of them, I have all my life long renounced 
eating oysters and mushrooms, which do not satisfy 
hunger but only sharpen appetite: for this reason 
I habitually abstain from perfumes, because the 
sweetest perfume for the body is none at all : for 
this reason I do without wines and baths. Other 
habits which I once abandoned have come back 
to me, but in such a way that I merely substitute 
moderation for abstinence, which perhaps is a still 
more difficult task ; since there are some things which 
it is easier for the mind to cut away altogether than 
to enjoy in moderation. Attains used to recommend 
a hard couch in which the body could not sink ; and, 
even in. my old age, I use one of such a kind that it 
leaves no impress of the sleeper. I have told you these 
anecdotes to prove to you what eager impulses our 
little scholars would have to all that is good, if any 
one were to exhort them and urge them on. But the 
harm springs partly from the fault of preceptors, who 
teach us how to argue, not how to live ; and partly 


from the fault of pupils, who bring to their teachers 
a purpose of training their intellect and not their 
souls. Thus it is that philosophy has been degraded 
into mere philology." 

In another lively passage, Seneca brings vividly 
before us a picture of the various scholars assembled 
in a school of the philosophers. After observing that 
philosophy exercises some influence even over those 
who do not go deeply in it, just as people sitting in a 
shop of perfumes carry away with them some of the 
odour, he adds, " Do we not, however, know some v/ho 
have been among the audience of a philosopher for 
many years, and have been even entirely uncoloured by 
his teaching ? Of course I do, even most persistent and 
continuous hearers ; whom I do not call pupils, but 
mere passing auditors of philosophers. Some come 
to hear, not to learn, just as we are brought into a 
theatre for pleasure's sake, to delight our ears with 
language, or with the voice, or with plays. You will 
observe a large portion of the audience to whom 
the philosopher's school is a mere haunt of their 
leisure. Their object is not to lay aside any vices 
there, or to accept any law in accordance with which 
they may conform their life, but that they may enjoy 
a mere tickling of their ears. Some, however, even 
come with tablets in their hands, to catch up not 
l/ujiss but ivords. Some with easer countenances 
and spirits are kindled by magnificent utterances, and 
these are charmed by the beauty of the thoughts, not 
by the sound of empty words ; but the impression is 
not lasting. Few only have attained the power of 


carrying home with them the frame of mind into 
which they had been elevated." 

It was to this small latter class that Seneca 
belonged. He became a Stoic from very early years. 
The Stoic philosophers, undoubtedly the noblest and 
purest of ancient sects, received their name from the 
fact that their founder Zeno had lectured in the 
Painted Porch or Stoa P.xcile of Athens. The 
influence of these austere and eloquent masters, 
teaching high lessons of morality and continence, and 
inspiring their young audience with the glow of their 
own enthusiasm for virtue, must have been invaluable 
in that effete and drunken age. Their doctrines were 
pushed to yet more extravagant lengths by the 
Cynics, who were so called from a Greek word 
meaning * dog," from what appeared to the ancients 
to be the doglike brutality of their manners. Juvenal 
scornfully remarks, that the Stoics only differed from 
the Cynics " by a tunic," which the Stoics wore and 
the Cynics discarded. Seneca never indeed adopted 
the practices of Cynicism, but he often speaks ad- 
miringly of the arch-Cynic Diogenes, and repeatedly 
refers to the Cynic Demetrius, as a man deserving of 
the very highest esteem. " I take with me every- 
where," writes he to Lucilius, " that best of men, 
Demetrius ; and, leaving those who wear purple robes, 
I talk with him who is half-naked. Why should I not 
admire him .'' I have seen that he has no want. Any 
one may despise all things, but no one can possess all 
things. The shortest road to riches lies through 
contempt of riches. But our Demetrius lives not as 


though he despised all things, but as though he 
simply suffered others to possess them." 

These habits and sentiments throw considerable 
light on Seneca's character. They show that even 
from his earliest days he was capable of adopting 
self-denial as a principle, and that to his latest 
days he retained many private habits of a simple 
and honourable character, even when the exigencies 
of public life had compelled him to modify others. 
Although he abandoned an unusual abstinence out 
of respect for his father, we have positive evidence 
that he resumed in his old age the spare practices 
which in his enthusiastic youth he had caught from 
the lessons of high-minded teachers. These facts 
are surely sufficient to refute at any rate those 
gross charges against the private character of Seneca, 
venomously retailed by a jealous Greekling like Dio 
Cassius, which do not rest on a tittle of evidence, 
and seem to be due to a mere spirit of envy and 
calumny. I shall not again allude to these scandals 
because 1 utterly disbelieve them. A man who in 
his " History " could, as Dio Cassius has done, put 
into the mouth of a Roman senator such insane false- 
hoods as he has pretended that Fufius Calenus 
uttered in full senate against Cicero, was evidently 
actuated by a spirit which disentitles his statements 
to any credence. Seneca was an inconsistent phi- 
losopher both in theory and in practice ; he fell 
beyond aH question into serious errors, which deeply 
compromise his character; but, so far from being a 
dissipated or luxurious man, there is every reason to 


believe that in the very midst of weahh and splen- 
dour, and all the temptations which they involve, 
he retained alike the simplicity of his habits and 
the rectitude of his mind. Whatever may have 
been the almost fabulous value of his five hundred 
tables of cedar and ivory, they were rarely spread 
with any more sumptuous entertainment than 
water, vegetables, and fruit. Whatever may have 
been the amusements common among his wealthy 
and noble contemporaries, we know that he found 
his highest enjoyment in the innocent pleasures of 
his garden, and took some of his exercise by run- 
nincr races there witli a little slave. 



We have gleaned from Seneca's own writings \\'hat 
facts we could respecting his early education. But 
in the life of every man there are influences of a far 
more real and penetrating character than those which 
come through the medium of schools or teachers. 
The spirit of the age, the general tone of thought, the 
prevalent habits of social intercourse, the political 
tendencies which were moulding the destiny of the 
nation, — these must have told, more insensibly indeed 
but more powerfully, on the mind of Seneca than 
even the lectures of Sotion and of Attalus. And, if 
we have had reason to fear that there was much 
which was hoUov/ in the fashionable education, we 
shall see that the general aspect of the society by 
which our young philosopher was surrounded from 
the cradle was yet more injurious and deplorable. 

The darkness is deepest just before the dawn, and 
never did a grosser darkness or a thicker mist of 
moral pestilence brood over the surface of Pagan 
society than at the period when the Sun of Righteous- 
ness arose with healing in His wings. There have 


been many ages when the dense gloom of a heart- 
less immorality seemed to settle down with unusual 
weight ; there have been many places where, under 
the gaslight of an artificial system, vice has seemed 
to acquire an unusual audacity ; but never probably 
was there any age or any place where the worst 
forms of wickedness were practised with a more 
unblushing eft'rontery than in the city of Rome under 
the government of the Caesars. A deeply-seated 
corruption seemed to have fastened upon the very 
vitals of the national existence. It is surely a lesson 
ot deep moral signihcance that just as they became 
most polished in their luxury they became most vile 
in their manner ot" life. Horace had already bewiiiled 
that *' the age of our fathers, worse than that <^i 
our grandsires, has produced us who are yet baser, 
and who are doomed to give birth to a still more 
degraded oft'spring." But fifty years later it seemed 
to Juvenal that in his times the very final goal of 
iniquity had been attained, and he exclaims, in a 
burst of despair, that *' posterity will add notJiing to 
our immorality ; our descendants can but do and 
desire the same crimes as ourselves." He who would 
see but for a moment and afar off to what the Gentile 
world had sunk, at the very period when Christianity 
began to spread, may form some faint and shuddering 
conception from the picture of it drawn in the Epistle 
to the Romans. 

We ought to realize this fact if we would judge of 
Seneca aright. Let us then glance at the condition 
of the society in the midst of which he lived. Happily 


we can but glance at it. The worst cannot be told. 
Crimes may be spoken of; but things monstrous and 
inhuman should for ever be concealed. We can but 
stand at the cavern's mouth, and cast a single ray of 
light into its dark depths. Were we to enter, our 
lamp would be quenched by the foul things which 
would cluster round it. 

In the age of Augustus began that "long slow 
agony," that melancholy process of a society gra- 
dually going to pieces under the dissolving intiuence 
of its own vices, which lasted almost without inter- 
ruption till nothing was left for Rome except the fire 
and sword of barbaric invasion. She saw not only 
her glories but also her virtues " star by star expire." 
The old heroism, the old beliefs, the old manliness 
and simplicity, were dead and gone ; they had been 
succeeded by prostration and superstition, by luxury 
and lust. 

" There is the moral of all human tales, 
'Tis but the same rehearsal of the past, 
First freedom, and then glory ; when that fails, 
"Wealth, vice, corruption, — barbarism at last : 
And history, with all her volumes vast, 
Hath but one page ; 'tis better written here 
Where gorgeous tyranny hatli thus amassed 
All treasures, all delights, that eye or ear, 
Heart, soul could seek, tongue ask." 

The mere elements of society at Rome during this 
period were very unpromising. It was a mixture of 
extremes. There was no middle class. At the head 
of it was an emperor, often deified in his lifetime, and 
separated from even the noblest of the senators by 


a distance of immeasurable superiority. He was, in 
the startling language of Gibbon, at once "a priest, 
an atheist, and a god." * Surrounding his person and 
forming his court were usually those of the nobility 
who were the most absolutely degraded by their 
vices, their fiatteries, or their abject subservience. 
But even these men were not commonly the reposi- 
tories of political power. Ihe neople of the greatest 
influence were the freedmen of the emperors — men 
who had oeen slaves, Egyptians and Bithynians who 
had come to Rome with bored ears and with chalk 
on their naked feet to show that they were for sale, 
or who had bawled " sea-urchins all alive " in the Vela- 
brum or the Saburra — who had acquired enormous 
wealth by means often the most unscrupulous and 
the most degraded, and whose insolence and base- 
ness had kept pace with their rise to power. Such 
a man was the Felix before whom St. Paul was 
tried, and such was his brother Pallas.f whose golden 

* . "To the sound 

Of fifes and drums they danced, or in the shade 

Sung Casar gre-it and terrible in war, 

Immortal Ca?sar ! * I>o, a god ! a god! 

He cleaves the yielding skies ! ' Caesar meanwhile 

Gathers the ocean pebbles, or the gnat 

Enraged pursues ; or at his lonely meal 

Starves a wide province ; tastes, dislikes, and flini^ 

To dogs and sycophants. * A god, a god ! ' 

The flowery shades and shrines obscene return." 

Dyer, Ruins of Rome. 

+ The pride of this man was sucli that he never deigned to speak a 
word in the presence of his own slaves, but only made known his wishes 
by signs 1 — Tachus. 



statue might have been seen among the house- 
hold gods of the senator, afterwards the emperor, 
Vitellius. Another of them might often have 
been observed parading the streets between two 
consuls. Imagine an Edward II. endowed with 
absolute and unquestioned powers of tyranny, — 
imagine some pestilent Piers Gaveston, or Hugh de 
le Spenser exercising over nobles and people a hideous 
despotism of the back stairs, — and you have some 
faint picture of the government of Rome under some 
of the twelve Caesars. What the barber (31ivier le 
Diable was under Louis XI., what Mesdames du 
Barri and Pompadour were under Louis XV., what 
the infamous Earl of Somerset was under James 
I., what George Villiers became under Charles I., 
will furnish us with a faint analogy of the far more 
exaggerated and detestable position held by the 
freedman Glabrio under Domitian, by the actor 
Tigellinus under Nero, by Pallas and Narcissus under 
Claudius, by the obscure knight Sejanus under the 
iron tyranny of the gloomy Tiberius. 

I. It was an age of the most enormous w^ealth 
existing side by side with the most abject poverty. 
Around the splendid palaces v/andered hundreds of 
mendicants, who made of their mendicity a horrible 
trade, and even went so far as to steal or mutilate 
infants in order to move compassion by their hideous 
maladies. This class was increased by the exposure 
of children, and by that overgrown accumulation of 
landed property which drove the poor from their native 
fields. It was increased also by the ambitious attempt 


of people whose means were moderate to imitate the 
enormous display of the numerous millionaires. The 
great Roman conquests in the East, the plunder of 
the ancient kingdoms of Antiochus, of Attalus, of 
Mithridates, had caused a turbid stream of wealth to 
flow into the sober current of Roman life. One reads 
with silent astcnishm.ent of the sums expended by 
wealthy Romans on tlicir magnificence or their plea- 
sures. And as commerce was considered derogatory 
to rank and position, and was therefore pursued by 
men who had no character to lose, these overgrown 
fortunes were often acquired by wretches of the 
meanest stamp — by slaves brought from over the 
sea, who had to conceal the holes bored in their ears;* 
or even by malefactors who had to obliterate, by 
artificial means, the three letters t which had been 
branded by the executioner on their foreheads. But 
many of the richest men in Rome, who had not 
sprung from this convict origin, were fully as w^ell 
deserving of the same disgraceful stigma. Their 
houses were built, their coffers were replenished, from 
the drained resources of'cxljausted provincials. Every 
young man of active ambition or noble birth, whose 
resources had been impoverished by debauchery and 
extravagance, had but to borrow fresh sums in order 
to give magnificent gladiatorial shows, and then, it 

* This was a common ancient practice; the very words "thrall,'' 
"thraldom," are etymologically connected with the roots "thrill,^' 
"trill," "drill." (Compare Exod. xxi. 6; Deut. xv. 17 ; Plut. Cu. 26; 
and Juv. Sat. i. 104.) 

t Fur, "thief." (See Martial, ii. 29.) 


he could once obtain an asdileship, and mount to the 
higher offices of the State, he would in time become 
the procurator or proconsul of a province, which he 
might pillage almost at his will. Enter the house 
of a Felix or a Verres. Those splendid pillars of 
mottled green marble were dug by the forced labour 
of Phrygians from the quarries of Synnada ; that 
embossed silver, those murrhine vases, those jewelled 
cups, those masterpieces of antique sculpture, have 
all been torn from the homes or the temples of Sicily 
or Greece. Countries were pillaged and nations 
crushed that an Apicius might dissolve pearls * in 
the wine he drank, or that Lollia Paulina might 
gleam in a second-best dress of emeralds and pearls 
which had cost 40,000,000 sesterces, or more than 


Each of these " gorgeous criminals " lived in the 
midst of a humble crowd of flatterers, parasites, 
clients, dependants, and slaves. Among the throng 
that at early morning jostled each other in the 
marble atrium were to be found a motley and 
heterogeneous set of men. Slaves of every age and 
nation^ — Germans, Egyptians, Gauls, Goths, Syrians, 
Britons, Moors, pampered and consequential freedmen, 
impudent confidential servants, greedy buffoons, who 
lived by making bad jokes at other people's tables ; 
Dacian gladiators, with whom fighting was a trade ; 
philosophers, whose chief claim to reputation was the 

* "Dissolved pearls, Apicius' diet 'gainst the epilepsy." — Ben 


+ Pliny actually saw her thus arrayed. (Nat. Hist. ix. 35, 36.) 


length of their beards ; supple Greeklings of the Tar- 
tuffe species, ready to flatter and lie with consummate 
skill, and spreading their vile character like a pollu- 
tion wherever they went : and among all these a 
number of poor but honest clients, forced quietly to 
put up with a thousand forms of contumely * and 
insult, and living in discontented idleness on the 
spoi'tida or daily largesse which was administered by 
the grudging liberality of their haughty patrons. The 
stout old Roman burgher had weii-nigh disappeared ; 
the sturdy independence, the m.anly self-reliance of 
an industrial population were all but unknown. The 
insolent loungers who bawled in the Forum were 
often mere stepsons of Italy, who had been dragged 
thither in chains, — the dregs of all nations, which 
had flowed into Rome as into a common sewer,"!" 
bringing with them no heritage except the speciality 
of their national vices. Their two wants were bread 
and the shows of the circus ; so long as the sportula of 
their patrons, the occasional donative of an emperor, 
and the ambition of political candidates supplied 
these wants, they lived m contented abasement, 
anxious neither for liberty nor for power. 

II. It was an age at once of atheism and super- 
stition. Strange to say, the two things usually go 

* Few of the many sad pictures in the Satires of Juvenal are more 
r)itiable than that of the wretched "Quirites" struggling at their patrons' 
aoors for the pittance which formed their daily dole. (Sat. i. loi.) 

t See Juv. Sat. iii. 62. Scipio, on being interrupted by the mob in 
the Forum, exclaimed, — "Silence, ye stepsons of Italy ! What! shall 
I fear these fellows now they are free, whom 1 myself have brought 
in chains to Rome?" (See Cic. Dc Orat. ii. 61.) 


together. Just as Philippe Egalite, Duke of Orleans, 
disbelieved in God, and yet tried to conjecture his 
fate from the inspection of coffee-grounds at the 
bottom of a cup, — ^just as Louis XL shrank from no 
perjury and no crime, and yet retained a profound 
reverence for a little leaden image which he carried in 
his cap, — so the Romans under the Empire sneered 
at all the whole crowd of gods and goddesses 
whom their fathers had worshipped, but gave an im- 
plicit credence to sorcerers, astrologers, spirit-rappers, 
exorcists, and every species of impostor and quack. 
The ceremonies of religion were performed with 
ritualistic splendour, but all belief in religion was 
dead and gone. " That there are such things as 
ghosts and subterranean realms not even boys believe," 
says Juvenal, " except those who are still too young 
to pay a farthing for a bath."* Nothing can exceed 
the cool impertinence with which the poet Martial 
prefers the favour of Domitian to that of the great 
Jupiter of the Capitol. Seneca, in his lost book 
"Against Superstitions,"t openly sneered at the old 
mythological legends of gods married and gods un- 
married, and at the gods Panic and Paleness, and at 
Cloacina, the goddess of sewers, and at other deities 
whose cruelty and licence would have been infamous 
even in mankind. And yet the priests, and Salii, and 
Flamens, and Augurs continued to fulfil their solemn 
functions, and the highest title of the Emperor himself 

* Juv. Sat. ii. 149, Cf. Sen. Ep. xxiv. " Nemo tarn puer est at 
Cerberum timeat, et tenebras," &c. 
+ Fragm. xxxiv. 


was that of Pontifcx Maximiis, or Chief Priest, which 
he claimed as the recognised head of the national 
religion. " The common worship was regarded," says 
Gibbon, " by the people as equally true, by the philo- 
sophers as equally false, and by the magistrates as 
equally useful." And this famous remark is little more 
than a translation from Seneca, who, after exposing 
the futility of the popular beliefs, adds : " And yet 
the wise man will observe them all, not as pleasing to 
the gods, but as commanded by the laws. We shall 
so adore all that ignoble crowd of gods which long 
superstition has heaped together in a long period 01 
years, as to remember that their worship has more to 
do with custom than with reality." " Because he was 
an illustrious senator of the Roman people," observes 
St. Augustine, who has preserved for us this fragment, 
** he worshipped what he blamed, he did what he 
refuted, he adored that with which he found fault." 
Could anything be more hollow and heartless than 
this } Is there anything which is more certain to 
sap the very foundations of morality than the public 
maintenance of a creed which has long ceased to 
command the assent, and even the respect, of its 
recognised defenders t Seneca, indeed, and a few 
enlightened philosophers, might have taken refuge 
from the superstitions which they abandoned in a 
truer and purer form of faith. ** Accordingly," says 
Lactantius, one of the Christian Fathers, '* he has said 
many things like ourselves concerning God."* Ii« 
utters what TertuUian finely calls "the testimony 

* Lactantius, Dh'tn. Insl. i. 4, 


while, what became of the common muhitude ? They 
too, like their superiors, learnt to disbelieve or to 
question the power of the ancient deities ; but, as the 
mind absolutely requires some religion on which to 
rest, they gave their real devotion to all kinds of 
strange and foreign deities, — to Isis and Osiri-i, and 
the dog Anubis, to Chaldaean magicians, to Jewish 
exorcisers, to Greek quacks, and to the wretched 
vagabond priests of Cybele, who infested all the 
streets with their Oriental dances and tinkling tam- 
bourines. The visitor to the ruins of Pompeii may 
still see in her temple the statue of Isis, through 
whose open lips the gaping worshippers heard the 
murmured answers they came to seek. No doubt 
they believed as firmly that the image spoke, as our 
forefathers believed that their miraculous Madonnas 
nodded and winked. But time has exposed the cheat. 
By the ruined shrine the worshipper may now see 
the secret steps by vv'hich the priest got to the back 
of the statue, and the pipe entering the back of its 
head through which he whispered the answers of the 

III. It was an age of boundless luxury, — an age in 
which women recklessly vied with one another in the 
race of splendour and extravagance, and in which 
men plunged headlong, without a single scruple of 
conscience, and with every possible resource at their 
command, into the pursuit of pleasure. There was 
no form of luxury, there was no refinement of vice 
invented by any foreign nation, which had not been 


eagerly adopted by the Roman patricians. " Th(3 
softness of Sybaris, the manners of Rhodes and 
Antioch, and of perfumed, drunken, flower-crowned 
Miletus," were all to be found at Rome. There was 
no more of the ancient Roman severity and dignity 
and self-respect. The descendants of ^milius and 
Gracchus — even generals and consuls and praetors — 
mixed familiarly with the lowest canaille of Rome in 
their vilest and most squalid purlieus of shameless 
vice. They fought as amateur gladiators in the arena. 
They drove as competing charioteers on the race- 
course. They even condescended to appear as actors 
on the stage. They devoted themselves with such 
frantic eagerness to the excitement of gambling, 
that we read of their staking hundreds of pounds 
on a single throw of the dice, when they could not 
even restore the pawned tunics to their shivering 
slaves. Under the cold marble statues, or amid the 
waxen likenesses of their famous stately ancestors, they 
turned night into day with long and foolish orgies, 
and exhausted land and sea with the demands of 
their gluttony. " Woe to that city," says an ancient 
proverb, "in which a fish costs more than an ox;" 
and this exactly describes the state of Rome. A 
banquet would sometimes cost the price of an estate ; 
shell-fish were brought from remote and unknown 
shores, birds from Parthia and the banks of the 
Phasis ; single dishes were made of the brains of 
the peacocks and the tongues of nightingales and 
flamingoes. Apicius, after squandering nearly a 
million of money in the pleasures of the table, com- 


mitted suicide, Seneca tells us, because he found that 
he had only 80,000/. left. Cowley speaks of — 

" Vitellius' table, which did hold 
As many creatures as the ark of old." 

" They eat," said Seneca, " and then they vomit ; they 
vomit, and then they eat." But even in this matter 
we cannot tell anything like the worst facts about — 

" Their sumptuous gluttonies and gorgeous feasts 
On citron tables and Atlantic stone, 
Their wines of Hetia, Cales, and Faleme, 
Chios, and Crete, and how they quaff in gold. 
Crystal, and myrrhine cups, embossed with gema 
And studs of pearl."* 

Still less can we pretend to describe the unblushing 
and unutterable degradation of this period as it is 
revealed to us by the poets and the satirists. "All 
things," says Seneca, "■ are full of iniquity and vice ; 
more crime is committed than can be remedied by 
restraint. We struggle in a huge contest of crimi- 
nality : daily the passion for sin is greater, the shame 
in committing it is less. . . . Wickedness is no longer 
committed in secret : it flaunts before our eyes, and 

* Compare the lines in Dyer's little-remembered Ruins of Romef — 

" The citron board, the bowl embossed with gems, 
whate'er is known 
Of rarest acquisition ; Tyrian garbs, 
Neptunian Albion's high testaceous food, 
And flavoured Chian wines, with incense fumed, 
To slake patrician thirst : for these their rights 
In the vile streets they prostitute for sale. 
Their ancient rights, their dignities, their laws, 
Their native glorious freedom." 


has been sent forth so openly into piibHc sight, and 
nas prevailed so completely in the breast of all, that 
innocence is not rare, but non-existent!' 

IV. And it was an age of deep sadness. That it 
should have been so is an instructive and solemn lesson. 
In proportion to the luxury of the age were its misery 
and its exhaustion. The mad pursuit of pleasure 
was the death and degradation of all true happiness. 
Suicide — suicide out of pure enmii and discontent at 
a life overflowing with every possible means of in- 
dulgence — was extraordinarily prevalent. The Stoic 
philosophy, especially as we see it represented in 
the tragedies attributed to Seneca, rang with the 
glorification of it. Men ran to death because their 
mode of life had left them no other refuge. They 
died because it seemed so tedious and so superfluous 
to be seeing and doing and saying the same things 
over and over again; and because they had exhausted 
the very possibility of the only pleasures of which 
they had left themselves capable. The satirical 
epigram of Destoriches, — 

" Ci-git J-.-aa Rosbif, eciiyer, 
Qui se pendit pour se desenKuyer," 

was literally and strictly true of many Romans during 
this epoch. Marcellinus, a young and wealthy noble, 
starved himself, and then had himself suffocated in a 
warm bath, merely because he was attacked with a 
perfectly curable illness. The philosophy which 
alone professed itself able to heal men's sorrows 
3})plauded the supposed courage of a voluntary death, 


.and it was of too abstract, too fantastic, and too 
purely theoretical a character to furnish them with any 
real or lasting consolations. No sentiment caused 
more surprise to the Roman world than the famous 
one preserved in the fragment of Mcccenaa, — 

" Debilem facito manii, 

Debilem pede, coxH. 
l\:ber adstrue gibbemm, 

Lubricos quale denies ; 
Vila dum superest bene est ; 

Hap.c raihi vel acuta 
SI sedeain cruce sustLi€. ; '* 

whtVh may be paraphrased, — 

" Numb niy hands with palsy. 

Rack my feet with gout, 
Himch my back and shoulder. 

Let my teeth fall out ; 
Still, if Life be granted, 

I prefer the loss : 
Save my life, and give me 

Anguish on the cross." 

Seneca, in his lOist Letter, calls this *'a most dis- 
graceful and most contemptible wish ;" but it may 
be paralleled out of Euripides, and still more closely 
out of Homer. " Talk not," says the shade of Achilles 
to Ulysses in the Odyssey, — 

" * Talk not of reigning in this dolorous gloom, 

Nor think vain lies,' he cried, 'can ease my doom. 
Better by far laboriously to bear 
A weight of woes, and breathe the vital air^ 
Slave to the meanest hind that begs his breaa^ 
Than reign the sceptred monarch of the dead.*** 


But this falsehood of extremes was one of the sad 
outcomes of the popular Paganism. Either, Hke the 
natural savage, they dreaded death with an intensity 
of terror; or, when their crimes and sorrows had made 
life unsupportable, they slank to it as a refuge, with a 
cowardice which vaunted itself as courage. 

V. And it was an age of cruelty. The shows of 
gladiators, the sanguinary combats of wild beasts, the 
not unfrequent spectacle of savage tortures and capital 
punishments, the occasional sight of innocent martyrs 
burning to death in their shirts of pitchy fire, 
must have hardened and imbruted the public sensi- 
bility. The immense prevalence of slavery tended still 
more inevitably to the general corruption. " Lust," 
as usual, was *'hard by hate." One hears with per- 
fect amazement of the number of slaves in the 
wealthy houses. A thousand slaves was no extra- 
vagant number, and the vast majority of them were 
idle, uneducated, and corrupt. Treated as little better 
than animals, they lost much of the dignity of men. 
Their masters possessed over them the power of life 
and death, and it is shocking to read of the cruelty 
with which they were often treated. An accidental 
murmur, a cough, a sneeze, was punished with rods. 
Mute, motionless, fasting, the slaves had to stand by 
while their masters supped. A brutal and stupid 
barbarity often turned a house into the shambles of an 
executioner, sounding with scourges, chains, and yells.* 
One evening the Emperor Augustus was supping at 
the house of Vedius Pollio, when one of the slaves, who 

* Juv. Sai. vi. 219 — 222. 
.1 F 2 


was carrying a crystal goblet, slipped down, and broke 
it. Transported with rage Vedius at once ordered the 
slave to be seized, and plunged into the fish-pond as 
food to the lampreys. The boy escaped from the 
hands of his fellow-slaves, and fled to Caesar's feet 
to implore, not that his life should be spared — a 
pardon which he neither expected nor hoped — but 
that he might die by a. mode of death less horrible 
than being devoured by fishes. Common as it was to 
torment slaves, and to put them to death, Augustus. 
to his honour be it spoken, was horrified by the cruelly 
of Vedius, and commanded both that the slave should 
be set free, that every crystal vase In the house of 
Vedius should be broken in his presence, and that 
the fish-pond should be filled up. Even women In- 
flicted upon their female slaves punishments of the 
most cruel atrocity for faults of the most venial 
character. A brooch wrongly placed, a tress of hair 
ill-arranged, and the enraged matron orders her slave 
to be lashed and crucified. If her milder husband 
interferes, she not only justifies the cruelty, but asks 
in amazement : " What ! is a slave so much of a 
human being .'* " No wonder that there was a pro- 
verb, "As many slaves, so many foes." No wonder 
that many masters lived in perpetual fear, and that 
" the tyrant's devilish plea, necessity," might be 
urged in favour of that odious law which enacted 
that, if a master was murdered by an unknown hand, 
the whole body of his slaves should^ suffer death,' — 
a law which more than once was carried into effect 
under the reigns of the Emperors. Slavery, as v.c 


see in the case of Sparta and many other nations, 
always involves its own retribution. The class of 
free peasant proprietors gradually disappears. Long 
before this time Tib. Gracchus, in coming home from 
Sardinia, had observed that there was scarcely a single 
freeman to be seen in the fields. The slaves were 
infinitely more numerous than their owners. Hence 
arose the constant dread of servile insurrections ; the 
constant hatred of a slave population to which any 
conspirator or revolutionist might successfully appeal ; 
and the constant insecurity of life, which must have 
struck terror into many hearts. 

Such is but a faint and broad outline of some of 
the features of Seneca's age ; and we shall be unjust 
if we do not admit that much at least of the life he 
lived, and nearly all the sentiments he uttered, gain 
much in grandeur and purity from the contrast they 
offer to the common life of — 

*' That people victor once, now vile and base, 

Deservedly maJe vassal, who, once just, 
. Frugal, and mild, and temperate, conquered well, 
But govern ill the nations under yoke, 
Peeling their provinces, exhausted all 
By lust and rapine ; first ambitious grown 
Of triumph, that insulting vanity; 
Then cruel, by their spoils to blood inured 
Of fighting beasts, and men to beasts exposed. 
Luxurious by their wealth, and greedier still, 
And from the daily scene effeminate. 
What wise and valiant man would seek to free 
These thus degenerate, by themselves enslaved ; 
Or could of inward slaves make outward free ? " 

Milton, Paradise Regained, iv. 132-145. 



The personal notices of Seneca's life up to the 
}-»eriod of his manhood are slight and fragmentary. 
From an incidental expression we conjecture that 
he visited his aunt in Egypt when her husband was 
Prefect of that country, and that he shared with her 
the dangers of shipwreck when her husband had 
died on board ship during the homeward voyage. 
Possibly the visit may have excited in his mind that 
deep interest and curiosity about the phenomena of 
the Nile which appear so strongly in several pas- 
sages of his Natural ^lesttons ; and, indeed noth- 
ing is more likely than that he suggested to Nero the 
earliest recorded expedition to discover the source of 
the mysterious river. No other allusion to his travels 
occurs in his writings, but we may infer that from 
very early days he had felt an interest for physical in- 
quiry, since while still a youth he had written a book 
on earthquakes, which has not come down to us. 

Deterred by his father from the pursuit of philoso- 
phy, he entered on the duties of a profession . He be- 
came an advocate, and distinguished himself by his 


genius and eloquence in pleading causes. Entering 
on a political career, he became a successful candidate 
for the quaestorship, which was an important step 
towards the highest offices of the state. During this 
period of his life he married a lady whose name has 
not been preserved to us, and to whom we have only- 
one allusion, which is a curious one. As in our own 
history it has been sometimes the fashion for ladies of 
rank to have dwarves and negroes among their at- 
tendants, so it seems to have been the senseless and 
revolting custom of the Roman ladies of this time to 
keep idiots among the number of their servants. The 
first wife of Seneca had followed this fashion, and 
Seneca in iiis fiftieth letter to his friend Lucilius* 
makes the following interesting allusion to the fact. 
"You know^" he says, **that my wife's idiot girl 
Harpaste has remained in my house as a burdensome 
legacy. For personally I feel the profoundest dislike 
to monstrosities of that kind. If ever I want to 
amuse myself with an idiot, I have not far to look for 
one. I laugh at myself This idiot girl has suddenly 
become blind. Now, incredible as the story seems, it 
is really true that she is unconscious of her blindness, 

* It will be_observecl that the main biographical facts about the life 
of Seneca are to be gleaned from his letters to Lucilius, who was his 
constant friend from youth to old age, and to whom he has dedicated his 
Natural Questions. Lucilius was a procurator of Sicily, a man of cul- 
tivated taste and high principle. He was the author of a poem on 
/Etna, which in the opinion of many competent judges is the poem 
which has con)e down to us, and has been attributed to Varus, Virgil, 
and others. It has been admirably edited by Mr. Munro. (See Nat. 
Quccsl. iv. ad iiiH. Ep. Ixxix. ) He also wrote a poem on the fountain 
Arethusa. {Nat. Qjurst. iii. 26.) 


and consequently begs her attendant to go elsewhere, 
because the house is dark. But you may be sure that 
this, at which we laugh in her, happens to us all ; no 
one understands that he is avaricious or covetous. 
The blind seek for a guide ; ive wander about without 
a guide." 

This passage v/ill furnish us with an excellent 
example of Seneca's invariable method of improving 
every occasion and circumstance into an opportunity 
for a philosophic harangue. 

By this wife, who died shortly before Seneca's 
banishment to Corsica, he had two sons, one of whom 
expired in the arms and amid the kisses of Helvia 
less than a month before Seneca's departure for 
Corsica. To the other, whose name was Marcus, he 
makes the following pleasant allusion. After urging 
his mother Helvia to find consolation in the devotion 
of his brothers Gallio and Mela, he adds, "From these 
turn your eyes also on your grandsons — to Marcus, 
that most charming little boy, in sight of whom no 
melancholy can last long. No misfortune in the 
breast of any one can have been so great or so recent 
as not to be soothed by his caresses. Whose tears 
would not his mirth repress .? whose mind would not 
his prattling loose from the pressure of anxiety } 
whom will not that joyous manner of his incline to 
jesting } whose attention, even though he be fixed in 
thought, will not be attracted and absorbed by that 
childlike garrulity of which no one can grow tired ? 
God grant that he may survive me: may all the 
cruelty of destiny be wearied out on me ! " 


Whether the prayer of Seneca was granted wc 
do not know ; but, as we do not again hear of Marcus, 
it is probable that he died before his father, and that 
the Hne of Seneca, Hke that of so many great men, 
became extinct in the second generation. 

It was probably during this period that Seneca 
laid the foundations of that enormous fortune which 
excited the hatred and ridicule of his opponents. 
There is every reason to believe that this fortune was 
honourably gained. As both his father and mother 
were wealthy, he had doubtless inherited an ample 
competency ; this was increased by the lucrative 
profession of a successful advocate, and was finally 
swollen by the princely donations of his pupil Nero. 
It is not improbable that Seneca, like Cicero, and like 
all the wealthy men of their day, increased his pro- 
perty by lending money upon interest. No disgrace 
attached to such a course; and as there is no proof 
for the charges of Dio Cassius on this head, we may 
pass them over _with silent contempt. Dio gravely 
informs us that Seneca excited an insurrection in 
Britain, by suddenly calling in the enormous sum of 
40,000,000 sesterces ; but this is in all probability the 
calumny of a professed enemy. We shall refer again 
to Seneca's wealth ; but we may here admit that it was 
undoubtedly ungraceful and incongruous in a philo- 
sopher who was perpetually dwelling on the praises 
of poverty, and that even in his own age it attracted 
unfavourable notice, as we may see from the epithet 
Prcedives^ " the over-wealthy," which is applied to him 
alike by a satiric poet and by a grave historian. 


Seneca was perfectly well aware that this objection 
could be urged against him, and it must be admitted 
that the grounds on which he defends himself in his 
treatise O^i a Happy Life are not very conclusive or 

The boyhood of Seneca fell in the last years of 
the Emperor Augustus, when, in spite of the general 
decorum and amiability of their ruler, people began 
to see clearly that nothing was left of liberty except 
the name. His youth and early manhood were spent 
during those three-and-twenty years of the reign of 
Tiberius, tlTat reign of terror, during which the 
Roman world was reduced to a frightful silence and 
torpor as of death ; * and, although he was not thrown 
into personal collision with that *' brutal monster," he 
not unfrequently alludes to him, and to the dangerous 
power and headlong ruin of his wicked minister 
Sejanus. Up to this time he had not experienced 
in his own person those crimes and horrors which fall 
to the lot of men who are brought into close contact 
with tyrants. This first happened to him in the reign 
of Caius Caesar, of whom we are enabled, from the 
writings of Seneca alone, to draw a full-length portrait. 

Caius Csesar was the son of Germanicus and the 
elder Agrippina. Germanicus was the bravest and 
most successful general, and one of the wisest and 
most virtuous men, of his day. His wife Agrippina, 
in her fidelity, her chastity, her charity, her nobility 

* Milton, Paradise Regained, iv. 128. P'or a picture of Tiberius as 
he appeared in his old age at Caprese, "hated of all, and hating," see 
Id. 90 — 97. 


of mind, was the very model of a Roman matron of 
the highest and purest stamp. Strange that the son 
of such parents should have been one of the vilest 
cruelest, and foulest of the human race. So, however, 
it was ; and it is a remarkable fact that scarcely one of 
the six children of this marriage displayed the virtues 
of their father and mother, while two of them, Caius 
Caesar and the younger Agrippina, lived to earn an 
exceptional infamy by their baseness and their crimes. 
Possibly this unhappy result may have been partly 
due to the sad circumstances of their early education. 
Their father, Germanicus, who by his virtue and his 
successes had excited the suspicious jealousy of his 
uncle Tiberius, was by his distinct connivance, if not 
by his actual suggestion, atrociously poisoned in Syria. 
Agrippina, after being subjected to countless cruel 
insults, was banished in the extremest poverty to the 
island of Pandataria. Two of the elder brothers, Nero 
and Drusus Germanicus, were proclaimed public ene- 
mies : Nero was banished to the island Pontia, and 
there put to death ; Drusus was kept a close prisoner 
in a secret prison of the palace. Caius, the youngest, 
who is better known by the name Caligula, was 
summoned by Tiberius to his wicked retirement at 
Caprea;, and there only saved his life by the most 
abject flattery and the most adroit submission. 

Capreae is a little island of surpassing loveliness, 
forming one extremity of the Bay of Naples. Its 
soil is rich, its sea bright and limpid, its breezes cool 
and healthful. Isolated by its position, it is yet 
within easy reach of Rome. At that time, before 



Vesuvius had rekindled those wasteful fires which 
first shook down, and then deluged under lava and 
scoriae, the little cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, 
the scene which it commanded was even more pre- 
eminently beautiful than now. Vineyards and olive- 
groves clothed the sides of that matchless bay, down 
to the very line where the bright blue waters seem to 
kiss with their ripples the many-coloured pebbles of 
the beach. Over all, with its sides dotted with pic- 
turesque villas and happy villages, towered the giant 
cone of the volcano which for centuries had appeared 
to be extinct, and which was clothed up to the very 
crater with luxurious vegetation. Such was the deli- 
cious home which Tiberius disgraced for ever by the 
seclusion of his old age. Here he abandoned himself 
to every refinement of wickedness, and from hence, 
being by comm.on consent the most miserable of men, 
he wrote to the Senate that memorable letter in which 
he confesses his daily and unutterable misery under 
the stings of a guilty conscience, which neither soli- 
tude nor power enabled him to escape. 

Never did a fairer scene undergo a worse degra- 
dation ; and here, in one or other of the twelve villas 
which Tiberius had built, and among the azure 
grottoes which he caused to be constructed, the 
youthful Caius'"^ grew up to manhood. It would have 

* We shall call him Caius, because it is as little correct to write of 
him by the sobriquet Caligula as it would be habitually to write of our 
kings Edward or John as Longshanks or Lackland, The name Caligula 
means "a little shoe," and was the pet name given to him by the 
soldiers of his father, in whose camp he was born. 


been a terrible school even for a noble nature ; for a 
nature corrupt and bloodthirsty like that of Caius it 
was complete and total ruin. But, though he was so 
obsequious to the Emperor as to originate the jest 
that never had there been a worse master and never 
a more cringing slave, — though he suppressed every 
sign of indignation at the horrid deaths of his mo- 
ther and his brothers, — though he assiduously re- 
flected the looks, and carefully echoed the very 
words, of his patron, — yet not even by the deep dis- 
simulation which such a position required did he suc- 
ceed in concealing from the penetrating eye of Tibe- 
rius the true ferocity of his character. Not being the 
acknowledged heir to the kingdom, — for Tiberius 
Gemellus, the youthful grandson of Tiberius, was 
living, and Caius was by birth only his grand- 
nephew, — he became a tool for the machinations of 
Marco the praetorian prasfect and his wife Ennia. 
One of his chief friends was the cruel Herod Agrip- 
pa,* who put to death St. James and imprisoned St. 
Peter, and whose tragical fate is recorded in the 12th 
chap, of the x\cts. On one occasion, when Caius had 
been abusing the dictator Sulla, Tiberius scornfully 
remarked that he would have all Sulla's vices and 
none of his virtues ; and on another, after a quarrel 
between Caius and his cousin, the Emperor em- 
braced with tears his young grandson, and said to the 
frowning Caius, with one of those strange flashes of 

* Josephus adds some curious and interesting particulars to the story 
of this Herod and his death which are not mentioned in the narrative 
of SL Luke. (Antii/. xix. 7, 8. Jah;i, //,;'»'. Commnnwc-ill/i, § cxwi.) 


prevision of which we sometimes read in history, 
" Why are you so eager ? Some day you will kill 
this boy, and some one else will murder you." There 
were some who believed that Tiberius deliberately 
cherished the intention of allowing Caius to succeed 
him, in order that the Roman world might relent 
towards his own memory under the tyranny of a 
worse monster than himself Even the Romans, who 
looked up to the famiily of Germanicus with extra- 
ordinary affection, seem early to have lost all hopes 
about Caius. They looked for little improvement 
under the government of a vicious boy, ** ignorant oi 
all things, or nurtured only in the worst," who would 
be likely to reflect the influence of Macro, and 
present the spectacle of a worse Tiberius under a 
w^orse Sejanus. 

At last healtlf and strength failed Tiberius, but not 
his habitual dissimulation. He retained the same 
unbending soul, and by his fixed countenance and 
measured language, sometimes by an artificial afla- 
bility, he tried to conceal his approaching end. After 
many restless changes, he finally settled down in a 
villa at Misenum which had once belonged to the 
luxurious LucuUus. There the real state of his 
health was discovered. Charicles, a distinguished 
physician, who had been paying him a friendly visit 
on kissing his hand to bid farewell, managed to 
ascertain the state of his pulse. Suspecting that this 
was the case, Tiberius, concealing his displeasure, 
ordered a banquet to be spread, as though in honour 
of his friend's departure, and stayed longer than 


usual at table. A similar story is told of Louis XIV 
who, noticing from the whispers of his courtiers that 
they believed him to be dying, ate an unusually large 
dinner on the very day of his death, and sarcastically 
observed, " U me semble que pour un homme qui va 
mourir je ne mange pas mal." But, in spite of the 
precautions of Tiberius, Charicles informed Macro 
that the Emperor could not last beyond two days. 

A scene of secret intrigue at once began. The court 
broke up into knots and cliques. Hasty messengers 
were sent to the provinces and their armies, until at 
last, on the i6th of March, it was believed that 
Tiberius had breathed his last. Just as on the death 
of Louis X Y. a sudden noise was heard as of thunder, 
the sound of courtiers rushing along the corridors to 
congratulate Louis XVI. in the famous words, " Le 
roi est mort. vi\T. le roi," so a crowd instantly thronged 
round Caius with their congratulations, as he went 
out of the palace to assume his imperial authority. 
Suddenly a message reached him that Tiberius had 
recovered voice and sight. Seneca says, that feeling 
his last hour to be near, he had taken off his ring, 
and, holding it in his shut left hand, had long lain 
motionless ; then calling his servants, since no one 
answered his call, he rose from his couch, and, his 
strength failing him, after a i^w tottering steps fell 
prostrate on the ground. 

The news produced the same consternation as that 

which was produced among the conspirators at 

Ad^nijah's banquet, when they heard of the measures 

taken by the dying David. There was a panic- 



stricken dispersion, and every one pretended to be 
grieved, or ignorant of what was going on. Caius, in 
stupified silence, expected death instead of empire. 
Macro alone did not lose his presence of mind. With 
the utmost intrepidity, he gave orders that the old 
man should be suffocated by heaping over him a 
mass of clothes, and that every one should then leave 
the chamber. Such was the miserable and unpitied 
end of the Emperor Tiberius, in the seventy-eighth 
year of his age. Such was the death, and so mise- 
rable had been the life, of the man to whom the 
Tempter had already given "the kingdoms of the 
world and the glory of them," when he tried to tempt 
with them the Son of God. That this man should 
have been the chief Emperor of the earth at a time 
when its true King was living as a peasant in his 
village home at Nazareth, is a fact sugp:estive ot many 
and of solemn thoughts. 



The poet Gray, in describing the deserted deathbed 
of our own great Edward III., says : — 

" Low on his funeral couch he lies ! 
No pitying heart, no eye afford 
A tear to grace his obsequies ! 


The swarm that in the noontide beam were bom? 
Gone to salute the rising Morn. 
Fair laughs the Morn, and soft the zephyr blows. 
While proudly riding o'er the azure realm, 
In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes ; 
Youth on the prow and Pleasure at the lielm ; 
Regardless of the sweeping Whirlwind's sway, 
That, hushed in grim repose, expects his evcnmg prey." 

The last lines of this passage would alone have been 
applicable to Caius Caesar. There was nothing fair or 
gay even about the beginning of his reign. From first 
to last it was a reign of fury aiul madness, and lust 
and blood. There was an hereditary taint of insanity 
in this family, which was developed by their being 
placed on the dizzy pinnacle of imperial despotism, 
and which usually took the form of monstrous and 
abnormal crime. If we would seek a parallel for 


Caius Cassar, we must look for it in the history of 
Christian VII. of Denmark, and Paul of Russia. In all 
three we find the same ghastly pallor, the same sleep- 
lessness which compelled them to rise, and pace their 
rooms at night, the same incessant suspicion, the same 
inordinate thirst for cruelty and torture. He took a 
very early opportunity to disembarrass himself of his 
benefactors. Macro and Ennia, and of his rival, the 
young Tiberius. The rest of his reign was a series of 
brutal extravagances. We have lost the portion of 
those matchless Annals of Tacitus which contained 
the reign of Caius, but more than enough to revolt 
and horrify is preserved in the scattered notices of 
Seneca, and in the narratives of Suetonius in Latia 
and of Dio Cassius in Greek. 

His madness showed itself sometimes in gluttonous 
extravagance, as when he ordered a supper which cost 
more than 8,000/. ; sometimes in a bizarre and dis- 
graceful mode of dress, as v;hen ?ie appeared in public 
in women's stockings, embroidered with gold and 
pearls ; sometimes in a personality and insolence of 
demeanour towards every rank and class in Rome, 
which made him ask a senator to supper, and ply 
him with drunkeri toasts, on the very evening on 
which he had condemned his son to death ; sometimes 
in sheer raving blasphemy, as when he expressed his 
furious indignation against Jupiter for presuming to 
thunder while he was supping, or looking at the 
pantomimes ; but most of all in a ferocity which 
makes Seneca apply to him the name of " Bellua," or 
** wild monster," and say that he seems to have been 


produced " for the disgrace and destruction of the 
human race." 

We will quote from the pages of Seneca but one 
single passage to justify his remark "that he was 
most greedy for human blood, which he ordered to 
stream in his very presence with such eagerness as 
though he were going to drink it up with his lips." 
He says that in one day he scourged and tortured 
men of consular and quaestorial parentage, knights, 
and senators, not by way of examination, but out of 
pure caprice and rage; he seriously meditated the 
butchery of the entire Senate ; he expressed a wish 
that the Roman people had but a single neck, that he 
might strike it off at one blow ; he silenced the screams 
or reproaches of his victims sometimes by thrusting a 
sponge in their mouths, sometimes by having their 
mouths gagged with their own torn robes, sometimes 
by ordering their tongues to be cut out before they 
were thrown to the wild beasts. On one occasion, 
rising from a banquet, he called for his slippers, which 
were kept by the slaves while the guests reclined on 
the purple couches, and so impatient was he for the 
sight of death, that, walking up and down his covered 
portico by lamplight with ladies and senators, he then 
and there ordered some of his wretched victims to be 
beheaded in his sight. 

It is a singular proof of the unutterable dread 
and detestation inspired by some of these Caesars, 
that their mere countenance is said to have inspired 
anguish. Tacitus, in the life of his father-in-law 
Agricola, mentions the shuddering recollection of the 


red face of Domitian, as it looked on at the games. 
Seneca speaks in one place of wretches doomed to 
undergo stones, sword, fire, and Cains ; in another he 
says that he had tortured the noblest Romans with 
everything which could possibly cause the intensest 
agony, — with cords, plates, rack, fire, and, as though it 
were the worst torture of all, with his look ! What 
that look was, we learn from Seneca himself: '* His 
face was ghastly pale, with a look of insanity ; his 
fierce dull eyes were half hidden under a wrinkled 
brow; his ill-shaped head was partly bald, partly 
covered with dyed hair ; his neck covered with bristles, 
hi's legs thin, and his feet mis-shapen." Woe to the 
nation that lies under the heel of a brutal despotism ; 
treble woe to the nation that can tolerate a despot 
so brutal as this ! Yet this was the nation in the 
midst of which Seneca lived, and this was the despot 
under whom his early manhood was spent. 

" But what more oft in nations grown corrupt. 
And by their vices brought to servitude, 
Than to love bondage more than liberty, 
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty?" 

It was one oi the peculiarities of Caius Caesar that 
he hated the very existence of any excellence. He 
used to bully and insult the gods themselves, frown- 
ing even at the statues of Apollo and Jupiter of 
the Capitol. He thought of abolishing Homer, and 
ordered the works of Livy and Virgil to be removed 
from all libraries, because he could not bear that they 
should be praised. He ordered Julius Gr^ecinus to be 


put to death for no other reason than this, " that he 
was a better man than it was expedient for a tyrant 
that any one should be;" for, as PHny tells us, 
the Caesars deliberately preferred that their people 
should be vicious than that they should be virtuous. 
It was hardly likely that such a man should view 
with equanimity the rising splendour of Seneca's 
reputation. Hitherto, the young man, who was 
thirty-five years old at the accession of Caius, had 
not written any of his philosophic works, but in 
all probability he had published his early, and no 
longer extant, treatises on earthquakes, on super- 
stitions, and the books On India, and On the Man- 
ners of Egypt, which had been the fruit of his 
early travels. It is probable, too, that he had 
recited in public some of those tragedies which have 
come down to us under his name, and in the com- 
position of which he was certainly concerned. All 
these works, and especially the applause won by the 
public reading of his poems, would have given him 
that high literary reputation which we know him to 
have earned. It was not, however, this reputation, 
but the brilliancy and eloquence of his orations at the 
bar which excited the jealous hatred of the Emperor. 
Caius piqued himself on the possession of eloquence ; 
and, strange to say, there are isolated expressions of 
his which seem to show that, in lucid intervals, he was 
by no means devoid of intellectual acuteness. For 
instance, there is real humour and insight in the 
nicknames of " a golden sheep " which he gave to 
the rich and placid Silanus, and of " Ulysses in 

^ti SENECA. 

petticoats," by which he designated his grandmother, 
the august Livia. The two epigrammatic criticisms 
which he passed upon the style of Seneca are not 
v*^holly devoid of truth ; he called his works Com- 
missiones meras, or mere displays.* In this expression 
he hit off, happily enough, the somewhat theatrical, 
the slightly pedantic and pedagogic and professorial 
character of Seneca's diction, its rhetorical ornament 
and antithesis, and its deficiency in stern masculine 
simplicity and strength. In another remark he showed 
him.self a still more felicitous critic. He called 
Seneca's writings Arena sine Cake, " sand without 
lime," or, as we might say, "a rope of sand." This 
epic^ram showed a real critical faculty. It exactly 
hits oft" Seneca's short and disjointed sentences, con- 
sisting as they often do of detached antitheses. It 
accords with the amusing comparison of Malebranche, 
that Seneca's composition, with its perpetual and 
futile recurrences, calls up to him the image of a 
dancer who ends where he begins. 

But Caius did not confine himself to clever and 
malignant criticism. On one occasion, when Seneca 
was pleading in his presence, he was so jealous and 
displeased at the brilliancy and power of the orator 
that he marked him out for immediate execution. 
Had Seneca died at this period he would probably 
have been little known, and he might have left few 
traces of his existence beyond a few tragedies of 
uncertain authenticity, and possibly a passing notice 
in the page of Dio or Tacitus. But destiny reserved 

* Suet. Calig. liii. 


him for a more splendid and more questionable career. 
One of Caius's favourites whispered to the Emperor 
that it was useless to extinguish a waning lamp ; 
that the health of the orator was so feeble that a 
natural death by the progress of his consumptive 
tendencies would, in a very short time, remove him 
out of the tyrant's way. 

Throughout the remainder of the few years during 
which the reign of Caius continued, Seneca, warned in 
time, withdrew himself into complete obscurity, em- 
ploying his enforced leisure in that unbroken industry 
which stored his mind with such encyclopaedic wealth. 
" None of my days," he says, in describing at a later 
period the way in which he spent his time, *' is passed 
in complete ease. I claim even a part of the night 
for my studies. I do not find leisure for sleep, but I 
succumb to it, and I keep my eyes at their work even 
when they are wearied and drooping with watchful- 
ness. I have retired, not only from men, but from 
affairs, and especially from my own. I am doing 
work for posterity ; I am writing out things v/hich 
may prove of advantage to them. I am intrusting to 
writing healthful admonitions — compositions, as it 
were, of useful medicines." 

But the days of Caius drew rapidly to an end. His 
gross and unheard-of insults to Valerius Asiaticus 
and Cassius Chaereas brought on him condign ven- 
geance. It is an additional proof, if proof were 
wanting, of the degradation of Imperial Rome, that 
the deed of retribution was due, not to the people 
whom he had taxed ; not to the soldiers, whole rogi- 



ments of whom he had threatened to decimate, not 
to the knights, of whom scores had been put to death 
by his orders ; not to the nobles, multitudes of whom 
had been treated by him with conspicuous infamy ; 
not even to the Senate, which illustrious body he had 
on all occasions deliberately treated with contumely 
and hatred, — but to the private revenge of an insulted 
soldier. The weak thin voice of Cassius Chaereas, 
tribune of the praetorian cohort, had marked him out 
for the coarse and calumnious banter of the imperial 
buffoon ; and he determined, to avenge himself, and 
at the same time rid the world of a monster. He 
engaged several accomplices in the conspiracy, which 
was nearly frustrated by their want of resolution. 
For four whole days they hesitated while, day after 
day, Caius presided in person at the bloody games of 
the amphitheatre. On the fifth day (Jan. 24, A.D. 41), 
feeling unwell after one of his gluttonous suppers, he 
was indisposed to return to the shows, but at last rose 
to do so at the solicitation of his attendants. A 
vaulted corridor led from the palace to the circus, and 
in that corridor Caius met a body of noble Asiatic 
boys, who were to dance a Pyrrhic dance and sing a 
laudatory ode upon the stage. Caius wished them 
at once to practise a rehearsal in his presence, but 
their leader excused himself on the grounds of hoarse- 
ness. At this moment Chaereas asked him for the 
watchword of the night. He gave the watchword, 
"Jupiter." "Receive him in his wrath!" exclaimed 
Chsereas, striking him on the throat, while almost at 
the same moment the blow of Sabirms cleft the tyrants 


jaw, and brought him to his knee. He crouched 
his limbs together to screen himself from further 
blows, screaming aloud, " I live ! I live !" The bearers 
of his litter rushed to his assistance, and fought with 
their poles, but Caius fell, pierced with thirty wounds ; 
and, leaving the body weltering in its blood, the con- 
spirators rushed out of the palace, and took measures 
to concert with the Senate a restoration of the old 
Republic. On the very night after the murder the 
consuls gave to Chaereas the long- forgotten watchword 
of " Liberty." But this little gleam of hope proved 
delusive to the last degree. It was believed that the 
unquiet ghost of the murdered madman haunted the 
palace, and long before it had been laid to rest by 
the forms of decent sepulture, a new emperor of the 
^reat Julian family was securely seated upon the 



While the senators were deliberating, the soldiers 
were acting. They felt a true, though degraded, 
instinct that to restore the ancient forms of demo- 
cratic freedom would be alike impossible and use- 
less, and with them the only question lay between 
the rival claimants for the vacant power. Strange 
to say that, among these claimants, no one seems 
ever to have thought of mentioning the prince who 
became the actual successor. 

There was living in the palace at this time a brother 
d{ the great Germanicus, and consequently an uncle 
of the late emperor, whose name was Claudius Caesar. 
Weakened both in mind and body by the continuous 
maladies of an orphaned infancy, kept under the cruel 
tyranny of a barbarous slave, the unhappy youth had 
lived in despised obscurity among the members of a 
family who were utterly ashamed of him. His mother 
Antonia called him a monstrosity, which Nature had 
begun but never finished ; and it became a proverbial 
expression with her, as is said to have been the case 
with the mother of the great Wellington, to say of a 


dull person, ** that he was a greater fool than her son 
Claudius." His grandmother Livia rarely deigned to 
address him except in the briefest and bitterest terms. 
His sister Livilla execrated the mere notion of his 
ever becoming emperor. Augu'Jtus, his grandfather 
by adoption, took pains to keep him as much out of 
sight as possible, as a wool-gathering* and discredit- 
able member of the family, denied him all public 
honours, and left him a most paltry legacy. Tiberius, 
when looking out for a successor, deliberately passed 
him over as a man of deficient intellect. Caius kept 
him as a butt for his own slaps and blows, and 
for the low buffoonery of his meanest jesters. If the 
unhappy Claudius came late for dinner, he would find 
every place occupied, and peer about disconsolately 
amid insulting smiles. If, as was his usual custom, 
he dropped asleep after a meal, he was pelted with 
olives and date-stones, or rough stockings were drawn 
over his hands that he micrht be seen rubbin^^ his face 
with them when he was suddenly awaked. 

This was the unhappy being who was now sum- 
moned to support the falling weight of empire. While 
rummaging the palace for plunder, a common soldier 
had spied a pair of feet protruding from under the 
curtains which shaded the sides of an upper corridor. 
Seizing these feet, and inquiring who owned them, he 
dragged out an uncouth, panic-stricken mortal, who 
immediately prostrated himself at his knees and 
begged hard for mercy. It was Claudius, who, scared 

* He calls him fxfTfwpo^, which implies awkwardness and constant 
absence of mind. 

II 2 


out of his wits by the tragedy which he had just 
beheld, had thus tried to conceal himself until the 
storm was passed. " Why, this is Germanicus !"* ex- 
claimed the soldier, *' let's make him emperor." Half 
joking and half in earnest, they hoisted him on their 
shoulders — for terror had deprived him of the use of 
his legs — and hurried him off to the camp of the Prae- 
torians. Miserable and anxious he reached the camp, 
an object of compassion to the crowd of passers-by, 
who believed that he was being hurried off to exe- 
cution. But the soldiers, who well knew their own 
interests, accepted him with acclamations, the more 
so as, by a fatal precedent, he promised them a largess 
of more than 80/. apiece. The supple Agrippa (the 
Herod of Acts xii.), seeing how the wind lay, offered 
to plead his cause with the Senate, and succeeded 
partly by arguments, partly by intimidation, and 
partly by holding out the not unreasonable hopes of 
a great improvement on the previous reign. 

For although Claudius had been accused of gam- 
bling and drunkenness, not only were no worse sins 
laid to his charge, but he had successfully established 
some claim to being considered a learned man. Had 
fortune blessed him till death with a private station, 
he might have been the Luclen Bonaparte of his 
family — a studious prince, who preferred the charms 
of literature to the turmoil of ambition. The anec- 
dotes which have been recorded of him show that he 
was something of an archaeologist, and something of 

* The full name of Claudius was Tiberius Claudius Drusus Caesar 


a philologlan. The great historian Livy, pitying the 
neglect with which the poor young man was treated, 
had encouraged him in the study of history; and he 
had written memoirs of his own time, memoirs of 
Augustus, and even a history of the civil wars since 
the battle of Actium, which was so correct and so 
candid that his family indignantly suppressed it as a 
fresh proof of his stupidity. 

Such was the man who, at the age of fifty, became 
master of the civilized world. He offers some singular 
points of resemblance to our own " most mighty and 
dread sovereign," King James I. Both were learned, 
and both were eminently unwise;* both of them 
were authors, and both of them were pedants ; both 
of them delegated their highest powers to worthless 
favourites, and both of them enriched these favourites 
with such foolish liberality that they remained poor 
themselves. Both of them had been terrified into 
constitutional cowardice by their involuntary presence 
at deeds of blood. Both of them, though of naturally 
good dispositions, were misled by selfishness into acts 
of cruelty ; and both of them, though laborious in the 
discharge of duty, succeeded only in rendering royalty 
ridiculous. King James kept Sir Walter Raleigh in 
prison, and Claudius drove Seneca into exile. The 
parallel, so far as I am aware, has never been noticed, 
but is susceptible of being drauui out into the minutest 


"Knowledge comes, but ^visdom lingers," says our own poet. 
Hcraclitus had said the same thing more than two thousand years beiore 
him, jioKvfiadiri ov bili<itTK(%. 


One of his first acts was to recall his nieces, Julia 
and Agrippina, from the exile into which their brother 
had driven them ; and both these princesses were 
destined to effect a powerful influence on the life of 
our philosopher. 

What part Seneca had taken during the few 
troubled days after the murder of Caius we do not 
know. Had he taken a leading part — had he been 
one of those who, like Chsereas, opposed the election of 
Claudius as being merely the substitution of an imbecile 
for a lunatic, — or who, like Sabinus, refused to survive 
the accession of another Csesar, — we should perhaps 
have heard of it ; and we must therefore assume either 
that he was still absent from Rome in the retirement 
into which he had been driven by the jealousy of 
Caius, or that he contented himself with quietly watch- 
ing the course of events. It will be observed that 
his biography is not like that of Cicero, with whose 
life we are acquainted in most trifling details ; but 
tha.t the curtain rises and falls on isolated scenes, 
throwing into sudden brilliancy or into the deepest 
shade long and important periods of his history. Nor 
are his letters and other writings full of those political 
and personal allusions which convert them into an 
autobiography. They are, without exception, occupied 
exclusively with philosophical questions, or else they 
only refer to such personal reminiscences as may best 
be converted into the text for some Stoical paradox 
or moral declamation. It is, however, certain from 
the sequel that Seneca must have seized the oppor- 
tunity of Caius's death to em.erge from his politic 


obscurity, and to occupy a conspicuous and brilliant 
position in the imperial court. 

It would have been well for his own happiness and 
fame if he had adopted the wiser and manlier course 
of acting up to the doctrines he professed. A court 
at most periods is, as the poet says, 

" A golden but a fatal circle, 
Upon whose magic skirts a thousand devils 
In crystal forms sit tempting Innocence, 
And beckon early Virtue fmm its centre ; " 

but the court of a Caius, of a Claudius, or of a Nero, 
was indeed a place wherein few of the wise could 
find a footing, and still fewer of the good. And all 
that Seneca gained from his career of ambition was 
to be suspected by the first of these Emperors, 
banished by the second, and murdered by the third. 

The first few acts of Claudius showed a sensible and 
kindly disposition ; but it soon became fatally obvious 
that the real powers of the government would be 
wielded, not by the timid and absent-minded Emperor, 
but by any one who for the time being could acquire 
an ascendency over his well-intentioned but feeble 
disposition. Now, the friends and confidants of 
Claudius had long been chosen from the ranks of his 
freedmen. As under Louis XI. and Don Miguel, the 
bart)ers of these monarchs were the real governors, so 
Claudius was but the minister rather than the master 
of Narcissus his private secretary, of Polybius his 
literary adviser, and of Pallas his accountant. A 
third person, with whose name Scripture has made us 
familiar, was a freedman of Claudius. This was Felix, 


the brother of Pallas, and that Procurator who, though 
he had been the husband or the paramour of three 
queens, trembled before the simple eloquence of a 
feeble and imprisoned Jew.* These men became 
proverbial for their insolence and wealth ; and once, 
when Claudius was complaining of his own poverty, 
some one wittily replied, "that he would have abun- 
dance if two of his freedmen would but admit him 
into partnership with them." 

But these men gained additional power from the 
countenance and intrigues of the young and beautiful 
wife of Claudius, Valeria Messalina. In hks marriage, 
as in all else, Claudius had been pre-eminent in mis- 
fortune. He lived in an age of which the most 
frightful sign of depravity was that its women were, if 
possible, a shade worse than its men ; and it was the 
misery of Claudius, as it finally proved his ruin, to 
have been united by marriage to the very worst 
among them all. Princesses like the Berenice, and 
the Drusilla, and the Salome, and the Herodias of 
the sacred historians were in this age a familiar 
spectacle ; but none of them were so wicked as two 
at least of Claudius's wives. He was betrothed or 
married no less than five times. The lady first 
destined for his bride had been repudiated because 
.her parents had offended Augustus ; the next died 
on the very day intended for her nuptials. By his 
first actual wife, Urgulania, whom he had married 
in early youth, he had two children, Drusus and 
Claudia ; Drusus was accidentally choked in boyhood 

* Acts xix. 


while trying to swallow a pear which had been thrown 
up into the air. Very shortly after the birth of 
Claudia, discovering the unfaithfulness of Urgulania, 
Claudius divorced her, and ordered the child to be 
stripped naked and exposed to die. His second wife, 
^lia Petina, seems to have been an unsuitable person, 
and her also he divorced. His third and fourth wives 
lived to earn a colossal infamy — Valeria Messalina for 
her shameless character, Agrippina the younger for 
her unscrupulous ambition. 

Messalina, when she married, could scarcely have 
been fifteen years old. yet she at once assumed a 
dominant position, and secured it by means of the 
most unblushing wickedness. 

But she did not reign so absolutely undisturbed as 
to be without her own jealo'jsies and apprehensions ; 
and these were mainly kindled by Julia and Agrip- 
pina, the two nieces of the Emperor. They were, no 
less than herself, beautiful, brilliant, and evil-hearted 
women, quite ready to make their own coteries, and 
to dispute, as far as they dared, the supremacy of a 
bold but reckless rival. They too, used their arts, 
their wealth, their rank, their political influence, their 
personal fascinations*, to secure for themselves a band 
of adherents, ready, when the proper moment arrived, 
for any conspiracy. It is unlikely that, even in the 
first flush of her husband's strange and unexpected 
triumph, Messalina should have contemplated with 
any satisfaction their return from exile. In this 
respect it is probable that the Emperor succeeded 
in -resisting her expressed wishes; so that the mere 


appearance of the two daughters of Germariicus in 
her presence was a standing witness of the Hmitations 
to which her influence was subjected. 

At this period, as is usual among degraded peoples, 
the history of the Romans degenerates into mere 
anecdotes of their rulers. Happily, however, it is not 
our duty to enter on the cJirouique scandaleuse of plots 
and counterplots, as little tolerable to contemplate as 
the factions of the court of France in the worst periods 
of its history. We can only ask what possible part a 
philosopher could play at such a court i We can 
only say that his position tiiere is not to the credit 
of his philosophical professions ; and that we can 
contemplate his presence there with as little satisfac- 
tion as we look on the figure of the worldly and 
frivolous bishop in Mr. Frith 's picture of "The Last 
Sunday of Charles 11. at Whitehall." 

And such inconsistencies involve their own retribu- 
tion, not only in loss of influence and fair fame, but 
even in direct consequences. It was so with Seneca. 
Circumstances — possibly a genuine detestation of 
Messalina's exceptional infamy — seem to have thrown 
him among the partisans of her rivals. Messalina 
was only waiting her opportunity to strike a blow. 
Julia, possibly as being the younger and the less 
powerful of the two sisters, was marked out as the 
first victim, and the opportunity seemed a favourable 
one for involving Seneca in her ruin. His enormous 
wealth, his high reputation, his splendid abilities, made 
him a formidable opponent to the Empress, and a 
valuable ally to her rivals. It was determined to ^^\ 


nd of both by a single scheme. JuHa was accused of 
an intrigue with Seneca, and was first driven into 
exile and then put to death. Seneca was banished to 
the barren and pestilential shores of the island of 

Seneca, as one of the most enlightened men of his 
aee, should have aimed at a character which would 
have been above the possibility of suspicion : but we 
must remember that charges such as those which 
were brought against him were the easiest of all to 
make, and the most impossible to refute. When 
we consider who were Seneca's accusers, we are 
not forced to believe his guilt ; his character was 
indeed deplorably weak, and the laxity of the age 
in such matters was fearfully demoralising ; but 
there are sufficient circumstances in his favour to 
justify us in returning a verdict of " Not guilty." 
Unless we attach an unfair importance to the bitter 
calumny of his open enemies, we may consider that 
the general tenor of his life has sufficient weight to 
exculpate him from an unsupported accusation 

Of Julia, Suetonius expressly says that the crime 
of which she was accused was uncertain, and that 
she was condemned unheard. Seneca, on the other 
hand, was tried in the Senate and found guilty. He 
tells us that it was not Claudius who flung him down, 
but rather that, when he was falling headlong, the 
Emperor supported him with the moderation of his 
divine hand ; " he entreated the Senate on my behalf; 
he. not only ^^z^^ me life, but even begged it for me. 
Let it be his to consider," adds Seneca, with the 
7 I 


most dulcet flattery, " in what light he may wish 
my cause to be regarded ; either his justice will find, 
or his mercy will make, it a good cause. He will 
alike be worthy of my gratitude, whether his ultimate 
conviction of my innocence be due to his knowledge 
or to his will." 

This passage enables us to conjecture how matters 
stood. The avarice of Messalina was so insatiable that 
the non-confiscation of Seneca's immense wealth is a 
proof that, for some reason, her fear or hatred of him 
was not implacable. Although it is a remarkable fact 
that she is barely mentioned, and never once abused, in 
the writings of Seneca, yet there can be no doubt that 
the charge was brought by her instigation before the 
senators ; that after a very slight discussion, or none 
at all, Claudius was, or pretended to be, convinced of 
Seneca's culpability ; tiiat the senators, with their 
usual abject servility, at once voted him guilty of-high 
treason, and condemned him to death, and the con- 
fiscation of his goods ; and that Claudius, perhaps 
from his own respect for literature, perhaps at the 
intercession of Agrippina, or of some powerful freed- 
man, remitted part of his sentence, just as King 
James 1. remitted all the severest portions of the 
sentence passed on Francis Bacon. 

Neither the belief of Claudius nor the condemna- 
tion of the Senate furnish the slightest valid proofs 
against him. The Senate at this time were so base 
and so filled with terror, that on one occasion a mere 
word of accusation from the freedman of an Emperor 
was sufficient to make them fall upon one of their 


number, and stab him to death upon the spot with 
their iron pens. As for poor Claudius, his adminis- 
tration of justice, patient and laborious as it was, 
had already grown into a public joke. On one 
occasion he wrote down and delivered the wise 
decision, " that he agreed with the side which had set 
forth the truth." On another occasion, a common 
Greek whose suit came before him grcAr so impatient 
at his stupidity as to exclaim aloud, '* You are an old 
fool." We are not informed that the Greek was 
punished. Roman usage allowed a good deal of 
banter and coarse personality. We are told that on 
one occasion even the furious and bloody Caligula, 
seeing a provincial smile, called him up, and asked 
him what he was laughing at. "At you," said the 
man; "you look such a humbug." The grim tyrant 
was so struck with the humour of the thing that he 
took no further notice of it. A Roman knight against 
whom some foul charge had been trumped up, see- 
ing Claudius listening to the most contemptible and 
worthless evidence against him, indignantly abused him 
for his cruel stupidity, and flung his pen and tablets in 
his face so violently as to cut his cheek. In fact, the 
Emperor's singular absence of mind gave rise to 
endless anecdotes. Among other things, when some 
condemned criminals were to fight as gladiators, and 
addressed him before the games in the sublime 
formula — "Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutamus !'* 
("Hail, Caesar! doomed to die, we salute thee!") he 
gave the singularly inappropriate answer, " Avete 
vos!" (" Hail ye also !") which they took as a sign of 


pardon, and were unwilling to fight until they were 
actually forced to do so by the gestures of the 

The decision of such judges as Claudius and his 
Senate is worth very little in the question of a man's 
innocence or guilt ; but the sentence was that Sen- 
eca should be banished to the island of Corisca. 



So, in A.D. 41, in the prime of life and the full vigour 
of his faculties, with a name stained by a charge of 
which he may have been innocent, but of which he 
was condemned as guilty, Seneca bade farewell to 
his noble-minded mother, to his loving aunt, to his 
brothers, the beloved Gallio and the literary Mela, 
to his nephew, the ardent and promising young 
Lucan, and, above all — which cost him the severest 
pang — to Marcus, his sweet and prattHng little boy. 
It was a calamity which might have shaken the forti- 
tude of the very noblest soul, and it had by no means 
come upon him single-handed. Already he had lost 
his wife, he had suffered from acute and chronic ill- 
health, he had been bereavei' but three weeks pre- 
viously of another little son. He had been cut short 
by the jealousy of one emperor from a career of 
splendid success ; he was now banished by the 
imbecile subservience of another from all that he 
held most dear. 

We are hardly able to conceive the intensity of 
anguish with which an ancient Poman generally 



regarded the thought of banishment. In the long 
melancholy wail of Ov^id's " Tristia ;" in the bitter 
and heart-rending complaints of Cicero's " Epistles," 
we may see something of that intense absorption in 
the life of Rome which to most of her eminent citizens 
made a permanent separation from the city and its 
interests a thought almost as terrible as death it- 
self Even the stoical and heroic Thrasea openly 
confessed that he should prefer death to exile. 
To a heart so affectionate, to a disposition so social, 
to a mind so active and ambitious as that of Seneca, 
it must have been doubly bitter to exchange the 
happiness of his family circle, the splendour of an 
imperial court, the luxuries of enormous wealth, the 
refined society of statesmen, and the ennobling 
intercourse of philosophers for the savage wastes 
of a rocky island and the society of boorish illiterate 
islanders, or, at the best, of a 'lqw other political 
exiles, ail of whom would be as miserable as him- 
self, and some of whom would probably have deserved 
their fate. 

The Mediterranean rocks selected for political 
exiles — Gyaros, Seriphos, Scyathos, Patmos, Pontia, 
Pandataria — were generally rocky, barren, fever- 
stricken places, chosen by design as the most 
wretched conceivable spots in which human life 
could be maintained at all. Yet these islands were 
crowded with exiles, and in them were to be found 
not a few princesses of Csesarean origin. We must 
not draw a parallel to their position from that of 
an Eleanor, the wife of Duke Humphrey, immured 


in Peel Castle in the Isle of Man, or of a Mai*y 
Stuart in the Isle of Loch Leven, — for it was some- 
thing incomparably worse. No care was taken even 
to provide for their actual wants. Their very lives 
were not secure. Agrippa Posthumus and Nero, 
the brothers of the Emperor Caligula, had been so 
reduced by starvation tnat botn of the wretched 
youths had been drivi^n to support life by eating 
the materials with which their beds were stuffed. 
The Emperor Caius had once asked an exile, 
whom he had recalled from banishment, in what 
manner he had been accustomed to employ his time 
on the island. " I used," said the flatterer, " to 
pray that Tiberius might die, and that you might 
succeed." It immediately struck Caius that the 
exiles whom he had banished might be similarly 
employed, and accordingly he sent centurions round 
the islands to put them all to death. Such were the 
miserable circumstances which might be in store for 
a political outlaw. If we imagine what must have 
been the feelings of a d'Espremenil, when a Icttre de 
cachet consigned him to a prison in the Isle d'Hieres ; 
or what a man like Burke might have felt, if he had 
been compelled to retire for life to the Bermudas ; we 
may realize to some extent the heavy trial which now 
befel the life of Seneca. 

Corsica was the island chosen for his place of 

* Among the Jews the homicides who had fled to a city of refuge 
were set free on the high priest's death, and, in order to preticnt them 
from praying for his death, the mother and other relatives of the high 
priest used to supply them with clothes and other necessaries. Sec the 
a tlhoi's article or. " As}'lnm" in Kitto's Eucyelopadia ^ed. Alexander) 


banishment, and a spot more uninviting could hardly 
have been selected. It was an island " shaggy and 
savage," intersected from north to south by a chain 
of wild, inaccessible mountains, clothed to their sum- 
mits with gloomy and impenetrable forests of pine 
and fir. Its untamable inhabitants are described 
by the geographer Strabo as being *' wilder than 
the wild beasts." It produced but little corn, and 
scarcely any fruit-trees. It abounded, indeed, in 
swarms of wild bees, but its very honey was bitter 
and unpalatable, from being infected with the acrid 
taste of the box-flowers on which they fed. Neither 
gold nor silver were found there j it produced noth- 
ing worth exporting, and barely sufficient for the 
mere necessaries of its inhabitants ; it rejoiced in no 
great navigable rivers, and even the trees, in which it 
abounded, were neither beautiful nor fruitful. Sene- 
ca describes it in more than one of his epigrams, as a 

" Terrible isle, when earliest summer glows 
Yet fiercer when his face the dog-star shows ; " 

and again as a 

" Barbarous land, which rugged rocks surround, 
Whose horrent cliffs with idle wastes are crowned, 
No autumn fruit, no tilth the summer yields, 
Nor olives cheer the winter-silvered fields : 
Nor joyous spring her tender foliage lends, 
Nor genial herb the luckless soil befriends ; 
Nor bread, nor sacred fire, nor freshening' wave ; — 
Nought here — save exile, and the exile's grave ! " 

In such a place, and under such conditions, Seneca 
had ample need for all hir^ philosophy. And at first 


it did not fail him. Towards the close of his first 
year of exile he wrote the " Consolation to his 
mother Helvia," which is one of the noblest and 
most charming of all his works. 

He had often thought, he said, of writing to console 
her under this deep and wholly unlooked-for trial, 
but hitherto he had abstained from doing so, lest, 
while his own anguish and hers were fresh, he should 
only renew the pain of the wound by his unskilful 
treatment. He waited therefore till time had laid its 
healing hand upon her sorrows, especially because he 
found no precedent for one in his position condoling 
with others when he himself seemed more in need 
of consolation, and because something new and 
admirable would be required of a man who, as it were, 
raised his head from the funeral pyre to console his 
friends. Still he now feels impelled to write to her, 
because to alleviate her regrets will be to lay aside 
his own. He does not attempt to conceal from her 
the magnitude of the misfortune, because, so far from 
being a mere novice in sorrow, she has tasted it from 
her earliest years in all its varieties ; and because his 
purpose was to conquer her grief, not to extenuate 
its causes. Those many miseries would indeed have 
been in vain, if they had not taught her how to bear 
wretchedness. He will prove to her therefore that 
she has no cause to grieve either on his account, or on 
her own. Not on his — because he is happy among 
circumstances which others would ihink miserable 
and because he assures her with his own lips that 
not only is he not miserable, but that he can never 


be made so. Every one can secure his own happiness, 
if he learns to seek it, not in external circumstances, 
but in himself. He cannot indeed claim for himself 
the title of wise, for, if so, he would be the most 
fortunate of men, and near to God Himself; but, 
which is the next best thing, he has devoted himself 
to the study of wise men, and from them he has 
learnt to expect nothing and to be prepared for all 
things. The blessings which Fortune had hitherto 
bestowed on him, — -wealth, honours, glory, — he had 
placed in such a position that she might rob him of 
them all without disturbing him. There was a great 
space between them and himself, so that they could 
be take?i but not torn away. Undazzled by the 
glamour of prosperity, he was unshaken by the blow 
of adversity. In circumstances which were the envy 
of all men he had never seen any real or solid bless- 
ing, but rather a painted emptines.s, a gilded decep- 
tion ; and similarly he found nothing really hard or 
terrible in ills which the common voice has so 

What, for instance, was exile .-^ it was but a change 
of place, an absence from one's native land ; and, if 
you looked at the swarming multitudes in Rome 
itself, you would find that the majority of them were 
practically in contented and willing exile, drawn 
thither by necessity, by ambition, or by the search for 
the best opportunities of vice. No isle so wretched 
and so bleak which did not attract some voluntary 
sojourners ; even this precipitous and naked rock of 
Corsica, the hungriest, roughest, most savage, most 


unhealthy spot conceivable, had more foreigners in it 
than native inhabitants. The natural restlessness 
and mobility of the human mind, which arose from 
its aetherlal origin, drove men to change from place 
to place. The colonies of different nations, scattered 
all over the civilized and uncivilized world even in 
spots the most chilly and uninviting, show that the 
condition of place is no necessary ingredient in human 
happiness. Even Corsica had often changed its 
owners ; Greeks from IMarseilles had first lived 
there, then Ligurians and Spaniards, then some 
Roman colonists, whom the aridity and thorniness 
of the rock had not kept away. 

" Varro thought that nature, Brutus that the con- 
sciousness of virtue, v/ere sufficient consolations for 
any exile. How little have I lost in comparison with 
those two fairest possessions which I shall everywhere 
enjoy — nature and my own integrity ! Whoever or 
whatever made the world — whether it were a deity, 
or disembodied reason, or a divine interfusing spirit,, 
or destiny, or an immutable series of connected causes 
— the result was that nothing, except our very meanest 
possessions, should depend on the will of another. 
Man's best gifts lie beyond the power of man either 
to give or to take away. This Universe, the grandest 
and loveliest work of nature, and the Intellect which 
was created to observe and to admire it, are our 
special and eternal possessions, which shall last as 
long as we last ourselves. Cheerful, therefore, and 
erect, let us hasten with undaunted footsteps whither- 
soever our fortunes lead us. 


" There is no land where man cannot dwell, — no 
land where he cannot uplift his eyes to heaven , 
wherever we are, the distance of the divine from the 
human remains the same. So then, as long as my 
eyes are not robbed of that spectacle with which they 
cannot be satiated, so long as I may look upon the 
sun and moon, and fix my lingering gaze on the other 
constellations, and consider their rising and setting 
and the spaces between them and the causes of their 
less and greater speed, — while I may contemplate the 
multitude of stars glittering throughout the heaven, 
some stationary, some revolving, some suddenly 
blazing forth, others dazzling the gaze with a flood of 
fire as though they fell, and others leaving over a long 
space their trails of light ; while I am in the midst of 
such phenomena, and mingle myself, as far as a man 
may, with things celestial, — while my soul is ever 
occupied in contemplations so sublime as these, 
what matters it what ground I tread ? 

" What though fortune has thrown me where the 
most magnificent abode is but a cottage ? the humblest 
cottage, if it be but the home of virtue, may be more 
beautiful than all temples ; no place is narrow which 
can contain the crowd of glorious virtues ; no exile 
severe into which you may go with such a reliance. 
When Brutus left Marcellus at Mitylene, he seemed 
to be himself going into exile because he left that 
illustrious exile behind him. Caesar would not land 
at Mitylene, because he blushed to see him. Marcellus 
therefore, though he was living in exile and poverty, 
was living a most happy and a most noble life. 


" 'One self approving hour whole worlds outweighs 
Of stupid starers and of loud huzzas ; 
And more true joy Marcellus exiled feels, 
Than Caesar with a senate at his heels.' 

" And as for poverty, every one who is not cor- 
rupted by the madness of avarice and luxury knows 
that it is no evil. How little does man need, and how 
easily can he secure that ! As for me, I consider my- 
self as having lost not wealth, but the trouble of look- 
ing after it. Bodily wants are few — warmth and food, 
nothing more. May the gods and goddesses confound 
that gluttony which sweeps the sky, and sea, and land 
for birds, and animals, and fish ; which eats to vomit 
and vomits to eat, and hunts over the whole world for 
that which after all it cannot even digest ! They 
might satisfy their hunger with little, and they excite 
it with much. What harm can poverty inflict on a 
man who despises such excesses .'* Look at the god- 
like and heroic poverty of our ancestors, and compare 
the simple glory of a Camillus with the lasting infamy 
of a luxurious Apicius ! Even exile will yield a 
sufficiency of necessaries, but not even kingdoms are 
enough for superfluities. It is the soul that makes us 
rich or poor : and the soul follows us into exile, and 
finds and enjoys its own bles.sings even in the most 
barren solitudes. 

" But it does not even need philosophy to enable us 
to despise poverty. Look at the poor : are they not 
often ©bviously happier than the rich .? And the times 
are so changed that what we would now consider the 
poverty of an exile would then have been regarded as 



the patrimony of a prince. Protected by such prece- 
dents as those of Homer, and Zeno, and Menenius 
Agrippa, and Regulus, and Scipio, poverty becomes 
not only safe but even estimable. 

" And if you make the objection that the ills which 
assail me are not exile only, or poverty only, but dis- 
grace as well, I reply that the soul which is hardy 
enough to resist one wound is invulnerable to all. It 
we have utterly conquered the fear of death, nothing 
else can daunt us. What is disgrace to one who 
stands above the opinion of the multitude ? what Avas 
even a death of disgrace to Socrates, who by entering 
a prison miade it cease to be disgraceful 1 Cato was 
twice defeated in his candidature for the praetorship 
and consulship : well, this was the disgrace of those 
honours, and not of Cato. No one ca7i be despised by 
another until he has learnt to despise himself. The 
man who has learnt to triumph over sorrow wears his 
miseries as though they were sacred fillets upon his 
brov/, and nothing is so entirely admirable as a man 
bravely wretched. Such men inflict disgrace upon dis- 
grace itself Some indeed say that death is preferable 
to contempt ; to whom I reply that he who is great 
when he falls is great in his prostration, and is no 
more an object of contempt than when men tread on 
the ruins of sacred buildings, which men of piety 
venerate no less than if they stood. 

" On my behalf therefore, dearest mother, you have 
no cause for endless weeping : nor have you on your 
ov/n. You cannot grieve for me on selfish grounds, 
la consequence of any personal loss to yourself; for 


you were ever eminently unselfish, and unlike other 
women in all your dealings with your sons, and you 
were always a help and a benefactor to them rather 
than they to you. Nor should you give way out of a 
regret and longing for me in my absence. We have 
often previously been separated, and, although it is 
natural that you should miss that delightful conversa- 
tion, that unrestricted confidence, that electrical sym- 
pathy of heart and intellect that always existed 
between us, and that boyish glee wherewith your 
visits always affected me, yet, as you rise above the 
common herd of women in the virtue, the simplicity, 
the purity of your life, you must abstain from feminine 
tears as you have done from all feminine follies. 
Consider how Cornelia, who had lost ten children by 
death, instead of wailing for her dead sons, thanked 
fortune that had made her sons GraccJii. Rutilia 
followed her son Cotta into exile, so dearly did she 
love him, yet no one saw her shed a tear after his 
burial. She had shown her affection when it was 
needful, she restrained her sorrow when it was super- 
fluous. Imitate the example of these great women 
as you have imitated their virtues. I want you not 
to beguile your sorrow by amusements or occupa- 
tions, but to conquer it. For you may now return to 
tliose philosophical studies in which you once showed 
yourself so apt a proficient, and which formerly my 
father checked. They will gradually sustain and 
comfort you in your hour of grief. 

*' And meanwhile consider how many sources of 
consolation already exist for you. My brothers are 


still with you ; the dignity of Gallic, the leisure of 
Mela, will protect you ; the ever-sparkling mirth of 
my darling little Marcus will cheer you up ; the train- 
ing of my little favourite Novatilla will be a duty 
which will assuage your, sorrow. For your father's 
sake, too, though he is absent from you, you must 
moderate your lamentations. Above all, your sister 
— that truly faithful, loving, and high-souled lady, to 
whom I owe so deep a debt of affection for her kind- 
ness to me from my cradle until now, — she will yield 
you the fondest sympathy and the truest consolation. 
" But since I know that after all your thoughts will 
constantly revert to me, and that none of your chil- 
dren will be more frequently before your mind than 
I, — not because they are less dear to you than I, but 
because it is natural to lay the hand most often upon 
the spot which pains, — I will tell you how you are to 
think of me. Think of me as happy and cheerful, 
as though I were in the midst of blessings ; as indeed 
I am, while my mind, free from every care, has leisure 
for its own pursuits, and sometimes amuses itself 
with lighter studies, sometimes, eager for truth, soars 
upwards to the contemplation of its own nature, and 
the nature of the universe. It inquires first of all 
about the lands and their situation ; then into the 
condition of the surrounding sea, its ebbings and 
flowings ; then it carefully studies all this terror- 
fraught interspace between heaven and earth, tumul- 
tuous with thunders and lightnings, and the blasts of 
winds, and the showers of rain, and snow, and hail ; 
then, having wandered through all the lower regions, 


it bursts upwards to the highest things, and revels in 
the most lovely spectacle of that which is divine, and, 
mindful of its own eternity, passes into all that hath 
been and all that shall be throughout all ages." 

Such, in briefest outline, and without any of thai 
grace of language with which Seneca has invested 
it, IS a sketch of the little treatise which many have 
regarded as among the most delightful of Seneca's 
works. It presents the picture of that grandest of 
all spectacles — 

" A good man sti-ugglmg with the storms of fate." 

So far there was something truly Stoical in the 
aspect of Seneca's exile. But was this grand attitude 
consistently maintained .<* Did his little raft of philo- 
sophy sink under him, or did it bear him safely over 
the stormy waves of this great sea of adversity ? 

8 K 



There are some misfortunes of which the very 
essence consists in their continuance. They are tole- 
rable so loiifjas they are illuminated by a ray of hope. 
Seclusion and hardship might even come at first with 
some charm of novelty to a philosopher who, as 
was not unfrequent among the amateur thinkers of 
his time, occasionally practised them in the very 
midst of wealth and friends. But as the hopeless 
years rolled on, as the efforts of friends proved un- 
availing, as the loving son, and husband, and father 
felt himself cut off from the society of those whom he 
cherished in such tender affection, as the dreary 
island seemed to him ever more barbarous and 
more barren, while season after season added to its 
horrors without revealing a single compensation, 
Seneca grew more and more disconsolate and de- 
pressed. It seemed to be his miserable destiny to rust 
away, useless, unbefriended, and forgotten. Formed 
to fascinate society, here there were none for him to 
fascinate ; gifted with an eloquence which could keep 
lisrening senates hushed, here he found neither 


subject nor audience * and bis life began to resemble 
a river which, long before it has reached the sea, is 
lost in dreary marshes and choking sands. 

Like the brilliant Ovid, when he was banished to 
the frozen wilds of Tomi, Seneca vented his anguish 
in plaintive wailing and bitter verse. In his handful 
of epigrams he finds nothing too severe for the place 
of his exile. He cries — 

" Spare thou thine exiles, lightly o'er thy dead, 
Alive, yet buried, be thy dust bespread." 

And addressing some malignant enemy — 

" Whoe'er thou art, — thy name shall I repeat? — 
Who o'er mine ashes dar'st to press thy feet, 
And, -uncontented with a fall so dread, 
Draw'st bloodstained weapons on my darkened head. 
Beware ! for nature, pitying, guards the tcuib.. 
And ghosts avenge th' invaders cf tlierr .-rlcoii. 
Hear, Envy, hear the gods proclaim a truth, 
Which my shrill ghost repeats to move thy ruth. 
Wretches are sacred things, — thy hands refrain . 
E'en sacrilegious hands from tombs abstain." 

The one fact that seems to have haunted him most 
was that his abode in Corsica was a living death. 

But the most complete picture of his state of mind, 
and the most melancholy memorial of his inconsis- 
tency as a philosopher, is to be found in his " Con- 
solation to Polybius." Polybius was one of those 
freedmen of the Emperor whose bloated wealth and 
servile insolence were one of the darkest and strangest 
phenomena of the time. Claudius, more than any of 
his class, from the peculiar imbecility of his character, 
was under the powerful influence of this class of men ; 
and so dangerous was their power that Messalina 

102 SEMECA. 

herself was forced to win her ascendency over her 
husband's mind by making these men her supporters, 
and cultivating their favour. Such were ''the most 
excellent Felix," the judge of St. Paul, and the slave 
who became a husband to three queens, — Narcissus, 
in whose household (which moved the envy of the 
Emperor) were some of those Christians to whom 
St. Paul sends greetings from the Christians of Corinth,"* 
—Pallas, who never deigned to speak to his own slaves, 
but gave all his comn/ands by signs, and who actually 
condescended to receive the thanks of the Senate, 
because he, the descendant of Etruscan kings, yet 
condescended to serve the Emperor and the Common- 
wealth ; a preposterous and outrageous compliment, 
which appears to have been solely due to the fact of 
his name being identical with that of Virgil's young 
hero, the son of the mythic Evander ! 

Among this unworthy crew a certain Polybius was 
not the least conspicuous. He was the director of 
the E^mperor's studies, — a worthy Alcuin to such a 
Charlemagne. All that we know about him is that 
he was once the favourite of Messalina, and after- 
wards her victim, and that in the day of his eminence 
the favour of the Emperor placed him so high that 
he was often seen walking between the two consuls. 
Such was the man to whom, on the occasion of his 
brother's death, Seneca addressed this treatise of con- 
solation. It has couie down to us as a fragment, 
and it would have been well for Seneca's fame if 
it riad not come down to us at all. Those who are 

* Rom. xvi. I J. 


enthusiasts for his reputation would gladly prove it 
spurious, but we believe that no candid reader can 
scudy it without perceiving its genuineness. It is 
very improbable that he ever intended it to be pub- 
lished, and whoever suffered it to see the light was 
the successful enemy of its ilkistrious author. 

Its sad and abject tone confirms the inference, 
drawn from an allusion which it contains, that it was 
vvritten towards the close of the third year of Seneca's 
exile. He apologises for its style by saying that if it 
betrayed any weakness of thought or inelegance of 
expression this was only what might be expected from 
a man who had so long been surrounded by the coarse 
and offensive patois of barbarians. We need hardly 
follow him into the ordinary topics of moral philosophy 
with which it abounds, or expose the inconsistency of 
its tone with that of Seneca's other writings. He 
consoles the freedman with the "comimon common- 
places" that death is inevitable; that grief is useless; 
that we are all born to sorrow ; that the dead would 
not wish us to be miserable for their sakes. He reminds 
him that, owing to his illustrious position, all eyes are 
upon him. He bids him find consolation in the 
studies in which he has always shown himself so pre- 
eminent, and lastly he refers him to those shining 
examples of magnanimous fortitude, for the climax of 
which, no doubt, the whole piece of interested flattery 
was composed. For this passage, written in a crescendo 
style, culminates, as might have been expected, in the 
sublime spectacle of Claudius Caesar. So far from 
resenting his exile, he crawls in the dust to kiss 


Caesar's beneficent feet for saving him from death ; 
so far from asserting his innocence — which, perhaps, 
was impossible, since to do so might have involved 
him in a fresh charge of treason ---he talks with all 
the abjectness of guilt. He belauds the clemency of 
a man, w^ho, he tells us elsewhere, used to kill men 
with as much sang fToid as a 6,0^^ eats offal ; the pro- 
digious powers of memory of a divine creature who 
used to ask people to dice and to dinn&r whom he had 
executed the day before, and who even inquired as 
to the cause of his wifes absence a few days after 
having given the order for her execution ; the extra- 
ordinary eloquence of an indistinct stutterer, whose 
head shook and wliose bioad hps seemed to be in 
contortions whenever he spoke.* If Polybius feels 
sorrowful, let him turn his eyes to Caesar ; the 
splendour of that most great and radiant deity will 
so dazzle his eyes that all their tears will be dried up 
in the admiring gaze. Oh that the bright occidental 
star vdiich has beamed on a world which, before its 
rising, was plunged in darkness and deluge, would 
only shed one little beam upon him ! 

No doubt these grotesque and gorgeous flatteries, 
contrasting strangely with the bitter language of 
intense hatred and scathiiig contempt which Seneca 
poured out on the memory of Claudius after his 
dnath, were penned with the sole purpose of being 
repeated in those divine and benignant ears. No 
doubt the superb freedman, who had been allowed 

* These slight discrepancies of description are taken from co-ttntet 
p^Mages of Coiisol. ad Folyb. and the Liidus de liiorte CcesarU. 


so rich a share of the flatteries lavished on his master, 
would take the opportunity — if not out of good-nature, 
at least out of vanity,— to retail them in the imperial 
ear. If the moment were but favourable, who knows 
but what at some oblivious and crapulous moment 
the Emperor might be induced to sign an order for 
our philosopher's recall ? 

Let us not be hard on him. Exile and wretchedness 
are stern trials, and it is difficult for him to brave a 
martyr's misery who has no conception of a martyr's 
crown. To a man who, like Seneca, aimed at being 
not only a philosopher, but also a man of the world — 
who in this very treatise criticises the Stoics for their 
ignorance of life — there would not have seemed to be 
even the shadow of disgrace in a priv^ate effusion of 
insincere flattery intended to win the remission of a 
deplorable banishment. Or, if we condemn Seneca, 
let us remember that Christians, no less than philo- 
sophers, have attained a higher eminence only to ex- 
emplify a more disastrous fall. The flatteries of Seneca 
to Claudius are not more fulsome, and are infinitely 
less disgraceful, than those which fawning bishops 
exuded on his counterpart. King James. And if the 
Roman Stoic can gain nothing from a comparison with 
the yet more egregious mordfl failure of the greatest 
of Christian thinkers — Francis Bacon, Viscount St. 
Alban's — let us not forget that a Savonarola and a 
Cranmer recanted under torment, and that the anguish 
of exile drew even from the starry and imperial spirit 
of Dante Alighieri words and sentiments' for which 
in his noblesi". moments he might have blushed. 


senega's recall from exile. 

Of the last five years of Seneta's weary exile no 
trace has been preserved to us. What were his 
alternations of hope and fear, of devotion to philo- 
sophy and of hankering after the world which he 
had lost, we cannot tell. Any hopes which he may 
have entertained respecting the intervention of Poly- 
bius in his favour must have been utterly quenched 
when he heard that the freed man, though formerly 
powerful with Messalina, had forfeited his own life 
m consequence of her machinations. But the closing 
period of his days in Corsica must have brought him 
thrilling news, which would save him from falling into 
absolute despair. 

For the career of Messalina was drawing rapidly 
to a close. The life of this beautiful princess, short 
as it was, for she died at a very early age, was 
enough to make her name a proverb of everlasting 
infamy. For a time she appeared irresistible. Her 
personal fascination had won for her an unlimited 
sway over the facile mind of Claudius, and she havd 
either won over by her intrigues, or terrified by her 


pitiless severity, the noblest of the Romans and the 
most powerful of the freedmen. But we sec in her 
fate, as we see on every page of history, that vice 
ever carries with it the germ of its own ruin, and 
that a retribution, which is all the more inevitable 
from being often slow, awaits every violation of the 
moral law. 

There is something almost incredible in the penal 
infatuation which brought about her fall. During 
the absence of her husband at Ostia, she wedded 
in open day with C. Silius, the most beautiful and 
the most promising of the young Roman nobles. 
She had apparently persuaded Claudius that this was 
merely a mock-marriage, intended to avert some 
ominous auguries which threatened to destroy "the 
husband of Messalina;" but, whatever Claudius may 
have imagined, all the rest of the world knew the 
marriage to be real, and regarded it not only as a 
vile enormity, but also as a direct attempt to bring 
about a usurpation of the imperial power. 

It was by this view of the case that the freedman 
Narcissus roused the inert spirit and timid indig- 
nation of the injured Emperor. While the wild 
revelry of the wedding ceremony was at its height, 
Vettius Valens, a well-known physician of the da}-, 
had in the licence of the festival struggled up to 
the top of a lofty tree, and when they asked him 
what he saw, he replied in words which, though 
meant for jest, were full of dreadful significance, " I 
see a fierce storm approaching from Ostia." He had 
scarcely uttered the words when first an uncertain 

io« SENECA. 

rumour, and then numerous messengers brought the 
news that Claudius knew all, and was coming to take 
vengeance. The news fell like a thunderbolt on the 
assembled guests. SiHus, as though nothing had hap- 
pened, went to transact his pubhc duties in the Forum ; 
Messalina instantly sending for her children, Octavia 
and Britannicus, that she might meet her husband 
with them by her side, implored the protection of 
Vibidia, the eldest of the chaste virgins of Vesta, and, 
deserted by all but three companions, fled on foot 
and unpitied, through the whole breadth of the city, 
until she reached the Ostian eate, and mounted the 
rubbish-cart of a market gardener which happened 
to be passing. But Narcissus absorbed both the looks 
and the attention of the Emperor by the proofs and 
the narrative of her crimes, and, getting rid of the 
Vestal by promising her that the cause of Messalma 
should be tried, he hurried Claudius forward, first to 
the house of Silius, which abounded with the proofs 
of his guilt, and then to the camp of the Praetorians, 
where swift vengeance was taken on the whole band 
of those who had been involved in Messalina's crimes. 
She meanwhile, in alternative paroxysms of fury and 
of abject terror, had taken refuge in the garden of 
Lucullus, which she had coveted and made her own 
by injustice. Claudius, who had returned home, and 
had recovered some of his facile equanimity in the 
pleasures of the table, showed signs of relenting ; but 
Narcissus knew that delay was death, and on his own 
authority sent a tribune and centurions to despatch 
the Empress. They found her prostrate on tlit; 


ground at the feet of her mother Lepida, with whom 
in her prosperity she had quarrelled, but who now 
came to pity and console her misery, and to urge her 
to that voluntary death which alone could save her 
from imminent and more cruel infamy. But the 
mind of Messalina, like that of Nero afterwards, was 
so corrupted by wickedness that not even such poor 
nobility was left in her as is implied in the courage 
of despair. While she ^vasted the time in tears and 
lamentations, a noise was heard of battering at the 
doors, and the tribune stood by her in stern silence, 
the freedman with slavish vituperation. First she 
took the dagger in her irresolute hand, and after she 
had twice stabbed herself in vain, the tribune drove 
home the fatal blow, and the corpse of Messalina, 
like that of Jezebel, lay weltering in its blood in the 
plot of ground of which her crimes had robbed its 
lawful owner. Claudius, still lingering at his dinner, 
was informed that she had perished, and neither 
asked a single question at the time, nor subsequently 
displayed the slightest sign of anger, of hatred, of 
pity, or of any human emotion. 

The absolute silence of Seneca respecting . the 
woman who had caused him the bitterest anguish and 
humiliation of his life is, as we have remarked 
already, a strange and significant phenomenon. It 
is clearly not due to accident, for the vices which he 
is incessantly describing and denouncing would have 
found in this miserable woman their most flagrant 
illustration, nor could contemporary history have 
furnished a more apposite example of the vindication 


by her fate of the stern majesty of the moral law. But 
yet, though Seneca had every reason to loathe her 
character and to detest her memory, though he could 
not have rendered to his p,atrons a more welcome 
service than by blackening her reputation, he never 
so much as mentions her name. And this honourable 
silence giv^es us afavourable insight into his character. 
For it can only be due to his pitying sense of the 
fact that even Messalina, bad as she undoubtedly was, 
had been judged already by a higher Power, and had 
met her dread punishment at the hand of God. It has 
been conjectured, with every appearance of proba- 
bility, that the blackest of the scandals which were be- 
lieved and circulated- respecting her had their origin 
in the published autobiography of her deadly enemy 
and victorious successor. The many who had had 
a share in Messalina's fall would be only too glad to 
poison every reminiscence of her life ; and the deadly 
implacable hatred of the worst woman who ever lived 
would find peculiar gratification in scattering every 
conceivable hue of disgrace over the acts of a rival 
whose young children it was her dearest object to 
supplant. That Seneca did not deign to chronicle 
even of an enemy what Agrippina was not ashamed 
to write, — that he spared one whom it was every one's 
interest and pleasure to malign, — that he regarded her 
terrible fall as a sufficient claim to pity, as it was a 
sufficient Nemesis upon her crimes, — is a trait in 
the character of the philosopher which has hardly yet 
received the credit which it deserves. 



Scarcely had the grave closed over Messalina when 
the court was plunged into the most violent factions 
about the appointment of her successor. There were 
three principal candidates for the honour of the aged 
Emperor's hand. They were his former wife, .^lia 
Petina, who had only been divorced in consequence 
of trivial disagreements, and who was supported by 
Narcissus ; Lollia Paulina, so celebrated in. antiquity 
for her beauty and splendour, and who for a short 
time had been the wife of Caius ; and Agrippina the 
younger, the daughter of the great Germanicus, and 
the niece of Claudius himself Claudius, indeed, who 
had been as unlucky as Henry VHI. himself in the 
unhappiness which had attended his five experiments 
of matrimony, had made the strongest possible 
asseverations that he would never again submit 
himself to such a yoke. But he was so com- 
pletely a tool in the hands of his own courtiers 
that no one attached the slightest importance to 
anything which he had said. 

The marriage of an uncle with iiis own niece was 


112 SENECA. 

considered a violation of natural laws, and was re- 
garded with no less horror among the Romans than 
it would be among ourselves. But Agrippina, by 
the use of means the most unscrupulous, prevailed 
over all her rivals, and managed her interests with 
such consummate skill that, before many months had 
elapsed, she had become the spouse of Claudius and 
the Empress of Rome. 

With this princess the destinies of Seneca were 
most closely intertwined, and it w^ill enable us the 
better to understand his position, and his writings, 
if we remember that all history discloses to us no 
phenomenon more portentous and terrible than that 
presented to us in the character of Agrippina, the 
mother of Nero. 

Of the virtues of her great parents she, like their 
other children, had inherited not one ; and she had 
exaggerated their family tendencies into passions 
which urged her into every form of crime. Her 
career from the very cradle had been a career of 
wickedness, nor had any one of the many fierce 
vicissitudes .of her life called forth in her a single 
noble or amiable trait. Born at Oppidum Ubiorum 
(afterwards called in her honour Colonia Agrippina, 
and still retaining its name in the form Cologne), 
she lost her father at the age of three, and her 
mother (by banishment) at the age of twelve. She 
was educated with bad sisters, with a wild and 
wicked brother, and under a grandmother whom she 
detested. At the age of fourteen she was married 
to Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, one of the most 


worthless and ill-reputed of the young Roman nobles 
of his day. The gossiping biographies of the time 
still retain some anecdotes of his cruelty and selfish- 
ness. They tell us how he once, without the sligh:est 
remorse, ran over a poor boy who was playing on 
the Appian Road ; how on another occasion he 
knocked out the eye of a Roman knight who had 
given him a hasty answer ; and how, when his friend 
congratulated him on the birth of his son (the young 
Claudius Domitius, afterwards the Emperor Nero), 
he brutally remarked that from people like himself 
and Agrippina could only be born some monster 
destined for the public ruin. 

Domitius was forty years old when he married 
Agrippina, and the young Nero was not born till 
nine years afterwards. Whatever there was of pos- 
sible affection in the tigress-nature of Agrippina was 
now absorbed in the person of her child. For that 
child, from its cradle to her ovvn death by his means, 
she toiled and sinned. The fury of her own ambi- 
tion, inextricably linked with the uncontrollable 
fierceness of her love for this only son, henceforth 
directed every action of her life. Destiny had made 
iier the sister of one Emperpr ; intrigue elevated 
iier into the wife of another ; her own crimes made 
her the mother of a third. And at first sight her 
career might have seemed unusually successful, foi 
while still in the prime of life she was wielding, first 
in the name of her husband, and then in that of her 
son, no mean share in the absolute government of 
the Roman world. But mcanwiiile that same uncr- 

114 SENECA. 

ring retribution, whose stealthy footsteps in the rear 
o^ the triumphant criminal we can track through page 
after page of history, was stealing nearer and nearer 
to her with uplifted hand. When she had reached 
the dizzy pinnacle of gratified love and pride to which 
she had waded through so many a deed of sin and 
blood, she was struck down into terrible ruin and 
violent shameful death, by the hand of that very son 
for whose sake she had so often violated the laws of 
virtue and integrity, and spurned so often the pure 
and tender obligations which even the heathen had 
been taught by the voice of God within their con- 
science to recognise and to adore. 

Intending that her son should marry Octavik, the 
daughter of Claudius, her first step was to drive to 
death Silanus, a young nobleman to whom Octavia 
had already been betrothed. Her next care was to 
get rid of all rivals possible or actual. Among the 
former were the beautiful Calpurnia and her own 
sister-in-law, Domitia Lepida. Among the latter 
was the wealthy Lollia Paulina, against whom she 
trumped up an accusation of sorcery and treason, 
upon which her wealth was confiscated, but her life 
spared by the Emperor, who banished her from Italy. 
This half-vengeance was not enough for the mother 
of Nero. Like the daughter of Herodias in sacred 
history, she despatched a tribune with orders to 
bring her the head of her enemy ; and when it was 
brought to her, and she found a difficulty in recognising 
those withered and ghastly features of a once-cele- 
orated beauty, she is said with her own hand to have 


lifted one of the lips, and to have satisfied herself that 
this was indeed the head of Lollia. To such horrors 
may a woman sink, when she has abandoned the love 
of God ; and a fair face may hide a soul " leprous 
as sin itself." Well may Adolf Stahr observe that 
Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth and husband-murdering 
Gertrude are mere children by the side of this awful 
giant-shape of steely feminine cruelty. 

Such was the princess who, in the year A.D. 49, 
recalled Seneca from exile.* She saw that her 
cruelties were inspiring horror even into a city that had 
long been accustomed to blood, and Tacitus expressly 
tells us that she hoped to counterbalance this feeling 
by a stroke of popularity in recalling from the waste 
solitudes of Corsica the favourite philosopher and 
most popular author of the Roman world. Nor was 
she content with this public proof of her belief in 
his innocence of the crime which had been laid to 
his charge, for she further procured for him the 
Praetorship, and appointed him tutor and governor 
to her youthful son. Even in taking this step she 
did not forget her ambitious views ; for she knew 
that Seneca cherished a secret indignation against 
Claudius, and that Nero could have no more wise 
adviser in taking steps to secure the fruition of his 
imperial hopes. It might perhaps have been better for 
Seneca's happiness if he had never left Corsica, or set 
his foot again in that Circean and bloodstained court. 

* Gallio was Proconsul of Achaia about A. D, 53, when St. Paul was 
brought before his tribunal. Very possibly his clc vation may have been 
due to the restoration of Seneca's influence. 

ir6 SENECA. 

Let it, however, be added in his exculpation, that 
another man of undoubted and scrupulous honesty, — 
Afranius Burrus — a man of the old, blunt, faithful 
type of Roman manliness, ■ whom Agrippina had 
raised to the Prefectship of the Prsetorian cohorts, 
was willing to share his danger and his respon- 
sibilities. Yet he must have lived from the first in 
the very atmosphere of base and criminal intrigues. 
He must have formed an important member of 
Agrippina's party, which was in daily and deadly 
enmity against the party of Narcissus. He must 
have watched the incessant artifices by which Agrip- 
pina secured the adoption of her son Nero by an 
Emperor whose own son Britannicus was but three 
years his junior. He must have seen Nero always 
honoured, promoted, paraded before the eyes of the 
populace as the future hope of Rome, whilst Britan- 
nicus, like the young Edward V. under the regency 
of his uncle, was neglected, surrounded with spies, 
kept as much as possible out of his father's sight, 
and so completely thrust into the background from 
all observation that the populace began seriously to 
doubt whether he were alive or dead. He must have 
seen Agrippina, who had now received the unprece- 
dented honour of the title *' Augusta" in her lifetime, 
a~ting with such haughty insolence that there could 
be little doubt as to her ulterior designs upon the 
throne. He must have known that his splendid 
intellect was practically at the service of a woman 
in whom avarice, haughtiness, violence, treachery, 
and every form of unscrupulous criminality had 


reached a point hitherto unmatched even in a corrupt 
and pagan world. From this time forth the biography 
of Seneca must assume the form of an apology 
rather than of a panegyric. 

The Emperor could not but feel that in Agrippina 
he had chosen a wife even more intolerable than 
Messalina herself. Messalina had not interfered 
with the friends he loved, had not robbed him 
of the insignia of empire, had not filled his palace 
with a hard and unfeminine tyranny, and had of 
course watched with a mother's interest over tne 
lives and fortunes of his children. Narcissus would 
not be likely to leave him long in ignorance that, in 
addition to her other plots and crimes, Agrippina had 
been as little true to him as his former unhappy wife. 
The information sank deep into his heart, and he was 
heard to mutter that it had been his destiny all 
along first to bear, and then to avenge, the enormities 
of his wives. Agrippina, whose spies filled the palace, 
could not long remain uninformed of so significant a 
speech ; and she probably saw with an instinct 
quickened by the awful terrors of her own guilty 
conscience that the Emperor showed distinct signs 
of his regret for having married his niece, and 
adopted her child to the prejudice, if not to the ruin, 
of his own young son. If she wanted to reach the 
goal which she had held so long in view no time was 
to be lost. Let us hope that Seneca and Ikirrus 
were at least ignorant of the means which she took 
to effect her purpose. 

Fortune favoured her. The dreaded Narcissus, the 
most formidable obstacle to her murderous plans, was 


sriyed with an attack of the gout. Agrippina managed 
that his physician should recommend him the waters 
of Sinuessa in C'lmpania by way of cure. He was 
thus got out of the way, and she proceeded at once 
to her work of blood. Entrusting the secret to 
H.alotus, the Emperor's prcEgiistator — the slave whose 
office it Avas to protect him from poison by tasting 
every dish before him — and to his physician, Xenophon 
of Cos, she consulted Locusta, the Mrs. Turner of 
the period of this classical King James, as to the 
poison best suited to her purpose. J^ocusta was 
mistress of her art, in which long practice had given 
her a consummate skill. The poison must not be too 
rapid, lest it should cause suspicion ; nor too slow, lest 
it should give the Emperor time to consult for the 
interests of his son Britannicus ; but it was to be one 
which should disturb his intellect without causing 
immediate death. Claudius was a glutton, and the 
poison was given him with all the m.ore ease because it 
was mixed with a dish of mushrooms, of which he was 
extravagantly fond. Agrippina herself handed him 
the choicest mushroom in the dish, and the poison at 
once reduced him to silei?ce. As was too frequently 
the case, Claudius was intoxicated at the time, and 
was carried off to his bed as if nothing had happened. 
A violent colic ensued, and it was feared that this, 
with the quantity of wine which he had drunk, would 
render the poison innocuous. But Agrippina had 
gone too far for retreat , and Xenophon, who knew 
that great crimes if frustrated are perilous, if successful 
are rewarded, came to her assistance. Under pretence 
of causincr him to vomit, he tickled the throat of 


the Emperor with a feather smeared with a swift 
and deadly poison. It did its work, and before 
morning the Csesar was a corpse.* 

As has been the case not unfrequently in history, 
from the times of Tarquinins Priscus to those of 
Charles II., the death was concealed until everything 
had been prepared for the production of a successor. 
The palace was carefully^ watched ; no one was even 
admitted into it except Agrippina's most trusty parti- 
sans. The body was propped up with pillows ; actors 
were sent for *' by his own desire " to afford it some 
amusement; and priests and consuls were bidden to 
offer up their vows for the life of the dead. Giving out 
that the Fmperor was getting better, Agrippina took 
care to keep Britannicus and his two sisters, Octavia 
and Antonia, under lier own immediate eye. As 
though overwhelmed with sorrow she wept, and em- 

* There is usually found among the writings of Seneca a most 
remarkable burlesque called Ludus de Morte Ccesaris. As to its 
authorship opinions will always vary, but it is a work of such undoubted 
genius, so interesting, and so unique in its character, that I have thought 
it necessary to give in an Appendix a brief sketch of its argument. 
^Ye may at least hope that this satire, which overflows with the deadliest 
contempt for Claudius, is not from the same pen which wrote for Nero 
his funeral oration. It has, however, been supposed (without suffi- 
cient grounds) to be the lost ' kiroKoKoKvvTwois which Seneca is said to 
have written on the apotheosis of Claudius. The very name is a Intter 
satire. It imagines the Emperor transformed, not into a god, but into 
a gourd — one of those "bloated gourds which sun their speckled bellies 
before the doors of the Roman peasants." "The Senate decreed his 
divinity ; Seneca translated it \\\\.o pumpkinity" (Merivale, Rom. Emp. 
V. 601). 'J'he Ludus begins by spattering mud on the memory of the 
divine Claudius ; it ends with a shower of poetic roses over the glor) 
of ihe diviner Nero ! 

120 SENECA. 

braced them, and above all kept Britannicus by her 
side, kissing him with the exclamation " that he was 
the very im.age of his father," and taking care that he 
should on no account leave her room. So the day 
wore on till it was the hour which the Chald^eans 
declared would be tl:e only lucky hour in that unlucky 
October day. 

Noon came ; the palace doors were suddenly thrown 
open ; and Nero with Burrus at his side went out t 
the Praetorian cohort which was on guard. By the 
order of their commandant, they received him with 
cheers. A few only hesitated, looking round them and 
asking "Where was Britannicus.-*" Since, however, 
he was not to be seen, and no one stirred in his favour, 
they followed the multitude. Nero was carried in 
triumph to the camp, made the soldiers a short 
speech, and promised to each man of them a 
splendid donative. He was at once saluted Emperor. 
The Senate followed 'the choice of the soldiers, and 
the provinces made no demur. Divine honours were 
decreed to the murdered man, and preparations made 
for a funeral which was to rival in its splendour the 
one which Livia had ordered for Augustus. But the 
will — which beyond all doubt had provided for the 
succession of Britannicus — was quietly done away 
with, and its exact provisions were never known. 

And on the first evening of his imperial power, 
Nero, well aware to whom he owed his throne, gave 
to the sentinel who came to ask him the pass for 
the night the grateful and significant watchword of 
" Optima Mater,"—" the best of mothers V" 



The imperial youth, whose destinies are now in- 
extricably mingled with those of Seneca, was accom- 
panied to the throne by the acclamations of the 
people. Wearied by the astuteness of an Auf^ustus, 
the sullen wrath of a Tiberius, the mad ferocity of a 
Caius, the senile insensibility of a Claudius, they could 
not but welcome the succession of a bright and 
beautiful youth, whose fair hair floated over his 
shoulders, and whose features displayed the finest 
type of Roman beauty. There was nothing in his 
antecedents to give a sinister augury to his future 
development, and all classes alike dreamt of the 
advent of a golden age. We can understand their 
feelings if we compare tnem with those of our own 
countrymen when the sullen tyranny of Henry VHI. 
was followed by the youthful virtue and gentleness 
of Edward VI. Happy would it have been for 
Nero if his reign, like that of Edward, could have 
been cut short before the thick night of many crimes 
had settled down upon the promise of its dawn. 
For the first five years of Nero's reign — the famous 

122 SENECA. 

Qinnquenniiiin Neronis — were fondly regarded by the 
Romaais as a period of almost ideal happiness. In 
reality, it was Seneca who was ruling in Nero's name. 
Even so excellent an Emperor as Trajan is said to have 
admitted "that no other prince had nearly equalled the 
praise of that period." It is indeed probable that those 
years appeared to shine with an exaggerated splendour 
from the intense gloom which succeeded themj yet 
we can see in them abundant circumstances which 
were quite sufficient to inspire an enthusiasm of hope 
and joy. The young Nero was at first modest and 
docile His opening speeches, written with all the 
beauty of thought and language which betrayed the 
style of Seneca no less than his habitual sentiments, 
were full of glowing promises. All those things 
which had been felt to be injurious or oppressive he 
promised to eschew. He would not, he said, reserve 
to himself, as Claudius had done, the irresponsible 
decision in all matters of business ; no office or 
dignity should be won from him by flattery or pur- 
chased by bribes ; he would not confuse his own 
personal interests with those of the commonwealth ; 
he would respect the ancient prerogatives of the 
Senate ; he would confine his own immediate attention 
to the provinces and the army. 

Nor were such promises falsified by his immediate 
conduct. The odious informers who had flourished 
in previous reigns were frowned upon and punished. 
Offices of public dignity were relieved from unjust 
and oppressive burdens. Nero prudently declined 
the gold and silver statues and other extravagant 


honours which were offered to him by the corrupt 
and servile Senate, but he treated that body, which, 
fallen as it was, continued still to be the main repre- 
sentative of constitutional authority, with favour 
and respect. Nobles and officials began to breathe 
more freely, and the general sense of an intolerable 
tyranny was perceptibly relaxed. Severity was re- 
served for notorious criminals, and was only inflicted 
in a regular and authorized manner, when no one 
could doubt that it had been deserved. Above all, 
Seneca had disseminated an anecdote about his young 
pupil which tended more than any other circum- 
stance to his wide-spread popularity. England has 
remembered with gratitude and admiration the tearful 
reluctance of her youthful Edward to sicrn the death- 
warrant of Joan Boucher ; Rome, accustomea to a 
cruel indifference to human life, regarded with some- 
thing like transport the sense of pity which had 
made Nero, when asked to affix his signature to an 
order for execution, exclaim, " How I wish that I 
did not knozv how to write ! " 

It is admitted that no small share of the happiness 
of this period was due to the firmness of the honest 
Burrus, and the wise, high-minded precepts of Seneca. 
They deserve the amplest gratitude and credit for 
this happy interregnum, for they had no easy task to 
perform. Besides the difficulties which arose from 
the base and frivolous character of their pupil, besides 
the infinite delicacy which was requisite for the re- 
straint of a youth who was absolute master of suck 

gigantic destinies, they had the task of curbing the 


124 SENECA, 

wild and imperious ambition of Agrippina, and of 
defeating the incessant intrigues of her many powerfiii 
dependents. Agrippina had no doubt persuaded her- 
self that her crimes had been mainly committed in 
the interests of her son ; but her conduct showed that 
she wished him to be a mere instrument in her hands. 
She wished to govern him. and had probably calcu- 
lated on doing so by the assistance of Seneca, just 
as our own Queen Carolme completely managed 
George 11. with tiie aid of Sir Robert Walpole. She 
rode in a litter with him ; without his knowledge 
she ordered the poisoning of M. Silanus, a brother 
of her former victim, she goaded Narcissus to 
death, against his will ; through her influence the 
Senate was sometimes assembled in the palace, 
and she took no pains to conceal from the senators 
that she was herself seated behind a curtain where 
she could hear every word of their deliberations ; — 
nay, on one occasion, when Nero was about to give 
audience to an important Armenian legation, she 
had the audacity to enter the audience-chamber, and 
advance to take lier seat by the side of the Emperor. 
Every one else was struck dumb with amazement, and 
even terror, at a proceeding so unusual ; but Seneca, 
with ready and admirable tact, suggested to Nero 
that he should rise and meet his mother, thus, 
obviating a public scandal under the pretext of filial 

But Seneca from the very first had been guilty of 
a fatal error in the education of his pupil. He had 
governed him throughout on the ruinous principle of 


concession. Nero was not devoid of talent ; he had 
a decided turn for Latin versification, and the few 
lines of his composition which have come down to 
us, bizarre and affected as they are, yet display a 
certain sense of melody and power of language. But 
his vivid imagination was accompanied by a want of 
purpose ; and Seneca, instead of trying to train him 
in habits of serious attention and sustained thought, 
suffered him to waste his best efforts in pursuits and 
amusements which were considered partly frivolous 
and partly disreputable, such as singing, painting, 
dancing, and driving. Seneca might have argued that 
there was, at any rate,, no great harm in such employ- 
ments, and that they probably kept Nero out of 
worse mischief. But we respect Nero the less for 
his indifferent singing and harp-twanging just as we 
respect Louis XVI. less for making very poor locks ; 
and, if Seneca had adopted a loftier tone with his 
pupil from the first, Rome might have been spared 
the disgraceful folly of Nero's subsequent buffooneries 
in the cities of Greece and the theatres of Rome. We 
may lay it down as an invariable axiom in all high 
education, that it is never sensible to permit what is 
bad for the supposed sakeof preventing what is worse. 
Seneca very probably persuaded himself that with a 
mind like Nero's — the innate worthlessness of which 
he must early have recognised — success of any high 
description would be simply impossible. But this 
did not absolve him from attempting the only noble 
means by which success could, under any circum- 
stances, be attainable. Let us, however, remember 

126 SENECA. 

that his concessions to his pupil were mainly in 
matters which he regarded as indifferent — or, at the 
worst, as discreditable — rather than as criminal ; and 
that his mistake probably arose from an error in 
judgment far more than from any deficiency in moral 

Yet it is clear that, even intellectually, Nero was 
the worse for this laxity of training. We have already 
seen that, in his maiden-speech before the Senate, 
every one recognised the hand of Seneca, and many 
observed with a sigh that .this was the first occasion 
on which an Emperor had not been able, at least to 
all appearance, to address the Senate in his own words 
and with his own thoughts. Tiberius, as an orator, 
had been dignified and forcible ; Claudius had been 
learned and polished ; even the disturbed reason of 
Caligula had not been wanting in a capacity for 
delivering forcible and eloquent harangues ; but Nero's 
youth had been frittered away in paltry and indecorous 
accomplishments, which had left him neither time 
nor inclination for weightier and nobler pursuits. 

The fame of Seneca has, no doubt, suffered griev- 
ously from the subsequent infamy of his pupil ; and 
it is obvious that the dislike of Tacitus to his memory 
is due to his connexion with Nero. Now, even 
though the tutor's system had not been so wise as, 
when judged by an inflexible standard, it might have 
been, it is yet clearly unjust to make him responsible 
for the depravity of his pupil ; and it must be remem- 
bered, to Seneca's eternal honour, that the evidence 
of facts, the testimony of contemporaries, and even 


the grudging admission of Tacitus himself, establishes 
in his favour that whatever wisdom and moderation 
characterised the earlier years of Nero's reign were 
due to his counsels ; that he enjoyed the cordial 
esteem of the virtuous Burrus ; that he helped to 
check the sanguinary audacities of Agrippina ; that 
the writings which he addressed to Nero, and the 
speeches which he wrote for him, breathed the loftiest 
counsels ; and that it was not until he was wholly 
rcPxioved from power and inrluence that Nero, under 
the fierce impulses of despotic power, developed 
those atrocious tendencies of which the seeds had 
long been latent in his disposition. An ancient writer 
records the tradition that Seneca very early observed 
in Nero a savagery of disposition which he could 
not wholly eradicate ; and that to his intimate friends 
he used to observe that, " when once the lion tasted 
human blood, his innate cruelty would return." 

But while we give Seneca this credit, and allow 
that his intentions were thoroughly upright, we cannot 
but impugn \(\'~> judgment for having thus deliberately 
adopted the morality of expedience ; and we believe 
that to this cause, more than to any other, was due 
the extent of his failure and the misery of his life. 
We may, indeed, be permitted to doubt whether 
Nero himself — a vain and loose youth, the son of bad 
parents, and heir to boundless expectations — would, 
under any circumstances, have grown up much better 
than he did ; but it is clear that Seneca might have 
been held in infinitely higher honour but for the 
share which he had in his education. Had Seneca 

128 SENECA. 

been as firm and wise as Socrates, Nero in all proba- 
bility would not have been much worse than Alci- 
biades. If the tutor had set before his pupil no 
ideal but the very highest, if he had inflexibly 
opposed to the extent of his ability every tendency 
w^hich was dishonourable and wrong, he might 
possibly have been rewarded by success, and have 
earned the indelible gratitude of mankind ; and if he 
had failed he would at least have failed nobly, and 
have carried with him into a calm and honourable 
retirement the respect, if not the affection, of his 
imperial pupil. Nay, even if he had failed com- 
pletely, and lost his life in the attempt, it w^ould 
have been infinitely better both for him and for 
mankind. Even Homer might have taught him that 
" it is better to die than live in sin." At any rate 
he might have known from study and observation 
that an education founded on compromise must 
always and necessarily fail. It must fail because it 
overlooks that great eternal law of retribution for and 
continuity in evil, which is illustrated by every single 
history of individuals and of nations. And the edu- 
cation which Seneca gave to Nero — noble as it was 
in many respects, and eminent as was its partial and 
temporary success — was yet an education of compro- 
mises. Alike in the studies of Nero's boyhood and 
the graver temptations of his manhood, he acted on 
the foolishly-fatal principle that 

" Had the wild oat not been sown, 
The soil left barren scarce had grown 
The grain whereby a man may live." 


Any Christian might have predicted the result ; one 
would have thought that even a pagan philosopher 
might have been enlightened enough to observe it. 
We often quote the lines — 

" The child is father of the man," 


"Just as the twig is bent the tree inclines." 

But the ancients were quite as familiar with the same 
truth under other images. *'The cask," wrote Horace, 
" will long retain the odour of that which has once 
been poured into it when new." Quintilian, de- 
scribing the depraved influences which surrounded 
even the infancy of a Roman child, said, *' From 
these 2,x\'i^ first familiarity, tJien nature^ 

No one has laid down the principle more em- 
phatically than Seneca himself Take, for instance, 
the following passage from his Letters, on evil con- 
versation. ** The conversation," he says, " of these 
men is very injurious : for, even if it does no immediate 
harm, it leaves its seeds in the mind, and follows us 
even when we have gone from the speakers, — a plague 
sure to spring up in future resurrection. Just as those 
who have heard a symphony carr)^ in their ears the 
tune and sweetness of the song which entangles their 
thoughts, and does not suffer them to give their whole 
energy to serious matters ; so the conversa*:ion of 
flatterers and of those who praise evil things, lingers 
longer in the mind than the time of hearing it. Nor is 
it easy to shake out of the soul a sweet sound ; it 
pursues us, and lingers with us, and at perpetual inter- 


vals recurs. Our ears therefore must be closed to evil 
words, and that to the very first we hear. For v/hen 
they have once begun and been admitted, they acquire 
more and more audacity;" and so he adds a litte after- 
wards, " our days flow on, and irreparable life passes 
beyond our reach."' Yet he who wrote these noble 
words was not only a flatterer to his imperial pupil, but 
is charged with having deliberately encouraged him in 
a foolish passion for a freedwoman named Acte, into 
which Nero fell. It was of course his duty to recall 
the w^avering aftections of the youthful Emperor to his 
betrothed Octavia, the daughter of Claudius, to whom 
he had been bound by every tie of honour and 
affection, and his union with whom gave some shadow 
of greater legitimacy to his practical usurpation. But 
princes rarely love the wives to whom they owe any 
part of their elevation. Henry VII. treated Elizabeth 
of York with many slights. The union of William III. 
with Mary was overshadowed by her superior claim 
to the royal power ; and Nero from the first regarded 
with aversion, which ended in assassination, the poor 
young orphan girl who recalled to the popular memory 
his slender pretensions to hereditary empire, and whom 
he regarded as a possible rival, if her cowed and 
plastic nature should ever become a tool in the hands 
of more powerful intriguers. But we do not hear of 
any attempt on Seneca's part to urge upon Nero the 
fulfilment of this high duty, and we find him sinking 
into the degraded position of an accomplice with 
young profligates like Otho, as the confidant of a 
di.shonourable love. Such conduct, which would have. 


done discredit to a mere courtier, was to a Stoic dis- 
graceful. But the principle which led to it is the very 
principle to which we have been pointing, — the principle 
of moral compromise, the principle of permitting and 
encouraging what is evil in the vain hope of thereby 
preventing what is worse. It is hardly strange that 
Seneca should have erred in this way, for compromise 
was the character of his entire life. He appears to 
have set before himself the wholly impossible task of 
being both a genuine philosopher and a statesman 
under the Caesars. He prided himself on being no*" 
only a philosopher, but also a man of the world, 
and the consequence was, that in both capacities 
he failed. It was as true in Paganism as it is in 
Christianity, that a man m?cst make his choice be- 
tween duty and interest — between the service of 
Mammon and the service of God. No man ever 
gained anything but contempt and ruin by incessantly 
halting between two opinions. 

And by not taking that lofty line of duty which a 
Zeno or an Antisthenes would have taken, Seneca 
became more or less involved in some of the most 
dreadful events of Nero's reign. Every one of the 
terrible doubts under which his reputation has suf- 
fered arose from his having permitted the principle of 
expedience to supersede the laws 'of virtue. One or 
two of these events we must briefly narrate. 

We have already pointed out that the Nemesis 

which for so many years had been secretly dogging 

the footsteps of Agrippina made her tremble under 

the weight of its first cruel blows when she seemed 
10 N 

i32 SENECA. 

to have attained the highest summit of her ambi- 
tion. Very early indeed Nero began to be galled 
and irritated by the insatiate assumption and 
swollen authority of " the best of mothers." The 
furious reproaches which she heaped upon him when 
she saw in Acte a possible rival to her power drove 
him to take refuge in the facile and unphilosophic 
worldliness of Seneca's concessions, and goaded him 
almost immediately afterwards into an atrocious 
crime. He naturally looked on Britannicus, the 
youthful son of Claudius, with even more suspicion 
and hatred than that with which he regarded Octavia. 
Kings have rarely been able to abstain from acts of 
severity against those who might become claimants 
to the throne. The feelings of King John towards 
Prince Arthur, of Henry IV. towards the Earl ot 
March, of Mary towards Lady Jane Grey, of Eliza- 
beth towards Mary Stuart, of King James towards 
Lady Arabella Stua'"t, resembled, but probably by no 
means equalled in intensity, those of Nero towards 
his kinsman and adoptive brother. To show him 
any affection was a dangerous crime, and it fur- 
nished a sufficient cause for immediate remov^al if 
any attendant behaved towards him with fidelity. 
Such a line of treatment foreshadowed the catastrophe 
which was hastened by the rage of Agrippina. She 
would go, she said, and take with her to the camp the 
noble boy who was now of full age to undertake those 
imperial duties which a usurper was exercising in 
virtue of crimes which she was now prepared to 
confess. Then let the mutilated Burrus and the glib- 



tongued Seneca sec whether they could be a match 
for the son of Claudius and the daughter of Ger- 
manicus. Such language, uttered with violent ges- 
tures and furious imprecations, might well excite the 
alarm of the timid Nero. And that alarm was in- 
creased by a recent circumstance, which showed that 
all the ancestral spirit was not dead in the breast ot 
Britannicus. During the festivities of the Saturnalia, 
which were kept by the ancients with all the hilarity 
of the modern Christmas, Nero had been elected by lot 
as '"governor of the feast," and, in that capacity, was 
entitled to issue his orders to the guests. To the others 
he issued trivial mandates which would not make them 
blush ; but Britannicus, in violation of every principle 
of Roman decorum, was ordered to stand up in the 
middle and sing a song. The boy, inexperienced as 
yet even in sober banquets, and wholly unaccustomed 
to drunken convivialities, might well have faltered ; 
but he at once rose, and with a steady voice began a 
strain — probably the magnificent wail of Andromache 
over the fall of Troy, which has been preserved to us 
from a lost play of Ennius — in which he indicated 
his own disgraceful ejection from his hereditary rights. 
His courage and his misfortunes woke in the guests a 
feeling of pity which night and wine made them less 
careful to disguise. From that moment the fate of 
Britannicus was sealed. Locusta, the celebrated 
poisoner of ancient Rome, was summoned to the 
councils of Nero to get rid of Britannicus, as she had 
already been summoned to those of his mother when 
she wished to disembarrass herself of Britannicus's 

134 SENECA. 

father. The main difficulty was to avoid discovery, 
since nothing was eaten or drunk at the imperial 
table till it had been tasted by \h^ prcegustator. To 
avoid this difficulty a very hot draught was given to 
Britannicus, and when he wished for something cooler 
a swift and subtle poison was dropped into the cold 
water with which it was tempered. The boy drank, 
and instantly sank from his seat, gasping and speech- 
less. The guests started up in consternation, and 
fixed their eyes on Nero. He with the utmost cool- 
ness assured them that it was merely a fit of epilepsy, 
to which his brother was accustomed, and from which 
he would soon recover. The terror and agitation of 
Agrippina showed to every one that she at least was 
guiltless of this dark deed ; but the unhappy Octavia, 
young as she was, and doubly terrible on every 
ground as the blow must have been to her, sat silent 
and motionless, having already learnt by her mis- 
fortunes the awful necessity for suppressing under an 
impassive exterior her affections and sorrows, her 
hopes and fears. In the dead of night, amid storms 
of murky rain, which were thought to indicate the 
wrath of heaven, the last of the Claudii was hastily 
and meanly hurried into a dishonourable grave. 

We may beh'eve that in this crime Seneca had no 
share whatever, but we can hardly believe that he was 
ignorant of it after it had been committed, or that he 
had no share in the intensely hypocritical edict in 
which Nero bewailed the fact of his adoptive brother's 
death, excused his hurried funeral, and threw himself 
on the additional indulgence and protection of the 


Senate. Nero showed the consciousness of guilt by 
the immense largesses which he distributed to the 
most powerful of his friends. " Nor were there want- 
ing men," says Tacitus, in a most significant manner, 
" ivho accused certain people, notorious for their higJi 
professions^ of having at that period divided amo7ig 
them villas and houses as though they had been so much 
spoil." There can hardly be a doubt that the great 
historian intends by this remark to point at Seneca, 
to whom he tries to be fair, but whom he could never 
quite forgive for his share in the disgraces of Nero's 
reign. That avarice was one of Seneca's temptations 
is too probable ; that expediency was a guiding 
principle of his conduct is but too evident ; and for 
a man with such a character to rebut an inuendo is 
never an easy task. Nay more, it was after this foul 
event, at the close of Nero's first year, that Seneca 
addressed him in the extravagant and glowing lan- 
guage of his treatise on Clemency. ** The quality of 
mercy," and the duty of princes to practise it, has 
never been more eloquently extolled ; but it is 
accompanied by a fulsome flattery which has in it 
something painfully grotesque as addressed by a 
philosopher to one whom he knew to have been 
guilty, that very year, of an inhuman fratricide. 
Imagine some Jewish Pharisee, — a Nicodemus or a 
Gamaliel — pronouncing an eulogy on the tenderness 
of a Herod, and you have some picture of the appear^ 
ance which Seneca's consistency must have worn in 
the eyes of his contemporaries. 

This event took place A.D. 55, in the first year of 


136 SENECA. 

Nero's Quinq7(enni?cm, and the same year was nearly 
signalised by the death of his mother. A charge 
of pretended conspiracy was invented against her, 
and it is probable that but for the intei*vention of 
Burrus, who with Seneca was appointed to examine 
into the charge, she would have fallen a very sudden 
victim to the cowardly credulity and growing- hatred 
of her son. The extraordinary and eloquent audacity 
of her defence created a reaction in her favour, 
and secured the punishment of her, accusers. But 
the ties of affection could not long unite two such 
wicked and imperious natures as those of Agrippina 
and her son. All history shows that there can be 
no real love between souls exceptionally wicked, 
and that this is still more impossible when the 
alliance between them has been sealed by a com- 
plicity in crime. Nero had now fallen into a deep 
infatuation for Foppsea Sabina, the beautiful wife 
of Otho, and she refused him her hand so long as 
he was still under the control of his mother. At 
this time Agrippina, as the just consequence of her 
many crimes, was regarded by all classes with a fana- 
ticism of hatred which in Poppaea Sabina was inten- 
sified by manifest self-interest. Nero, always weak, 
had long regarded his mother with real terror and 
disgust, and he scarcely needed the urgency of con- 
stant application to make him long to get rid of her. 
But the daughter of Germanicus could not be openly 
destroyed, while her own precautions helped to secure 
her against secret assassination. It only remained to 
compass her death by treachery. Nero had long 


compelled her to live in suburban retirement, and 
had made no attempt to conceal the open rupture 
which existed between them. Anicetus, admiral of the 
fleet at Misenum, and a former instructor of Nero, 
suggested the expedient of a pretended public recon- 
ciliation, in virtue of which Agrippina should be in- 
vited to Baiae, and on her return should be placed on 
board a vessel so constructed as to come to pieces by 
the removal of bolts. The disaster mischt then be 
attributed to a mere naval accident, and Nero might 
make the most ostentatious display of his affection 
and regret. 

The invitation was sent, and a vessel specially 
decorated was ordered to await her movements. But, 
either from suspicion or from secret information, she 
declined to avail herself of it, and was conveyed to 
Baiae in a litter. The effusion of hypocritical affection 
with which she was received, the unusual tenderness 
and honour with which she was treated, the earnest 
gaze, the warm embrace, the varied conversation, re- 
moved her suspicions, and she consented to return in 
the vessel of honour. As though for the purpose o 
revealing the crime, the night was starry and the sea 
.aim. The ship had not sailed far, and Crepereius 
Gallus, one of her friends, was standing near the 
helm, while a lady named Acerronia was seated at 
her feet as she reclined, and both were vicing with 
each other in the warmth of their congratulations 
upon the recent interview, when a crash was heard, 
and the canopy above them, which had been 
weighted with a quantity of lead, was suddenly 

138 SENECA. 

let go. Crepereius was crushed to death upon the 
spot ; Agrippina and Acerronia were saved by the 
projecting sides of the couch on which they were 
resting ; in the hurry and alarm, as accompHces were 
mingled with a greater number who were innocent o 
the plot, the machinery of the treacherous vessel 
failed. Some of the rowers rushed to one side of the 
ship, hoping in that manner to sink it, but here too 
their councils were divided and confused. Acerronia, 
in the selfish hope of securing assistance, exclaimed 
that she was Agrippina, and was immediately de- 
spatched with oars and poles ; Agrippina, silent and 
unrecognised, received a wound upon the shoulder, but 
succeeded in keeping herself afloat till she was picked 
up by fishermen and carried in safety to her villa. 

The hideous attempt from which she had been thus 
miraculously rescued did not escape her keen intui- 
tion, accustomed as it was to deeds of guilt ; but, 
seeing that her only chance of safety rested in dis- 
simulation and reticence, she sent her freedman 
Agerinus to tell her son that by the mercy of heaven 
she had escaped from a terrible accident, but to beg 
him not to be alarmed, and not to come to see her 
because she needed rest. 

The news filled Nero with the wildest terror, and 
the expectation of an immediate revenge. In horrible 
agitation and uncertainty he instantly required the 
presence of Burrus and Seneca. Tacitus doubts 
whether they may not have been already aware of 
what he had attempted, and Dion, to whose gross 
calumnies, however, we need pay no attention, 


declares that Seneca had frequently urged Nero to 
the deed, either in the hope of overshadowing his 
own guilt, or of involving Nero In a crime which 
should hasten his most speedy destruction at the 
hands of gods and men. In the absence of all 
evidence we may with perfect confidence acquit 
the memory of these eminent men from having 
gone so far as this. 

It must have been a strange and awful scene. The 
young man, for Nero was but twenty-two years 
old, poured into their ears the tumult of his agitation 
and alarm. White with fear, weak with dissipation, 
and tormented by the furies of a guilty conscience, 
the wretched youth looked from one to another of his 
aged ministers. A long and painful pause ensued. 
If they dissuaded him in vain from the crime which he 
meditated their lives would hav^ been in dani^cr ; and 
perhaps they sincerely thought that things ^had gone 
so far that, unless Agrippina were anticipated, Nero 
would be destroyed. Seneca was the first to break 
that silence of anguish by inquiring of Burrus whether 
the soldiery could be entrusted to put her to death. 
His reply w^as that the praetorians would do nothing 
against a daughter of Germanicus, and that Anicetus 
shotdd accomplish what he had proiu.scd. Anicetus 
showed himself prompt to crime, and Nero thanked 
him in a rapture of gratitude. While the freedman 
Agerinus was delivering to Nero his mother's mes- 
sage, Anicetus dropped a dagger at his feet, declared 
that he had caught him in the very act of attempting 
the Emperor's as^^assination, and hurried off with a 


band of soldiers to punish Agrippina as the author 
of the crime. 

The multitude meanwhile were roaming in wild 
excitement along the shore ; their torches were seen 
glimmering in evident commotion about the scene of 
the calamity, where some were wading into the water 
in search of the body, and others were shouting in- 
coherent questions and replies. At the rumour of 
Agrippina's escape they rushed off in a body to her 
villa to express their congratulations, where they were 
dispersed by the soldiers of Anicetus, who had already 
taken possession of it. Scattering or seizing the 
slaves who came in their way, and bursting their 
passage from door to door, they found the Empress 
in a dimly-lighted chamber, attended only by a single 
handmaid. "Dost thou too desert me.'*" exclaimed 
the wretched woman to her servant, as she rose to 
slip away. In silent determination the soldiers sur- 
rounded her couch, and Anicetus was the first to strike 
her with a stick. " Strike my womb," she cried to 
him faintly, as he drew his sword, " for it bore Nero." 
The blow of Anicetus was the signal for her immediate 
destruction : she was despatched with many wounds, 
and was buried that -night at Misenum on a common 
couch and with a mean funeral. Such an end, many 
years previously, this sister, and wife, and mother of 
emperors had anticipated and despised ; for when the 
Chaldaeans had assured her that her son would 
become Emperor, and would murder her, she is said 
to have exclaimed, " Occidat dum imperet," "Let 
him slav me if he but reign." 


It only remained to account for the crime, and offer 
for it such lying defences as were most likely to gain 
credit. Flying to Naples from a scene which had 
now become awful to him, — for places do not 
change as men's faces change, and, besides this, his 
disturbed conscience made him fancy that he heard 
from the hill of Misenum the blowing of a ghostly 
trumpet and wailings about his mother's tomb in 
the hours of night, — he sent from thence a letter to 
the Senate, saying that his mother had been punished 
for an attempt upon his life, and adding a list of 
her crimes, real and imaginary, the narrative of her 
accidental shipwreck, and his opinion that her death 
was a public blessing. The author of this shamefu' 
document was Seneca, and in composing it he reached 
the nadir of his m.oral degradation. Even the lax 
morality of a most degenerate age condemned him 
for calmly sitting down to decorate with the graces of 
rhetoric and antithesis an atrocity too deep for the 
powers of indignation. A Seneca could stoop to 
write what a Thrasea Paetus could scarcely stoop to 
hear ; for in the meeting of the Senate at which the 
letter was recited, Thrasea rose In indignation, and 
went straight home rather than seem to sanction by 
his presence the adulation of a matricide. 

And the composition of that gully, elaborate, 
shameful letter was the last prominent act of Seneca's 
public life. 



Nor was it unnatural that it should be. Moral pre- 
cepts, philosophic guidance were no longer possible 
to one whose compliances or whose timidity had 
led him so far as first to sanction matricide, and then 
to defend it. He might indeed be still powerful to 
recommend principles of common sense and political 
expediency, but the loftier lessons of Stoicism, nay, 
even the better utterances of a mere ordinary Pagan 
morality, could henceforth only fall from his lips with 
>omething of a hollow ring. He might interfere, as 
we know he did, to render as innocuous as possible 
the pernicious vanity which made Nero so ready to 
degrade his imperial rank by public appearances on 
the orchestra or in the race-course, but he could 
hardly address again such noble teachings as that of 
the treatise on Clemency to one whom, on grounds 
of political expediency, he had not dissuaded from the 
treacherous murder of a mother, who, whatever her 
enormities, yet for his sake had sold her very soul. 

Although there may have been a strong suspicion 
that foul play had been committed, the actual facts aiui 


details of the death of Agrippina would rest between 
Nero and Seneca as a guilty secret, in the guilt of 
which Seneca himself must have his share. Such a 
position of things was the inevitable death-blow, not 
only to all friendship, but to all confidence, and ulti- 
mately to all intercourse. We see in sacred history 
that Joab's participation in David's guilty secret gave 
him the absolute mastery over his own sovereign ; we 
see repeatedly in profane history that the mutual 
knowledge of some crime is the invariable cause of 
deadly hatred between a subject and a king. Such 
fechngs as King John may be supposed to have had 
to Hubert de Burgh, or King Richard III to Sir 
James Tyrrel, or King James I. to the Earl of 
Somerset, such probably, in still more virulent 
intensity, were the feelings of Nero towards his 
whilome " guide, philosopher, and friend." 

For Nero very soon learnt that Seneca was no 
longer necessary to him. For a time he lingered in 
Campania, guiltily dubious as to the kind of recep- 
tion which awaited him in the capital. The assurances 
of the vile crew which surrounded him soon made 
that fear wear off, and when he plucked up the cou- 
rage to return to his palace, he might himself have 
been amazed at the effusion of infamous loyalty 
and venal acclamation with which he was received. 
All Rome poured itself forth to meet him ; the Senate 
appeared i«n festal robes, with their wives and girls 
and boys in long array ; seats and scaffoldings were 
built up along the road by which he had to pass, as 
though the populace had gone forth to see a triun^ph. 


With haughty mien, the victor of a nation of slaves, 
he ascended the Capitol, gave thanks to the gods, and 
went home to betray henceforth the full perversity 
of a nature which the reverence for his mother, such 
as it was, had hitherto in part restrained. But the 
instincts of the populace were suppressed rather than 
eradicated. They hung a sack from his statue by 
night in allusion to the old punishment of parricides, 
who were sentenced to be flung into the sea, tied up 
in a sack with a serpent, a monkey, and a cock. 
They exposed an infant in the Forum with a tablet 
on which w^as written, "I refuse to rear thee, lest thou 
shouldst slay thy mother." They scrawled upon the 
blank walls of Rome an iambic line which reminded 
all who read it that Nero, Orestes, and Alcmaeon were 
murderers of their mothers. Even Nero must have 
been well aware that he presented a hideous spectacle 
in the eyes of all who had the faintest shade of 
righteousness among the people whom he ruled. 

All this took place in A.D. 59, and we hear no more 
of Seneca till the year 62, a year memorable for the 
death of Burrus, who had long been his honest, 
friendly, and faithful colleague. In these dark times, 
when all men seemed to be speaking in a whisper, 
almost every death of a conspicuous and high-minded 
man, if not caused by open violence, falls under the 
suspicion of secret poison. The death of Burrus may 
have been due (from, the description) to diphtheria, 
but the popular voice charged Nero with having 
hastened his death by a pretended remedy, and 
declared that, when the Emperor visited his sick bed, 


the dying ma-n turned away from his inquiries with 
the laconic answer, '* I am well." 

His death was regretted, not only from the memory 
of his virtues, but also from the fact that Nero ap- 
pointed two men as his successors, of whom the one, 
Fenius Rufus, was honourable but indolent ; the other 
and more powerful, Sofonius Tigellinus, had won for 
himself among cruel and shameful associates a pre- 
eminence of hatred and of shame. 

However faulty and inconsistent Seneca may have 
been, there was at any rate no possibility that he 
should divide with a Tigellinus the direction of his 
still youthful master. He was by no means deceived 
as to the position in which he stood, and the few 
among Nero's followers in whom any spark of honour 
was left informed him of the incessant calumnies 
which were used to undermine his influence. Tigel- 
linus and his friends dwelt on his enormous wealth and 
his magnificent villas and gardens, which could only 
have been acquired with ulterior objects, and which 
threw into the shade the splendour of the Emperor 
himself. They tried to kindle the inflammable 
jealousies of Nero's feeble mind by representing 
Seneca as attempting to rival him in poetry, and as 
claiming the entire credit of his eloquence, while he 
mocked his divine singing, and disparaged his accom- 
plishments as a harper and charioteer because he 
himself was unable to acquire them. Nero, they 
urged, was a boy no longer ; let him get rid of his 
schoolmaster, and find sufficient instruction in the 
exaoiple oi iiis ancestors. 

146 . SENECA. 

Foreseeing how such arguments must end, Seneca 
requested an interview with Nero ; begged to be 
suffered to retire altogether from public life ; pleaded 
age and increasing infirmities as an excuse for desiring 
a calm retreat ; and offered unconditionally to resign 
the wealth and honours which had excited the 
cupidity of his enemies, but which were simply due to 
Nero's unexampled liberality during the eight years 
of his government, towards one whom he had regard e-d 
as a benefactor and a friend. But Nero did not choose 
to let Seneca escape so lightly. He argued that, 
being still young, he could not spare him, and 
that to accept his offers would not be at all in 
accordance with his fame for generosity. A pro- 
ficient in the imperial art of hiding detestation 
under deceitful blandishments, Nero ended the in- 
terview with embraces and assurances of friendship. 
Seneca thanked him — the usual termination, as Taci- 
tus bitterly adds, of interviews with a ruler — but 
nevertheless altered his entire manner of life, forbade 
his friends to throng to his levees, avoided all com- 
panions, and rarely appeared in public — wishing it to 
be believed that he was suffering from weak health, or 
was wholly occupied in the pursuit of philosophy. 
He well knew the art of courts, for in his book on 
Aneer he has told an anecdote of one who, being 
asked how he had managed to attain so rare a gift as 
old age in a palace, replied, '' By submitting to in- 
juries, and returning thanks for them,'' But he must 
have known that his life hung upon a thread, for in 
the very same year an attempt was made to involve 


hijn in a charge of treason as one of the friends of 
C. Calpurnius Piso, an illustrious nobleman whose 
v/calth and ability made him an object of jealousy 
and suspicion, though he was naturally unambitious 
and devoid of energy. The attempt failed at the 
time, and Seneca was able triumphantly to refute the 
charge of any treasonable design. But the fact of 
such a charge being made showed how insecure was 
the position of any man of eminence under the deepen- 
ing tyranny of Nero, and it precipitated the conspiracy 
which two years afterwards was actually formed. 

Not long after the death of Burrus, when Nero 
began to add sacrilege to bis other crimes, Seneca 
made one more attempt to retire from Rome; and, 
when permission was a second time refused, he feigned 
a severe illness, and confined himself to his chamber. 
It was asserted, and believed, that about this time Nero 
made an attempt to poison him by the instrumentality 
of his freedman Cleonicus, which was only defeated 
by the confession of an accomplice or by the abste- 
mious habits of the philosopher, who now took nothing 
but bread and fruit, and never quenched his thirst 
except out of the running stream. 

It was during those two years of Seneca's seclusion 
and disgrace that an event happened of imperishable 
niterest. On the orgies of a shameful court, on the 
supineness of a degenerate people, there burst— as 
upon the court of Charles II.— a sudden lightning- 
tlash of retribution. In its character, in its extent, in 
the devastation nnd anguish of which it was the 
cause, in the improvements by which it was foIlo\v> d 


in the lying origin to which it was attributed, even in 
the general circumstances of the period and character 
of the reign in which it happened, there is a close and 
singular analogy between the Great Fire of London in 
1666 and the Great Fire of Rome in 64. Beginning 
in the crovvded part of the city, under the Palatine 
and Cselian Hills, it raged, first for six, and then again 
for three days, among the inflammable materials of 
booths and shops, and driven along by a furious wind, 
amid feeble and ill-directed efforts to check its course, 
it burst irresistibly over palaces, temples, and por- 
ticoes, and amid the narrow tortuous streets of old 
Rome, involving in a common destruction the most 
magnificent works of ancient art, the choicest manu- 
scripts of ancient literature, and the most venerable 
monuments of ancient superstition. In a few touches 
of inimitable compression, such as the stern genius of 
the Latin language permits, but which are too con- 
densed for direct translation, Tacitus has depicted the 
horror of the scene, — the wailing of panic-stricken 
women, the helplessness of the very aged and the very 
young, the passionate eagerness for themselves and 
for others, the dragging along of the feeble or the 
waiting for them, the lingering and the hurry, the 
common and inextricable confusion. Many, while 
they looked backward, were cut off by the flames 
in front or at the sides ; if they sought some 
neighbouring refuge, they found it in the grasp of the 
conflagration ; if they hurried to some more distant 
spot, that too was found to be involved in the same 
calamit}'. At last, uncertain what to seek or what to 


avoid, they crowded the streets, they lay huddled to- 
gether in the fields. Some, having lost ail their pos- 
sessions, died from the want of daily food ; and others, 
who might have escaped, died of a broken heart from 
the anguish of being bereaved of those whom they had 
been unable to rescue ; while, to add to the universal 
horror, it was believed that all attempts to repress the 
flames were checked by authoritative prohibition ; 
nay more, that hired incendiaries were seen flinging 
firebrands in new directions, either because they had 
been bidden to do so, or tliat they might exercise their 
rapine undisturbed. 

The historians and anecdotists of the time, whose 
accounts must be taken for what they are worth, 
attribute to Nero the origin of the conflagration; and 
it is certain that he did not return to Rome until the 
fire had caught the galleries of his palace. In vain 
did he use every exertion to assist the homeless and 
ruined populai/.o.. ; in vain aid he order food to be sold 
to them at a price unprecedentedly low, and throw 
open to them the monuments of Agrippa, his own 
gardens, and a multitude of temporary sheds. A 
rumour had been spread that, during the terrible 
unfolding of that great ** flower of flame," he had 
mounted to the roof of his distant villa, and de- 
lighted with the beauty of the spectacle, exulting in 
the safe sensation of a new excitement, had dressed 
himself in theatrical attire, and sung to his harp a 
poem on the burning of Troy. Such a heartless 
mixture of buffoonery and affectation had exaspe- 
rated the people too deeply for forgiveness, and Nero 


thought it necessary to draw off the general odium 
into a new channel, since neither hi? largesses nor any- 
other popular measures succeeded in removing from 
himself the ignominy of this terrible suspicion. What 
follows is so remarkable, and, to a Christian reader, 
so deeply interesting, that I will give it in the very 
words of that great historian whcin I have been so 
closely following. 

" Therefore, to get rid of this report, Nero trumped 
up an accusation against a sect, ' detested for their 
atrocities, whom the conimoh people called Christians, 
and inflicted on them the most recondite punish- 
ments. Christ, the founder of this sect, had been 
capitally punished by the Procurator Pontius Pilate, in 
the reign of Tiberius ; and this damnable superstition, 
repressed for the present, was again breaking out, not 
only through Judaea, where the evil originated, but 
even through the City, whither from all regions all 
things that are atrocious or shameful flow together and 
gain a following. Those, therefore, were first arrested 
wno confessed their religion, and then on their evi- 
dence a vast multitude were condemned, not so much 
on the charge of incendiarism, as for their hatred 
towards the human race. And mockery was added 
to their death ; for they were covered in the skins of 
wild beasts and were torn to death by dogs, or 
crucified, or set apart for burning, and after the close 
of the day were reserved for the purpose of nocturnal 
illumination. Nero lent his own gardens for the 
spectacle, and gave a chariot-race, mingling with the 
people in the costume of a charioteer, ot driving 


among them in his chariot ; by which conduct he 
raised a feehng of commisei*ation towards the suffcrer.-s, 
guilty though they were, and deserving of the ex- 
tremest penalties, as though they were being exter- 
minated, not for the public interests, but to gratify 
the savage cruelty of one man." 

Such are the brief but deeply pathetic particulars 
which have come down to us respecting the first great 
persecution of the Christians, and such must have been 
the horrid events of which Seneca was a cotemporary, 
and probably an actual eye-witness, in the very last 
year of his life. Profoundly as, in all likelihood he 
must have despised the very name of Christian, a heart 
so naturally mild and humane as his must have shud- 
dered at the monstrous cruelties devised against the 
unhappy votaries of this new religion. But to the 
relations of Christianity with the Pagan world we 
shall return in a subsequent chapter; and we must 
no.v hasten to the end of our biography. 



The false charge which had been brought against 
Seneca, and in which the name of Piso had been 
involved, tended to urge that nobleman and his 
friends into a real and formidable conspiracy. Many 
men of influence and distinction joined in it, and 
among others Annaeus Lucanus, the celebrated poet- 
nephew of Seneca, and Fenius Rufus, the colleague 
of Tigellinus in the command of the imperial guards. 
The plot was long discussed, and many were ad- 
mitted into the secret, which was nevertheless marvel- 
lously well kept. One of the most eager conspirators 
was Subrius Flavus, an officer of the guards, who 
suggested the plan of stabbing Nero as he sang 
upon the stage, or of attacking him as he went about 
without guards at night in the galleries of his burning 
palace. Flavus is even said to have cherished the 
design of subsequently murdering Piso likewise, and 
of offering the imperial power to Seneca, with the full 
cognisance of the philosopher himself.* However this 
may have been — and the story has no probability — 

* Seejuv. Sat. viii. 212. 

^.^-.<i'<7x^-^/V. s^ 



many schemes were discussed and rejected, from the 
difficulty of finding a man sufficiently bold and suf- 
ficiently in earnest to put his own life to such immi- 
nent risk. WHiile things were still under discussion, 
the plot was nearly ruined by the information of 
Volusius Proculus, an admiral of the fleet, to whom it 
had been mentioned by a frcedwoman of the name 
of Ephicharis. Although no sufficient evidence could 
be adduced against her, the conspirators thought it 
advisable to hasten matters, and one of them, a 
senator named Scaevinus, undertook the dangerous 
task of assassination. Plautius Lateranus, the consul- 
elect, was to pretend to offer a petition, in v/hich he 
was to embrace the Emperor's knees and Ihrow him 
to the ground, and then Scaevinus was to deal the 
fatal blow. The theatrical conduct of Scaevinus — 
who took an antique dagger from the Temple of 
Safety, made his will, ordered the dagger to be 
sharpened, sat down to an unusually luxurious ban- 
quet, manumitted or made presents to his slaves, 
showed great agitation, and finally ordered ligaments 
for wounds to be prepared, — awoke the suspicions of 
one of his freedrnen named ]\Iilichus, who hastened 
to claim a reward for revealing his suspicions. Con- 
fronted with Milichus, Scaevinus met and refuted his 
accusations with the greatest firmness ; but when 
Milichus mentioned among other things that, the day 
before, Scaevinus had held a long and secret conver- 
sation with another friend of Piso named Natalis, and 
when Natalis, on being summoned, gave a very dif- 
ferent account of tlie subject of this conversation from 

154 SENECA. 

that which Scaevinus had given, they were both put 
ill chains ; and, unable to endure the threats and 
the sight of tortures, revealed the entire conspiracy. 
Natalis was the first to mention the name of Piso, 
and he added the hated name of Seneca, either 
because he had been the confidential messenger be- 
tween the two, or because he knew that he could not 
do a greater favour to Nero than by giving him the 
opportunity of injuring a man whom he had long 
sought every possible opportunity to crush. Scaevinus, 
with equal weakness, perhaps because he thought that 
Natalis had left nothing to reveal, mentioned the 
names of the others, and among them of Lucan, whose 
complicity in the plot would undoubtedly tend to give 
greater probability to the supposed guilt of Seneca. 
Lucan, after long denying all knowledge of the design, 
corrupted by the promise of impunity, was guilty of 
the incredible baseness of making up for the slowness 
of his confession by its completeness, and of naming 
among the conspirators his chief friends Gallus and 
PoUio, and his own mother Atilla. The woman 
Ephicharis, slave though she had once been, alone 
showed the slightest constancy, and, by her brave 
unshaken reticence under the most excruciating and 
varied tortures, put to shame the pusillanimous 
treachery of senators and knights. On the second 
day, when, with limbs too dislocated to admit of her 
standing, she was again brought to the presence ot 
her executioners, she succeeded, by a sudden move- 
ment, in strangling herself with her own girdle. 

In the hurrv and alarm of the moment the slightest 


show of resolution would have achieved the object 
of the conspiracy. Fenius Rufus had not yet been 
named among the conspirators, and as he sat by the 
side of the Emperor, and presided over the torture of 
his associates, Subrius Flavus made him a secret sign 
to inquire whether even then and there he should stab 
Nero. Rufus not only made a sign of dissent, but 
actually held the hand of Subrius as it was grasping 
the hilt of his sword. Perhaps it would have been 
better for him if he had not done so, for it was not 
likely that the numerous conspirators would long 
permit the same man to be at once their accomplice 
and the fiercest of their judges. Shortly afterwards, 
as he was urging and threatening, Sc-Evinus remarked, 
with a quiet smile, " that nobody knew more about 
the matter than he did himself, and that he had better 
show his gratitude to so excellent a prince by telling 
all he knew." The confusion and alarm of Rufus be- 
trayed his consciousness of guilt ; he was seized and 
bound on the spot, and subsequently put to death. 
^ Meanwhile the friends of Piso were urging him to 

take some bold and sudden step, which, if it did not 
succeed in retrieving his fortunes, would at least shed 
lustre on his death. But his somewhat slothful nature, 
A^eakened still further by a luxurious life, was not to 
be aroused, and he calmly awaited the end. It was 
customary among the Roman Emperors at this period 
to avoid the disgrace and danger of public executions 
by sending a messenger to a man's house, and order 
ing him to put himself to death by whatever means 
he preferred. Some raw recruits — for Nero dared not 


intrust any veterans with the duty — brought the 
mandate to Piso, who proceedecj to make a will full of 
disgraceful adulation towards Nero, opened his veins, 
and died. Plautius Lateranus was- not even allowed 
the poor privilege of choosing his own death, but, 
without time even to embrace his children, was hurried 
off to a place set apart for the punishment of slaves, 
and there died, without a word, by the sword of 
a tribune whom he knew to be one of his own 

Lucan, in the prime of his life and the full bloom 
of his genius, was believed to have joined the plot 
from his indignation at the manner in which Nero's 
jealousy had repressed his poetic fame, and forbidden 
him the opportunity of public recitations. He too 
opened his veins ; and as he felt the deathful chill 
creeping upwards from the extremities of his limbs, 
he recited some verses from his own " Pharsalia," in 
which he had described the similar death of the soldier 
Lycidas. They were his last words. His mother 
Atilla, whom, to his everlasting infamy, he had be- 
trayed, was passed over as a victim too insignificant 
for notice, and was neither pardoned nor punished. 

But, of all the many deaths which were brought 
about by this unhappy and ill-managed conspiracy, 
none caused more delight to Nero than that of Seneca, 
whom he was now able to dispatch by the sword, since 
he had been unable to do so by secret poison. What 
share Seneca really had in the conspiracy is unknown. 
If he were really cognisant of it, he must have acted 
with consummate tact, for no particle of convincing 


evidence was adduced ac^ainst him. All that even 
Natalis could relate was, that when Piso had sent him 
to complain to Seneca of his not admitting Piso to 
more of his intercourse, Seneca had replied " that it 
was better for them both to hold aloof from each 
other, but that his own safety depended on that of 
Piso." A tribune was sent to ask Seneca as to the 
truth of this story, and found, — which was in itself 
regarded as a suspicious circumstance, — that on that 
very day he had returned from Campania to a villa 
four miles from the city. The tribune arrived in the 
evening, and surrounded the villa with soldiers. 
Seneca was at supper, with his wife Paulina and two 
friends. He entirely denied the truth of the evidence, 
and said that "the only reason which he had assigned 
to Piso for seeing so little of him was his weak health 
and love of retirement, Nero, who knew how little 
prone he was to flattery, might judge whether or no 
it was likely that he, a man of consular rank, would 
prefer the safety of a man of private station to his 
own." Such was the message which tJie tribune 
took back to Nero, whom he found sitting with his 
dearest and most detestable advisers, his wife Poppaia 
ar.d his minister Tigellinus. Nero asked "whether 
^Seneca was preparing a voluntary death." On the 
tribune replying that he showed no gloom or terror 
in his language or countenance, Nero ordered that he 
should at once be bidden to die. The message was 
taken, and Seneca, without any sign of alarm, quietly 
demanded leave to revise his will. This was refused 
him, and he then turned to his friends with the 


remark that, as he was unable to reward their merits 
as they had deserved, he would bequeath to them the 
only, and yet the most precious, possession left to him, 
namely, the example of his life, and if they were 
mindful of it they would win the reputation alike for 
integrity and for faithful friendship. At the same time 
he checked their tears, sometimes by his conversation, 
and sometimes with serious reproaches, asking them 
" where were their precepts of philosophy, and where 
the fortitude under trials which should have been 
learnt from the studies of many years ? Did not 
every one know the cruelty of Nero ? and what was 
left for him to do but to make an end of his master 
and tutor after the murder of his mother and his 
brother?" He then embraced his wife Paulina, and, 
with a slight faltering of his lofty sternness, begged 
and entreated her not to enter on an endless sorrow, 
but to endure the loss of her husband by the aid of 
those noble consolations which she must derive from 
the contemplation of his virtuous life. But Paulina 
declared that she would die with him, and Seneca, not 
opposing the deed which would win her such perma- 
nent glory, and at the same time unwilling to leave 
her to future wrongs, yielded to her wish. The vein.s 
of their arms were opened by the same blow; but 
the blood of Seneca, impoverished by old age and 
temperate living, flowed so slowly that it was neces- 
sary also to open the veins of his legs. This mode 
of death, chosen by the Romans as comparatively 
painless, is in fact under certain circumstances most 
agonizing. Worn out by these cruel tortures, and 


unwilling to weaken his wife's fortitude by so dreadful 
a spectacle, glad at the same time to spare himself 
the sight of hti' sufferings, he persuaded her to 
go to another room. Even then his eloquence did 
not fail. It is told of Andre Chenier, the French 
poet, that on his wsCy to execution he asked for 
writing materials to record some of the strange 
thoug^hts which filled his mind. The wish was denied 
him, but Seneca had ample liberty to record his last 
utterances. Amanuenses were summoned, who took 
down those dying admonitions, and in the time of 
Tacitus they still were extant. To us, however, this 
interesting memorial of a Pagan deathbed is irrevo- 
cably lost. 

Nero, meanv/hile, to whom the news of these cir- 
cumstances was taken, having no dislike to Paulina, 
and unwilling to incur the odium of too much blood- 
shed, ordered her death to be prohibited and her 
wounds to be bound. She was already unconsciou.s, 
but her slaves and freedmen succeeded in saving her 
life. She lived a few years longer, cherishing her 
husband's memory, and bearing in the attenuation of 
her frame, and the ghastly pallor of her countenance, 
the lasting proofs of that deep affection which had 
characterised their married life. 

Seneca was not yet dead, and, to shorten these 
protracted and useless sufferings, he begged his friend 
and physician Statins Annreus to give him a draught 
of hemlock, the same poison by which the great 
philosopher of Athens had been put to death. But 
his limbs were already cold, and the draught proved 


l6o SENECA. 

fruitless. He then entered a bath of hot water, 
sprinkling the slaves who stood nearest to him, with 
the words that he was pouring a libation to Jupiter 
the Liberator.* Even the warm water failed to make 
the blood flow more speedily, and he was finally 
carried into one of those vapour baths which the 
Romans called sudatoria^ and stifled with its steam. 
His body was burned privately, without any of the 
usual ceremonies. Such had been his own wish, ex- 
pressed, not after the fall of his fortunes, but at a 
time when his thoughts had been directed to his 
latter end, in the zenith of his great wealth and 
conspicuous power. 

So died a Pagan philosopher, whose life must 
always excite our interest and pity, although we 
cannot apply to him the titles of great or good. He 
was a man of high genius, of great susceptibility, of 
an ardent and generous temperament, of far-sighted 
and sincere humanity. Some of his sentiments arc 
so remarkable for their moral beauty and profundity 
that they forcibly remind us of the expressions of 
St. Paul. But Seneca fell infinitely short of his own 
high standard, and has contemptuously been called 
"the father of all them that wear shovel-hats." In- 
consistency is written on the entire history of his 
life, and it has earned him the scathing contempt with 
which many writers have treated his memory. " The 
business of a philosopher," says Lord Macaulay, in hi.s 

* Sicco Polentone, an Italian, who wrote a Life of Seneca (d. 146 1), 
makes Seneca a secret Christian, and represents this as an invocation 
of Christ, and says that he baptized himself with the water of the bath I 


most scornful strain, "was to declaim in praise of 
poverty, with two millions sterling out at usury ; to 
meditate epigrammatic conceits about the evils of 
luxury in gardens which moved the envy of sovereigns ; 
to rant about liberty while fawning on the insolent 
and pampered freedmen of a tyrant ; to celebrate 
the divine beauty of virtue with the same pen which 
had just before written a defence of the murder of 
a mother by a son." " Seneca," says Niebuhr, 
" was an accomplished man of the world, who occu- 
pied himself very much with virtue, and may have 
considered himself to be an ancient Stoic. He 
certainly believed that he was a most ingenious 
and virtuous philosopher ; but he acted on the 
principle that, as far as he himself was concerned, he 
could dispense with the laws of morality which he 
laid down for others, and that he might give way to 
his natural propensities." 

In Seneca's life, then, we see as clearly as in those 
of many professing Christians that it is impossible 
to be at once worldly and righteous. Seneca's utter 
failure was due to the vain attempt to combine in 
his own person two opposite characters — that of a 
Stoic and that of a courtier. Had he been a true 
philosopher, or a mere courtier, he would have been 
happier, and even more respected. To be both was 
absurd : hence, even in his writings, he was driven 
into inconsistency. He is often compelled to abandon 
the lofty utterances of Stoicism, and to charge philo- 
sophers with ignorance of life. In his treatise on a 
Happy Life he is obliged to introduce a sort of indirect 

i62 SENECA. 

autobiographical apology for his wealth and position.* 
In spite of his lofty pretensions to simplicity, in spite 
of that sort of amateur asceticism which, in common 
with other wealthy Romans, he occasionally practised, 
in spite of his final offer to abandon his entire patri- 
mony to the Emperor, we fear that he cannot be 
acquitted of an almost insatiable avarice. We need 
not indeed believe the fierce calumnies which charged 
him with exhausting Italy by a boundless usury, and 
even stirring up a war in Britain by the severity of 
his exactions ; but it is quite clear that he deserved 
the title of Prcedives, "■ the over-wealthy," by which 
he has been so pointedly signalized. It is strange 
that the most splendid intellects should so often have 
sunk under the slavery of this meanest vice. In the 
Bible we read how the " rewards of divination " 
seduced from his allegiance to God the splendid 
enchanter of Mesopotamia : 

" In outline dim and vast 

Their fearful shadows cast 
The giant form of Empires on then- way 

To ruin : — one by ont 

They tower and they are gone, 
Yet in the prophet's sou! the drc?m.s ot avarice stay. 

" No sun or star so bright, 

In all the world of light. 
That they should draw to heaven his downward eye : 

He hears the Almighty's word, 

He sees the angel's sword. 
Yet low upon the earth his heart and treasure lie." 

And in Seneca we see some of the most glowlnj^ 
pictures of the nobility of poverty combined with the 

* Sco Ad Polyh. 37; Ep. 75; De Vii. Beat. 17, 18, 22. 


most questionable avidity in the pursuit of wealth. 
Yet how completely did he sell himself for naught' 
It is the lesson which we see in every conspicuously 
erring life, and it was illustrated less than three years 
afterwards in the terrible fate of the tyrant who 
had driven him to death. For a short period of his 
life, indeed, Seneca v/as at the summit of power; 
yet, courtier as he was, he incurred the hatred, the 
suspicion, and the punishment of ail the three Em- 
perors during \vhose reigns his manhood was passed. 
** Of all unsuccessful men," says Mr. Froude, " in every 
shape, whether divine or human or devilish, there is 
none equal to Bunyan's Mr. F^acing-both-ways — the 
fellow with one eye on heaven and one on earth — 
who sincerely preaches one thing and sincerely does 
another, and from the intensity of his unreality is 
unable either to see or feel the contradiction. He 
is substantially trying to cheat both God and the 
devil, and is in reality only cheating himself and his 
neighbours. This of all characters upon the earth 
appears to us to be the one of which there is no hope 
at all, a character becoming in these days alarmingly 
abundant ; and the abundance of which makes us find 
even in a Reineke an inexpressible relief," And, in 
point of fact, the inconsistency of Seneca's life was a 
conscious inconsistency. " To the student," he says, 
** who professe.' his wish to rise to a loftier grade of 
virtue, I would answer that this is my ivish also, but 
I dare not hope it. I aui preoccupied ivitli vices. AH 
I require of myself is, not tc be equal to the bcst^ but 
cniy to be better than the bad" No doubt Seneca 

i6j; SENECA. 

meant this to be understood merely for modest self- 
depreciation ; but it was far truer than he would have 
liked seriously to confess. He must have often and 
deeply felt that he was not living in accordance with 
the light which was in him. 

It would indeed be cheap and easy to attribute the 
general inferiority and the many shortcomings of 
Seneca's life and character to the fact that he was a 
Pagan, and to suppose that if he had known Chris- 
tianity he would necessarily have attained to a loftier 
ideal. But such a style of reasoning and inference, 
commonly as it is adopted for rhetorical purposes, 
might surely be refuted by any intelligent child. A 
mere intellectual assent to the lessons of Christianity 
would have probably been but of little avail to inspire 
in Seneca a nobler life. The fact is, that neither the 
gift of genius nor the knowledge of Christianity are 
adequate to the ennoblement of the human heart, 
nor does the grace of God flow through the channels 
of surpassing intellect or of orthodox belief. Men 
there have been in all ages, Pagan no less than 
Christian, who with scanty mental enlightenment 
and spiritual knowledge have yet lived holy and 
noble lives : men there have been in all ages. 
Christian no less than Pagan, who with consummate 
gifts and profound erudition have disgraced some of 
the noblest words which ever were uttered by some 
of the meanest lives which were ever lived. In the 
twelfth century was there any mind which shone 
more brightly, was there any eloquence which flowed 
more mightily, than that of Peter Abelard .'* Yet 


Abelard sank beneath the meanest of his scholastic 
cotemporaries in the degradation of his career as 
much as he towered above the highest of them in the 
grandeur of his genius. In the seventeenth century 
was there any philosopher more profound, any 
moralist more elevated, than Francis Bacon? Yet 
Bacon could flatter a tyrant, and betray a friend, 
and receive a bribe, and be one of the latest of 
English judges to adopt the brutal expedient ot 
enforcinc^ 'confession by the exercise of torture. If 
Sonccu defended the murder of Agrippina, Bacon 
blackened the character of Essex. *' What I would, 
I do not ; but the thing that I would not, that I do," 
might be the motto for many a confession of the sins 
of genius ; and Seneca need not blush if we compare 
him with men who were his equals in intellectual 
power, but whose " means of grace," whose privileges, 
whose knowledge of the truth, were infinitely higher 
than his own. Let the noble constancy of his death 
shed a light over his memory which may dissipate 
something of those dark shades which rest on portions 
of his history. We think of Abelard, humble, silent, 
patient. God-fearing, tended by the kindly-hearted 
Peter in the peaceful gardens of Clugny ; we think 
of Bacon, neglected, broken, and despised, dying of 
the chill caught in a philosophical experiment, and 
leaving his memory to the judgment of posterity ; 
let us think of Seneca, quietly yielding to his destiny 
without a murmur, cheering the constancy of the 
moarners round him during the long agonies of his 
enforced suicide, and dictating some of the purest 


utterances of Pagan wisdom almost with his latest 
breath. The language of his great cotemporary, the 
Apostle St. Paul, will best help us to understand his 
position. He was one of those who was seeking the 
Lordy if haply he might feel after Him, and fiiid Him, 
though He be not far f'otn every one of us : for in 
Him we live^ and inove^ and kaz>e our behig. 



Tn the spring of the year 6i, not long after the time 
when the murder of Agrippina, and Seneca's jus- 
tification of it, had been absorbing the attention of 
the Roman world, there disembarked at Puteoli a 
troop of prisoner, whom the Procurator of Judcca 
had sent to Rome under the charge of a centurion. 
Walking among them, chained and weary, but 
affectionately tended by two younger companions,* 
and treated with profound respect by little deputa- 
tions of friends who met him at Appii Forum and 
the Three T^iverns, was a man of mean presence and 
weather-beaten aspect, who was handed over like the 
rest to the charge of Burrus, the Prsefect of the Vtce- 
torian Guards. Learning from the letters of the 
Jewish Procurator that the prisoner had been guilty 
of no serious offence,t but had used his privilege of 
Roman citizenship to appeal to Cxsar for protection 
acrainst the infuriated malice of his coreligionists — 
possibly also having heard from the centurion Julius 
some remarkable facts about his behaviour and history 
* Luke and Aristarcbus. t Acts xxiv. 23, xxvii. 3. 

268 SENECA. 

— Burrus allowed him, pending the hearing of his 
appeal, to live in his own hired apartment.* This 
lodging was in all probability in that quarter of the 
city, opposite the island in the Tiber, which corre- 
sponds to the modern Trastevere. It was the resort 
of the very lowest and meanest of the populace — -that 
promiscuous jumble of all nations which makes Tacitus 
call Rome at this time " the sewer of the universe." 
It was here especially that the Jews exercised some 
of the meanest trades in Rome, selling matches, and 
old clothes, and broken glass, or begging and fortune- 
telling on the Cestian or Fabrician bridges-f. In one 
of these narrow, dark, and dirty streets, thronged by 
the dregs of the Roman populace, St. Mark and St. 
Peter had in all probability lived when they founded 
the little Christian Church at Rome. It was un- 
doubtedly in the same despised locality that St. Paul, 
— the prisoner who had been consigned to the care of 
Burrus, — hired a room, sent for the principal Jews, 
and for two years taught to Jews and Christians, and 
to any Pagans who would listen to him, the doctrines 
which were destined to regenerate the world. 

Any one entering that mean and dingy room would 
have seen a Jew with bent body and furrowed counte- 
nance, and with every appearance of age, weakness, 
and disease, chained by the arm to a Roman soldier. 

* Acts xxviii. 30, eV Ihlc^) jxiaBdjixari, 

\ Mart. Ep. i. 42 ; Juv. xiv. i86. In these few paragraphs I follow 
M. Aubertin, who (as well as many other authors) has collected many 
of the principal passages in which Roman writers allude to the Jews 
and Christians. 


But it is impossible that, had they deigned to look 
closer, they should not also have seen the gleam of 
genius and enthusiasm, the fire of inspiration, the 
serene light of exalted hope and dauntless courage 
upon those withered features. And though /le was 
chained, "the Word of God was not chained."* Had 
they Hstened to the words which he occasionally 
dictated, or overlooked the large handwriting which 
alone his weak eyesight and bodily infirmities, as well 
as the inconvenience of his chains, permitted, they 
would have heard or read the immortal utterances 
which strengthened the faith of the nascent and 
struggling Churches in Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae. 
and which have since been treasured among the most 
inestimable possessions of a Christian world, 

His efforts were not unsuccessful ; his misfortunes 
were for the furtherance of the Gospel ; his chains 
were manifest "in all the palace,, and in ail other 
places ; " f and many waxing confident by his bonds 
were much more bold to speak the word without 
fear. Let us not be misled by assuming a wrong 
explanation of these words, or by adopting the 
Middle Age traditions which made St. Paul convert 
some of the immediate favourites of the Emperor, 
and electrify with his eloquence an admiring Senate. 
The v/ord here rendered "palace "J may indeed have 
that meaning, for we know that among the early 
converts were "they of Caesar's household ;"§ but 
these were in all probability — if not certainly — Jews 

2 Tim. ii. 9. X *'' oAw tu5 TrpaiTwpiu}. 

f Phil. i. 12. § riiiJ. iv. 22. 

17^ SENECA. 

of the lowest rank, who were, as we know, to be found 
among the htmdreds of unfortunates of every age and 
country who composed a ^ovadSi familia. And it is 
at least equally probable that the word " prretorium " 
simply means the barrack of that detachment of 
Roman soldiers from which Paul's gaolers were taken 
in turn. In such labours St. Paul in all probability 
spent two years (6i — 6'^, during which occurred the 
divorce of Octavia, the marriage with Poppaea, the 
death of Burrus, the disgrace of Seneca, and the many 
subsequent infamies of Nero. 

It is out of such materials that some early Christian 
forger thought it edifying to compose the work which 
is supposed to contain the correspondence of Seneca 
and St. Paul. The undoubted spuriousness of that 
work is now universally admitted, and indeed the 
forgery is too clumsy to be even worth reading. But 
it is worth while inquiring whether in the circum- 
stances of the time there is even a bare possibility 
that Seneca should ever have been among the readers 
or the auditors of Paul. 

And the answer is. There is absolutely no such 
probability. A vivid imagination is naturally attracted 
by the points of contrast and resemblance offered 
by two such characters, and we shall see that there 
is a singular likeness between many of their senti- 
ments and expressions. But this was a period in 
which, as M. Villemain observes, " from one extre- 
mity of the social world to the other truths met each 
other without recognition." Stoicism, noble as were 
many of its precepts, lofty as was the morality it 


professed, deeply as it was imbued in many respects 
with a semi-Christian piety, looked upon Christianity 
with profound contempt. The Christians disliked 
the Stoics, the Stoics despised and persecuted the 
Christians. " The world knows nothing of its greatest 
men." Seneca would have stood aghast at the very 
notion of liis receiving the lessons, still more of his 
adopting the religion, of a poor, accused, and wander- 
ing Jew. The haughty, wealthy, eloquent, prosperous, 
powerful philosopher would have smiled at the notion 
that any future ages would suspect him of having 
borrowed any of his polished and epigrammatic 
lessons of philosophic morals or religion from one 
whom, if he heard of him, he would have regarded 
as a poor wretch, half fanatic and half barbarian. 

We learn from St. Paul himself that the early con- 
verts of Christianity were men in the very depths 
of poverty,* and that its preachers were regarded as 
fools, and weak, and were despised, and naked, and 
buffeted — persecuted and homeless labourers — a 
spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men, 
" made as the filth of the earth and the offscourmsf 
of all things." We know that their preaching was 
to the Greeks " foolishness," and that, when they spoke 
of Jesus and the resurrection, their hearers mocked f 
and jeered. And these indications are more tiian 
confirmed by man}' contemporary passages of ancient 
writers. We have already seen the violent expressions 

* 2 Cor. viii. 2. 

+ ^Y-X^^^a^Qv. Acts xvii. 32. The word expresses the most profound 
and unconcealed contempt. 


172 SENECA. 

of hatred which the ardent and high-toned soul 
of Tacitus thought applicable to the Christians ; and 
such language is echoed by Roman writers of every 
character and class. The fact is that at this time 
and for centuries afterwards the Romans regarded 
the Christians with such lordly indifference that — like 
Festus, and Felix, and Seneca's brother Gallio — they 
never took the trouble to distinguish them from the 
Jews. The distinction was not fully realized by 
the Pagan world till the cruel and wholesale massacre 
of the Christians by the pseudo-Messiah Barchochebas 
m the reign of Adrian opened their eyes to the fact of 
the irreconcileable differences which existed between 
the two religions. And pages might be filled with 
the ignorant and scornful allusions which the heathen 
applied to the Jews. They confused them with the 
whole degraded mass of Egyptian and Oriental im- 
postors and brute-worshippers ; they disdained them 
as seditious, turburient, obstinate, and avaricious ; they 
regarded them as mainly composed of the very 
meanest slaves out of the gross and abject multitude ; 
their proselytism they considered as the clandestine 
initiation into some strange and revolting mystery, 
which involved as its direct teachings contempt of 
the gods, and the negation of all patriotism and all 
family affection ; they firmly believed that they wor- 
shipped the head of an ass ; they thought it natural 
that none but the vilest slaves and the silliest women 
should adopt so misanthropic and degraded a super- 
stition ; they characterized their customs as "absurd, 
sordid, foul, and depraved," and their nation as " prone 


to superstition, opposed to religion."* And as far as 
they made any distinction between Jews and Chris- 
tians, it was for the latter that they reserved their 
choicest and most concentrated epithets of hatred 
and abuse. A "new," "pernicious," "detestable," 
"execrable," superstition is the only language with 
which Suetonius and Tacitus vouchsafe to notice it. 
Seneca — though he must have heard the name of 
Christian during the reign of Claudius (when both 
they and the Jews were expelled from Rome, " be- 
cause of their perpetual turbulence, at the instigation 
of Chrestus," as Suetonius ignorantly observed), and 
during the Neronian persecutions — never once alludes 
to them, and only mentions the Jews to apply a 
few contemptuous remarks to the idleness of their 
sabbaths, and to call them " a most abandoned race." 
The reader will now judge whether there is the 
slightest probability that Seneca had any intercourse 
with St. Paul, or was likely to have stooped from his 
superfluity of wealth, and pride of power, to take 
lessons from obscure and despised slaves in the 
purlieus inhabited by the crowded households of 
Caesar or Narcissus. 

* Tac Hist. i. 13 : ib. v. 5 : Juv. xiv. 85 ; Pers. v. 190, &c 


senega's resemblances to scripture. 

And yet in a very high sense of the word Seneca 
may be called, as he is called in the title of this book, 
a Seeker after God ; and the resemblances to the 
sacred writings which may be found in the pages of 
his works are numerous and striking. A few of 
these will probably interest our readers, and will put 
them in a better position for understanding how large 
a measure of truth and enlightenment had rewarded 
the honest search of the ancient philosophers. We 
will place a few such passages side by side with the 
texts of Scripture which they resemble or recall. 


God's Indzuellins!' Presence, 

" Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and 
that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" asks St. 
Paul (i Cor. iii. i6). 

*' God is near yotc, is with yoii^ is zvithin you,^^- 
writes Seneca to his friend Lucilius, in the 41st of 
thosQ^ Letters which abound in his most valuable mo- 
ral reflections ; "« sacred Spirit dzvells zvithin iis^ the 


observe^' and guardian of all our evil and our good . . . 
there is no good man zvitJiont God'' 

And again [Ep. J'^) : '' Do you zvonder that man goes 
to the gods ? God comes to men : nay, zvhat is yet 
nearer, He comes into men. No good mind is holy 
ivithoiit God!' 

2. The Eye of God. 

"■ All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of 
Him with whom we have to do." (Heb. iv. 13.) 

" Pray to thy Father which is in secret ; and thy 
Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee 
openly." (Matt. vi. 6.) 

Seneca {On Providence, i) : ^^ It is no advantage 
that conscience is shut within us ; we lie opcji to God!' 

Letter ^'}^ : " What advantage is it that anything is 
hidden from man ? Nothing is closed to God : He is 
prescjtt to our minds, and eriters into our central 

Letter 83 : " We must live as if we zvere living in 
sight of all men ; zve must think as tJiough some one 
could and can gaze into our inmost breast." 

3. God is a Spirit. 

St. Paul, " We ought not to think that the God- 
head is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by 
art and man's device." (Acts xvii. 29.) 

Seneca {Letter 31): ^^ Even from a corner it is 
possible to spring up into Jieaven : rise, tJierefore, and 
form tJiy self into a fashion zvorthy of God ; thou canst 
not do this, however, with gold and silver : an image 



like to God cannot be formed out of such materials as 

4. Imitating God. 

**Be ye therefore followers (/jnfujrai, imitators) of 
God, as dear children." (Eph. v. i.) 

" He that in these things [righteousness, peace, 
joy in the Holy Ghost] serveth Christ is acceptable 
to God." (Rom. xlv. 18.) 

Seneca (Letter 95) : "Do yon wish to render the 
gods propitiotis ? Be virtuous. To honotir them it is 
enough to imitate them!' 

Letter 124: ^' Let man aim at the good wJiich 
belongs to him. What is this good? A mind reformed 
and pure ^ the imitator of God, raising itself above thingr 
human., confining all its desires withijt itself" 

5. Hypocrites like whitcd Sepulchres. 

" Vv'^oe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ! 
for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed 
appear beautiful outward, but are within full of 
dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (Matt, 
xxiii. 27.) 

Seneca : " Those zvhom you regard as happy, if you 
saiv them, not in tJieir externals, but in their hidden 
aspect, are zuretchcd, sordid, base ; like their own walls 
adorned outwardly. It is no solid and genuine felicity ; 
it is a plaster, and that a thin one ; and so, as long as 
th^ can stand and be seen at their pleasure, they shine 
and impose on us : whett anything has fallen which 
dtsturhs and uncovers them^ it is evident how much 


deep and real foulness an extraneons splendour lias 

6. Teaching compai'ed to Seed. 

" But other fell into good ground, and brought 
forth fruit ; some an hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, 
some thirty-fold." (Matt. xiii. 8.) 

Seneca {Letter 38) : " Words must be soivn like 
seed ; ivhich, although it be small, when it hath found 
a suitable ground, unfolds its strength, and from very 
small size is expanded into the largest ifzerease. Reason 
does the same .... The things spoken are few ; but if 
the mijid have received the^n ivell, they gain strength 
and grow." 

7. A II Men are Sinners. 

" If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves 
and the truth is not in us." (i John i. 8.) 

Seneca {On Anger, i. 14, ii. 27): ^' If we wish to 
be just judges of all tilings, let us first persuade our- 
selves of this: — tJiat there is not one of us ivithoiit 
fault. . . . No man is found who can acquit himself : 
and he who calls Jiintself innoce7it does so witJi reference 
to a witness, and not to his conscience!' 

8. Avarice, 

"The love of money is the root of all evil." 
(i Tim. vi. 10.) 

Seneca (^On Tranquillity of Soul, 8): " Riches 
. . . the greatest source of hu77tan trouble. ^^ 

" Be content with such things as ye have." 
(Heb. xiii. 5.) 

178 SENECA. 

" Having food and raiment, let us be therewith 
content." (i Tim. vi. 8.) 

Seneca {Letter 1 14) : " We shall be wise if we desire 
but little ; if each man takes count of kiinself and at 
the same time measures his own body, he will know hozv 
little it can contain, and for hozv short a time!' 

Letter no: " We have polenta, we have water; let 
us challenge Jnpiter himself to a comparison of bliss I " 

" Godliness with contentment is great gain." (i Tim. 
vi. 6.) 

Seneca {Letter no): " Why are you struck with 
wonder and astonishment ? Lt is all display I Those 
things are shotun, not possessed. . . . Turn thyself 
rather to the true riches, learn to be content with little^ 

"■ It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a 
needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom 
of God." (Matt. xix. 24.) 

Seneca {Letter 20) : " He is a high-soulcd man who 
sees riches spread around him, and hears rather than 
feels that they are his. Lt is much not to be corrupted 
by fellowship with riches : great is he who in the midst 
of wealth is poor ^ but safer he who has no wealth at all!' 

9. TJie Duty of Kindness. 

" Be kindly affection ed one to another with 
brotherly love." (Rom. xii. 10.) 

Seneca {On Anger, i. 5) : ''Man is born for mutual 

*• Thou shalt love thy neighbour as tbyFelf." (TyCv. 
xiv. 18.) 


Letter 48 : " Yon must live for anotJier, if yon 
ivisJi io live for yourself r 

On A nger, iii. 43 : " JV/iile we are among men let 
tis cultivate kindness ; let us not he to any man a cause 
either of peril or of fear" 

10. Our common Membership. 

*' Ye are the body of Christ, and members in par- 
ticular." (i Cor. xii. 27.) 

"We being many are one body in Christ, and 
every one members one of another." (Rom. xii. 5.) 

Seneca {Letter 95): ^' Do we teach that Jie should 
stretch his hand to the shipzvrecked^ show his path to 
the wanderer, divide his bread with the hungry f . . . 
ivhen I could briefly deliver to him the formula of 
human duty : all this that you see, in whicJi things 
divine and human are included, is one: we are 
members of one great body!' 

1 1 . Secrecy in doing Good. 

" Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand 
doeth." (Matt. vi. 3.) 

Seneca {On Benefits, ii. ii): ^^ Let him who hath 
conferred a favour hold his tongue. . . . In conferring 
a favour nothing should be mor€ avoided tJian pricier 

12. God's impartial Goodness. 

" He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the 
good, and sendeth rain on the just nnd on the uniust." 

(Matt. V. 45) 

1:; R 

i8c . SENECA, 

Seneca {On Benefits, i. i) : ''How many are 
iinwortJiy of the light ! and yet the day dawns!' 

Id. vii. 31:" The gods begin to confer benefits on 
those who recognise them not, they continue them to those 
who are thankless for them. . . . They distribute their 
blessings in impartial tenor thi^ough the nations and 
peoples ; . . they sprinkle the earth with timely showers, 
they stir the seas zvith wind, they mark ont the seasons 
by the revolution of the constellations, they temper the 
winter and summer by the intervention of a gentler air!' 

It would be a needless task to continue these 
parallels, because by reading any treatise of Seneca 
a student might add to them by scores ; and they 
prove incontestably that, as far as moral illumination 
was concerned, Seneca " was not far from the king- 
dom of heaven." They have been collected by several 
writers ; and all of these here adduced, together with 
many others, may be found in the pages of Fleury, 
Troplong, Aubertin, and others. Some authors, like 
M. Fleury, have endeavoured to show that they can 
only be accounted for by the supposition that Seneca 
had some acquaintance with the sacred writings. 
M. Aubertin, on the other hand, has conclusively 
demonstrated that this could not have been the case. 
Many words and expressions detached from their 
context have been forced into a resemblance with 
the words of Scripture, when the context wholly 
militates against its spirit ; many belong to that 
great common stock of moral truths which had been 
elaborated by the conscientious labours of ancient. 


philosophers ; and there is hardly one of the thoughts 
so eloquently enunciated which may not be found 
even more nobly and more distinctly expressed in 
the writings of Plato and of Cicero. In a subsequent 
chapter we shall show that, in spite of them all, the 
divergences of Seneca from the spirit of Christianity 
are at least as remarkable as the closest of his 
resemblances ; but it will be more convenient to do 
tliis when we hav^e also examined the doctrines of 
those two other great representatives of spiritual en- 
lightenment in Pagan souls, Epictetus the slave and 
Marcus Aurelius the emperor. 

Meanwhile, it is a matter for rejoicing that writings 
such as these give us a clear proof that in all ages 
the Spirit of the Lord has entered into holy men, 
and made them sons of God and prophets. God 
"left not Himself without witness" among them. 
The language of St." Thomas Aquinas, that many a 
heathen has had an " implicit faith," is but another 
way of expressing St. Paul's statement that "not 
having the law they were a law unto themselves, and 
showed the work of the law written in their hearts."* 
To them the Eternal Power and Godhead were known 
from the things that do appear, and alike from the 
voice of consience and the voice of nature they 
derived a true, although a partial and inadcquatt!, 
knowledge. To them " the voice of nature was the 
voice of God." Their revelation was the law of 
nature, which was confirmed, strengthened, and ex- 
tcridod.. but not suspended, by the written lav/ of God.t 

* Rom. i. 2. t Hooker, lucl. PrI. iii. 8. 


The knowledge thus derived, i.e. the sum-total of 
religious impressions resulting from the combination 
of reason and experience, has been called "natural 
religion ;" the term is in itself a convenient and 
unobjectionable one, so long as it is remembered that 
natural religion is itself a revelation. No antithesis 
is so unfortunate and pernicious as that of natural 
with revealed religion. It is " a contrast rather of 
words than of ideas ; it is an opposition of abstractions 
to which no facts really correspond." God has re- 
vealed Himself, not in one but in many ways, not only 
by inspiring the hearts of a few, but by vouchsafing 
His guidance to all who seek it, " The spirit of man 
is the candle of the Lord," and it is not religion but 
apostasy to deny the reality of any of God's reve- 
lations of truth to man, merely because they have 
not descended through a single channel. On the 
contrary, we ought to hail with gratitude, instead of 
viewing with suspicion, the enunciation by heathen 
writers of truths which we might at first sight have 
been disposed to regard as the special heritage of 
Christianity. In Pythagoras, and Socrates, and Plato, 
— in Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius — we 
see the light of heaven struggling its impeded way 
through clouds of darkness and ignorance ; we thank- 
fully recognise that the souls of men in the Pagan 
world, surrounded as they were by perplexities and 
dangers, were yet enabled to reflect, as from the dim 
surface of silver, some image of what was divine and 
true ; we hail, with the great and eloquent Boss'j^t^ 
"The Christianity of Nature." ''The divine 


image in man," says St. Bernard, "may be burned, but 
it cannot be burnt out." 

And this is the pleasantest side on which to con- 
sider the Hfe and the writings of Seneca. It is true 
that his style partakes of the defects of his age, that 
the briUiancy of his rhetoric does not always com- 
pensate for the defectiveness of his reasoning ; that 
he resembles, not a mirror which clearly reflects the 
truth, but " a glass fantastically cut into a thousand 
spangles;" that side by side with great moral truths 
we sometimes find his worst errors, contradictions, and 
paradoxes ; that his eloquent utterances about God 
often degenerate into a vague Pantheism ; and that 
even on the doctrine of immortality his hold is too 
slight to save him from waverings and contradictions:* 
yet as a moral teacher he is full of real greatness, and 
was often far in advance of the general opinion of 
his age. Few men have written more finely, or with 
more evident sincerity, about truth and courage, about 
the essential equality of man,t about the duty of 
kindness and consideration to slaves,:} about tender- 
iiess even in dealing with sinners, § about the glory of 
unselfishness, IJ about the great idea of humanity^ as 
something which transcends all the natural and arti- 
ficial prejudices of country and of caste. Many of 
his writings are Pagan sermons and moral essays of 
the best and highest type. The style, as Ouintilian 

* Consol. ad Polyb. 27; Ad Ilelv, 17; Ad Marc. 24, stqq. 
t Ep. 32 ; De Benef. iii. 2. ' J De Ira, iii. 29, 32. 

§ Ibid. i. 14 ; De Vit. beat. 24. || Ep. 55, 9. 

H Ibid. 28 \ Do Oti Sapientis, 31. 


1 8a SENECA. 

say^^, " abounds in delightful faults," but the strain ol 
sentiment is never otherwise than high and true. 

He is to be regarded rather as a wealthy, eminent, 
and successful Roman, who devoted most of his 
leisure to moral philosophy, than as a real philo- 
sopher by habit and profession. And in this point 
of view his very inconsistencies have their charm, 
as illustrating his ardent, impulsive, imaginative 
temperament. He was no apathetic, self-contained, 
impassible Stoic, but a passionate, warm-hearted man, 
who could break into a flood of unrestrained tears at 
the death of his friend Annaeus Serenus,--' and feel a 
trembling solicitude for the welfare of his wife and 
I'ttle ones. His was no absolute renunciation, no 
impossible perfection ;t but few men have painted 
miore persuasively, with deeper emotion, or more 
entire conviction, the pleasures of virtue, the calm of 
a well-regulated soul, the strong and severe joys of a 
lofty self-denial. In his youth, he tells us, he was 
preparing himself for a righteous life, in his old age 
for a noble death. | And let us not forget, that when 
the hour of crisis came which tested the real calm 
and bravery of his soul, he was not found wanting. 
" With no dread," he writes to Lucilius, " I am pre- 
paring myself for that day on which, laying aside 
all artifice or subterfuge, I shall be able to judge 
respecting myself whether I merely speak or really 
feel as a brave man should ; whether alt those words 
of haughty obstinacy which I have hurled against 
fortune were mere pretence and pantomime 

* Ep. 63. t Martha, Lcs Moralistcs, p. 61. X Ep. ^L 


Disputations and literary talks, and words collected 
from the precepts of philosophers., and eloquent dis- 
course, do not prove the true strength of the soul. 
For the mere speech of even the most cowardly is 
bold ; what you have really achieved will then be 
manifest when your end is near. I accept the terms, 
I do not shrink from the decision."* 

" Accipio conditioncm^ noit reformido judicium^ 
They were courageous and noble words, and they 
were justified in the hour of trial. When we remember 
the sins of Seneca's life, let us recall also the constancy 
of his death ; while we admit the inconsistencies of 
his systematic philosophy, let us be grateful for the 
genius, the enthusiasm, the glow of intense conviction, 
with which he clothes his repeated utterance of truths, 
which, when based upon a surer basis, were found 
adequate for the moral regeneration of the world. 
Nothing is more easy than to sneer at Seneca, or to 
write clever epigrams on one whose moral attainments 
fell infinitely short of his own great ideal. But after 
all he was not more inconsistent than thousands of 
those who condemn him. With all his faults he yet 
lived a nobler and a better life, he had loftier aims, 
he was braver, more self-denying — nay, even more 
consistent — than the majority of professing Christians. 
It would be well for us all if those who pour such 
scorn upon his memory attempted to achieve one 
tithe of the good which he achieved for humanity and 
for Rome. His tlioughts deserve our imperishable 
gratitude : let him who is without sin among us be 
t;agcr to fling stones at his failures and his sins! 

* Kp. 26. 




In the court of Nero, Seneca must have been thrown 
into more or less communication with the power- 
ful freedmen of that Emperor, and especially with 
his secretary or librarian, Epaphroditus. Epaphro- 
ditus was a constant companion of the Emperor ; 
he was the earliest to draw Nero's attention to the 
conspiracy in which Seneca himself perished. There 
can be no doubt that Seneca knew him, and had visited 
at his house. Among the slaves who thronged that 
house, the natural kindliness of the philosopher's 
heart may have drawn his attention to one little lame 
Phrygian boy/ deformed and mean-looking,) whose 
face— if it were any index of the mind within — must 
even from boyhood have worn a serene and patient 
look. The great conrticr, the great tutor of the 
Emperor, the great Stoic and favourite writer of his 
age, would indeed have been astonished if he had been 
suddenly told that that wretched-looking little slave- 


lad was destined to attain purer and clearer heights 
of philosophy than he himself had ever done, and 
to become quite as illustrious as himself, and far more 
respected as an exponent of Stoic doctrines. P'or 
that lame boy was Epictetus — Epictetu-s for whom was 
written the memorable epitaph : " I was Epictetus, a 
slave, and maimed in body, and a beggar for poverty, 
and dear to the iinmot^tals!'' 

Although we have a clear sketch of his philosophical 
doctrines, we have no materials whatever for any but 
the most meagre description of his life. The picture 
of his mind — an effigy of that which he alone regarded 
as his true self — may be seen in his works, and to this 
we can add little except a few general facts and 
uncertain anecdotes. 

Epictetus was probably born in about the fiftieth 
year of the Christian era ; but we do not know the 
exact date of his birth, nor do we even know his real 
name. "Epictetus" means "bought" or "acquired," 
and is simply a servile designation. He was born at 
Hierapolis, in Phrygia, a town between the rivers 
Lycus and Meander, and considered by some to be the 
capital of the province. The town possessed several 
natural wonders — sacred springs, stalactite grottoes, 
and a deep cavern remarkable for its mephitic exha- 
lations. It is more interesting to us to know that it 
was within a few miles of Colossae and Laodicea, and 
is mentioned by St. Paul (Col. iv. 13) in connexion 
with those two cities. It must, therefore, have pos- 
sessed a Christian Church fn^ii the earliest time^ and, 
if Epictetus spent any part of his boyhood there, he 


might have conversed with men and women of humble 
rank who had heard read in their obscure place of 
meeting the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, and 
the other, now lost, which he addressed to the Church 
of Laodicea.* 

It is probable, however, that Hierapolis and its 
associations produced very little influence on the 
mind of Epictetus. (His parents were people in the 
very lowest and humblest class, and their moral 
character could hardly have been high, or they would 
not have consented under any circumstance to sell 
into slavery their sickly childy Certainly it could 
hardly have been possible for Epictetus to enter into 
the world under less enviable or less promising 
auspices. But the whole system of life is full of divine 
and memorable compensations, and Epictetus expe- 
rienced them. God kindles the light of genius where 
He will, and He can inspire the highest and most 
regal thoughts even into the meanest slave-: — 

" Such seeds ai-e scatter' d night and day 
By the soft wind from heaven, 
And in the poorest human clay 
Have taken root and thriven." 

What were the accidents — or rather, what was "the 
unseen Providence, by man nicknamed chance" — 
which assigned Epictetus to the house of Epaphroditus 
we/ do not know. To a heart refined and noble there 
could hardly have been a more trying position. The 
slaves of a Roman yiT'/^z'/^'^ were crowded together in 
immense gangs; they were liable to the most violent 

* Col. iv. i6. 


and capricious punishments ; they might be subjected 
to the most degraded and brutahsing influencesj 
Men sink too often to the level to which they are 
supposed to belong. Treated with infamy for l^ong 
years, they are apt to deem themselves worthy of 
infamy — to lose that self-respect which is the inv^a- 
riable^ concomitant of religious feeling, and which, 
apart from religious feeling, is the sole preventive 
of personal degradation. Well may St. Paul say, 
"Art thou called, being a servant.'* care not for it : 
but if tJioiL may est be made free, 2ise it ratJier.''* 

It is true that even in tire heathen world there began 
at this time to be disseminated among the best and 
wisest thinkers a sense that slaves were made of the 
same clay as their masters, that they differed from 
freeborn men onh' in the externals and accidents of 
their position, and that kindness to them and consi- 
deration for their difSculties was a common and 
elementary duty of humanity. '' I am giad to learn/' 
says Seneca, in one of his interesting letters to Luci- 
lius, " that you live on terms of familiarity with your 
slaves ; it becomes your prudence and your erudition. 
Are they slaves .-* Nay, they are men. Slaves 1 Nay, 
companions. Slaves } Nay, humble friends. Slaves 'i 
Nay, fellow-slaves, if you but consider that fortune 
has power over you both."' He proceeds, in a passage 
to which we have already alluded, to reprobate the 
liaughty and inconsiderate fashion of keeping tiien^ 
standing for hours, mute and fastmg, wiiile their 
masters gorged themselves at the banquet. He 

*' I Cor. vii. 2i. 


V^plores the cruelty which thinks it necessary 
to punish with terrible severity an accidental cough 
or sneeze.y He quotes the proverb — a proverb 
which reveals a whole history — " So many slaves, so 
many foes," and proves that they are not foes, 
but that men made them so ; whereas, when kindly 
treated, when considerately addressed, they would 
be silent, even under torture, rather than speak to 
their master's disadvantage. ** Are they not sprung," 
he asks, " from the same origin, do they not breathe 
the same air, do they not live and die just as we 
do?" Q^he blows, the broken limbs, the clanking 
chains, the stinted food of the ergastula or slave- 
prisons, excited all Seneca's compassion, and in all 
probability presented a picture^f misery which the 
world has rarely seen surpassed^ unless it were in 
that nefarious trade which Engfand to her shame 
once practised, and, to her eternal glory, resolutely 
swept away. 

But Seneca's inculcation of tenderness towards 
slaves was in reality one of the most original of his 
moral teachings ; and, from all that we know of Roman 
life, it is to be feared that the number of those who 
acted in accordance with it was small. Certainly 
Epaphroditus, the master of Epictetus, was not one 
of them. The historical facts which we know of this 
man are slight. He was one of the four who accom- 
panied the tragic and despicable flight of Nero from 
Rome in the year 69, and when, after many waverings 
of cowardice, Nero at last, under inmiinent peril of 
being captured and executed, put the dagger to his 


breast, it was Epaphroditus who helped the tyrant to 
drive it home into his heart, for which he was sub- 
sequently banished, and iinally executed by the 
Emperor Domitian. 

Epictetus was accustomed to tell one or two anec- 
dotes which, although given without comment, show 
the narrowness and vulgarity of the man. Among 
his slaves v/as a certain worthless cobbler named 
Felicio ; as the cobbler was quite useless, Epaphro- 
ditus sold him, and by some chance he was bought 
by some one of Caesar's household, and made Caesar's 
cobbler. Instantly Epaphroditus began to pay him 
the profoundest respect, and to address him in the 
most endearing terms, so that if any one asked what 
Epaphroditus was doing, the. answer, as likely as not, 
would be, " He is holding an important consultation 
with Felicio." 

On one occasion, some one came to him bewailing, 
and weeping, and embracing his knees in a paroxysm 
of grief, because of all his fortune little more than 
50,000/. was left! "What did P2paphroditus do.?" 
asks Epictetus; " did he laugh at the man as we did } 
Not at all ; on the contrary, he exclaimed, in a tone of 
commiseration and surprise, * Poor fellow ! how could 
you possibly keep silence and endure such a mis- 
fortune .? ' " 

How brutally he could behave, and how little 
respect he inspired, we may see in the following 
anecdote. When Plautius Lateranus, the brave 
nobleman whose execution during Piso's conspiracy 
we liave already related, had received on hi.s n;:';k 


an ineffectual blow of the tribune's sword, Epaphro- 
ditus, even at that dread moment, could not abstain 
from pressing him with questions. The only reply 
which he received from the dying man was the con- 
temptuous remark, "Should I wish to say anything, 
I will say It (not to a slave like you, but) to your 

Under a man of this calibre it is hardly likely that 
a lame Phrygian boy would experience much kind- 
ness. An anecdote, indeed, has been handed down to 
us by several writers, which would show that he was 
treated with atrocious cruelty. Epaphroditus, it is 
said, once gratified his cruelty by twisting his slave's 
leg in some instrument of torture. " If you go on, 
you will break it," said Epictetus. The wretch did 
go on, and did break it. " I told you that you would 
break it," said Epictetus quietly, not giving vent to 
his anguish by a single word or a single groan. 
Stories of heroism no less triumphant have been au- 
thenticated both in ancient and modern times ; but 
we may hope for the sake of human nature that this 
story is false, since another authority tells us that 
Epictetus became lame in consequence of a natural 
disease. Be that however as it may, some of the 
early writers against Christianity — such, for instance, 
as the physician Celsus — were fond of adducing this 
anecdote in proof of a magnanimity which not even 
Christianity could surpass ; to which use of the 
anecdote Origen opposed the awful silence of our 
Saviour upon the cross, and Gregory of Nazianzen 
pointed out that, though it was a noble thing to 


cnriure inevitable evils, it was yet more noble to 
uridefi?o them volaiitarily with an equal fortitude. 
But. even if Epaphroditus were not guilty of breaking 
the leg of Epictetus, it is clear thatQlie life of the 
poor youth was surrounded by circumstances of the 
most depressing and miserable character; circum- 
stances which would have forced an ordinary man 
to the low and animal level of existence which appears 
to hav^e contented the great majority of Roman slavep 
Some of the passages in which he speaks about the 
consideration due to this unhappy class show a very 
tender feeling towards them. " It would be best," 
he says, " if, both while making your preparations 
and while feasting at your banquets, you distribute 
among the attendants some of the provisions. But if 
such a plan, at any particular time, be difficult to 
carry out, remember that you who are not fatigued 
are being waited upon by those who are fatigued ; 
you who are eating and drinking by those who are 
not eating and drinking ; you who are conversing by 
those who are mute ; you who are at your ease by 
people under painful constraint. And thus you will 
neither yourself be kindled into unseemly passion, 
nor will you in a fit of fury do harm to any one else." 
No doubt Epictetus is here describing conduct which 
he had often seen, and of which he had himself expe- 
rienced the degradation. \But he had early acquired 
a loftiness of soul and an insight into truth which 
enabled him to distinguish tlie substance from tiie 
sfiadow, to separate the realities of }ife item its 
"^ accidents, and so to turn nis very misiortuiies into 


fresh means of attaining to moral nohiiitvy in nroof 
of this let us see some of his own opmions as to his 
sta*e of Hfe. 

^\t the very beginning of his Discoin'ses he draws a 
distinction between the things which the gods havt 
and the things which they have not put in our own 
power, and he held (being deficient here in that Hght 
which Christianity might have furnished to him) that 
the blessings denied to us are denied not because the 
gods mould not, but because they could not grant them 
to us^ And then he supposes that Jupiter addresses 
him :; — 

" C Epictetus, had it been possible, I would have 
made both your little body and your little property 
free and unentangled ; but now, do not be mistaken, 
it is not yours at all, but only clay finely kneaded. 
Since, however, I could not do this/l gave you a por- 
tion of ourselves, namely, this power of pursuing and 
avoiding, of desiring and of declining, and generally 
the power o! dealing with appearances : and if you 
cultivate this pov/er, and regard it as that which 
constitutes your real possession, you will never be 
hindered or impeded, nor will you groan or find 
fault with, or flatter any oiieT) Do these advantages 
then appear to you to be trifling ? Heaven forbid ! 
Be content therefore with these, and thank the 

And again in one of his Fragments (viii. ix.) : — 
" Freedom and slaven^' are but names, respectively, 
of virtue and of vice : and botn of them depend upon 
the will. But neither of them have anything to do 


with those things in which the will has no share. For 
no one is a slave whose will is free." 

" Fortune is an evil bond of the body, vice of the 
soul ; for he is a slave whose body is free but whose 
soul is bound, and, on the contrary, he is free whose 
body is bound but whose soul is free." 

Who does not catch in these passages the very tone 
of St. Paul when he says, " He that is called in the 
Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman : likewise 
also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant .'*" 

Nor is his independence less clearly expressed when 
he speaks of his deformity. Being but the deformity 
of a body which he despised, he spoke of himself as 
'fan ethereal existence staggering under the burden of 
a corps^" In his admirable chapter on Contentment, 
he very forcibly lays down that topic of consolation 
which is derived from the sense that " the universe is 
not made for our individual satisfaction." " Must my 
leg be lamef he supposes some querulous objector to 
inquire. " Slave!" he replies, "do you then because 
of one miserable little leg find fault with the universe } 
Will you not concede that accident to the existence of 
general laws 1 Will you not dismiss the thought of it ? 
Will you not cheerfully assent to it for the sake of him 
who gave it } And will you be indignant and dis- 
pleased at the ordinances of Zeus, which he ordained 
and appointed with the Destinies, who were present 
and wove the web of your being } Know you not what 
an atom you are compared with the whole } — that is, 
as regards your body, since as regards your reason 
you are no whit inferior to, or less than, the gods 
14 3 2 


For the greatness of reason is not estimated by size 
or height, but by the doctrines which it embraces. Will 
you not then lay up your treasure in those matters 
wherein you are equal to the gods ? " And, thanks to 
such principles, a poor and persecuted slave was able 
to raise his voice in sincere and eloquent thanks- 
n-ivincf to that God to whom he owed his " creation, 
preservation, and all the blessings of this life." 

Speaking of the multitude of our natural gifts, he 
says, " Are these the only gifts of Providence towards 
us } Nay, what power of speech suffices adequately 
to praise, or to set them forth .? for, had we but true 
intelligence, what duty would be more perpetually 
incumbent on us than both in public and in private 
to hymn the Divine, and bless His name and praise 
His benefits .'' Ought we not, when we dig, and 
when we plough, and when we eat, to sing this hymm 
to God } ' Great is God, because He hath given us 
these implements whereby we may till the soil ; great 
is God, because He hath given us hands, and the means 
of nourishment by food, and insensible growth, and 
breathing sleep ;' these things in each particular we 
ought to hymn, and to chant the greatest and the 
divinest hymn because He hath given us the power 
to appreciate these blessings, and continuously to use 
them. What then .'' Since the most of you are 
blinded, ought there not to be some one to fulfil this 
province for you, and on behalf of all to sing his 
hymn to God .'* And what else can / do, who am a 
lame old man, except sing praises to God t Now, had 
I been a nightingale, I should have sung the songs cf 


a nightingale, or had I been a swan the songs of a 
swan ; but, being a reasonable being, it is my duty to 
hymn God. This is my task, and I accomplish it; 
nor, so far as may be granted to me, will I ever 
abandon this post, and you also do I exhort to this 
same song." 

There is an almost lyric beauty about these ex- 
pressions of resignation and faith in God, and it is the 
utterance of such warm feelinirs towards Divine Pro- 
vidence that constitutes the chief originality of Epic- 
tetus. It is interesting to think that the oppressed 
heathen philosopher found the same consolation, and 
enjoyed the same contentment, as the persecuted 
Christian Apostle. " Whether ye eat ,or drink," says 
St. Paul, " or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of 
God." " Think of God," says Epictetus, *' oftener 
than you breathe. Let discourse of God be renewed 
daily more surely than your food." 

Here, again, are his views about his poverty 
{Fragment xix.) : — 

" Examine yourself whether you wish to be rich or 
to be happy ; and if you wish to be rich, know that it 
neither is a blessing, nor is it altogether in your own 
power ; (out, if to be happy, know that it both is a 
blessing, and is in your own power ; since the former 
is but a temporary loan of fortune, but the gift of 
happiness depends upon the will/ 

"Just as when you see a viper, or an asp, or a 
scorpion, in a casket of ivory or gold, you do not love 
or congratulate them on the splendour of their ma- 
terial, but because their nature is pernicious you tn»n 


from and loathe them, so likewise when you see vice 
enshrined in wealth and the pomp of circumstance do 
not be astounded at the glory of its surroundings, but 
despise the meanness of its character." 

" Wealth is not among the number of good things ; 
extravagance is among the number of evils, sober- 
mindedness of good things.. Now sober-mindedness 
invites us to frugality and the acquisition of real 
advantages ; but wealth to extravagance, and it drags 
us away from sober-mindedness. It is a hard matter, 
therefore, being rich to be sober-minded, or being 
sober-minded to be rich." 

The Idst sentence will forcibly remind the reader of 
our Lord's own words, " How hardly shall they that 
have riches (or as the parallel passage less startlingly 
expresses it, '* Children, how hard is it for them that 
tnist in riches to ") enter into the kingdom of God." 

But this is a favourite subject with the ancient 
philosopher, and Epictetus continues : — 

"/Wad you been born in Persia, you would not have 
been eager to live in Greece, but to stay \\'here you 
were, and be happy ; and, being born in poverty, why 
are you eager to be rich, and not rather to abide in 
poverty, and so be happy W 

" As it is better to be iri good health, being hard- 
pressed on a little truckle-bed, than to roll, and to be 
ill in some broad couch ; eo too it is better in a small 
competence to enjoy the oalm ' of moderate desires, 
than in the midst of superfluities to be discontented."] 

This, too, is a thought which many have expressed. 
" Gentle sleep," says Horace, " despises not the 


humble cottages of rustics, nor the shaded banks, nor 
valleys whose foliage waves with the western wind ;" 
and every reader will recall the magnificent words of 
our own great Shakespeare — 

" Why rather, Sleep, liest thou in smolcv cribs, 
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee. 
And hush'd with buzzing nightflies to thj' slumber, 
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great. 
Under the canopies of costly state. 
And lull'd with sounds of sweetest melody ? " 

To the subject of freedom, and to the power which 
man possesses to make himself entirely independent 
of all surrounding circumstances, Epictetus inces- 
santly recurs. With the possibility of banishment to 
an crgastiiliun perpetually before his eyes, he defines 
a prison as being any situation in which a man is 
placed against his will ; to Socrates for instance 
the prison was no prison, for he was there willingly, 
and no man need be in prison against his will if he 
has learnt, as one of his primary duties, a cheerful 
acquiescence in the inevitable. By the expression ot 
such sentiments Epictetus had anticipated by fifteen 
hundred years, the immortal truth so sweetly ex- 
pressed by Lovelace : 

" Stone lihills do not a prisoii make. 
Nor iron bars a cai^e ; 
Minds innocent and quiet take 
That for a hermitage." 

Situated as he was, we can hardly wonder that 
thoughts like these occupied a large share of the 
mind of Epictetus, or that he had taught himself to 




lay hold of them with the firmest possible grasp. 
When asked, " Who among men is rich ? " he 
replied, "He who suffices for himself;" an expres- 
sion which contains the germ of the truth so forcibly- 
expressed in the Book of Proverbs, "The backslider 
in heart shall be filled with his own ways, and a good 
man shall be satisfied from himself !' Similarly, when 
asked, \Who is freeJ " he replies, " The man who 
masters his own self/O with much the same tone of 
expression as that or Solomon, "He that is slow to 
anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth 
his spirit than he that taketh a city." Socrates was 
one of the great models whom Epictetus constantly 
sets before him, and this is one of the anecdotes 
which he relates about him with admiration. When 
Archelaus sent a message to express the intention of 
making him rich, Socrates bade the messenger inform 
him that at Athens four quarts of meal might be 
bought for three halfpence, and the fountains flow 
with water. "If then my existing possessions are in- 
sufficient for me, at any rate I am sufficient for them, 
and so they too are sufficient for me. Do you not 
see that Polus acted the part of CEdipus in his royal 
state with no less beauty of voice than that of CEdipus 
in Colonos, a wanderer and beggar .'' Shall then a 
noble man appear inferior to Polus, so as not to act 
well every character imposed upon him by Divine 
Providence ; and shall he not imitate Ulysses, who 
even in rags was wo less conspicuous than in the 
curled nap of his purple cloak } " 

Generally speaking, the view which Epictetus took 


of life is always simple, and always consistent ; it is 
a view which gave him consolation among life's 
troubles, and strength to display some of its noblest 
virtues, and it may be summed up in the following- 
passages of his famous Manual : — 

" Remember," he says, " tliat you are an actor of 
just such a part as is assigned you by the Poet of the 
play ; of a short part, if the part be short ; of a long 
part, if it be long. Should He wish you to act the 
part of a beggar, take care to act it naturally and 
nobly ; and the same if it be the part of a lame man, 
or a ruler, or a private man ; Qor tJds is in your power, 
to act well the part assigned to ^u ; but to choose 
that part is the function of another/j 

" Let not these considerations afflict you : ' I shall 
live despised, and the merest nobody ; ' for if dishonour 
be an evil, you cannot be involved in evil any more 
than you can be involved in baseness through any one 
else's means. Is it then at all yoitr business to be 
a leading man, or to be entertained at a banquet ? 
By no means. How then can it be a dishonour not 
to be so } And how will you be a mere nobody, 
since it is your duty to be somebody only in those 
circumstances which are in your own power, in which 
you may be a person of the greatest importance .'*" 

** Honour, precedence, confidence," he argues in 
another passage, " whether they be good things or 
evil things, are at any rate things for which their own 
definite price must be paid. Lettuces are sold for a 
p-enn>, and if ycu want your lettuce you must pay 
your penny ; and similarly, if you want to be abided 


out to a person's house, you must pay the price which 
he demands for asking people, whether the coin he 
rec]uires be praise or attention ; but if you do not give 
these, do not expect the other. Have you then 
gained nothing in heu of your supper ? Indeed 
you have ; you have escaped praising a person whom 
you did not want to praise, and you have escaped the 
necessity of tolerating the upstart impertinence of his 

Some parts of this last thought have been so 
beautifully expressed by the American poet Lowell 
that I will conclude this chapter in his words : 

" Earth hath her price for what earth gives us ; 

The beggar is tax'd for a corner to die in ; 
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives ii> ; 

We bargain for the graves we he in : 
At the devil's mart are all things sold, 
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold, 
I'or a cap and bells our lives we pay. 

Bubbles we earn with our whole soul's taskingj, 
^Tis only God that is given away, 

*Tis only heaven may V nadfcr the asking.^'* 



Whether any of these great thoughts would have 
suggested themselves spontaiieoitsly to Epictetus — 
whether there was an inborn wisdom and nobleness in 
the mind of this slave which would have enabled him 
to elaborate such views from his own consciousness, 
we cannot tell ; they do not, however, express Jiis 
sentiments only, but belong in fact to the moral 
teaching of the great Stoic school, in the doctrines of 
which he had received instruction. 

It may sound strange to the reader that one 
situated as Epictetus was should yet have had a 
regular tutor to train him in Stoic doctrines. That 
such should have been the case appears at first sight 
inconsistent with the cruelty w^th which he was 
treated, but it is a fact which is capable of easy ex- 
planation. In times of universal luxury and display 
— in times when a sort of surface-refinement is found 
among all the wealthy — some sort of respect is always 
paid to intellectual eminence, and intellectual amuse- 
ments are cultivated as well as those of a coarser 
character. Hence a rich Roman liked to Jiave people 


of literary culture among his slaves ; he liked to have 
people at hand who would get him any information 
which he might desire about books, who could act as 
his amanuenses, who could even correct and supply 
information for his original compositions. Such 
learned slaves formed part of every large establish- 
ment, and among" them were usually to be found 
some who bore, if they did not particularly merit, the 
title of '' philosophers." These men — many of whom 
are described as having been mere impostors, osten- 
tatious pedants, or ignorant hypocrites — acted some- 
what like domestic chaplains in the houses of their 
patrons. They gratified an amateur taste for wisdom, 
and helped to while away in comparative innocence 
the hours which their masters might otherv^ise have 
spent in lassitude or sleep. It was no more to the 
credit of Epaphroditus that he wished to have a 
philosophic slave, than it is to the credit of an illiterate 
millionaire in modern times that he likes to have 
works of high art in his dravving-n^om, and books of 
reference in his well-furnished library. 

Accordingly, since Epictetus must have been sin- 
gularly useless for all physical purposes, and since 
his thoughtfulness and intelligence could not fail to 
command attention, his master determined to make 
him useful in the only way possible, and sent him to 
Caius Musonius Rufus to be trained in the doctrines 
of the Stoic philosophy. 

Musonius was the son of a Roman knight. His 
learning and eloquence, no less than his keen appre- 
ciation of Stoic truths, had so deeply kindled the 


suspicions of Nero, that he banished him to the rocky 
little island of Gyaros, on the charge of his having 
been concerned in Piso's conspiracy. He returned to 
Rome after tlie suicide of Nero, and lived in great 
distinction and respect, so that he was allowed to 
remain in the city when the Emperor Vespasian 
banished all the other philosophers of any eminence. 

The works of Musonius have not come down to us, 
but a few notices of him, which are scattered in the 
Discourses of his greater pupil, show us what kind of 
man he was. The following anecdotes will show that 
he was a philosopher of the strictest school. 

Speaking of the value of logic as a means of train- 
ing the reason, Epictetus anticipates the objection 
that, after all, a mere error in reasoning is no very 
serious fault. He points out that it is a fault, and 
that is sufficient. " I too," he says, " once made this 
very remark to Rufus when he rebuked me for not 
discovering the suppressed premiss in some syllogism. 
'What!' said I, 'have I then set the Capitol on fire, 
that you rebuke me thus >. ' ' Slave ! " he answered ; 
' what has the Capitol to do with it } Is there no 
otJier fault then short of setting the Capitol on fire.? 
Yes ! to use one's own mere fancies rashly, at random, 
anyhow ; not to follow an argument, or a demon- 
stration, or a sophism ; not, in short, to see what 
makes for oneself or not, in questioning and answerinfTf 
— is none of these things a fault ? ' " 

Sometimes he used to test the Stoical endurance of 
his pupil by pointing out the indignities and tortures 
which his master might at any moment inflict upon 


bim ; and when Epictetus answered that, after all, 
such treatment was what man had borne, and there- 
fore could bear, he would reply approvingly that every 
man's destiny was in his own hands ; that he need 
lack nothing from any one else ; that, since he could 
derive from himself magnanimity and nobility of 
soul, he might despise the notion of receiving lands 
or money or office. ** But," he continued, "when any 
one is cowardly or mean, one ought obviously in 
writing letters about such a person to speak of him 
as a corpse, and to say, * Favour us with the corpse 
and blood of So-and-so.' For, in fact; such a man is 
a mere corpse, and nothing more ; for if he were any- 
thing more, he would have perceived that no man 
ever suffers any real misfortunes by another's means." 
I do not know whether Mr. Ruskin is a student of 
Epictetus, but he, among others, has forcibly expressed 
the same truth. " My friends, do you remember that 
old Scythian custom, when the head of a house died } 
How he was dressed in his finest dress, and set in his 
chariot, and carried about to his friends' houses ; and 
each of them placed him at his table's head, and all 
feasted in his presence.-* Suppose it were offered to 
3'ou, in plain words, as it is offered to you in dire 
facts, that you should gain this Scythian honour 

gradually, while you yet thought yourself alive 

Would you take the offer verbally made by the death- 
angel ? Would the meanest among us take it, think 
you ? Yet practically and verily we grasp at it, 
every one of us., in a measure ; many of us grasp at 
it ill the fulness of horror." 


The way in which Musonius treated would-be 
pupils much resembled the plan adopted by Socrates. 
" It is not easy," says Epictetus, ** to train effeminate 
youths, any more than it is easy to take up whey 
with a hook. But those of fine nature, even if you 
discourage them, desire instruction all the more. For 
which reason Rufus often discouraged pupils, using 
this as a criterion of fine and of common natures ; for 
he used to say, that just as a stone, even if you fling 
it into the air, will fall down to the earth by its own 
gravitating force, so also a noble nature, in proportion 
as it is repulsed, in that proportion tends more in its 
own natural direction." As Emerson says, — 

" Yet on the nimble air benign 

Speed nimbler messages, 
That waft the breath of grace divine 

To hearts in sloth and ease. 
So nigh is grandeur to our dust. 

So near is God to man, 
When Duty whispers low, *Thou MUST,* 

The youth replies, ' I can.' " 

One more trait of the character of Musonius will 
show how deeply Epictetus respected him, and how 
much good he derived from him. In his Discourse 
on Ostentation, Epictetus says that Rufus was in 
the habit of remarking to his pupils, " If you have 
leisure to praise me, I can have done you no good." 
" He used indeed so to address us that each one of 
us, sitting there, thought that some one had been 
privately telling tales against Jiim in particular, so 
completely did Rufus seize hold of his characteristics, 
so vividly did he portray our individual faults." 

2o8 El'lCTETUS. 

r*^^Such was the man under whose teaching Epictetus 
{jrew to maturity, and it was evidently a teaching 
which was wise and, noble, even if it were somewhat 
chilling and austere. It formed an epoch in the 
slave's life ; it remoulded his entire character ; it was 
to him the source of blessings so inestimable in their 
value that it is doubtful whether they were counter- 
balanced by all the miseries of poverty, slavery, and 
contempt. He would probably have admitted that 
it was better for him to have been sold into cruel 
slavery, than it would have been to grow up in 
freedom, obscurity, and ignorance in his native 
Hierapolis. So that Epictetus might have found, and 
did find, in his own person, an additional argument 
in favour of Divine Providence : an additional proof 
that God is kind and merciful to all men ;\an addi- 
tional intensity of conviction that, if our lots on earth 
are not equal, they are at least dominated by a prin- 
ciple of justice and of wisdom, and each man, on the 
whole, may gain that which is best for him, and that 
which most honestly and most heartily he desires) 
Epictetus reminds us again and again that we may 
have many, if not all, such advantages as the world 
has to offer, if we are willing to pay the price by ivJiick 
they are obtained. But if that price be a mean or a 
wicked one, and if we should scorn ourselves were we 
ever tempted to pay it, then we must not even cast one 
longing look of regret towards things which can only 
be got by that which we deliberately refuse to give. 
^3vyery good and just man may gain^if nx^t happiness, 
tne^something higher than happines^ Let no one 


regard this as a mere phrase, for it is capable of a 
most distinct and definite meaning. There are certain 
things which all men desire, and which all men 
would ^/^fl?/y, if they could lawftdly and innocently 
obtain. These thir»gs are health, wealth, ease, com- 
fort, influence, honour, freedom from opposition and 
from pain ; and yet, if you were to place all these bles- 
sings on the one side, and on the other side to place 
poverty, and disease, and anguish, and trouble, and 
contempt, — yet, if on this side also you were to place 
truth and justice, and a sense that, however densely 
the clouds may gather about our life, the light of God 
will be visible beyond them, all the noblest men who 
ever lived would choose, as without hesitation they 
always have chosen, the latter destiny. It is not 
that they like failure, but they prefer failure to falsity ; 
it is not that they love persecution, but they prefer 
persecution to meanness ; it is not that they relish 
opposition, but they welcome opposition rather than 
guilty acquiescence ; it is not that they do not shrink 
from agony, but they would not escape agony by crime. 
The selfishness of Dives in his purple is to them less 
enviable than the innocence of Lazarus in rags ; they 
would be chained with John in prison rather than loll 
with Herod at the feast ; they would fight with beasts 
with Paul in the arena rather than be steeped in the foul 
luxury of Nero on the throne. It is not happiness, but 
it is something higher than happiness; it is stillness, it 
is assurance, it is satisfaction, it is peace ; the world can 
neither understand it, nor give it, nor take it away, — 
it is something indescribabic — it is the gift of God 


" The fallacy " of being surprised at wickedness in 
prosperity, and righteousness in misery, " can only 
lie," says Mr. Froude, in words which would have 
dehghted Epictetus, and which would express the 
inmost spirit of his philosophy, *' in the supposed 
rigJU to happiness. . . . Happiness is not what we 
are to look for. Our place is to be true to the best 
we know, to seek that, and do that ; and if by 'virtue 
is its own reward ' be meant that the good man cares 
only to continue good, desiring nothing more, then 
it is a true and a noble saying. . . . Let us do 
right, and then whether happiness come, or unhap- 
piness, it is no very mighty matter. If it come, life 
will be sweet ; if it do not come, life will be bitter 
— bitter, not sweet, and yet to be borne. . . . The 
well-being of our souls depends only on what we 
are :■ and nobleness of character is nothing else but 
steady love of good ^ and steady scorn of evil. . . .Only 
to those who have the heart to say, * We can do 
without selfish enjoyment : it is not what we ask 
or desire/ is there no secret. Man will have what he 
desires, and will find what is really best for him, 
exactly as he honestly seeks for it. Happiness may 
-fly away^ pleasure pall or cease to be obtainablcy 
wealth decay ^ friends fail or prove unkind : but the 
-power to serve God never fails ^ and the love oj 
Him is never rejected. 



Of the life of Epictetus, as distinct from his opin- 
ions, there is unfortunately little more to be told. 
The life of 

" That halting slave, who in Nicopolis 
Taught Arrian, when Vespasian's brutal son 
Cleared Rome of what most shamed him," 

is not an eventful life, and the conditions which sur- 
rounded it are very circumscribed. Great men, it 
has been observed, have often the shortest biogra- 
phies ; their real life is in their books. 

At some period of his life, but how or when we do 
not know, Epictetus was manumitted by his master, 
and was henceforward regarded by the world as free. 
Probably the change made little or no difference in 
his life. If it saved him from a certain amount of 
brutahty, if it gave him more uninterrupted leisure, it 
probably did not in the slightest degree modify the 
hardships of his existence, and may have caused him 
some little anxiety as ta the means of procuring 
the necessaries of life, f He^ of all men, would have 
attached the least impuTfancc to the external con- 
ditions under which he lived ; he always regarded 


them as falling under the category of things which 
lay beyond the sphere of his own influence, and 
therefore as things with which he had nothing to doJ 
Even in his most oppressed days, he considered him- 
self, by the grace of heaven, to be more free — free in 
a far truer and higher sense — than thousands of those 
who owed allegiance to no master's will. Whether 
he had saved any small sum of money, or whether 
his needs were supplied by the many who loved anr^ 
honoured him, we do not know. He was a man who 
vvas content with the barest necessaries of life, and 
we may be sure that he would have refused to be 
indebted to any one for more than thes^ 

Qt is probable that he never marriea\ This may 
have been due to that shade of indifference to the 
female character of which we detect traces here and 
there in his writings. In one passage he complains 
that women seemed to think of nothing but admira- 
tion and getting married ; and, in another, he observes, 
almor.t with a sneer, that the Roman ladies Wr^re iond 
of Plato's Republic because he allowed some very 
liberal marriage regulations. We can only infer from 
these passages that he had been very untortunate in 
the specimens of women with whom he had been 
thrown. The Roman ladies of his time were certainly 
not models of character ; he was not likely to fall 
in with very exalted females among the slaves of 
Epaphroditus or the ladies of his family, and he had 
probably never known the love of a sister or. a 
mother's care. He did not, however, go the length of 
condemning marriage altogether; on the contrary, he 


blames the philosophers who did so. vj^ut it is equally 
obvious that he approves of celibacy as a " counsel of 
perfection,'^nd indeed his views on the subject have 
so close and remarkable a resemblance to those of 
St. Paul, that our readers will be interested in seeing 
them side by side. 

In I Cor. vii. St. Paul, after speaking of the noble- 
ness of virginity, proceeds, nevertheless, to sanction 
matrimony as in itself a hallowed and honourable 
estate. It was not given to all, he says, to abide 
even as he was, and therefore marriage should be 
adopted as a sacred and indissoluble bond. Still, 
without being sure that he has any divine sanction for 
what he is about to say, he considers celibacy good 
" for the present distress," and warns those that marry 
that they "shall have trouble in the flesh." For mar- 
riage involves a direct multiplication of the cares of 
the flesh : " He that is unmarried careth for the things 
that belong to the Lord, how he may please the 
Lord : but he that is married careth for the things 
that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 
.... And this I speak for your own profit, not 
that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that zu/nck 
is comply y and that yc may attend npon the Lord 
zuithotit distraction.'' 

It is clear, then, that St. Paul regarded virginity as a 
" counsel of perfection," and Epictetus uses respecting 
it almost identically the same language. Marriage 
was perfectly permissible in his view, but it was much 
better for a Cynic {i.e. for all who carried out most 
fully their philosophical obligations) to remain single : 


" Since the condition of things is such as it now is. 
as though we were on the eve of battle, ought fwt 
tJie Cynic to be entirely zuitJiont distractio)i " [the Greek 
word being the very same as that used by St. Paul] 
^^for the service of God? ought he not to be able to 
move about among mankind free from the entangle- 
ment of private relationships or domestic duties, 
which if he neglect he will no longer preserve the 
character of a wise and good man, and which if he 
observe he will lose the function of a messenger, and 
sentinel, and herald of the gods?" Epictetus pro- 
ceeds to point out that if he is married he can no 
longer look after the spiritual interests of all with 
whom he is thrown in contact, and no longer maintain 
the rigid independence of all luxuries which marked 
the genuine philosopher. He 7nust, for instance, have 
a bath for his child, provisions for his wife's ailments, 
and clothes for his little ones, and money to buy them 
satchels and pens, and cribs and cups ; and hence a 
general increase of furniture, and all sorts of undigni- 
fied distractions, which Epictetus enumerates with an 
almost amusing manifestation of disgust It is true 
(he admits) that Crates, a celebrated cynic, was mar- 
ried, but it was to a lady as self-denying as himself, 
and to one who had given up wealth and friends to 
share hardship and poverty with him. And, if 
Epictetus does not venture to say in so many words 
that Crates in this matter made a mistake, he takes 
pains to point out that the circumstances were far too 
exceptional to be accepted as a precedent for the 
imitation of others. 


VBut," inquires the interlocutor, "how then is the 
wond to get on ? " The question seems quite to 
disturb the bachelor equanimity of Epictetus ; it 
makes- him use language of the strongest and most 
energetic contempt : and it is only when he trenches 
on this subject that he ever seems to lose the nobility 
and grace, the '* sweetness and light," which are the 
general characteristic of his utterances. In spite of 
his complete self-mastery he was evidently a man ot 
strong feelings, and with a natural tendency to ex- 
press them strongly. ** Heaven bless us," he exclaims 
in reply, " are they greater benefactors of mankind who 
bring into the world two or three evilly-squalling 
brats,* or those who, to the best of their power, keep 
a beneficent eye on the lives, and habits, and ten- 
dencies of all mankind ? Were the Thebans who had 
large families more useful to their country than the 
childless Epaminondas ; or was Homer less useful to 
mankind than Priam with his fifty good-for-nothing 
sons ? . . . . Why, sir, the true cynic is a father to' 
all men ; all men are his sons and all women his 
daughters ; he has a bond of union, a lien of affection 
with them all. 'A {Dissert, iii. 22.) 

The whole-xharactcr of Epictetus is sufficient to 
prove that he would only do what he considered most 
desirable and most exalted ; and passages like these, 
the extreme asperity of which I have necessarily 

* /co>c(ippv7X« ''■°"^'*- Another reading is Ko»c(ipj<yx«> wliich M. Mar- 
tha renders, '^'^ Marmots a vilain petit muscau!" It is evident that 
Epictetus did not like children, which makes his subsequently men- 
tioned compassion to the poor neglected child still more creditable 
to him. 



softened down, are, I think, decisive in favour of 
the tradition which pronounces him to have been 

We are told that he Hved in a cottage of the 
simplest and even meanest description : it neither 
needed nor possessed a fastening of any kind, for 
within it there was no furniture except a lamp and 
the poor straw pallet on which he slept. About his 
lamp there was current in antiquity a famous story, to 
which he himself alludes. As a piece of unwonted 
luxur}^ he had purchased a little iron lamp, which 
burned in front of the images of his household deities. 
It Vv^as the only possession which he had, and a thief 
stole it. " He will be finely disappointed when he again," quietly observed Epictetus, " for he 
will only find an earthenware lamp next time." At 
his death the little earthenware lamp was bought by 
some genuine hero-worshipper for 3,000 drachmas. 
" The purchaser hoped," says the satirical Lucian, 
" that if he read philosophy at night by that lamp, he 
would at once acquire in dreams the wisdom of thi 
admirable old man who once possessed it." 

But, in spite of his deep poverty, it must not be 
supposed that there was anything eccentric or osten- 
tatious in the life of Epictetus. On the contrary, his 
writings abound in directions as to the proper bearing 
of a philosopher in life. He warns his students that 
they may have ridicule to endure. Not only did the 
little boys in the streets, the gamins of Rome, appear 
to consider a philosopher " fair game," and think it 
fine fun to mimic his gestures and pull his beard, but 


he had to undergo the sneers of much more dignified 
people, "If," says Epictetus, *• you want to know 
how the Romans regard philosophers, listen. Maelius, 
who had the highest philosophic reputation among 
them, once when I was present, happened to get into 
a great rage with his people, and as though he had 
received an intolerable injury, exclaimed, ' I cannot 
endure it ; you are killing me ; why, you'll make me 
like hhnP pointing to me," evidently as if Epictetus 
were tiie merest insect in existence. And, again lu: 
says in the Manual: " If you wish to be a philosopher, 
prepare yourself to be thoroughly laughed at since 
many will certainly sneer and jeer at you, and will 
say, * He has come back to us as a philosopher all of 
a sudden,' and 'Where in the world did he get this 
superciliousness .'* ' Now do not you be supercilious, 
but cling to the things which appear best to you in 
such a manner as though you were conscious of 
having been appointed by God to this position." 
Again in the little discourse On tJie Desire oj 
Adjniratiojt, he warns the philosopher "not to ivalk 
as if he had sivallowed a poker" or to care for the 
applause of those multitudes whom he holds to be 
immersed in error. For all display, and pretence, 
and hypocrisy, and Pharisaism, and boasting, and 
mere fruitless book-learning he seems to have felt a 
genuine and profound contempt. Recommendations to 
simplicity of conduct, courtesy of manner, and modera- 
tion of language were among his practical precepts. 
It is refreshing, too, to know that with the sirongest 
and manliest good sense, he entirely repudiated that 


dog-like brutality of behaviour, and repulsive eccen- 
tricity of self-neglect, which characterised not a few 
of the Cynic leaders. He expressly argues that the 
Cynic should be a man of ready tact, and attractive 
presence ; and there is something of almost indignant 
energy in his words when he urges upon a pupil the 
plain duty of scrupulous cleanliness. In this respect 
our friends the Hermits would not quite have satisfied 
him, although he might possibly have pardoned them 
on the plea that they abode in desert solitudes, since 
he bids those who neglect the due care of their bodies 
to live " either in the wilderness or alone." 

u^ate in life Epictetus increased his establishment 
by taking in an old woman as a servant.^ The cause 
of his doing so shows an almost Christian tenderness 
of character. (According to the hideous custom of in- 
fanticide whicK^revaiied in the pagan world, a man 
with whom Epictetus was acquainted exposed his 
infant son to perish. Epictetus in pity took the child 
home to save its life, and the services of a female were 
necessary to supply its wantsA Such kindness and 
self-denial were all the more admirable because pity, 
like all other deep emotions, was regarded by the 
Stoics in the light rather of a vice than of a virtue. 
In this respect, however, both Seneca and Epictetus, 
and to a still greater extent Marcus Aurelius, were 
gloriously false to the rigidity of the school to 
which they professed to belong. We see with delight 
that one of the Discourses of Epictetus was On the 
Tenderness and Forbearance due to Sinners ; and he 
abounds in exhortations to forbearance in judging 


others. In one of his Fragments he tells the follow- 
ing anecdote : — A person who had seen a poor ship- 
wrecked and almost dying pirate took pity on him, 
carried him home, gave him clothes, and furnished 
him with all the necessaries of life. Som.ebody 
reproached him for doing good to the wicked — *' I 
nave honoured," he replied, "not the man, but 
humanity in his person." 

But one fact more is known in the life of Epictetus. 
Domitian, the younger son of Vespasian, succeeded 
his far nobler brother the Emperor Titus ; and in the 
course of his reign a decree was passed which 
banished all the philosophers from Italy. Epictetus 
was not exempted from this unjust and absurd decree. 
That he bore it with equanimity may be inferred from 
the approval with which he tells an anecdote about 
Agrippinus, who while his cause was being tried in the 
Senate went on with all his usual avocations, and on 
being informed on his return from bathing that he had 
been condemned, quietly asked, *' To death or banish- 
ment.?" " To banishment," said the messenger. " Is 
my property confiscated.?" "No." "Very well, then 
let us go as far as Aricia" (about sixteen miles from 
Rome), " and dine there." 

There was a certain class of philosophers whose 
external mark and whose sole claim to distinction 
rested in the length of their beards; and when the 
decree of Domitian was passed these gentlemen con- 
tented themselves with shaving. Epictetus alludes to 
this in his second Discoi(rse,(^^CpmQ, Epictetus, shave 
off your beard," he imagines some one to say to him. 



** If I am a philosopher I will not," he replies. " Then 
I will take off yoiii^ head." " By all means, if that will 
do you any good^ 

He went to Nicopolis, a town of Epirus, which had 
been built by Augustus in commemoration of his 
victory at Actium. Whether he ever revisited Rome 
is uncertain, but it is probable that he did so, for we 
know that he enjoyed the friendship of several eminent 
philosophers and statesmen, and was esteemed and 
honoured by the Emperor Hadrian himself He is 
said to have lived to a good old age, surrounded by 
affectionate and eager disciples, and to have died with 
the same noble simplicity which had marked his life. 
The date of his death is as little known as that of his 
birth. It only remains to give a sketch of those 
thoughts which., poor though he was, and despised, 
and a slave, yet made him "dear to the immortals." 



It is nearly certain that Epictetus never committed 
any of his doctrines to writing. Like his great ex- 
emplar, Socrates, he contented himself with oral 
instruction, and the bulk of what has come down to us 
in his name consists in the Discoiuscs reproduced for 
us by his pupil Arrian. It was the arnbition of Arrian 
*' to be to Epictetus what Xenophon had been to 
Socrates," that is, to hand down to posterity a noble 
and faithful picture of the manner in which his master 
had lived and taught. With this view, he wrote four 
books on Epictetus ; — a life, which is now unhappily 
lost ; a book of conversation or ** table-talk," which is 
also lost ; and two books which have come down to 
us, viz. the Discourses and the Manual. It is from 
these two invaluable books, and from a good many 
isolated fragments, that we are enabled to judge what 
was the practical morality of Stoicism, as expounded 
by the holy and upright slave. 

The Manual is a kind of abstract of Epictetus's 
ethical principles, which, with many additional illus- 
trations and with more expansion, are also explained 


in the Discourses. Both books were so popular that 
by their means Arrian first came into conspicuous 
notice, and ultimately attained the highest eminence 
and rank. The Manual was to antiquit}^ what the 
Imttatio of Thomas a Kempis was to later times, and 
what Woodhead's Whole Duty of Man or Wilberforce's 
Practical View of Christianity have been to large 
sections of modern Englishmen. It was a clear, 
succinct, and practical statement of common daily 
duties, and the principles upon which they rest. Ex- 
pressed in a manner entirely simple and unornate, its 
popularity was wholly due to the moral elevation of 
the thoughts which it expressed. Epictetus did not 
aim at style ; his one aim was to excite his hearers to 
virtue, and Arrian tells us that in this endeavour he 
created a deep impression by his manner and voice. 
It is interesting to know that the Manual was widely 
accepted among Christians no less than among Pagans, 
and that, so late as the fifth century, paraphrases were 
written of it for Christian use. No systematic treatise 
of morals so simply beautiful was ever composed, and 
to this day the best Christian may study it, not 
with interest only, but with real advantage. It is like 
the voice of the Sybil, which, uttering things simple, 
and unperfumed, and unadorned, by God's grace 
reacheth through innumerable years. We proceed to 
give a short sketch of its contents. 
pEpictetus began by laying down the broad compre- 
hensive statement that there are some things which 
are in our power, and depend upon ourselves ; other 
things which are beyond our power, and wholly inde- 



pendent of us. The things which are in our power are 
our opinions, our aims, our desires, our aversions — in 
a word, o-iiractiojis. The things beyond our power are 
bodily accidents, possessions, fame, rank, and what- 
ever Hes beyond the sphere of our actions. To the 
former of these classes of things our whole attention 
must be confined. In that region we may be noble, 
unperturbed, and free ; in the other we shall be 
dependent, frustrated, querulous, miserable. Both 
classes cannot be successfully attended to ; they are 
antagonistic, antipathetic ; we cannot serve God and 

Qn[ow, if we take a right view of all these things 
which in no way depend on ourselves we shall regard 
them as mere semblances — as shadows which are to 
be distinguished from the true substance. We shall 
not look upon them as fit subjects for aversion or desire. 
Sin, and cruelty, and falsehood we may hate, because 
we can avoid them if we w^ill ; but we must look upon 
sickness, and poverty, and death as things which are 
not fit subjects for our avoidance, because they lie 
wholly beyond our controL) 

This, then, — endurance of the inevitable, avoidance 
of the evil — is the key-note of the Epictetean philo 
sophy. It has been summed up in the three words, 
^ kvk^ov KCLi airk^ov, " Sustine et abstine" " Bear an 
forbear," — bear whatever God assigns to you, abstair 
from that which He forbids. ^___ 

The earlier part of the Manual is devoted to 
practical advice which may enable men to endure 
nobly. For instance, "If there be anything," says 


Epictetus, "which you highly vakie or tenderly love, 
estimate at the same time its true nature. Is it some 
possession ? remember that it may be destroyed. Is 
it wife or child 1 remember that they may die." 
" Death," says an epitaph in Chester Cathedral — 

"Death, the great monitor, comes oft to prove, 
'Tis dust we dote on, when 'tis man we love." 

" Desire nothing" too much. If you are going to 
the public baths and are annoyed or hindered by the 
rudeness, the pushing, the abuse, the thievish propen- 
sities of others, do not lose your temper /^remind 
yourself that it is more important that you should 
keep your will in harmony with nature than that you 
should bathe. And so with all troubles ; men suffer 
far less from the things themselves than from the 
opinions they have of theni/ 

"If you cannot frame your circumstances in accord- 
ance with your wishes, frame your will into harmony 
with your circumstances.* When you lose the best 
gifts of life, consider them as not lost but only resigned 
to Him who gave them. You have a remedy in your 
own heart against all trials — continence as a bulwark 
against passion, patience against opposition, fortitude 
against pain. Begin with trifles : if you are robbed, 
remind yourself that your peace of mind is of more 
value and importance than the thing wh-ich has been 
stolen from you. Follow the guidance of nature ; 
that is the great thing ; regret nothing, desire nothing, 

* " When what thou wiliest befalls not, thou then must will what 


which can disturb that end. Behave as at a banquet 
— take with crratitude and in moderation what is set 
before you, and seek for nothing more ;^^iigher and 
diviner step will be to be ready and able to forego 
even that wJiich is given you, or which you might 
easily obtairy Sympathise with others, at least 
externally, when they are in sorrow and misfortune ; 
but remember in your own heart that to the brave 
and wise and true there is really nu such thing as 
misfortune ; it is but an ugly semblance ; the croak 
of the raven can portend no harm to such a man, 
he is elevated above its power. 

" We do not choose our own parts in life, and have 
nothing to do with those parts ; our simple duty is 
confined to playing them well. The slave may be as 
free as the consul ; and freedom is the chief of bless- 
ings ; it dwarfs all others ; beside it all others are 
insignificant, with it all others become needless, with- 
out it no others are possible. No one can insult you 
if you will not regard his v/ords or deeds as. insults.* 
Keep your eye steadily fixed on the great reality of 
death, and all other things will shrink to their true pro- 
portions. As in a voyage, when the ship has come to 
anchor, if you have gone out to find water, you may 
amuse yourself with picking up a little shell or bulb, 

* Compare Cowper's Conversation : — 

" Am I to set my life upon a throw 
Because a bear is rude and surly? — No. — 
A modest, sensible, and well-bred man 
Will not insult me, and no other can." 


but you must keep your attention steadily fixed upon 
the ship, in case the captain should call, and then you 
must leav'e all such things, lest you should be flune^ 
on board, bound like sheep. So in life ; if, instead of 
a little shell or bulb, some wifeling or childling be 
granted you, well and good ; but, if the captain call, 
run to the ship and leave such possessions behind 
you, not looking back. But if you be an old man, 
take care not to go a long distance from the ship 
at all, lest you should be called and come too late." 
The metaphor is a significant one, and perhaps the 
following lines of Sir Walter Scott, prefixed anony- 
mously to one of the chapters of the Waverley 
Novels, may help to throw light upon it : 

" Death finds us 'midst our playthings ; snatches us, 
As a cross nurse might do a wayward child, 
From all our toys and baubles — the rough call 
Unlooses all our favourite ties on earth : 
And well if they are such as may be answered 
In yonder world, where all is judged of truly," 

*' Preserve your just relations to other men ; their 
misconduct does not affect your duties. Has your 
father done wrong, or your brother been unjust 1 
Still he is your father, he is your brother ; and you 
must consider your relation to him, not whether he be 
worthy of it or no. 

V^^our duty towards the gods is to form just and 
true opinions respecting them. Believe that they do 
all things well, and then you need never murmur oi 

///S "AfANiTAL" AND '' FRAGMENTSr 227 

"(As rules of practice," says Epictetus, *' prescribe 
to yourself an ideal, and then act up to it. Be mostly 
silent ; or, if you converse, do not let it be about 
vulgar and insignificant topics, such as dogs, horses, 
racing, or prize-fighting. Avoid foolish and immo- 
derate laughter, vulgar entertainments, impurity, dis- 
play, spectacles, recitations, and all egotistical remarks. 
Set before you the examples of the great and good. 
Do not be dazzled by mere appearances. Do what 
is right quite irrespective of what people will say or 
think. Remember that your tK)dy is a very small 
matter, and needs but very little/ just as all that the 
foot needs is a shoe, and not a dazzling ornament of 
gold, purple, or jewelled embroidery. To spend all 
one's time on the body, or on bodily exercises, shows 
a weak intellect. Do not be fond of criticising others, 
and do not resent their criticisms of you. Every- 
thing," he says, and this is one of his most charac- 
teristic precepts, " has two handles ; one by which it 
may be borne, the other by which it cannot. If your 
brother be unjust, do not take up the matter by that 
handle — the handle of his injustice — for that handle 
is the one by which it cannot be taken up ; but 
rather by the handle that he is your brother and 
brought up with you ; and then you will be taking it 
up as it can be borne." 

All these precepts have a general application, but 
Epictetus adds others on the right bearing of a plii 
losopher; that is, of one whose professed ideal is 
higher than the multitude. He bids him above 

16 V 


all thing's not to be censorious, and not to he 
ostentatious. " Feed on your own principles ; do 
not throw them up to show how much you have 
eaten. Be self-denying, but do not boast of it. Be in- 
dependent and moderate, and regard not the opinion 
or censure of others, but keep a watch upon your- 
self as your own most dangerous enemy. Do 
not plume yourself on an intellectual knowledge of 
philosophy, which is in itself quite valueless, but on a 
consistent nobleness of action. Never relax your 
efforts, but aim at perfection. Let everything which 
seems best be to you a law not to be transgressed ; 
and whenever anything painful, or pleasurable, or 
glorious, or inglorious, is set before you, remember 
that no iv is the struggle, now is the hour of the 
Olympian contest, and it may not be put off, and that 
by a single defeat or yielding your advance in virtue 
maybe either secured or lost. It was thus that Socrates 
attained perfection, by giving his heart to reason, and 
to reason only. And thou, even if as yet thou art not 
a Socrates, yet shouldst live as though it were thy 
wish to be one." These are noble words, but who that 
reads them will not be reminded of those sacred and 
far more deeply-reaching words, ^^ Be ye perfect^ even as 
your Father which is in heaven is perfect^ " Behold, 
now is the accepted time; behold, nozv is the day of 

In this brief sketch we have included all the most 
important thoughts in the Manual. It ends in these 
words, " On all occasions we may keep in mind these 
three sentiments : — 


"*Lead me, O Zeus, and thou. Destiny, whither- 
soever ye have appointed me to go, for I will follow, 
and that without delay. Should I be unwilling, I 
shall follow as a coward, but I must follow all the 
same.' (Cleanthes.) 

'"Whosoever hath nob'ly yielded to necessity, I 
hold him wise, and he knoweth the things of God.' 

" And this third one also, * O Crito, be it so, if 
so be the will of heaven. Anytus and Melitus can 
indeed slay me, but harm me they cannot.' 

To this last conception of life, quoted from the end 
of Plato's ^/<5'/<5'^, Epictctus recurs elsewhere : "What 
resources have we," he asks, " in circumstances ot 
great peril ? What other than the remembrance of 
what is or what is not in our own power ; what is 
possible to us and what is not } I must die. Be it 
so ; but need I die groaning } I must be bound ;/ 
but must I be bound bewailing .'' I must be driven/ 
into exile ; well, who prevents me then from goin 

with laughter, and cheerfulness, and calm of mind ? 

" * Betray secrets.' 

" * Indeed I will not, for t/iat rests in my own 

" * Then I will put you in chains.' 

'• * My good sir, what are you talking about } Put 
me in chains .-* No, no ! you may put my leg in 
chains, but not even Zeus himself can master my 

" ' I will throw you into prison.' 


"*My paor little body; yes, no doubt* 

*' * I will cut off your head.' 

**' ' Well, did I ever tell you that my head was the 
only one which could not be cut off?' 

" Such are the things of which philosophers should 
think, and write them daily, and exercise themselves 

There are many other passages in which Epictetus 
shows that the free-will of man is his noblest privilege, 
and that we should not " sell it for a trifle ; " or, as 
Scripture still more sternly expresses it, should not 
"sell ourselves for nought." He relates, for instance, 
the complete failure of the Emperor Vespasian to 
induce Helvidius Priscus not to go to the Senate. 
" While I am a senator," said Helvidius, " I must go." 
" Well, then, at least be silent there." " Ask me no 
questions, and I will be silent." " But I must ask 
your opinion." " And / must say what is right." 
" But I will put you to death." " Did I ever tell yoii 
I was immortal } Do your part, and / will do mine. 
It is yours to kill me, mine to die untrembling ; 
yours to banish me, mine to go into banishment 
without grief." 

We see from these remarkable extracts that the 
wisest of the heathen had, by God's grace, attained to 
the sense that life was subject to a divine guidance. 
Yet how dim was their vision of this truth, how in- 
secure their hold upon it, in comparison with that 
which the meanest Christian may attain ! They 
never definitely grasped the doctrine of immortality 


They never quite got rid of a haunting dread that 
perha-DS, after all, they might be nothing" better 
than insignificant and unheeded atoms, swept hither 
and thither in the mighty eddies of an unseen, im- 
personal, 'mysterious agency, and destined hereafter 
"to be sealed amid the iron hills," or 

" To be imprisoned in the viewless winds, 
And blown with reckless violence about 
The pendent world." 

Their belief in a personal deity was confused with 
their belief in nature, which, in the language of a 
mrdern sceptic, "acts with fearful uniformity: stern 
as fate, absolute as tyranny, merciless as death ; too 
vast to praise, too inexorable to propitiate, it has no 
ear for prayer, no heart for sympathy, no arm to 
save." How different the soothing and tender cer- 
tainty of the Christian's hope, for whom Christ has 
brought life and immortality to light ! For " chance" 
is not only "the daughter of forethought,' as the old 
Greek lyric poet calls her, but the daughter also of 
love. How different the prayer of David, even in the 
hours of his worst agony and shame, " Let Thy loving 
Spirit lead 7ne forth into the land of rightcoiis7iessy 
Guidance, and guidance by the hand of love, was — as 
even in that dark season he recognised — the very law 
of his life ; and his soul, purged by affliction, had but a 
single wish - the wish to be led, not into prosperity, 
not into a recovery of his lost glory, not even into the 
restoration of his lost innocence ; but only, — through 



paths however hard — only into the land of righteous- 
ness. And because he knew that God would lead 
him thitherward, he had no wish, no care for anything 

We will end this chapter by translating a few of 
the isolated fragments of Epictetus which have been 
preserved for us by other writers. The wisdom and 
beauty of these fragments will interest the reader, for 
Epictetus was one of the few " in the very dust of 
whose thoughts was gold." 

"A life entangled with accident is like a wintry 
torrent, for It is turbulent, and foul with mud, and 
impassable, and tyrannous, and loud, and brief" 

"A soul that dwells with virtue is like a perennial 
spring ; for it is pure, and limpid, and refreshful, and 
inviting, and serviceable, and rich, and innocent, and 

" If you wish to be good, first believe that you are 

Compare Matt. ix. 12, "They that be whole need 
not a physician, but they that are sick ; " John ix. 41, 
" Now ye say. We see, therefore your sin remaineth;" 
and I John i. 8, " If we say that we have no sin, we 
deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." 

"It is base for one who sweetens that which he 


drinks with the gifts of bees, to embitter by vice his 
reason, which is the gift of God." 

" Nothing is meaner than the love of pleasure, the 
love of gain, and insolence : nothing nobler than high- 
mindedness, and gentleness, and philanthropy, and 

doing good." :f^^"^ ^ 

\ _^.. c -^ 'J — 

" The vine bears three clusters : the first of 
pleasure ; the second of drunkenness ; the third of 

" He is a drunkard who drinks more than three 
cups : even if he be not drunken, he has exceeded 

Our own George Herbert has laid down the same 
limit : — 

" Be not a beast in courtesy, but stay, 
Stay at the third cup, or forego the place. 
Wine above all things doth God's stamp deface." 

"Like the beacon-lights in harbours, which, kindling 
a great blaze by means of a few fagots, afford suf- 
ficient aid to vessels that wander over the sea, so, 
also, a man of bright character in a storm-tossed city, 
himself content with little, effects great blessings foi 
his fellow-citizens." 

The thought is not unlike that of Shakespeare : 

" IIow far yon little candle throws its beams , 
So shines a good deed in a naughty world." 


But the metaphor which Epictetus more commonly 
adopts is one no less beautiful. " What good," asked 
some one, " did Helvidius Priscus do m resisting 
Vespasian, being but a single person ? " " What 
good," answers Epictetus, " does the purple do on the 
garment ? Why, it is splendid in itself, and splendid 
also in the example zvJiich it affords,'' 

" As the sun does not wait for prayers and incan- 
tations that he may rise, but shines at once, and is 
greeted by all ; so neither wait thou for applause, and 
shouts, and eulogies, that thou mayst do well ; — but 
be a spontaneous benefactor, and thou shalt be be- 
loved like the sun." 

" Thales, when asked what was the commonest of 
all possessions, answered, ' Hope ; for even those 
who have nothing else have hope.' " 

" Lead, lead me on, my hopes," says Mr. Mac- 
donald ; ** I know that ye are true and not vain. 
Vanish from my eyes day after day, but arise in new 
forms. I will follow your holy deception ; follow till 
ye have brought me to the feet of my Father in 
heaven, where I shall find you all, with folded wings, 
spangling the sapphire dusk whereon stands His 
throne which is our home." 

"What ought not to be done do not even think 
of doing.'' 


" ' Guafd well thy thoughts, for thoughts are heard in heaven^ " 

Epictetus, when asked how a man could grteve 
his enemy, replied, " By preparing himself to act in 
the noblest way." 

Compare Rom. xii. 20, " If thine enemy hunger, 
feed him ; if he thirst, give him drink : for in so doing 
thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." 

" If you always remember that in all you do in soul 
or body God stands by as a witness, in all your 
prayers and your actions you will not err ; and you 
shall have God dwelling with you." 

Compare Rev. iii. Qo, " Behold I stand at the door 
and knock : if any man hear my voice, and open the 
door, / will come in to him and will sup with him, 
and Jie ivith me." 

In the discourse written to prove that God keeps 
watch upon human actions, Epictetus touches again 
on the same topic, saying that God has placed beside 
each one of us His own guardian spirit — a spirit that 
sleeps not and cannot be beguiled — and has handed 
us eadi over to that spirit to protect us. " And to 
what better or more careful guardian could He have 
entrusted us 1 So that when you have closed your 
doors and made darkness within, remember never to 
say that yon are alone. For you are not alone ; God, 
too, is present there, and your guardian spirit ; and 
what need have they of light to see what you are 


There is in this passage an almost starthng coinci- 
dence of thought with those eloquent words in the 
BookofEcclesiasticus: "A man that breaketh wedlock, 
saying thus in his heart, Who seeth me ? / ajn com- 
passed abo7it zvith darkness, the walls cover me, and no 
body seeth me : what need I to fear ? the Most Highest 
will not remember my sins : snch a man only feareth 
the eyes of man , and knoweth not that the eyes of the 
Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun, 
beholding all the ways of men, and considering the 
most secret parts. He knew all things ere ever they; 
were created : so also after they were perfected He 
looked upon all. This man shall be punished in the 
streets of the city, and where he expccteth not he 
shall be taken." (Ecclus. xxiii. ii — 21.) 

" When we were children, our parents entrusted us 
to a tutor who kept a continual watch that we might 
not suffer harm ; but, when we grow to manhood, 
God hands us over to an inborn conscience to guard 
us. We must, therefore, by no means despise 
this guardianship, since in that case we shall both 
be displeasing to God and enemies to our own 

Beautiful and remarkable as these fragments are 
we have no space for more, and must conclude by 
comparing the last with the celebrated lines of George 
Heibert : — 

" Lord ! with what care hast Thou begirt us round I 
Pa7'e7tts first season its. Then schoolmasters 
Deliver us to laws. They send us bound 
To rules of reason. Holy messenf^ers ; 


Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogginp- sin ; 

Afflictions sorted ; anguish of all sizes ; 
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in ! 

Bibles laid open ; millions of surprises ; 
Blessings beforehand ; ties of gratefulness ; 

The sound of glory ringing in our ears : 
Without one shame ; within our consciences ; 

Angels and grace ; eternal hopes and fears 1 
Yet all these fences and their whole array, 
One cunning bosom sin blows quite away." 



The Discourses of Epictetus, as originally published 
by Arrian, contained eight books, of which only fou-r 
have come down to us. They are in many respects 
the most valuable expression of his views. There is 
something slightly repellent in the stern concision, 
the ** imperious brevity," of the Ma?mal. In the 
Manual^ says M. Martha,* (M:he reason of the Stoic 
proclaims its laws with an impassibility which is little 
human ; it imposes silence on all the passions, even 
the most respectable ; it glories in waging against 
them an internecine war, and seems even to wish to 
repress the most legitimate impulses of generous 
sensibilityj^ In reading these rigorous maxims one 
might be tempted to believe that this legislator of 
morality is a man without a heart, and, if we were not 
touched by the original sincerity of the language, one 
would only see in this lapidary style the conventional 
precepts of a chimerical system or the aspirations of 
an impossible perfection." The Discourses are more 
illustrative, more argumentative, more diffuse, more 
* Moralistes sous 1' Empire, p. 200. 


human. In reading them one feels oneself face to 
face with a human being, not with the marble statue 
of the ideal wise man. The style, indeed, is simple, 
but its "athletic nudity" is well suited to this militant 
morality ; its picturesque and incisive character, its 
vigorous metaphors, its vulgar expressions, its ab- 
sence of all conventional elegance, display a certain 
"plebeian originality ' which gives them an almost 
autobiographic charm. With trenchant logic and 
intrepid conviction " he wrestles w^ith the passions, 
questions them, makes them answer, and confounds 
them in a few words which are often sublime. This 
Socrates without grace does not amuse us by making 
his adversary fall into the long entanglement of a 
captious dialogue, but he rudely seizes and often 
finishes hini with two blows. It is like the eloquence 
of Phocion, which Demosthenes compares to an axe 
which is lifted and falls." 

Epictetus, like Seneca, is a preacher; a preacher 
with less wealth of genius, less eloquence of ex- 
pression, less width of culture, but with far more 
bravery, clearness, consistency, and grasp of his sub- 
ject. His doctrine and his life were singularly homo- 
geneous, and his views admit of brief expression, 
for they are not weakened by any fluctuations, or 
chequered with any lights and shades. The Discourses 
differ from the Manual only in their manner, their 
frequent anecdotes, their pointed illustrations, and 
their vivid interlocutory form. (The remark of Pascal, 
that Epictetus knew the grandeur of the human heart, 

but did not know its weaknessNapplies to the Matiiial^ 



but can hardly be maintained when we judge him by 
seme of the answers which he gave to those who came 
to seek for his consolation or advice. 

The Discourses are not systematic in their character, 
and, even if they were, the loss of the last four books 
would prevent us from working out their system with 
any completeness. Our sketch of the Manual ^niW 
already have put the reader in possession of the main 
principles and ideas of Epictetus ; with the mental 
and physical philosophy of the schools he did not in 
any way concern himself; it was his aim to be a 
moral preacher, to ennoble the lives of men and touch 
their hearts. He neither plagiarised nor invented, but 
he gave to Stoicism a practical reality. All that 
remains for us to do is to choose from the Discourses 
some of his most characteristic views, and the modes 
by which he brought them home to his hearers. 
Cit was one of the most essential peculiarities of 
Stoicism to aim at absolute independence, or self- 
dependence. Now, as the weaknesses and servilities 
of men arise most frequently from their desire for 
superfluities, the true man must absolutely get rid of 
any such desire. He must increase his wealth by 
moderating his wishes ; he must despise all the 
luxuries for which men long, and he must greatly 
diminish the number of supposed necessaries^ We 
have already seen some of the arguments which point 
in this direction, a-nd we may add another from the 
third book of Discourses. 

A certain magnificent orator, who was going to 
Rome on a lawsuit, had called on Epictetus. The 


philosopher threw cold water on his visit, because he 
did not believe in his sincerity. '* You will get no 
more from me," he said, " than you would g-et from 
any cobbler or greengrocer, for you have only come 
because it happened to be convenient, and you will 
only criticise my style, not really wishing to learn 
principles^ " Well, but," answered the orator, " if I 
attend to that sort of thing, I shall be a mere pauper 
like you, with no plate, or equipage, or land." " I 
don't zvant such things," replied Epictetus ; " and, 
besides, you are poorer than I am, after all." " Why, 
how so.-^" "You have no constancy, no unanimity 
with nature, no freedom from perturbations. Patron 
or no patron, what care I 1 You do care. I am richer 
than you. / don't care what Caesar thinks of me. 1 
flatter no one. This is what I have instead of your 
silver and gold plate. You have silver vessels, but 
earthemvare reasons, principles, appetites. My mind 
to me a kingdom is, and it furnishes me abundant 
and happy occupation in lieu of your restless idleness. 
All your possessions seem small to you, mine seem 
great to me. Your desire is insatiate, mine is satis- 
fied." The comparison with which he ends the dis- 
cussion is very remarkable. I once had the privilege 
of hearing Sir William Hooker explain to the late 
Queen Adelaide the contents of the Kew Museum. 
Among them was a cocoa-nut with a hole in it, and 
Sir William explained to the Queen that in certain 
parts of India, when the natives want to catch the 
nfionkeys they make holes in cocoa-nuts, and fill 
them with sugar. The monkeys thrust in their hands 


and fill them with sugar ; the aperture is too small to 
draw the paws out again when thus increased in size ; 
the monkeys have not the sense to loose their hold 
of the sugar, and so they are caught. This little 
anecdote will enable the reader to relish the illustra- 
tion of Epictetus. *rWhen little boys thrust their 
hands into narrow-mouthed jars full of figs and 
almonds, when they have filled their hands they can- 
not draw them out again, and so begin to howlT) Let 
go a few of the figs and almonds, and you'll get your 
hand out. And so yoit, let go your desires. Don't 
desire many things, and you'll get what you do 
desire." \Blessed is he that eXpecfeth nothing, for 
he shall not be disappointed j " 

Another of the constant precepts of Epictetus is 
that we should aim high ; we are not to be common 
threads in the woof of life, but like the iaticlave on 
the robe of a senator, the broad purple stripe which 
gave lustre and beauty to the whole. But how are 
we to know that we are qualified for this high func- 
tion i How does the bull know, when the lion ap- 
proaches, that it is his place to expose himself for all 
the herd } If we have high powers we shall soon 
be conscious of them, and if we have them not we 
may gradually acquire them. Nothing great is 
produced at once, — the vine must blossom, and bear 
fruit, and ripen, before we have the purple clusters 
of the grape, — " first the blade, then the ear, after 
that the full corn in the ear." 

But whence are we to derive this high sense of 
Juty and possible eminence ? Why, if Caesar had 

HIS ''discourses:' 243 

adopted you, would you not show your proud sense 
of ennoblement in haughty looks ; how is it that 
you are not proud of being sons of God ? You 
have, indeed, a body, by virtue of which many men 
sink into close kinship with pernicious wolves, and 
savage lions, and crafty foxes, destroying the rational 
within them, and so becoming greedy cattle or mis- 
chievous vermin ; but above and beyond this, " If," 
says Epictetus, " a man have once been worthily 
interpenetrated with the belief that we all have been 
in some special manner born of God, and that God is 
the Father of gods and men, I think that he will 
never have any ignoble, any humble thoughts about 
himself." Our own great Milton has hardly ex- 
pressed this high truth more nobly when he says, that 
" He that holds himself in reverence and due esteem, 
both for the dignity of God's image upon him, and 
for the price of his redemption, which he thinks is 
visibly marked upon his forehead, accounts himself 
both a fit person to do the noblest and godliest 
deeds, and much better worth than to deject and 
defile, with such a debasement and pollution as sin is, 
himself so highly ransomed, and ennobled to a new 
friendship and filial relation with God." 

r' And how are we to know that we have made 
progress ? We may know it if our own wills are bent 
to live in conformity with nature ; if we be noble, 
free, faithful, humble ; if desiring nothing, and shunning 
nothing which lies beyond our power, we sit loose to 
all earthly interests ; if our lives are under the distinct 
governance of immutable and noble laws, 
ir ^^■2 


" But shall we not meet with troubles in life ? 
Yes, undoubtedly ; and are there none at Olympia ? 
Are you not burnt with heat, and pressed for room, 
and wetted with showers when it rains ? Is there not 
more than enough clamour, and shouting, and other 
troubles ? Yet I suppose you tolerate and endure all 
these when you balance them against the magnificence 
of the spectacle ? And, come now, have you not re- 
ceived powers wherewith to bear whatever occurs ? 
Have you not received magnanimity, courage, forti- 
tude ? And why, if I am magnanimous, should I 
care for anything that can possibly happen ? what 
shall alarm or trouble me, or seem painful ? Shall I 
not use the facu.ty for the ends for which it was 
granted me, or shall I grieve and groan at all the 
accidents of life ? On the contrary, these troubles 
and difficulties are strong antagonists pitted against 
us, and we may conquer them, if we will, in the 
Olympic game of life. 

/But if life and its burdens become absolutely into- 
lerable, may we not go back to God, from whom we 
came ? may we not show thieves and robbers, and 
tyrants who claim power over us by means of our 
bodies and possessions, that they \\?lvq.7w poiver? In 
a word, may we not commit- suicide ?"./ We know how 
Shakespeare treats this question : — 

** For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, 
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, 
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, 
The insolence of office, and the spurns 
"Which patient merit of the unworthy takes, 
When he himself might his quietus make 


With a bare bodkin ? Who would these fardels bear. 

To grunt and sweat under a weary life, 

But that the dread of sornething after deaths 

The tcnJiscovered country from whose bourne 

No travellei' returns^ puzzles the tuill : 

And makes us rather bear those ills we have 

Than fly to others that 7ue know not of? '' 

C^ut Epictetus had no materials for such an answer. 
I do not remember a single passage in which he refers 
to immortality or the life to come, and it is therefore 
probable either that he did not believe in it at all, or 
that he put it aside as one of those things which are 
out of our own powers) Yet his answer is not that 
glorification of suicide which we find throughout the 
tragedies of Seneca, and which was one of the com- 
monplaces of Stoicism. " My friends," he says, " wait 
God's good time till He gives you the signal, and 
dismisses you from this service ; then dismiss your- 
selves to go to Him. But for the present restrain 
yourselves, inhabiting the spot which He has at present 
a.ssigned you. For, after all, this time of your sojourn 
Jiere is short, and easy for those who are thus dis- 
posed ; for what tyrant, or thief, or judgment-halls, 
are objects of dread to those who thus absolutely 
disesteem the body and its belongings ^ Stay, then, 
and do not depart without due cause." 

It will be seen that Epictetus permits suicide with- 
out extolling it, for in another place (ii. i) he says: 
*' What is pain } A mere ugly mask ; turn it, and 
see that it is so. This little flesh of ours is acted on 
rc^ughly, and then again smoothly. If it is not for 
vour interest to bear it, the door is open ; if it is fcr 


your interest — endure. It is right that under all 
circumstances the door should be open, since so men 
end all trouble.") 

(This power of endurance is completely the key- 
note of the Stoical view of life, and the method of 
attaining to it, by practising contCTRot for all external 
accidents, is constantly inculcated, y I have already 
told the anecdote about Agrippinus by which Epic- 
tetus admiringly shows that no extreme of necessary 
misfortune could wring from the true Stoic a single 
expression of indignation or of sorrow. 

\The inevitable, then, in the view of '^e Stoics, 
comes from God, and it is our duty not .0 murmur 
against it.'j But this being the guiding conception as 
regards otlrselves, how are we to treat others ? Here, 
too, our duties spring directly from our relation to 
God. It is that relation which makes us reverence 
ourselves, it is that which should make lis honour 
others. " Slave ! will you not bear with your own 
brother, who has God for his father no less than 
you } But they are wicked, perhaps — thieves and 
murderers. Be it so, then they deserve all the more 
pity. You don't exterminate the blind or deaf 
because of their misfortunes, but you pity them : 
but how much more to be pitied are wicked men } 
Don't execrate them. Are you yourself so very 
wise .'' 

Nor are the precepts of Epictetus all abstract 
principles ; he often pauses to give definite rules of 
conduct and practice. Nothing, for instance, can 
exceed the wisdom with which he speaks of habits 

HIS ''discourses:' 247 

(ii. 18), and the best means of acquiring good habits 
and conquering evil ones. iHe points out that we are 
the creatures of habit ; that every single act is a 
definite grain in the sand-multitude of influences 
which make up our daily life ; that each time we are 
angry or evil-inclined we are adding fuel to a fire, 
and virulence to the seeds of a disea^ A fever may 
be cured, but it leaves the health weaker ; and so also 
is it with the diseases of the soul. They leave their 
mark behind them. 

Take the instance of anger. " Do you wish not to 
be passionate ? do not then cherish the habit within 
you, and do not add any stimulant thereto. Be calm 
at first, and then number the da}'s in which you have 
not been in a rage. I used to be angry every day, now 
it is only every other day, then ^.Y^ry third, then every 
fourth day. But should you have passed even thirty 
days witlrout a relapse, then offer a sacrifice to God. 
For the habit is first loosened, then utterly eradicated. 
* I did not yield to vexation to-day, nor the next day, 
nor so on for two or three months, but I restrained 
myself under various provocations.' Be sure, if you 
can say thaty that it wiJl soon be all right with you." 

But how is one to do all this "i that is the great 
question, and Epictetus is quite ready to give you 
the best answer he can. We- have, for instance, 
already quoted one passage in which (unlike the 
majority of Pagan moralists)Mie shows that he has 
thoroughly mastered the ethicaT importance of con- 
trolling even the thought of wickedness.^^ Another 
anecdote about Agrippinus will further illustrate the 


same doctrine. It was the wicked practice of Nero 
to make noble Romans appear on the stage or in 
gladiatorial shows, in order that he might thus seem 
to have their sanction for his own degrading displays. 
On one occasion Florus, who was doubting whether 
or not he should obey the mandate, consulted Agrip- 
pinus on the subject. " Go by all means,'' replied 
Agrippinus. " But why don't yo7i go, then ? " asked 
Florus. " Because'' said Agrippinus, '' I do not de- 
liberate about it!' He implied by this answer that to 
hesitate is to yield, to deliberate is to be lost ; we 
must act always on principles, we must never pause to 
calculate consequences. " But if I don't go," objected 
Florus, " I shall have my head cut off." " Well, then, 
go, but / won't." " Why won't you go ? " *' Because 
I do not care to be of a piece with the common 
thread of life ; I like to be the purple sewn upon it." 

And if we want a due motive for such lofty choice 
Epictetus will supply it. " Wish," he says, " to win 
the suffrages of your own inward approval, wish to 
appear beautiful to God. Desire to be pure with 
your own pure self, and with God. And when any 
evil fancy assails you, Plato says, ' Go to the rites of 
expiation, go as a suppliant to the temples of the 
gods, the averters of evil.' But it will be enough 
should you even rise and depart to the society of 
the noble and the good, to live according to their 
examples, whether you have any such friend among 
the living or among the dead. Go to Socrates, and 
gaze on his utter mastery over temptation and 
passion ; consider how glorious was the conscious 

HIS ''discourses:' ^49 

victory over himself ! What an Olympic triumph ! 
How near does it place him to Hercules himself • 
So that, by heaven, one might justly salute him, 
* Hail, marvellous conqueror, who hast conquered, 
not these miserable boxers and athletes, nor these 
gladiators who resemble them.' And should you thus 
be accustomed to train yourself, you will see what 
shoulders you will get, what nerves, what sinews, 
instead of mere babblements, and nothing more. 
This is the true athlete, the man who trains himself 
to deal with such semblances as these. Great is the 
struggle, divine the deed ; it is for kingdom, for free- 
dom, for tranquillity, for peace. Think on God ; call 
upon Him as thine aid and champion, as sailors call on 
the Great Twin Brethren in the storm. And indeed 
what storm is greater than that which rises from 
powerful semblances that dash reason out of its 
course ? What indeed but semblance is a storm 
itself.-^ Since, come now, remove the fear k}{ death, 
and bring as many thunders and lightnings as thou 
wilt, and thou shalt know how great is the tran- 
quillity and calm in that reason which is the ruling 
faculty of the soul. But should you once be worsted, 
and say that you will conquer hereafter, and then 
the. same again and again, know that thus your con- 
dition will be vile and weak, so that at the last you 
will not even know that you are doing wrong, but 
you will even begin to provide excuses for your sin ; 
and then you will confirm the truth of that saying of 

"'The man that procrastinates straggles ever with ruin.'" 


Even so ! So early did a heathen moralist learn 
the solemn fact that " only this once " ends in " there 
is no harm in it." Well does Mr. Coventry Patmore 
sing :— 

" How easy to keep free from sin ; 
How hard that freedom to recall ; 
For awful truth it is that men 
Forget 'CsxQ. heaven from which they fall." 

In another place. Epictetus warns us, however, not to 
be too easily discouraged in our attempts after good ; 
— and, above all, never to despair. " In the schools 
of the wrestling master, when a boy falls he is bidden 
to get up again, and to go on wrestling day by day 
till he has acquired strength ; and we must do the 
same, and not be like those poor wretches who after 
one failure suffer themselves to be swept along as 
by a torrent. You need but wt//," he says, " and it 
is done ; but if you relax your efforts, you will be 
ruined ; for ruin and recovery are both from within. 
— And what will you gain by all this } You will 
gain modesty for impudence, purity for vileness, mode- 
ration for drunkenness. If you think there are any 
better ends than these, then by all means go on in sin, 
for you are beyond the power of any god to save." 

But Epictetus is particularly in earnest about warn- 
ing us that to profess these principles and ta/k about 
them is one thing — to act up to them quite another., 
He draws a humorous picture of an inconsistent and 
unreal philosopher, who — after eloquently proving 
that nothing is good but what pertains to virtue, and 
nothing evil but what pertains to vice, and that all 


other things are indifferent, — goes to sea. A storm 
comes on, and the masts creak, and the philosopher 
screams ; and an impertinent person stands by and 
asks in surprise, " Is it then vice to suffer shipwreck ? 
because, if not, it can be no evil ; " a question which 
makes our philosopher so angry that he is inclined to 
fling a log at his interlocutor's head. But Epictetus 
sternly tells him that the philosopher never was one 
at all, except in name ; that as he sat in the schools 
puffed up by homage and adulation, his innate 
cowardice and conceit were but hidden under bor- 
rowed plumes ; and that in him the name of Stoic 
was usurped. 

"Why," he asks in another passage, "why do yo.. 
call yourself a Stoic ? Why do you deceive the 
multitude ? Why do you act the Jew when you are 
a Greek ? Don't you see on what terms each person 
is called a Jew ? or a Syrian } or an Egyptian ? And 
when we see some mere trimmer we are in the habit 
of saying, * This is no Jew ; he is only acting the 
part of one ; ' but when a man takes up the entire 
condition of a proselyte, thoroughly imbued with 
Jewish doctrines, then he both is in reality and is 
called a Jew. So we philosophers too, dipped in a 
false dye, are Jeivs in name, but in reality are some- 
thing else. . . . We call ourselves philosophers when 
we cannot even play the part of men, as though a 
man should try to heave the stone of Ajax who 
cannot lift ten pound.s." The passage is interesting 
not only on its own account, but because of its 
curious similarity both with the language and with 



the sentiment of St. Paul — " He is not a Jew who is 
one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is 
outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one 
inwardly ; and circumcision is that of the heart, in 
the spirit and not in the letter ; whose praise is not 
of men, but of God." 

The best way to become a philosopher in deed is 
not by a mere study of books and knowledge of 
doctrines, but by a steady diligence of actions and 
adherence to original principles, to which must be 
added consistency and self-control. " These prin- 
ciples," says Epictetus, " produce friendship in a 
house, unanimity in a city, peace in nations ; they 
make a man grateful to God, bold under all circum- 
stances, as though dealing with things alien and 
valueless. Now we are capable of writing these 
things, and reading them, and praising them when 
they are read, but we are far enough off following 
them. Hence comes it that the reproach of the 
Lacedaemonians, that they are ' lions at home, foxes 
at Ephesus,' will also apply to us ; in the school we 
are lions, out of it foxes." 

These passages include, I think, all the m.ost 
original, important, and characteristic conceptions 
which are to be found in the Discourses. They are 
most prominently illustrated in the long and im- 
portant chapter on the Cynic philosophy. A 
genuine Cynic — one who was so, not in brutality of 
manners or ostentation of rabid eccentricity, but a 
Cynic in life and in his inmost principles— was evi- 
dently in the eyes of Epictetus one of the loftiest 

his '' discourses:' 253 

of human beings. He drew a sketch of his ideal 
conception to one of his scholars who inquired of 
him upon the subject. 

He begins by saying that a true Cynic is so lofty a 
being that he who undertakes the profession without 
due qualifications kindles against him the anger of 
heaven. He is like a scurrilous Thersites, claiming 
the imperial office of an Agamemnon. "If you 
think," he tells the young student, ''that you can 
be a Cynic merely by wearing an old cloak, and 
sleeping on a hard bed, and using a wallet and staff, 
and begging, and rebuking every one whom you see 
effeminately dressed or wearing purple, you don't 
know what you are about — get you gone ; but if you 
know what a Cynic really is, and think yourself 
capable of being one, then consider how great a thing 
you are undertaking. 

"First as to yourself.^ You must be absolutely 
resigned to the will of God. You must conquer every 
passion, abrogate every desire.] Your life must be 
transparently open to the view of God and man. 
Other men conceal their actions with housesy and 
doors, and darkness, and guards ; your house, your 
door, your darkness, must be a sense of holy shame. 
You must conceal nothing ; you must have nothing 
to conceal. You must be known as the spy and 
messenger of God among mankind. 

/*You must teach men that happiness is not' there, 
where in their blindness and misery they seek iy It 
is not in strength, for Myro and Ofellius were not 
happy : not in wealth, for Croesus was not happy : 


not in power, for the Consuls are not happy : not in 
all these together, for Nero, and Sardanapalus, and 
Agamemnon sighed, and wept, and tore their hair, 
and were the slaves of circumstances and the dupes 
of semblances.(^t lies in yourselves ; in true freedom, 
in the absence or conquest of every ignoble fear ; in 
perfect self-government ; in a power of contentment 
and peace, and the * even flow of life ' amid poverty 
exile, disease, and the very valley of the shadow o. 
deatlS)^ Can you face this Olympic contest ? Ar 
your thews and sinews strong enough ? Can you fac*. 

the fact that those who are defeated are also disgraced 
and whipped ? 

'* Only by God's aid can you attain to this. Only 
by His aid can you be beaten like an ass, and yet 
love those who beat you, preserving an unshaken 
unanimity in the midst of circumstances which to 
other men would cause trouble, and giief, axid dis- 
appointment, and despair. 

*(*rhe Cynic must learn to do without friends, for 
wh^ can he find a friend worthy of him, or a king 
worthy of sharing his moral sceptr^Cj[he friend of 
the truly noble must be as truly noble as himself, 
and such a friend the genuine Cynic cannot hope to 
find. Nor must he marry; marriage is right and 
honourable in other men, but its entanglements, its 
expenses, its distractions, would render impossible 
a life devoted to the service of heaveiiN 

" Nor will he mingle in the aftairs of any common- 
wealth : his commonwealth is not Athens or Corinth, 
but mankind. 

HIS " discourses:' 255 

" In person he should be strong, and robust, and 
hale, and in spite of his indigence always clean and 
attractive. Tact and intelligence, and a power of 
swift repartee, are necessary to him. His conscience 
m-ust be clear as the sun. He must sleep purely, and 
wake still more purely. To abuse and insult he must 
be as insensible as a stone, and he must place all fears 
and desires beneath his feet. To be a Cynic is to be 
this : before you attempt it deliberate well, and see 
whether by the help of God you are capable of 
achieving it." 

I have given a sketch of the doctrines of this lofty 
chapter, but fully to enjoy its morality and eloquence 
the reader should study it entire, and observe its 
generous impatience, its noble ardour, its vivid interro- 
gations, " in which," says M. Martha, " one feels as it 
were a frenzy of virtue and of piety, and in which the 
plenitude of a great heart tumultuously precipitates a 
torrent of holy thoughts." 

Epictetus was not a Christian. He has only once 
alluded to the Christians in his works, and there it is 
under the opprobrious title of " Galileans," who prac- 
tised a kind of insensibility in painful circumstances 
and an indifference to worldly interests which Epic- 
tetus unjustly sets down to " mere habit." Unhappily 
it was not granted to these heathen philosophers in 
any true sense to know what Christianity was. They 
ignorantly thought that it was an attempt to imitate 
the results of philosophy, without having passed 
through the necessary discipline. They viewed 
it with suspicion, they treated it with injustice. 



And yet In Christianity, and in Christianity alone, 
they would have found an ideal which would have 
surpassed their loftiest conceptions. Nor was it only 
an impossible ideal ; it was an ideal rendered attain- 
able by the impressive sanction of the highest 
authority, and one which supported men to bear the 
difficulties of life with fortitude, with peacefulness, 
and even with an inward joy ; it ennobled their 
faculties without overstraining them ; it enabled them 
to disregard the burden of present trials, not by 
vainly attempting to deny their bitterness or ignore 
their weight, but in the high certainty that they are 
the brief and necessary prelude to " a far more exceed- 
ing and eternal weight of glory." 




The life of the noblest of Pagan Emperors may 
well follow that of the noblest of Pagan slaves. 
Their glory shines the purer and brighter from the 
midst of a corrupt and deplorable society. Epic- 
tetus showed that a Phrygian slave could live a life 
of the loftiest exaltation : Aurelius proved that a 
Roman Emperor could live a life of the deepest 
humility. The one — a foreigner, feeble, deformed, 
ignorant, born in squalor, bred in degradation, the 
despised chattel of a despicable freedman, sur- 
rounded by every depressing, ignoble, and pitiable 
circumstance of life — showed how one who seemed 
born to be a wretch could win noble happiness and 
immortal memory ; the other — a Roman, a patri- 
cian, strong, of heavenly beauty, of noble ancestors, 
almost born to the purple, the favourite of Emperors, 
the greatest conqueror, the greatest philosopher, the 
greatest ruler of his time — proved for ever that it 
is possible to be virtuous, and tender, and hoi}', and 


contented in the midst of sadness, even on an irre- 
sponsible and imperial throne. Strange that, of the 
two, the Emperor is even sweeter, more simple, more 
admirable, more humbly and touchingly resigned, than 
the slave. In him. Stoicism loses all its haughty self- 
assertion, all its impracticable paradox, for a manly 
melancholy which at once troubles and charms the 
heart. " It seems," says M. Martha, "that in him the 
philosophy of heathendom grows less proud, draws 
nearer and nearer to a Christianity whicli it ignored or 
which it despised, and is ready to fling itself into the 
arms of the * Unknown God.' In the sad Meditations 
of Aiirelius we find a pure serenity, sweetness, and 
docility to the commands of God, which before him 
were unknown, and which Christian grace has alone 
surpassed. If he has not yet attained to charity in all 
that fulness of meaning which Christianity has given 
to the word he has already gained its unction, and one 
cannot read his book, unique in the history of Pagan 
philosophy, without thinking of the sadness of Pascal 
and the gentleness of Fenelon. We must pause 
before this soul, so lofty and so pure, to contemplate 
ancient virtue in its softest brilliancy, to see the moral 
delicacy to which profane doctrines have attained — 
how they laid down their pride, and how penetrating 
a grace they have found in their new simplicity. To 
make the example yet more striking, Providence, 
which, according to the Stoics, does nothing by 
chance, determined that the example of these simple 
virtues .should bloom in the midst of all human 
grandeurs— that charity should be taught by the 


successor of blood-stained Caesars, and humbleness of 
heart by an Emperor." 

Aurelius has always exercised a powerful fascina- 
tion over the minds of eminent men. " If you set 
aside, for a moment, the contem.plation of the Chris- 
tian verities," saj'S the eloquent and thoughtful Mon- 
tesquieu, "search throughout all nature, and you will 
not find a grander object than the Antonines. . . . 
One feels a secret pleasure in speaking of this Em- 
peror ; one cannot read his life without a softening 
feeling of emotion. He produces such an effect upon 
our minds that we think better of ourselves, because 
he inspires us with a better opinion of mankind." " It 
is more delightful," says the great historian Niebuhr, 
" to speak of Marcus Aurelius than of any man in 
history ; for if there is any sublime human virtue it 
is his. He was certainly the noblest character of his 
time, and I know no other man who combined such 
unaffected kindness, mildness, and humility, with 
such conscientiousness and severity towards him- 
self. We possess innum^erable busts of him, for 
every Roman of his time was anxious to possess his 
portrait, and if there is anywhere an expression 
of virtue it is in the heavenly features of Marcus 

Marcus Aurelius was born on April 26, A.D. 121. 
His more correct designation would be Marcus 
Antoninus, but since he bore several different names 
at different periods of his life, and since at that age 
nothintr was more common than a change of desig- 
nation, it is hardly worth while to alter the name b^ 


wliich he is most popularly recognised. His father, 
x\nnius Verus, who died in his Praetorship, drew his 
blood from a line of illustrious men who claimed 
descent from Numa, the second King of Rome. His 
mother, Domitia Calvilla, was also a lady of consular 
and kingly race. The character of both seems to 
have been worthy of their high dignity. Of his 
father he can have known little, since Annius died 
when Aurelius was a mere infant ; but in his Medi- 
tations he has left us a grateful memorial of both his 
parents. He says that from his grandfather he 
learned (or, might have learned) good morals and 
the government of his temper ; from the reputation 
and remembrance of his father, modesty and manli- 
ness ; from his mother, piety, and beneficence, and 
abstinence not only from evil deeds, but even from evil 
thoughts ; and, further, simplicity of life far removed 
from the habits of the rich. 

The childhood and boyhood of Aurelius fell during 
the reign of Hadrian. The times were better than 
those which we have contemplated in the reigns of the 
Caesars. After the suicide of Nero and the brief 
reigns of Galba and Otho, the Roman world had 
breathed more freely for a time under the rough good 
humour of Vespasian and the philosophic virtue of 
Titus. The reign of Domitian, indeed, who succeeded 
his brother Titus, was scarcely less terrible and in- 
famous than that of Caius or of Nero ; but that prince, 
shortly before his murder, had dreamt that a golden 
neck had grown out of his own, and interpreted the 
dream to indicate that a better race of prir»ces 


should follow him. The dream was fulfilled. What- 
ever may have been their other faults, Nerva, Trajan, 
Hadrian, were wise and kind-hearted rulers ; Anto- 
ninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius were among the very- 
gentlest and noblest sovereigns whom the world has 
ever seen. 

Hadrian, though an able, indefatigable, and, on the 
whole, beneficial Emperor, was a man whose character 
was stained with serious faults. It is, however, greatly 
to his honour that he recognised in Aurelius, at the 
early age of six years, the germs of those extra- 
ordinary virtues which afterwards blessed the empire 
and elevated the sentiments of mankind. " Hadrian's 
bad and sinful habits left him," says Niebuhr, " when 
he gazed on the sweetness of that innocent child. 
Playing on the boy's paternal name of Veriis, he 
called him Verissimus, * the most true.' " It is inte- 
resting to find that this trait of character was so 
early developed in one who thought that all men 
" should speak as they think, with an accent of heroic 

Towards the end of his long reign, worn out with 
disease and weariness, Hadrian, being childless, had 
adopted as his son L. Ceionius Commodus, a man 
who had few recommendations but his personaJ 
beauty. Upon his death, which took place a year 
afterwards, Hadrian, assembling the senators round 
his sick bed, adopted and presented to them as their 
future Emperor Arrius Antoninus, better known by 
the surname of Pius, which he won by his gratitude to 
the memory of his predecessor. Had Aurelius been 


older — he was then but seventeen — it is known that 
Hadrian would have chosen ///;;/, and not Antoninus, 
for his heir. The latter, indeed, who was then fifty- 
two years old, was only selected on the express con- 
dition that he should in turn adopt both Marcus 
Aurelius and the son of the deceased Ceionius. 
Thus, at the age of seventeen, AureHus, who, even 
from his infancy, had been loaded with conspicuous 
distinctions, saw himself the acknowledged heir to the 
empire of the world. 

We are happily able, mainly from his own writings, 
to give some sketch of the influences and the 
education which had formed him for this exalted 

He was brought up in the house of his grandfather 
a man who had been three times consul. He makes 
it a matter of congratulation, and thankfulness to the 
gods, that he had not been sent to any public school, 
where he would have run the risk of being tainted 
by that frightful corruption into which, for many 
years, the Roman youth had fallen. He expresses a 
sense of obligation to his great-grandfather for having 
supplied him with good teachers at home, and for 
the conviction that on such things a man should 
spend liberally. There was nothing jealous, barren, 
or illiberal, in the training he received. He was fond 
of 'boxing, wrestling, running ; he was an admirable 
player at ball, and he was fond of the perilous 
excitement of hunting the wild boar. Thus, his 
healthy sports, his serious studies, his moral instruc- 
tion, his public dignities and duties, all contributed 


to form his character in a beautiful and manly mould. 
There are, however, three respects in which his educa- 
tion seems especially worthy of notice ; — I mean the 
diligence^ the gratitude, and the Jiardincss in which 
he was encouraged by others, and which he practised 
with all the ardour of generous conviction. 

1. In the best sense of the word, Aurelius was 
diligent. He alludes more than once in his Medi- 
tations to the inestimable value of time, and to his 
ardent desire to gain more leisure for intellectual 
pursuits. Pie flung himself with his usual undeviating 
stedfastness of purpose into every branch of study, and, 
though he deliberately abandoned rhetoric, he toiled 
hard at philosophy, at the discipline of arms, at the 
administration of business, and at the difficult study 
Df Roman jurisprudence. One of the acquisitions for 
which he expresses gratitude to his tutor Rusticus, is 
♦hat of reading carefully, and not being satisfied with 
?he superficial understanding of a book. In fact, so 
strenuous was his labour, and so great his abstemious- 
ness, that his health suffered by the combination of 
the two. 

2. His opening remarks show that he remembered 
all his teachers — even the most insignificant — with 
sincere gratitude. He regarded each one of them as 
a man from whom something could be learnt, and 
from whom he actuallv did learn that something:. 
Hence the honourable respect — a respect as honour- 
able to himself as to them — which he paid to Fronto, 
to Rusticus, to Julius Proculus, and others whom his 
nc^ble and conscientious gratitude raised to the higbcs!: 


dignities of the State. He even thanks the gods that 
" he made haste to place those who brought him up 
in the station of honour which they seemed to desire, 
without putting them off with mere hopes of his 
doing it some time after, because they were then 
still young." He was far the superior of these men, 
not only socially but even morally and intellectually ; 
yet from the height of his exalted rank and character 
he delighted to associate with them on the most 
friendly terms, and to treat them, even till his death, 
with affection and honour, to place their likenesses 
among his household gods, and visit their sepul- 
chres with wreaths and victims. 

3. His hardiness and self-denial were perhaps still 
more remarkable. I wish that those boys of our day, 
who think it undignified to travel second-class, who 
dress in the extreme of fashion, wear roses in their 
buttonholes, and spend upon ices and strawberries 
what would maintain a poor man for a year, would 
learn how infinitely more nobU was the abstinence of 
this young Roman, who, though born in the midst of 
splendour and luxury, learnt from the first to loathe 
ithe petty vice of gluttony, and to despise the unmanli- 
ness of self-indulgence. Very early in life he joined 
the glorious fellowship of those who esteem it not 
only a duty but a pleasure 

" To scorn delights, and live laborious days," 

and had learnt "endurance of labour, and to want 
little, and to work with his own hands." In his 
eleventh year he became acquainted with Diognetu^:, 


who first introduced him to the Stoic philosophy, 
and in his twelfth year he assumed the Stoic dress. 
This philosophy taught him "to prefer a plank-bed 
and skin, and whatever else of the kind belongs to 
the Grecian discipline." It is said that "the skin" 
was a concession to the entreaties of his mother, and 
that the young philosopher himself would have 
chosen to sleep on the bare boards or on the ground. 
Yet he acted thus without self-assertion and without 
ostentation. His friends found him always cheerful ; 
and his calm features, — in which a dignity and 
thoughtfulness of spirit contrasted with the bloom 
and beauty of a pure and honourable boyhood, — 
were never overshadowed with ill-temper or with 

The guardians of Marcus Aurelius had gathered 
around him all the most distinguished literary teachers 
o\ the age. Never had a prince a greater number of 
eminent instructors ; never were any teachers made 
happy by a more grateful, a more humble, a more 
blameless, a more truly royal and glorious pupil. 
Long years after his education had ceased, during 
his campaign among the Quadi, he wrote a sketch 
of what he owed to them. This sketch forms the 
first book of his Meditations, and is characterised 
throughout by the most unaffected simplicity and 

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius were in fact his 
private diary ; they are a noble soliloquy with his 
own heart, an honest examination of his own con- 
science ; there is not the slightest trace of their having 


been intended for any eye but his own. In them he 
was acting on the principle of St. Augustine : *' Go up 
into the tribunal of thy conscience, and set thyself 
before thyself." He was ever bearing about — 

" A silent court of justice in himself, 
Himself the judge and jury, and himself 
The prisoner at the bar. " 

And writing amid all the cares and distractions of a 
war which he detested, he averted his eyes from the 
manifold wearinesses which daily vexed his soul, 
and calmly sat down to meditate on all the great 
qualities which he had observed, and all the good 
lessons that he might have learnt from those who 
had instructed his boyhood, and surrounded his 
manly years. 

And what had he learnt.'' — learnt heartily to admire, 
and {we may say) learnt to practise also } A sketch 
of his first book will show us. What he had sfained 
from his immediate parents we have seen already, 
and we will make a brief abstract of his other 

From ** his governor" — to which of his teachers 
this name applies we are not sure — he had learnt to 
avoid factions at the races, to work hard, and to 
avoid listening to slander ; from Diognetus, to despise 
frivolous superstitions, and to practise self-denial ; 
from Apollonius, undeviating steadiness of purpose, 
endurance of misfortune, and the reception of favours 
without being humbled by them ; from Sextus of 
Chaeronea (a grandson of the celebrated Plutarch), 


tolerance of the ignorant, gravity without affectation, 
and benevolence of heart ; from Alexander, delicacy 
in correcting others ; from Severus, "a disposition to 
do good, and to give to others readily, and to cherish 
good hope, and to believe that I am beloved of my 
friends;" from Maximus, "sweetness and dignity, 
and to do what was set before me without complain- 
ing ; " from Alexander the Platonic, " not frequently 
to say to any one, nor to zurite in a letter ^ that I have 
no leistire ; nor continually to excuse the neglect of 
ordinary duties by alleging urgent occupations." 

To one or two others his obligations were still 
more characteristic and important. From Rusticus, 
for instance, an excellent and able man, whose advice 
for years he was accustomed to respect, he had learnt 
to despise sophistry and display, to write with sim- 
plicity, to be easily pacified, to be accurate, and — an 
inestimable benefit this, and one which tinged the 
colour of his whole life — to become acquainted with 
the Discourses of Epictetus. And from his adoptive 
father, the great Antoninus Pius, he had derived 
advantages still more considerable. In him he saw 
the example of a sovereign and statesman firm, self- 
controlled, modest, faithful, and even-tempered ; a 
man who despised flattery and hated meanness ; who 
honoured the wise and distinguished the meritorious ; 
who was indifferent to contemptible trifles, and inde- 
fatigable in earnest business ; one, in short, " who had 
a perfect and invincible soul," who, like Socrates, "was 
able both to abstain from and to enjoy those things 

"^hich many are too weak to abstain from and cannot 



enjoy without excess.'"^ Piety, serenity, sweetness, 
disregard of empty fame, calmness, simplicity, 
patience, are virtues which he attributes to him in 
another full-length portrait (vi. 30) which he con- 
cludes with the words, " Imitate all this, that thou 
mayest have as good a conscience when thy last 
hour comes as he had." 

He concludes these reminiscences of thankfulness 
vvith a summary of what he owed to the gods. And 
for what does he thank the gods .? for being wealthy, 
and noble, and an emperor .? Nay, for no yigjgar or 
dubious blessings such as these, but for the guidance 
which trained him in philosophy, and for the grace 
which kept him from sin. And here it is that 
his genuine modesty comes out. As the excellent 
divine used to say when he saw a criminal led 
past for execution, " There, but for the grace ©f 
God, goes John Bradford," so, after thanking the 
gods for the goodness of all his family and relatives, 
Aurelius says, " Further, I owe it to the gods that 
I was not hurried into any offence against any of 
them, though I had a disposition zvhich, if opportunity 
had offered, might have led mS to do something of 
this kind ; but through their favour there never was 
such a concurrence of circumstances as put me to the 
trial. Further, that I was subjected to a ruler and 

* My quocations fr^^-... Marcus Aurelius will be made (by permission) 
from the forcible and admirably accurate translation of Mr. Long. 
In thanking Mr. Long, I may be allowed to add that the English 
reader will find in his version the best means of becoming acquainted 
with the purest and noblest book of antiquity. 


father who took away all pride from me, and taught 
me that it was possible to live in a palace without 
guards, or embroidered dresses, or torches, and statues, 
and such-like show, but to live very near to the fashion 
of a private person, without being either mean in 
thought or remiss in action ; — that after having 
fallen into amatory passions I was cured ; — that 
though it was my mother's fate to die young, she 
spent the last years of her life with me ; that, when- 
ever I wished to help any man, I was never told that 
I had not the means of doing it ; — that I had abund- 
ance of good masters for my children : for all these 
things require the help of the gods and fortune." 

The whole of the Emperor's Meditations desei'\'e the 
profound study of this age. The self-denial which 
they display is a rebuke to our ever-growing luxury ; 
their generosity contrasts favourably with the in- 
creasing bitterness of our cynicism ; their contented 
acquiescence in God's will rebukes our incessant 
restlessness ; above all, their constant elevation 
<ihames that multitude of little vices, and little mean- 
nesses, which lie like a scurf over the conventionality 
of modern life. But this earlier chapter has also a 
special v^alue for the young. It offers a picture 
which it would indeed be better for them and for us 
(f they could be induced to study. If even under 

"That fierce light that beats upon the throne," 

the life of Marcus Aurelius shows no moral stain, it 
is still more remarkable that the free and beautiful 
tx)yhood of this Roman prince had early learnt to 


recognise only the excellences of his teachers, theif 
patience and firmness, their benevolence and sweet- 
ness, their integrity and virtue. Amid the frightful 
universality of moral corruption he preserved a stains- 
less conscience and a most pure soul ; he thanked 
God in language which breathes the most crystalline 
delicacy of sentiment and language, that he had pre- 
served uninjured the flower of his early life, and that 
under the calm influences of his home in the country, 
and the studies of philosophy, he had learnt to value 
chastity as the sacred girdle of youth, to be retained 
and honoured to his latest years. " Surely," says 
Mr. Carlyle, " a day is coming when it will be known 
again what virtue is in purity and continence of life ; 
how divine is the blush of young human cheeks ; how 
high, beneficent, sternly inexorable is the duty laid • 
on every creature in regard to these particulars. 
Well, if such a day never come, then I perceive much 
else will never come. Magnanimity and depth of 
msight will never come ; heroic purity of heart and of 
eye ; noble pious valour to amend us and the age of 
bronze and lacquers, how can they ever come 1 The 
scandalous bronze-lacquer age of hungry animalisms, 
spiritual impotencies, and mendacities will have to 
run its course till the pit swallow it." 




On the death of Hadrian in a. d. 138, Antoninus 
Pius succeeded to the throne, and, in accordance 
with the late Emperor's conditions, adopted Marcus 
Aurelius and Lucius Commodus. Marcus had been 
betrothed at the as^e of fifteen to the sister of Lucius 
Commodus, but the new Emperor broke off the 
engagement, and betrothed him instead to his 
daughter Faustina. The marriage, however, was not 
celebrated till seven years afterwards, A. D. 146. 

The long reign of Antoninus Pius is one of those 
happy periods that have no history. An almost 
unbroken peace reigned at home and abroad. Taxes 
were lightened, calamities relieved, informers dis- 
couraged; confiscations were rare, plots and execu- 
tions were almost unknown. Throughout the whole 
extent of his vast domain the people loved and 
valued their Emperor, and the Emperor's one aim 
was to further the happiness of his people. He, too, 
like Aurelius, had learnt that what was good for the 
bee was good for the hive. He strove to live as the 
civil administrator of an unaggressive and united 


Tepublic ; he disliked war, did not value the military 
title of Imperator, and never deigned to accept a 

With this wise and eminent prince, who was as 
amiable in his private relations as he was admirable 
in the discharge of his public duties, Marcus Aurelius 
spent the next twenty-three years of his life. So 
close and intimate was their union, so completely did 
they regard each other as father and son, that during 
all that period Aurelius never slept more than twice 
away from the house of Antoninus. There was not a 
shade of jealousy between them ; each was the friend 
and adviser of the other, and, so far from regarding 
his destined heir with suspicion, the Emperor gave him 
the designation " Cassar," and heaped upon him all 
the honours of the Roman commonwealth. It was in 
vain that the whisper of malignant tongues attempted 
to shake this mutual confidence. Antoninus once 
saw the mother of Aurelius in earnest prayer before 
the statue of Apollo. " What do you think she is 
praying for so intently .'' " asked a wretched mischief- 
maker of the name of Valerius Omulus ; "it is that 
you may die, and her son reign." This wicked 
suggestion might have driven a prince of meaner 
character into violence and disgust, but Antoninus 
passed it over with the silence of contempt. 

It was the main delight of Antoninus to enjoy the 
quiet of his country villa. Unlike Hadrian, who 
traversed immense regions of his vast dominion, Anto- 
ninus lived entirely either at Rome, or in his beautiful 
villa at Lorium, a little seacoast village about twelve 


miles from the capital. In this villa he had been 
born, and here he died, surrounded by the remi- 
niscences of his childhood. In this his real home it 
was his special pleasure to lay aside the pomp and 
burden of his imperial rank. " He did not," says 
Marcus, " take the bath at unseasonable hours ; he 
was not fond of building houses, nor curious about 
what he ate, nor about the texture and colour of his 
clothes, nor about the beauty of his slaves." Even 
the dress he wore was the work of the provincial 
artist in his little native place. So far from dhecking 
the philosophic tastes of his adopted son he fostered 
them, and sent for Apollonius of Chalcis to be his 
teacher in the doctrines of Stoicism. In one of his 
notes to Pronto, Marcus draws the picture of their 
simple country occupations and amusements. Hunt- 
ing, fishing, boxing, wrestling, occupied the leisure 
of the two princes, and they shared the rustic festi- 
vities of the vintage. "I have dined," he writes, "on 
a little bread. . . . We perspired a great deal, shouted 
a great deal, and left some gleanings of the vintage 
hanging on the trellis work. , . . When I got Jiome I 
studied a little, but not to much advantage I had a 
long talk with my mother, who was lying on her 
couch." Who knows how r"'ich Aurelius anc how 
much the world may have gained froni such con- 
versation as this, with a mother from whom he had 
learnt to hate even the thought of evil } Nor will 
any one despise the simplicity of heart which 
made him mingle with the peasants as an amateur 
vintager, unless he is so tasteless and so morose as 


to think with scorn of Scipio and LseUus as they 
gathered shells on the seashore, or of Henry IV. as 
he played at horses with his little boys on all-fours. 
The capability of unbending thus, the genuine cheer- 
fulness which enters at due times into simple amuse- 
ments, has been found not rarely in the highest and 
purest minds. 

For many years no incident of importance broke 
the even tenor of Aurelius's life. He lived peaceful, 
happy, prosperous, and beloved, watching without 
envy the increasing years of his adopted father. But 
in the year i6i, when Marcus was now forty years 
old, Antoninus Pius, who had reached the age of 
seventy-five, caught a fever at Lorium. Feeling that 
his end was near, he summoned his friends and the 
chief men of Rome to his bedside, and there (without 
saying a word about his other adopted son, who is 
generally known by the name of Lucius Verus) 
solemnly recommended Marcus to them as his suc- 
cessor ; and then, giving to the captain of the guard 
the watchword of " Equanimity," as though his 
earthly task was over he ordered to be transferred to 
the bedroom of Marcus the little golden statue of 
Fortune, which was kept in the private chamber of 
the Emperors as an omen of public prosperity. 

The very first public act of the new Emperor was 
one of splendid generosity, namely, the admission of 
his adoptive brother Lucius Verus into the fullest 
participation of imperial honours, the Tribunitian 
and Proconsular powers, and the titles Caesar and 
Augustus The admission of Lucius Verus to a 


share of the Empire was due to the innate modesty 
of Marcus. As he was a devoted student, and cared 
less for manly exercises, in which Verus excelled, he 
thought that his adoptive brother would be a better 
and more useful general than himself, and that he 
could best serve the State by retaining the civil 
administration, and entrusting to his brother the 
management of war. Verus, however, as soon as he 
got away from the immediate influence and ennobling 
society of Marcus, broke loose from all decency, and 
showed himself to be a weak and worthless personage, 
as unfit for war as he was for all the nobler duties of 
peace, and capable of nothing but enormous gluttony 
and disgraceful self-indulgence. Two things only can 
be said in his favour ; the one, that, though depraved, 
he was wholly free from cruelty ; and the other, that 
he had the good sense to submit himself entirely to 
his brother, and to treat him with the gratitude and 
deference which were his due. 

Marcus had a large family by Faustina, and in the 
first year of his reign his wife bore twins, of whom 
the one who survived became the wicked and detested 
Emperor Commodus. As though the birth of such 
a child were in itself an omen of ruin, a storm of 
calamity began at once to burst over the long 
tranquil State. An inundation of the Tiber flung 
down houses and streets over a great part of Rome, 
swept away multitudes of cattle, spoiled the harvests, 
devastated the fields, and caused a distress which 
ended in wide-spread famine. Men's minds were 
terrified by earthquakes, by the burning of cities, and 

19 7' 


by plagues of noxious insects. To these miseries, 
which the Emperors did their best to alleviate, was 
added the horror of wars and rumours of wars. The 
Parthians, under their king Vologeses, defeated and 
all but destroyed a Roman army, and devastated 
with impunity the Roman province of Syria. The 
wild tribes of the Catti burst over Germany with fire 
and sword ; and the news from Britain was full of 
insurrection and tumult. Such v/ere the elements of 
trouble and discord which overshadowed the reign of 
Marcus Aurelius from its very beginning down to its 
weary close. 

As the Parthian war was the most important of the 
three, Verus was sent to quell it, and but for the 
ability of his generals — the greatest of whom was 
Avidius Cassius — would have ruined irretrievably the 
fortunes of the Empire. These generals, however, 
vindicated the majesty of the Roman name, and 
Verus returned in triumph, bringing back with him 
from the East the seeds of a terrible pestilence which 
devastated the whole Empire and by which, on the 
outbreak of fresh wars, Verus himself was carried off 
at Aquileia. 

Worthless as he was, Marcus, who, in his lifetime 
had so often pardoned and concealed his faults, paid 
him the highest honours of sepulture, and interred 
his ashes in the mausoleum of Hadrian. There were 
not wanting some who charged him with the guilt of 
fratricide, asserting that the death of Verus had been 
fastened by his means ! 

I have only one reason for alluding to atrocious 


and contemptible calumnies like these, and that is 
because — since no doubt such whispers reached hi? 
ears — they help to account for that deep unutterable 
melancholy which breathes through the little golden 
book of the Emperor's Meditations. We find, for 
instance, among them this isolated fragment : — 

" A black character, a womanish character, a 
stubborn character, bestial, childish, animal, stupid, 
counterfeit, scurrilous, fraudulent, tyrannical." 

We know not of whom he was thinking — perhaps 
of Nero, perhaps of Caligula, but undoubtedly also of 
men whom he had seen and known, and whose very 
existence darkened his soul. The same sad spirit 
breathes also through the following passages : — 

" Soon, very soon, thou wilt be ashes, or a skeleton, 
and either a name, or not even a name ; but name is 
sound and echo. And the things which are nmch 
valued in life are empty, and rotten, and trifling, and 
little dogs biting one anotJicr, and little ckihh-en quarrel- 
ling, langhingy and then straightway weeping. But 
fidelity, and modesty, and justice, and truth are Jled 

" ' Up to Olympus from the wide-spread earth.' " 

(v. 33-) 

*' It would be a man's happiest lot to depart from 
mankind without having had a taste of lying, and 
hypocrisy, and luxury, and pride. However, to 
breathe out one^s life when a man has had enough of 
those things is the next best voyage, as the saying 
is." (ix. 2.) 

" Enough of this wretched life, a?id tnunnuring, and 


apish trifles. Why art thou thus disturbed ? What 
is there new in this ? What unsettles thee ? . . . . 
Towards the gods, then, now become at last more 
simple and better." (ix. 37.) The thought is like that 
which dominates through the Penitential Psalms of 
David, — that we m,ay take refuge from men, their 
malignity ^nd their meanness, and find rest for our 
souls in God. From men David has 710 hope ; mockery, 
treachery, injustice, are all that he expects from them, 
— the bitterness of his enemies, the far-off indifference 
of his friends. Nor does this greatly trouble him, so 
long as he does not wholly lose the light of God's 
countenance. " I had no place to flee unto, and no 
man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O Lord, 
and said, Thotc art my hope, and my portion in 
the land of the living." " Cast me not away 
from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit 
from me." 

But whatever may have been his impulse at times 
to give up in despair all attempt to improve the ''little 
breed " of men around him, Marcus had schooled his 
gentle spirit to live continually in far other feelings. 
Were men contemptible } It was all the more reason 
why he should himself be noble. Were men petty, 
and malignant, and passionate, and unjust } In that 
proportion were they all the more marked out for pity 
and tenderness, and in that proportion was he bound 
to the utmost of his ability to show himself great, and 
iorgiving, and calm, and true. Thus Marcus turns his 
very bitterest experience to gold, and from the vile- 
nesses of others, which depressed his lonely life, so far 


from suffering himself to be embittered as well as 
saddened, he only draws fresh lessons of humanity 
and love. 

He says, for instance, *' Begin the morning by say- 
ing to thyself, / shall meet with the busybody, the un- 
grateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsociaL All 
these things happen to them by reason o^ their ignoratice 
of zvhat is good and evil. But I who have seen the 
nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad 
that it is ugly, and the nature of him that does wrong 
that it is akin to me, . . . and that it partakes of the 
same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured 
by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is 
ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate 
him. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like 
hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and 
lower teeth. To act against one another then is con- 
trary to nature ; and it is acting against one another 
to be vexed and turn away." (ii. i.) Another of his 
rules, and an eminently wise one, was to fix his 
thoughts as much as possible on the virtues of others, 
rather than on their vices. " When thou wishest to 
delight thyself, think of the virtues of those who live 
with thee— the activity of one, the modesty of another, 
the liberality of a third, and some other good quality 
of a fourth." What a rebuke to the contemptuous 
cynicism which we are daily tempted to display ! 
" An infinite being comes before us," says Robertson, 
" with a whole eternity wrapt up in his mind and soul, 
and we procred to classify him, put a label upon him, as 
ive would upon a jar, saying, This is rice, that is jelly, 



and this pomattun : and then we think v/e have saved 
ourselves the necessity of taking off the cover. How 
differently our Lord treated the people who came to 
Him ! ... . consequently, at His touch each one gave 
out his peculiar spark of light." 

Here again is a singularly pithy, comprehensive, 
and beautiful piece of advice : — 

" Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach 
them or bear with tJieinr (viii. 59.) 

And again : " The best way of avenging thyself is 
not to become like the wrong doer." 

And again : " If any man has done wrong, the 
harm is his own. But perhaps he has not done 
wrong," (ix. 38.) 

Most remarkable, however, are the nine rules which 
he drew up for himself, as subjects for reflection when 
any one had offended him, viz. — 

1. That men were made for each other : even the 
inferior for the sake of the superior, and these for the 
sake of one another. 

2. The invincible influences that act upon men, and 
mould their opinions and their acts. 

3. That sin is mainly error and ignorance, — an in- 
voluntary slavery. 

4. That we are ourselves feeble, and by no means 
immaculate ; and that often our very abstinence from 
faults is due more to cowardice and a care for our 
reputation than to any freedom from the disposition 
to commit them. 

5. That our judgments are apt to be very rash and 
premature. " And in short a man must learn a great 


deal to enable him to pass a correct judgment on 
another man's acts." 

6. " When thou art much vexed or grieved, con- 
sider that man's life is only a moment, and after a 
short time we are all laid out dead." 

7. That no wrongful act of another can brins; shame 
on us, and that it is not men's acts which disturb us, 
but our own opinions of them. 

8. That our own anger hurts us more than the acts 

9. That benevolence is invincible, if it be not an 
affected smile, nor acting a part. " For what will the 
most violent man do to thee if thou continuest be- 
nevolent to him } gently and calmly correcting him, 
admonishing him when he is trying to do thee harm, 

lying, ^ Not so, my child : we are constituted by natin-e 
for something else : I shall certainly not be injured^ 
btit thoii art injuring thyself my child! And show 
him with gentle tact and by general principles that 
this is so, and that even bees do not do as he does, 
nor any gregarious animal. And this you must 
do simply, unreproachfuUy, affectionately ; without 
rancour, and if possible when you and he are alone.'* 
(xi. 18.) 

^' Not so, my child ; thou art injuring thyself, my 
child." Can all antiquity show anything tenderer 
than this, or anything more close to the spirit of 
Christian teaching than these nine rules 1 They were 
worthy of the man who, unlike the Stoiqs in general, 
considered gentleness to be a virtue, and a proof at 
once of philosophy and of true manhood. They 


are written with that effusion of sadness and benevo* 
lence to which it is difficult to find a parallel. They 
show how completely Marcus had triumphed over all 
petty malignity, and how earnestly he strove to fulfil 
his own precept of always keeping the thoughts so 
sweet and clear, that " if any one should suddenly 
ask, * What hast thou now in thy thoughts ? ' with 
perfect openness thou mightest immediately answer, 
* This or That.' " In short, to give them their 
highest praise, they would have delighted the great 
Christian Apostle who wrote, — 

" Warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble- 
minded, support the weak, be patient towards all 
men,. See that none render evil for evil unto any 
man ; but ever follow that which is good, both among 
yourselves, and to all men." (i Thess. iv. 14, 15.) 

" Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him -as 
a brother." (2 Thess. iv. 15.) 

" Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, 
if any man have a quarrel against any." (Col. iii. 13.) 

Nay, are they not even in full accordance with the 
mind and spirit of Him who said, — 

" If thy brother trespass against thee, go and teh 
hhn his fault between thee and Jiini alone: if he shall 
hear thee thou hast gained thy brother !' 

In the life of Marcus Aurelius, as in so many lives, 
we are able to trace the great law of compensation. 
His exalted station, during the later years of his life, 
threw him ^mong many who were false and Phari- 
saical and base ; but his youth had been spent under 
happier conditions, and this saved him from falling 


into the sadness of those whom neither man nor 
woman please. In his earlier years it had been his 
lot to see the fairer side of humanity, and the recol- 
lection of those pure and happy days was like a 
healing tree thrown into the bitter and turbid waters 
of his reigii. 



Marcus was now the undisputed lord of the Roman 
world. He was seated on the dizziest and most 
splendid eminence which it was possible for human 
grandeur to obtain. 

But this imperial elevation kindled no glow of 
pride or self-satisfaction in his meek and chastened 
nature. He regarded himself as being in fact the 
servant of all. It was his duty, like that of the bull 
in the herd, or the ram among the flocks, to confront 
every peril in his own person, to be foremost in 
all the hardships of war and most deeply immersed 
in all the toils of peace. The registry of the citizens, 
the suppression of litigation, the elevation of public 
morals, the restraining of consanguineous marriages, 
the care of minors, the retrenchment of public ex- 
penses, the limitation of gladiatorial games and 
shows, the care of roads, the restoration of senatorial 
privileges, the appointment of none but worthy 
magistrates — even the regulation of street • traffic — 
these and numberless other duties so completely 
absorbed his attention that, in spite of indifferent 


health, they often kept him at severe labour from 
early morning till long after midnight. His position 
indeed often necessitated his presence at games and 
shows, but on these occasions he occupied himself 
either in reading, in being read to, or in writing notes. 
He was one of those who held that nothing should 
be done hastily, and that few crimes were worse than 
the waste of time. It is to such views and such 
habits that wc owe the composition of his works. 
His Meditations were written amid the painful self- 
denial and distracting anxieties of his wars with 
the Ouadi and the Marcomanni, and he was the 
author of other works which unhappily have perished. 
Perhaps of all the lost treasures of antiquity there 
are few which we should feel a greater wish to re- 
cover than the lost autobiography of this wisest of 
Emperors and holiest of Pagan men. 

As for the external trappings of his rank, — those 
gorgeous adjuncts and pompous circumstances which 
excite the wonder and envy of mankind, — no man 
could have shown himself more indifferent to them. 
He recognised indeed the necessity of maintainino^ 
the dignity of his high position. " Every moment," 
he says, " think steadily as a Roman and a man 
to do what thou Iiast in Jiand with perfect and simple 
dignity y and affection, and freedom, and justice" 
(ii. 5) ; and again, " Let the Deity which is in thee 
be the guardian of a living being, K-ianly and of ripe 
age, and^ engaged in matters political, and a Roman, 
and a mler, who has taken his post like a man 
waiting for the signal which summons him from 


life" (iii. 5). But he did not think it necessary 
to accept the fulsome honours and ' degrading adu- 
lations which were so dear to many of his prede- 
cessors. He refused the pompous blasphemy of 
temples and altars, saying that for every true ruler 
the world was a temple, and all good men were 
priests. He declined as much as possible all golden 
statues and triumphal designations. All inevitable 
luxuries or splendour, such as his public duties 
rendered indispensable, he regarded as a mere hollow 
show, Marcus Aurelius felt as deeply as our own 
Shakespeare seems to have felt the unsubstantiality, 
the fleeting evanescence of all earthly things : he 
would have delighted in the sentiment that, 

" We are such stiiff" 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded by a sleep." 

" When we have meat before us," he says, *' and 
such eatables, we receive the impression that this is 
the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of 
a bird, or of a pig ; and, again, that this Falernian 
is only a little grape-juice, and this purple robe some 
sheep s wool dyed ivith the blood of a shellfish: such 
then are these impressions, and they reach the things 
themselves and penetrate them, and so we see what 
kind of things they are. Just in the same way .... 
where there are things which appear most worthy of 
our approbation, we ought to lay them bare, and look 
at their worthlessness, and strip them of all the words 
by which they are exalted." (vi. 13.) 

" What is worth being valued ? To be received 


with clapping of hands ? No. Neither must we 
varlue the clapping of tongues, for the praise which 
comes from the many is a clapping of tongues." 
(vi. 16.) 

" Asia, Europe, are corners of the universe ; all the 
sea is a drop in the universe ; Athos a little clod 
of the universe ; all the present time is a point in 
eternity. All things are little^ changeable, peiHshable!' 
(vi. 36.) 

And to Marcus too, no less than to Shakespeare, it 
seemed that — 

" All the world's a stage, 
And all the men and women merely players ; " 

for he writes these remarkable words : — 

" The idle business of show, plays on the stage, flocks 
of sheep, herds, exercises ivith spears, a bone cast to 
little dogs, a bit of bread in fishponds, laboiirings of 
ants, and burden-carrying runnings about of frightened 
little mice, puppets pulled by strings — this is what life 
resembles. It is thy duty then in the midst of such 
things to show good humour, and not a proud air ; 
to understand however that eveiy tnan is luorth just 
so much as t/ic things are worth about ivhich lie busies 

In fact, the Court was to Marcus a burden ; he 
tells us himself that Philosophy was his mother, 
Empire only his stepmother ; it was only his repose 
in the one that rendered even tolerable to him the 
burdens of the other. Emperor as he was, he thanked 
the gods for having enabled him to enter into the 
souls of a Thrasea, an Helvidius, a Cato, a Brutus. 



Above all, he seems to have had a horror of ever 
becoming like some of his predecessors ; he writes : — 

" Take care that thou art not made into a Caesar ;* 
take care thou art not dyed with this d^y^. - Keep 
thyself then simple, good, pure, serious, free from 
affectation, a friend of justice, a worshipper of the 
gods, kind, affectionate, strenuous in all proper acts. 
Reverence the gods and help men. Short is life. 
There is only 07ie fruit of this ten'ene life^ a pious 
disposition and social acts!' (iv. 19.) 

It is the same conclusion as that which sorrow 
forced from another weary and less admirable king : 
" Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter : 
Fear God, and keep His commandments ; for this is 
the whole duty of man." 

But it is time for us to continue the meagre record 
of the life of Marcus, so far as the bare and gossiping 
compilations of Dion Cassius,-f and Capitolinus, and 
the scattered allusions of other writers can enable us 
to do so. 

It must have been with a heavy heart that he set 
out once more for Germany to face the dangerous 
rising of the Quadi and Marcomanni. To obtain 
soldiers sufficient to fill up the vacancies in his army 
which had been decimated by the plague, he was 
forced to enrol slaves ; and to obtain money he had 

* Marcus liere invents what M. Martha justly calJs " an admirable 
barbarism" to express his disgust towards such men — upo. a^ ciiro«a«' 
traodGrii — " take care not to be Ccrsar/sed." 

+ As epitomised by Xiphi-linus. 


to sell the ornaments of the palace, and even some of 
the Empress's jewels. Immediately before he started 
his heart was wrung by the death of his little boy, 
the twin-brother of Commodus, whose beautiful 
features are still preserved for us on coins. Early 
in the war, as he was trying the depth of a ford, he 
was assailed by the enemy with a sudden storm of 
missiles, and was only saved from imminent deatli 
by being sheltered beneath the shields of his soldiers. 
One battle was fought on the ice of the wintry 
Danube. But by far the most celebrated event of 
the war took place in a great victory over the Quadi 
which he won in A.D. 174, and which was attributed 
by the Christians to what is known as the " Miracle 
of the Thundering Legion." 

Divested of all extraneous additions, the fact which 
occurred, — as established by the evidence of medals, 
and by one of the bassi-relievi on the " Column of 
Antonine," — appears to have been as follows. Marcus 
Aurelius and his army had been entangled in a 
mountain defile, into which they had too hastily 
pursued a sham retreat of the barbarian archers. In 
this defile, unable either to fight or to fly, pent in by 
the enemy, burned up with the scorching heat and 
tormented by thirst, they lost all hope, burst into 
wailing and groans, and yielded to a despair from 
whicii not even the strenuous efforts of Marcus could 
arouse them. At the most critical moment of their 
danger and misery the clouds began to gather, and 
heavy showers of rain descended, which the soldiers 
caught in their shields and helmets to quench their 


own thirst and that of their horses. While they 
were thus engaged the enemy attacked them ; but 
the rain was mingled with hail, and fell with blinding 
fury in the faces of the barbarians. The storm was 
also accompanied with thunder and lightning, which 
seems to have damaged the enemy, and filled them 
with terror, while no casualty occurred in the Roman 
ranks. The Romans accordingly regarded this as 
a Divine interposition, and achieved a fnost decisive 
victory, which proved to be the practical conclusion 
of a hazardous and important war. 

The Christians regarded the event not 2i% providential 
hut as miraculous, and attributed it to the prayers of 
their brethren in a legion which, from this circum- 
stance, received the name of the ** Thundering Le- 
gion." It is however now known that one of the 
legions, distinguished by a flash of lightning which 
was represented on their shields, had been known by 
this name since the time of Augustus ; and the 
Pagans themselves attributed the assistance which 
they had received sometimes to a prayer of the pious 
Emperor and sometimes to the incantations of ar 
Egyptian sorcerer named Arnuphis. 

One of the Fathers, the passionate and eloquent 
TertuUian, attributes to this deliverance an interpo- 
sition of the Emperor in favour of the Christians, and 
appeals to a letter of his to the Senate in which he 
acknowledged how effectual had been the aid he had 
received from Christian prayers, and forbade any one 
hereafter to molest the followers of the new relifrion, 
lest they should use against him the weapon of suppH- 


cation which had been so powerful in his favour. This 
letter is preserved at the end of the Apology of Justin 
Martyr, and it adds that, not only are no Christians 
to be injured or persecuted, but that any one who 
informed against them is to be burned alive ! We 
see at once that this letter is one of those impudent 
and transparent forgeries in which the literature of 
the first five centuries unhappily abounds. What 
was the real relation of Marcus to the Christians we 
shall consider hereafter. 

To the gentle heart of Marcus, all war, even when 
accompanied with victories, was eminently distasteful ; 
and in such painful and ungenial occupations no 
small part of his life was passed. What he thought 
of war and of its successes is graphically set forth 
in the following remark : — 

" A spider is proud when it has caught a fly, and 
another when he has caught a poor hare, and another 
when he has taken a little fish in a net, and another 
when he has taken wild boars or bears, a7td ajiotJier 
when he has taken Sarmatians. Are not these robbers, 
v/hen thou examinest their principles.'"' He here 
condemns his own involuntary actions ; but it was his 
unhappy destiny not to have trodden out the embers 
of this war before he was burdened with another far 
more painful and formidable. 

This was the revolt of Avidius Cassius, a general 
of the old blunt Roman type, whom, in spite of some 
ominous warnings, Marcus both loved and trusted. 
The ingratitude displayed by such a man causeH 
Marcus the deepest anguish ; but he was saved trora 
20 2a'2 


all dangerous consequences by the wide-spread affec 
tion which he had inspired by his virtuous reign. 

The very soldiers of the rebellions general fell away 
from him; and, after he had been a nominal Emperor 
for only three months and six days, he was assassi- 
nated by some of his own officers. His head was sent 
to Marcus, who received it with sorrow, and did not 
hold out to the murderers the slightest encourage- 
ment. The joy of success was swallowed up in 
regret that his enemy had not lived to allow him the 
luxury of a genuine forgiveness. He begged the 
Senate to pardon all the family of Cassius, and to 
suffer this single life to be the only one forfeited in 
consequence of civil war. The Fathers received these 
proofs of clemency with the rapture which they 
deserved, and the Senate-house resounded with accla- 
mations and blessings. 

Never had a formidable conspiracy been more 
quietly and effectually crushed. Marcus travelled 
through the provinces which had favoured the cause 
of Avidius Cassius, and treated them all with the 
most complete and indulgent forbearance. When he 
arrived in Syria, the correspondence of Cassius was 
brought to him, and, with a glorious magnanimity of 
which history affords but few examples, he consigned 
it all to the flames unread. 

During this journey of pacification, he lost his wife 
Faustina, who died suddenly in ore of the valleys of 
Mount Taurus. History, or the collection of anec- 
dotes which at this period often passes as history, 
has assigned to Faustina a character of the darkest 


intamy, and it has even been made a charge against 
AureHus that he overlooked or condoned her offences. 
As far as Faustina is concerned, we have not much to 
say, although there is strong reason to believe that 
many of the stories told of her are scandalously ex- 
aggerated, if not absolutely false. Certain it is, that 
most of the imputations upon her memory rest on the 
malignant anecdotes recorded by Dion, who dearly 
loved every piece of scandal which degraded human 
nature. The specific charge brought against her of 
having tempted Cassius from his allegiance is wholly 
unsupported, even if it be not absolutely incompatible 
with what we find in her own extant letters ; and, 
finally, Marcus himself not only loved her tenderly, 
as the kind mother of his eleven children, but in his 
Meditations actually thanks the gods for having 
granted him " such a wife, so obedient, so affectionate, 
and so simple." No doubt Faustina was unworthy of 
her husband ; but surely it is the glory and not the 
shame of a noble nature to be averse from jealousy 
and suspicion, and to trust to others more deeply than 
t'hey deserve. 

So blameless was the conduct of Marcus Aurelius 
that neither the malignity of contemporaries nor the 
spirit of posthumous scandal has succeeded in dis- 
covering any flaw in the extreme integrity of his life 
and principles. But meanness will not be baulked of 
its victims. The hatred of all excellence which made 
Caligula try to put down the memory of great men 
rages, though less openly, m the minds of many. 
Tiioy delight to degrade human life into that dulj 


and barren plain " in which every molehill is a 
mountain, and every thistle a forest-tree." Great 
men are as small in their eyes as they are said to be 
in the eyes of their valets ; and there are multitudes 
who, if they find 

" Some stain or blemish in a name of note, 
Not grieving that their greatest are so small, 
Inflate themselves with some insane delight, 
And judge all nature from her feet of clay, 
Without the will to lift their eyes, and see 
Her godlike head crown'd with spiritual fire, 
And touching other worlds. " 

This I suppose is the reason why, failing to drag 
down Marcus Aurelius from his moral elevation, some 
have attempted to assail his reputation because of 
the supposed vileness of Faustina and the actual 
depravity of Commodus. Of Faustina I have spoken 
already. Respecting Commodus, I think it sufficient 
to ask with Solomon : " Who knoweth whether his 
son shall be a wise man or a fool ?" Commodus was 
but nineteen when his father died ; for the first three 
years of his reign he ruled respectably and acceptably. 
Marcus Aurelius had left no effort untried to have 
him trained aright by the first teachers and the wisest 
men whom the age produced ; and Herodian dis- 
tinctly tells us that he had lived virtuously up to 
the time of his father's death. Setting aside natural 
affection altogether, and even assuming (as I should 
conjecture from one or two passages of his Medi'- 
tations) that Marcus had misgivings about his son, 
would it have been easy, would it have been even 
possible, to set aside on general grounds a son who 


had attained to years of maturity ? However this 
may be, if there are any who think it worth while 
to censure Marcus because, after all, Commodus 
turned out to be but "a warped slip of wilderness," 
their censure is hardly sufficiently discriminating to 
deserve the trouble of refutation. 

" But Marcus Aurelius cruelly persecuted the 
Christians." Let us briefly consider this charge. 
That persecutions took place in his reign is an 
undeniable fact, and is sufficiently evidenced by the 
Apologies of Justin Martyr, of Melito Bishop of 
Sardis, of Athenagoras, and of Apollinarius, as well 
as by the Letter of the Church of Smyrna describing 
the martyrdom of Polycarp, and that of the Churches 
of Lyons and Vienne to their brethren in Asia Minor. 
It is fair, however, to mention that there is some 
documentary evidence on the other side ; Lactantius 
clearly asserts that under the reigns of those excellent 
princes who succeeded Domitian the Church suffered 
no violence from her enemies, and " spread her hands 
towards the East and the West :" Tertullian, writine 
but twenty years after the death of Marcus, distinctly 
says (and Eusebius quotes the assertion), that there 
were letters of the Emperor, in which he not only 
attributed his aelivery among the Quadi to the 
prayers of Christian soldiers in the "Thundering 
Legion," but ordered any who informed against the 
Christians to be most severely punished ; and at the 
end of the works of Justin Martyr is found a letter 
of similar purport, which is asserted to have been 
addressed by Marcus to the Senate of Rome. We 


may set aside these peremptory testimonies, we may 
believe that TertuUian and Eusebius were mistaken, 
and that the documents to which they referred were 
spurious ; but this should make us also less certain 
about the prominent participation of the Emperor in 
these persecutions. My own belief is (and it is a 
belief v/hich could be supported by many critical 
arguments), that his share in causing them was almost 
infinitesimal. If those who love his memory reject 
the evidence of Fathers in his favour, they may be at 
least permitted to withhold assent from some of the 
assertions in virtue of which he is condemned. 

Marcus in his Meditations alludes to the Chris- 
tians once only, and then it is to make a passing 
complaint of the indifference to death, which ap- 
peared to him, as it appeared to Epictetus, to arise, not 
from any noble principles, but from mere obstinacy 
and perversity. That he shared the profound dislike 
with wdiich Christians were regarded is very probable. 
.That he was a cold-blooded and virulent persecutor 
is utterly unlike his whole character, essentially at 
variance with his habitual clemency, alien to the 
spirit which made hiim interfere in every possible 
instance to mitigate the severity of legal punishments, 
and may in 'short be regarded as an assertion which 
is altogether false. Who will believe that a man who 
during his reign built and dedicated but one single 
temple, and that a Temple to Beneficence ; fliat a 
man who so far from showing any jealousy respecting 
foreign religions allowed honour to be paid to them 
all ; that a man whose writings breathe on every 


page the inmost spirit of philanthropy and tender- 
ness, went out of his way to join in a persecution of 
the most innocent, the most courageous, and the 
most inoffensive of his subjects ? 

The true state of the case seems to have been this. 
The deep calamities in which, during the whole reign 
of Marcus the Empire was involved, caused wide- 
spread distress, and roused into peculiar fury the 
feelings of the provincials against men whose atheism 
(for such they considered it to be) had kindled the 
anger of the gods. This fury often broke out into 
paroxysms of popular excitement, which none but 
the firmest-minded governors were able to moderate 
or to repress. Marcus, when appealed to, simply let 
the existing law take its usual course. That law was 
as old as the time of Trajan. The younger Pliny, 
Governor of Bithynia, had written to ask Trajan how 
he was to deal with the Christians, whose blameless- 
ness of life he fully admitted, but whose doctrines, 
he said, had emptied the temples of the gods, and 
exasperated their worshippers. Trajan, in reply, had 
ordered that the Christians should not be soiigJit for^ 
but that, if they were brought before the governor, 
and proved to be contumacious in refusing to abjure 
their religion, they were then to be put to death. 
Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had continued the same 
policy, and Marcus Aurelius saw no reason to alter it. 
But this law, which in quiet times might become a 
mere dead letter, might at more troubled periods be 
converted into a dangerous engine of persecution, as 
it was in the case of the venerable Polycarp, and in 


the unfortunate Churches of Lyons and Vienne. The 
Pagans beheved that the reason why their gods were 
sniib'ng in secret, — • 

" Looking over wasted lands, 
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery 

Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying 

hands," — 

was the unbelief and impiety of these hated Gahleans, 
causes of offence which could only be expiated by 
the death of the guilty. " Their enemies," says 
TertuUian, " call aloud for the blood of the innocent, 
alleging this vain pretext for their hatred, that they 
believe the Christians to be the cause of every public 
misfortune. If the Tiber has overflowed its banks, 
or the Nile has not overflowed, if heaven has refused 
its rain, if famine or the plague has spread its 
ravages, the cry is immediate, ' The Christians to the 
lions.' " In the flrst three centuries the cry of " No 
Christianity" became at times as brutal, as violent, 
and as unreasoning as the cry of " No Popery " has 
often been in modern days. It was infinitely less 
dissfraceful to Marcus to lend his ear to the one than 
it has been to some eminent modern statesmen to be 
carried away by the insensate fury of the other. 

To what extent is Marcus Aurelius to be con- 
demned for the martyrdoms which took place in his 
reign t Not, I think, heavily or indiscriminately, or 
with vehement sweeping censure. Common justice 
surely demands that we should not confuse the present 
with the past, or pass judgment on the conduct of the 
Emperor as though he were living in the nineteenth 


century, or as though he had been acting in full 
cognisance of the Gospels and the stories of the Saints 
Wise and good men before him had, in their haughty 
ignorance, spoken of Christianity with execration and 
contempt. The philosophers who surrounded his 
throne treated it with jealousy and aversion. The 
body of the nation firmly believed the current 
rumours which charged its votaries with horrible mid- 
night assemblies, rendered infamous by Thyestian 
banquets and the atrocities of nameless superstitions. 
These foul calumnies — these hideous charges of can- 
nibalism and incest, — were supported by the reiterated 
perjury of slaves under torture, which in that age, as 
well as long afterwards, was preposterously regarded 
as a sure criterion of truth. 

Christianity in that day was confounded with a 
multitude of debased and foreign superstitions ; and 
the Emperor in his judicial capacity, if he ever 
encountered Christians at all, was far more likely to 
encounter those who were unworthy of the name, than 
to become acquainted with the meek, unworldly, 
retiring virtues of the calmest, the holiest, and the 
best. When we have given their due weight to con- 
siderations such as these we shall be ready to pardon 
Marcus Aurelius for having, in this matte;, acted 
ignorantly, and to admit that in persecuting Chris- 
tianity he may most honestly have thought that he 
was doing God service. The very sincerity of his 
belief, the conscientiousness of his rule, tlie intensity 
of his philanthropy, the grandeur of his own philo 
ao'jhical tenets, all conspired to make him a worse 



enemy of the Church than a brutal Commodus or a 
disgusting Heliogabalus. And yet that there was not 
in him the least pi'opcnsiiy to persecute ; that tRese 
persecutions were for the most p'art spontaneous and 
accidental ; that they were in no measure due to his 
direct instigation, or in special accordance with his 
desire, is clear from the fact that the martyrdoms 
took place in Gaul and Asia Minor, not in Rome. 
There must have been hundreds of Christians in 
Rome, and under the very eye of the Emperor ; nay, 
there were even multitudes of Christians in his own 
army ; yet we never hear of his having molested any 
of them. Melito, bishop of Sardis, in addressing the 
Emperor, expresses a doubt as to whether he was 
really aware of the manner in which his Christian 
subjects were treated. Justin Martyr, in his Apology, 
addresses him in terms of perfect confidence and deep 
respect. In short he was in this matter " blameless, 
but unfortunate." It is painful to think that the 
venerable Poly carp and the thoughtful Justin may 
have forfeited their lives for their principles, not only 
in the reign of so good a man, but even by virtue 
of his authority ; but we must be very uncharitable 
or very unimaginative if we cannot readily believe 
that, though they had received the crown of martyr- 
dom from his hands, the redeemed spirits of those 
great martyrs would have been the first to welcome 
this holiest of the heathen into the presence of a 
Saviour whose Church he persecuted, but to whose 
indwelling Spirit his virtues were due, whom igno- 
rantly and unconsciously he worshipped, and whom, 


had he ever heard of Him and known Him, he would 
have loved in his heart and glorified by the con- 
sistency of his noble and stainless life. 

The persecution of the Churches in Lyons and 
Vienne happened in A.D. 177. Shortly after this 
period fresh wars rrralled th? Fmperor to the North. 
It is said that, in despair of ever seeing him again, 
the chief men of Rome entreated him to address 
them his farewell admonitions, and thai* for three 
days he discoursed to them on philosophic questions. 
When he arrived at the seat of war, victory again 
crowned his arms. But Marcus w^as now getting old, 
and he was worn out with the toils, trials, and travels 
of his long and weary life. He sunk under mental 
anxieties and bodily fatigues, and after a brief illness 
died in Pannonia, either at Vienna or at Sirmium, on 
March 17, A.D. 180, in the fifty-ninth year of his age 
and the twentieth of his reign. 

Death to him was no calamity. He was sadly 
aware that ** there is no man so fortunate that there 
shall not be by him when he is dying some who are 
pleased with what is going to happen. Suppose that 
he was a good and wise man, will there not be at last 
some one to say of him, * Let us at last breathe freely, 
being relieved from this schoolmaster. It is true that 
he was harsh to none of us, but I perceive that he 
tacitly condemns us.' . . . Thou wilt consider this 
when thou art dying, and wilt depart more content- 
edly by reflecting thus : * I am going ^w^iy from a life 
in which even my associates, on beJiaJf of zvhom I have 
striven, and cared, and prayed so much, themselves wish 


me to depart, hoping perchance to get some little 
advantage by it' Why then should a man cling to 
a longer stay here ? Do not, hozvever, for tins reason 
go away less kindly disposed to them, but preserving thy 
own character, and continuing friendly, and benevolent^ 
and kindr And dreading death far less than he 
dreaded any departure from the laws of virtue, he 
exclaims, " Come quickly, O Death, for fear that at 
last I should forget myself" This utterance has been 
v/ell compared to the language which Bossuet put 
into the mouth of a Christian soul : — " O Death, thou 
dost not trouble my designs, thou accomplishest them. 
Haste then, O favourable Death ! . . . Nnnc dimittisr 
A nobler, a gentler, a purer, a sweeter soul, — a soul 
less elated by prosperity, or more constant in adversity 
— a soul more fitted by virtue, and chastity, and self- 
denial to enter into the eternal peace, never passed 
into the presence of its Heavenly Father. We are 
not surprised that all, whose means permitted it, pos- 
sessed themselves of his statues, and that they were 
to be seen for years afterwards among the household 
gods of heathen families, who felt themselves more 
hopeful and more happy frorn the glorious sense ot 
possibility which was inspired by the memory of one 
who, in the midst of difficulties, and breathing an 
atmosphere heavy with corruption, yet showed him- 
self sc wise, so great, so good a man. 

'' O framed for nobler times and calmer hearts ! 
O studious thinker eloquent for truth ! 
Philosopher, despising wealth and death, 
But patient, childlike, full of life and love I 



Emperor as he was, Marcus Aurelius found himself 
in a hollow and troublous world ; but he did not give 
himself up to idle regret or querulous lamentations. 
If these sorrows and perturbations came from the 
gods, he kissed the hand that smote him; *'he de- 
livered up his broken sword to Fate the conqueror 
with a humble and a manly heart." In any case he 
had duties to do, and he set himself to perform them 
with a quiet heroism— zealously, conscientiously, even 

The principles of the Emperor are not reducible to 
the hard and definite lines of a philosophic system, 
l^ut the great laws which guided his actions and 
moulded his views of life were few and simple, and in 
his book of Meditations, which is merely his private 
diary written to relieve his mind amid all the trials of 
war and government, he recurs to them again and 
again. " Plays, war, astonishment, torpor, slavery," 
he says to him.self, " will wipe out those holy prin- 
ciples of thine ;" and this is why he committed those 
principles to writing. Some of these I have already 



adduced, and others I proceed to quote, availing 
myself, as before, of the beautiful and scholar-like 
translation of Mr. George Long. 

All pain, and misfortune, and ugliness seemed to 
the Emperor to be most wisely regarded under a 
threefold aspect,, if considered in reference to 
the gods, as being due to laws beyond their control ; 
if considered with reference to the nature of things, 
as being subservient and necessary ; and if considered 
with reference to ourselves, as being dependent on 
the amount of indifference and fortitude with which 
we endure them. 

The following passages will elucidate these points 
of view : — 

" The intelligence of the Universe is social. Ac- 
cordingly it has made the inferior things for the sake 
of the superior, and it has fitted the superior to one 
another." (v. 30.) 

" Things do not touch the soul, for they are eternal, 
and remain immovable ; but our perturbations come 
only from the opinion which is within. . . . TJie Uni- 
verse is transformation ; life is opinion^ (iv. 3.) 

" To the jaundiced honey tastes bitter, and to those 
bitten by mad dogs water causes fear ; and to little 
children the ball is a fine thing. Why then am I 
angry } Dost thou think that a false opinion has less 
power than the bile in the jaundiced, or the poison in 
him who is bitten by a mad dog-?*' (vi. 52.) 

" How easy it is to repel and to wipe away every 
impression which is troublesome and unsuitable, and 
immediately to be at tranquillity." (v. 2.) 


The passages in which Marcus speaks of evil as a 
relative thing, — as being good in the making, — the 
unripe and bitter bud of that which shall be here- 
after a beautiful flower,— although not expressed with 
perfect clearness, yet indicate his belief that our view 
of evil things rises in great measure from our inability 
to perceive the great whole of which they are but 
subservient parts, 

"AH things," he says, "come from that universal 
ruling power, either directly or by way of consequence. 
And accordingly the lions gaping jaivs, a?id that which 
is poisonous, and every hurtful thing, as a thorn, as 
vtud, are after-products of the grand and beautiful. 
Do not therefore imagine that they are of another 
kind from that which thou dost venerate, but form a 
just opinion of the source of all." 

In another curious passage he says that all things 
which are natural and congruent with the causes 
which produce them have a certain beauty and 
attractiveness of their own ; for instance, the split- 
tings and corrugations on the surface of bread when 
it has been baked. "And again, figs when they are 
quite ripe gape open ; and in the ripe olives the very 
circumstance of their being near to rottenness adds a 
peculiar beauty to the fruit. And the ears of corn 
bending doivn, and the lion's eyebi^oivs, and the foam 
which floivs from the mouth of wild boars, and manv 
other things— though they are far from beii;g beau- 
tiful, if a man should examine them severally — still they are consequent upon the things which 
are formed by nature, help to adorn fliem, and they 


please the mind ; so that if a man should have a 
feeling and deeper insight about the things found in 
the universe there is hardly 07ic of those whicJi follow 
by way of consequence which will not seem to him to 
be in a manner disposed so as to give pleasure." (iv. 2.) 

This congruity to nature — the following of nature, 
and obedience to all her laws — is the key-formula to 
the doctrines of the Roman Stoics. 

" Everything which is in any way beautiful is beau- 
tiful in itself, and terminates in itself, not having 
praise as part of itself. Neither worse, then, nor 
better is a thing made by being praised . ... Is such 
a thing as an emerald made worse than it was, if it is 
not praised? or gold, ivoiy, pnrple, a lyre, a little knife ^ 
a flower, a shrnb ? '' (iv, 20.) 

" Everything harmonizes with me which is har- 
monious to thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too 
early nor too late, which is in due time for thee. 
Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring, 
O Nature ! from thee are all things, in thee are all 
things, to thee all things return. The poet says. Dear 
city of Cecrops ; and will not thou say. Dear city of 
God?'' (iv. 23.) 

" Willingly give thyself up to fate, allowing her to 
spin thy thread into whatever thing she pleases." (iv. 34.) 

And here, in a very small matter — getting out of 
bed in a morning — is one practical application of the 
formula : — 

" In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let 
tliese thoughts be present — ' I am rising to the work 
(fa human being. Why, then, am I dissatisfied if I 

ms " MED IT A TIONSr 307 

am going to do the tilings for ivJiich I exist, aiid for 
which I zvas brought if? to the world? Or have I been 
made for this, to lie in the bedclothes and keep myself 
warm ?' • But this is more pleasant* Dost thou exist, 
then, to take thy pleasure, a? id not for action or 
exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the 
little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees, working 
together to put in order their several parts of the 
universe ? And art thou unwilling to do the work of 
a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do 
that which is according to thy nature ? " (v. i.) [" Go 
to the ant, thou sluggard ; consider her ways, and be 
wise ! "] 

The same principle, that Nature has assigned to us 
our proper place— that a task has been given us to 
perform, and that our only care should be to perform 
it aright, for the blessing of the great Whole of which 
we are but insignificant parts— dominates through the 
admirable precepts which the Emperor lays down for 
the regulation of our conduct towards others. Some 
men, he says, do benefits to others only because they 
expect a return ; some men even, if they do not 
demand any return, are not forgetful that they have 
rendered a benefit ; but others do not even know 
what they have done, but are like a vine which has 
produced grapes, and seeks for 710 thing more after it has 
produced its proper fruit. So we ought to do good to 
others as simply and as naturally as a horse runs, or 
a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season 
after season, without thinking of the grapes which it 
has borne. And in another passage, " What more 


dost thou want when thou hast done a service to 
another ? Art thou not content to have done an act 
conformable to thy nature, and must thou seek to be 
paid for it, just as if the eye demanded a reward for 
seeing, or the feet for walking ? " 

"Judge every word and deed which is according to 
nature to be fit for thee, and be not diverted by the 
blame which follows .... but if a thing is good to 
be done or said, do not consider it unworthy of thee." 

(v. 3.) 

Sometimes, indeed, Marcus Aurelius wavers. The 
evils of life overpower him. *' Such as bathing appears 
to thee," he says, " oil, szveat, dirt, filthy water, all 
things disgusting — so is every part of life and every- 
thing'' (viii. 24); and again: — "Of human life the 
time is a point, and the substance is in a flux, and 
the perception dull, and the composition of the whole 
body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a whirl, and 
fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of 
judgment". But more often he retains his perfect 
tranquillity, and says, " Either thou livest here, and 
hast already accustomed thyself to it, or thou art 
going away, and this was thine own will ; or thou art 
dying, and hast discharged thy duty. But besides 
these things tJiere is nothing. Be of good cheer, tJie^i^ 
(x. 22.) "Take me, and cast me where thou wilt, for 
tlien I shall keep my divine part tranquil, that is, con- 
tent, if it can feel and act conformably to its proper 
constitution." Tviii. 45.) 

There is something delightful in the fact that even 
in the Stoic philosophy there was some comfort to 

HIS " M EDIT A 7 IONS." 3D<, 

keep men from despair. To a holy and scrupulous 
conscience like that of Marcus, there would have been 
an inestimable preciousness in tlic Christian doctrine 
of the " forgiveness of oins." Of that divine mercy — 
of that sin-uncrcating power — the ancient world knew 
nothing; but in Marcus we find some dim and faint 
adumbration of the doctrine, expressed in a manner 
which might at least breathe calm into the spirit of 
the philosopher, though it could never reach the hearts 
of the suffering multitude. For " suppose," he says, 
"that thou hast detached thyself from the natural 
unity,— for thou wast made by nature a part, but now 
hast cut thyself ofC —jye^ /lere is the beautiful provision 
that it is in thy power again to unite thyself. God 
has allowed this to no other part — after it has been 
separated and cut asunder, to come together again. 
But consider the goodness with whieJi He has privileged 
7nan ; for He has put it in his pozver, ivJien he has been 
separated, to return and to be reunited, and to resume 
his place'' And elsewhere he says, "If you cannot 
maintain a true and magnanimous character, go 
courageously into some corner where you can main- 
tain them ; or if even there you fail, depart at once 
from life, not with passion, but with modest and 
simple freedom — which will be to have done at least 
ofte laudable act." Sad that even to Marcus Aurelius 
death should have seemed the only refuge from the 
despair of ultimate failure in the struggle to be wise 
and good ! 

Marcus valued temperance and self-denial as beincc 
the best means of keeping his heart strong and pure ; 


but we are glad to learn he did not value the rigours 
of asceticism. Life brought with it enough, and more 
than enough, of antagonism to brace his nerves ; 
enough, and more than enough, of the rough wind 
of adversity in his face to make it unnecessary to 
add more by his own actions. " It is not fit," he 
says, " that I should give myself pain, for I have 
never intentionally given pain even to another." 
(viii. 42.) 

It was a commonplace of ancient philosophy that 
the life of the wise man should be a contemplation of, 
and a preparation for, death. It certainly was so 
with Marcus Aurelius. The thoughts of the nothing- 
ness of man, and of that great sea of oblivion which 
shall hereafter swallow up all that he is and does, are 
ever present to his mind ; they are thoughts to which 
he recurs more constantly than any other, and from 
which he always draws the same moral lesson. 

" Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from 
life this very moment, regulate every act and thought 
accordingly .... Death certainly, and life, honour 
and dishonour, pain and pleasure, all these things 
happen equally to good men and bad, being things 
which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore 
they are neither good nor evil." (ii. li.) 

Elsewhere he says that Hippocrates cured diseases 
and died ; and the Chaldaeans foretold the future and 
died ; and Alexander, and Pompey, and Caesar killed 
thousands, and then died ; and lice destroyed De- 
mocritus, and other lice killed Socrates ; and Augustus, 
and his wife, and daughter, and all his descendants, 

HJS " M EDIT A T/ONS." 3 1 1 

and all his ancestors, are dead ; and Vespasian and 
all his Court, and all who in his day feasted, and 
married, and were sick and chaffered, and fought, 
and flattered, and plotted, and grumbled, and wished 
other people to die, and pined to become kings or 
consuls, are dead ; and all the idle people who are 
doing the same things now are doomed to die ; and 
all human things are smoke, and nothing at ail ; 
and it is not for us, but for the gods, to settle 
whether we play the play out, or only a part of 
it. " TJiere are many grains of frankincense on the 
same altar ; one falls before, another falls after; 
but it makes no difference!' And the moral of all 
these thoughts is, " Death hangs ov^er thee while thou 
livest: while it is in thy power be good." (iv. 17.) 
"Thou hast embarked, thou hast made the voyage, 
thou hast come to shore ; get out. If, indeed, to 
another life there is no want of gods, not even there. 
But if to a state without sensation, thou wilt. cease to 
be held by pains and pleasures." (iii. 3.) 

Nor was Marcus at all comforted under present 
annoyances by the thought of posthumous fame. 
" How ephemeral and worthless human things are," 
he says, " and what was yesterday a little mucus, 
to-morrow will be a mummy or ashes." " Many who 
are now praising thee, will very soon blame thee, and 
neither a posthumous name is of any value, nor 
reputation, nor anything else." What has become 
of all great and famous? jnen, and all they desired, 
and all they loved } They are " smoke, and ash. 
and a tale, or not even a tale." After all their 

2 c 


rages and envyings, men are stretched out quiet 
and dead at last. Soon thou wilt have forgotten 
all, and soon all will have forgotten thee. But here, 
again, after such thoughts, the same moral is always 
introduced again : — " Pass then through the little 
space of time conformably to nature, and end the 
journey in content, just as mi olwe falls off zv/ien it 
is ripe^ blessing nature who produced it, and thanking 
the tree on which it grew T " One thing only troubles 
me, lest I should do something which the constitution 
of man does not allow, or in the way which it does 
not allow, or what it does not allow now." 

To quote the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius is to me 
a fascinating task. But I have already let him speak 
so largely for himself that by this time the reader 
will have some conception of his leading motives. 
It only remains to adduce a few more of the weighty 
and golden sentences in which he lays down his rule 
of life. 

" To say all in a word, everything which belongs to 
the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is 
a dream and vapour ; and life is a warfare, and a 
stranger's sojourn, and after fame is oblivion. What, 
then, is that which is able to enrich a man .? One 
thing, and only one — philosophy. But this consists 
in keeping the guardian spirit within a man free from 
violence and unharmed, superior to pains and plea- 
sures, doing notJiing without a purpose, nor yet falsely, 
and with Jiypocrisy .... accepting all that happens 
and all that is allotted .... and finally waiting for 
death ivith a cheerful mind!' (ii. 17.) 

HIS '' meditations:' 313 

" If thou findest in human life anything better than 
justice, truth, temperance, fortitude, and, in a word, 
than thine own soul's satisfaction in the things which 
it enables thee to do according to right reason, and 
in the condition that is assigned to thee without thy 
own choice ; if, I say, thou seest anything better than 
this, turn to it with all thy soul, and enjoy that which 
thou hast found to be the best. But .... if thou 
findest everything else smaller and of less value than 
this, give place to nothing else .... Simply and 
freely choose the better, and hold to it." (iii. 6.) 

" Body, soul, intelligence : to the body belong sen- 
sations, to the soul appetites, to the intelligence prin- 
ciples." To be impressed by the senses is peculiar to 
animals ; to be pulled by the strings of desire belongs 
to effeminate men, and to men like Phalaris or Nero ; 
to be guided only by intelligence belongs to atheists 
and traitors, and " men who do their impure deeds 
when they -have shut the doors. . . . There remains 
that which is peculiar to the good man, to be pleased 
and content with tvJiat happens^ and with the thread 
zvhich is spun for him ; and not to defile the divinity 
which is planted in his breast, nor disturb it by a 
crowd of images ; but to preserve it tranquil, following 
it obediently as a god, neither saying anything con- 
trary to truth, nor doing anything contrary to justice." 
(iii. i6.) 

" Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the 
country, sca-shorcs, and mountains, and thou too art 
wont to desire such things very much. But this is 
altogether a mark of the commonest sort of men, for 


it is in thy power whenever thou shalt chose to retire 
into thyself. For nozuhei^e either with more quiet or 
with more freedom does a man retire than into Ids 
own soul, particularly when he has within him such 
thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately 
in perfect tranquillity, — which is nothing else than the 
good ordering "of the mind." (iv. 3.) 

" Unhappy am I, because this has happened to me ? 
Not so, but happy am I though this has happened to 
me, because I continue free from pain ; neither crushed 
by the present, nor fearing the future." (iv. 19.) 

It is just possible that in some of these passages 
some readers may detect a trace of painful self-con- 
sciousness, and imagine th3.t they detect a little grain of 
self-complacence. Something of self-consciousness is 
perhaps inevitable in the diary and examination of 
his own conscience by one who sat on such a lonely 
height ; but self-complacency there is none. Nay, 
there is sometimes even a cruel sternness^ in the way 
in which the Emperor speaks of his own self. He 
certainly dealt not with himself in the manner of a 
dissembler with God. *' When," he says (x. 8), 
" thou hast assumed the names of a man who is good, 
modest, rational, magnanimous, cling to those names; 
and if thou shouldst lose them, quickly return to 
them .... For to continue to be such as thou hast 
hitherto been, and to be torn in pieces, and defiled in 
such a life, is the character of a very stupid man, and 
one over-fond of his life, and like those half-devoured 
fighters zvith ivild beasts, who, though covered ivith 
wounds and gore, still entreat tj be kept till the folloiv- 

HIS *■ MED IT A TIONSy 31 5 

ing day, though they will be exposed in the same state 
to the same clazvs and bites. Therefore fix th}'sclf in 
the possession of these few names : and if thou art 
able to abide in them, abide as if thou wert removed 
to the Islands of the Blest." Alas ! to Aurelius, in 
this life, the Islands of the Blest were very far away. 
Heathen philosophy was exalted and eloquent, but 
all its votaries were sad ; to " the peace of God, which 
passeth all understanding," it was not given them to 
attain. We see Marcus *' wise, self-governed, tender, 
thankful, blameless," says Mr. Arnold, " yet with 
all this agitated, stretching out his arms for some- 
thing beyond — tendentemqite maniis 7'ip(2 ulterioris 

I will quote in conclusion but three short pre- 
cepts : — 

" Be cheerful, and seek not external help, nor the 
tranquillity which others give. A man must stand 
erect, not be kept erect by others." (iv. 5.) 

" Be like the promontory against tvhich the zvaves 
continually break, but it stands jirm a7ui tames the fury 
of the water arotmd it!' (iv. 49 ) 

This comparison has been used many a time since 
the days of Marcus Aurelius. The reader will at once 
recall Goldsmith's famous lines : — - 

" As some tall cliff that rears its awful form, 

Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm. 
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread. 
Eternal sunshine settles on its head." 

"Short is the little that remains to thee of life 



Live as on a monntahi. For it makes no difference 
whether a man lives there or here, if he Hves every- 
where in the world as in a civil community. Let men 
see, let them know a real man who lives as he was 
meant to live. If they cannot endure him, let them 
kill him. For that is better than to live as men do." 
(x^ 15.) 

Such were some of the thoughts which Marcus 
Aurelius wrote in his diary after days of battle with 
the Ouadi, and the Marcomanni, and the Sarmat^. 
Isolated from others no less by moral grandeur than 
by the supremacy of his sovereign rank, he sought the 
society of his own noble soul. I sometimes imagine 
that I see him seated on the borders of some gloomy 
Pannonian forest or Hungarian marsh ; through the 
darkness the watchfires of the enemy gleam in the 
distance ; but both among them, and in the camp 
around him, every sound is hushed, except the tread 
of the sentinel outside the imperial tent ; and in that 
tent long after midnight sits the patient Emperor by 
the light of his solitary lamp, and ever and anon, 
amid his lonely musings, he pauses to write down the 
pure and holy thoughts which shall better enable him, 
even in a Roman palace, even on barbarian battle- 
fields, daily to tolerate the meanness and the ma- 
lignity of the men around him ; daily to amend his 
own shortcomings, and, as the sun of earthly life 
begins to set, daily to draw nearer and nearer to the 
Eternal Light. And when I thus think of him, I 
know not whether the whole of heathen antiquity, 
out of its gallery of stately and royal figures, can 

HIS " MED IT A TIONSy 5 1 7 

furnish a nobler, or purer, or more lovable picture 
than that of this crowned philosopher and laurelled 
hero, who was yet one of the humblest and one of 
the most enlightened of all ancient " Seekers after 


A SCEPTICAL writer has observed, with something 
like a sneer, that the noblest utterances of Gospel 
morality may be paralleled from the writings of 
heathen philosophers. The sneer is pointless, and 
Christian moralists have spontaneously drawn atten- 
tion to the fact. In this volume, so far from trying to 
conceal that it is so, I have taken pleasure in placing 
side by side the words of Apostles and of Philo- 
sophers. The divine origin of Christianity does not 
rest on its morality alone. By the aid of the light 
which was within them, by deciphering the law written 
on their own consciences, however much its letters 
may have been obliterated or dimmed, Plato, and 
Cicero, and Seneca, and Epictetus, and Aurelius were 
enabled to grasp and to enunciate a multitude of 
great and memorable truths ; yet they themselves 
would have been the first to admit the wavering 
uncertainty of their hopes and speculations, and the 
absolute necessity of a further illumination. So 
strong did that necessity appear to some of the wisest 
among them, that Socrates ventures in express words 
to prophesy the future advent of some heaven-sent 


Guide.* Those who imagine that zvithout a written 
revelation it would have been possible to learn all 
that is necessary for man's well-being, are speaking in 
direct contradiction of the greatest heathen teachers, 
in contradiction even of those very teachers to whose 
writings they point as the proof of their assertion. 
Augustine was expressing a very deep conviction 
when he said that in Plato and in Cicero he met with 
many utterances which were beautiful and wise, but 
among them all he never found, " Come unto me, all 
ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh 
you." Glorious as was the wisdom of ancient thought, 
its knowledge respecting the indwelling of the Spirit, 
the resurrection of the body, and the forgiveness of 
sins, was but fragmentary and vague. Bishop Butler 
has justly remarked that " The great doctrines of a 
future state, the dangers of a course of wickedness, 
and the efficacy of repentance are not only confirmed 
in the Gospel, but are taught, especially the last is, 
with a degree of light to which that of nature is 

The morality of Paganism was, on its own con- 
fession, insufficient. It was tentative, where Christi- 
anity is authoritative : it was dim and partial, where 
Christianity is bright and complete ; it was inadequate 
to rouse the sluggish carelessness of mankind, where 
Christianity came with an imperial and awakening 
power ; it gives only a rule, where Christianity sup- 
plies a principle. And even where its teachings were 
absolutely coincident with those of Scripture, it failed 
• Xen. Mem. i, iv. 14 ; Tlato, Alcib. U. 


to ratify them with a sufficient sanction ; it failed to 
announce them with the same powerful and contagious 
ardour; it failed to furnish an absolutely faultless and 
vivid example of their practice ; it failed to inspire 
them with an irresistible motive ; it failed to support 
them with a powerful comfort under the difficulties 
which were sure to be encountered in the aim after a 
consistent and holy life. 

1 he attempts of the Christian Fathers to show that 
the truths of ancient philosophy were borrowed from 
Scripture are due in some cases to ignorance and in 
some to a want of perfect honesty in controversial 
dealing. That Gideon (Jerubbaal) is identical with the 
priest Hierombalos who supplied information to San- 
choniathon the Berytian; that Thales pieced together 
a philosophy from fragments of Jewish truth learned 
in Phoenicia ; that Pythagoras and Democritus availed 
themselves of Hebraic traditions, collected during 
their travels ; that Plato is a mere " Atticising Moses ;" 
that Aristotle picked up his ethical system from a Jew 
whom he met in Asia ; and that Seneca corresponded 
with St. Paul : are assertions every bit as unhistorical 
and false as that Homer was thinking of Genesis when 
he described the shield of Achilles, or (as Clemens 
of Alexandria gravely informs us) that Miltiades won 
the battle of Marathon by copying the strategy of 
the battle of Beth-Horon ! To say that Pagan 
morality " kindled its faded taper at the Gospel light, 
whether furtively or unconsciously taken," and that it 
" dissembled the obligation, and made a boast of the 
splendour as though it were originally her own, or 


were sufficient in her hands for the moral illuminaHon 
of the world," is to make an assertion wholly un- 
tenable.* Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius, are among the 
truest and loftiest of Pagan moralists, yet Seneca 
ignored the Christians, Epictetus despised, and Au- 
relius persecuted them. All three, so far as they 
knew anything about the Christians at all, had un- 
happily been taught to look upon thsm as the most 
degraded and the most detestable sect of what they 
had long regarded as the most degraded and the most 
detestable of religions. 

There is something very touching in this fact ; but, 
if there be something very touching, there is also 
something very encouraging. God was their God as 
well as ours — their Creator, their Preserver, who left 
not Himself without witness among them; who, as 
they blindly felt after Him, suffered their groping 
hands to grasp the hem of His robe; who sent them 
rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their 
hearts with joy and gladness. And His Spirit was 
with them, dwelling in them, though unseen and un- 
known, purifying and sanctifying the temple of their 
hearts, sending gleams of illuminating light through 
the gross darkness which encompassed them, comfort- 
ing their uncertainties, making intercession for them 
with groanings which cannot be uttered. And, more 
than all, our Saviour was tJicir Saviour too ; He whom 

* See for various statements in this passage, Josephus, c. Apion. ii. 
§36; Cic. De Fin. v. 25; Clem. Alex. Strom, i, xxii. 150, xxv. 
V. 14 ; Euscb. Pnef. Evang. x. 4, ix. 5, &c. ; Lactant. Inst. Div. iv 
2, 6cC. 


they regarded as a crucified malefactor was their true 
invisible King; through His righteousness their poor 
merits were accepted, their inward sickensses were 
healed ; He whose Avorship they denounced as an 
** execrable superstition " stood supplicating for them 
at the right hand of the Majesiy on high, helping 
them (though they knew Him not) to crush all that 
was evil within them, and pleading for them when 
they persecuted even the most beloved of His saints, 
" Father, forgive them ; for they know not what 
they do." 

Yes, they too were all His offspring. Even if they 
had not been, should we grudge that some of the 
children's meat should be given unto dogs ? Shall we 
deny to these " unconscious prophecies of heathen- 
dom " their oracular significance 1 Shall we be jealous 
of the ethical loftiness of a Plato or an Aurelius ? 
Shall we be loth to admit that some power of the 
Spirit of Christ, even mid the dark wanderings of 
Seneca's life, kept him still conscious of a nobler and 
a better way, or that some sweetness of a divine hope 
inspired the depressions of Epictetus in his slavery ? 
Shall our eye be evil because God in His goodness 
granted the heathen also to know such truths as 
enabled them " to overcome the allurements of 
the visible and the terrors of the invisible world } " 
V^es, if we have of the Christian Church so mean a 
conception that we look upon it as a mere human 
society, " set up in the world to defend a certain 
religion against a certain other religion." But if on 
the other hand we believe " that it was a society 


established by God as a ivitncss for the true coalition 
of all human beijigs, we shall rejoice to acknowledge 
its members to be what they believed themselves 
to be, — confessors and martyrs for a truth which 
they could not fully embrace or comprehend, but 
which, through their lives and deaths, through the 
right and wrong acts, the true and false words, of 
those who understand them least, was to manifest 
and prove itself Those who hold this conviction 
dare not conceal, or misrepresent, or undervalue, any 
one of those weighty and memorable sentences which 
are to be found in the Meditations of Marcus Au- 
relius. If they did, they woidd be underrating a portion 
of that very truth which the preacJiers of the Gospel 
were appointed to set forth ; they would be adopting 
the error of the philosophical Emperor without his 
excuse for it. Nor dare they pretend that the Chris- 
tian teaching had unconsciously imparted to him a 
portion of its own light while he seemed to exclude 
it. They will believe that it was God's good pleasure 
that a certain truth should be seized and apprehended 
by this age, and they will see indications of what that 
truth was in the efforts of Plutarch to understand the 
* Daemon ' which guided Socrates, in the courageous 
language of Ignatius, in the bewildering dreams of the 
Gnostics, in the eagerness of Justin Martyr to prove 
Christianity a philosophy ... in tlie apprehension of 
Christian principles by Marcus Aurelius, and in his 
hatred of the Christians. From every side they will 
derive evidence, tJuit a doctrine and society which were 
meant for nianki)id cannot depend upon the partial views 

00 2 L) 


and appi^eheitsions of men^ but must go on justifying^ 
reconciling^ confuting, those views and apprehensions by 
the demonstration of facts T* 

But perhaps some reader will say, What advantage, 
then, can we gain by studying in Pagan writers truths 
which are expressed more nobly, more clearly, and 
infinitely more effectually in our own sacred books ? 
Before answering the question, let me mention the 
traditional anecdote]" of the Caliph Omar. When he 
conquered Alexandria, he was shown its magnificent 
library, in which were collected untold treasures of 
literature, gathered together by the zeal, the labour, 
and the liberality of a dynasty of kings. " What is 
the good of all those books?" he said. ''They are 
either in accordance with the Koran, or contrary to 
it. If the former they are superfluous ; if the latter 
they are pernicious. In either case let them be 
burnt." Burnt they were, as legend tells ; but all the 
world has condemned the Caliph's reasoning as a 
piece of stupid Philistinism and barbarous bigotry. 
Perhaps the question as to the iLse of reading Pagan 
ethics is equally unphilosophical ; at any rate, we can 
spare but very few words to its consideration. The 
answer obviously is, that God has spoken to men, 
TToXufjuepoy^ koI irokyTpoiTM^, " at sundry times and in 
divers manners,":]: with a richly variegated wisdom. § 

* Maurice, Phllos. of the First Six Centuries, p. 37. We venture 
specially to recommend this weighty and beautiful passage to Ibe 
reader's serious attention. 

t Now known to be unhistorical. 

X Heb. i. I. 

§ TToAuirotKjAos «ro(^Ia. 


Sometimes He has tauorht truth by the voice of 
Hebrew prophets, sometimes by the voice of Pagan 
philosophers. And all His voices demand our listen- 
ing ear. If it was given to the Jew to speak with 
diviner insight and intenser power, it was given to 
the Gentile also to speak at times with a large and 
lofty utterance, and we may learn truth from men of 
alien lips and another tongue. They too had the 
dream, the vision, the dark saying upon the harp, the 
" daughter of a voice," the mystic flashes upon the 
graven gems. And such truths come to us with a 
singular force and freshness ; with a strange beauty 
as the doctrines of a less brightly illuminated man- 
hood ; with a new power of conviction from their 
originality of form, w4iich, because it is less familiar 
to us, is well calculated to arrest our attention after 
it has been paralysed by familiar repetitions. We 
cannot afford to lose these heathen testimonies to 
Christian truth ; or to hush the glorious utterances of 
Muse and Sibyl which have justly outlived " the 
drums and tramplings of a hundred triumphs." 
We may make them infinitely profitable to us. If 
St. Paul quotes Aratus, and Menander, and Epime- 
nides,* and perhaps more than one lyrical melody 
besides, with earnest appreciation, — if the inspired 
Apostle could both learn himself and teach others 
out of the utterances of a Cretan ])hilosopher and 
an Attic comedian, — we may be sure that many of 
Seneca's apophthegms would have filled hi'n with 
pleasure, and that he would have been abl? to read 

* See Acts xvii. 28; i Cor.; Tit. 1. 12. 


Fpictetus and Aurelius with the same noble admira- 
tion which made him see with thankful emotion that 
memorable altar TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. 

Let us then make a brief and final sketch of the 
three great Stoics whose lives we have been con- 
templating, with a view to summing up their speciali- 
ties, their deficiencies, and the peculiar relations to, 
or divergences from, Christian truth, which their 
writings present to us. 

" Seneca saepe noster," " Seneca, often our own," is 
the expression of Tertullian, and he uses it as an 
excuse for frequent references to his works. Yet if, of 
the three, he be most like Christianity in particular 
passages, he diverges most widely from it in his general 

He diverges from Christianity in many of his modes 
of regarding life, and in many of his most important 
beliefs. What, for instance, is his main conception of 
the Deity } Seneca is generally a Pantheist. No 
doubt he speaks of God's love and goodness, but with 
him God is no personal living Father, but the soul of 
the universe — the fiery, primaeval, eternal principle 
which transfuses an inert, and no less eternal, matter, 
and of which our souls are, as it were, but divine 
particles or passing sparks. " God," he says, ** is 
Nature, is Fate, is Fortune, is the Universe, is the all- 
pervading Mind. He cannot change the substance oi 
ihe universe, He is Himself under the power of 
Destiny, which is uncontrollable and immutable. It 
is not God who rolls the thunder, it is Fate. He does 
*not rejoice in His works, but is identical with them." 

CONCl^aSlON. ' 527 

In fact, Seneca would have heartily adopted the words 
of Pope : — 

" All are but parts of one stupendous whole, 
Whose body nature is, and God the soul." 

Though there may be a vague sense in which those 
words may be admitted and explained by Christians, 
yet, in the mind of Seneca, they led to conclusions 
directly opposed to those of Christianity. With him, 
for instance, the wise man is the equal of God ; not 
His adorer, not His servant, not His suppliant, but 
His associate, His relation. He differs from God in 
time alone. Hence all prayer is needless, he says, and 
the forms of external worship are superfluous and 
puerile. It is foolish to beg for that which you can 
impart to yourself. " What need is there of vows ? 
'^i^ke yourself happy." Nay, in the intolerable arro- 
gance which marked the worst aberration of Stoicism, 
the wise man is under certain aspects placed even 
higher than God— higher than God Himself — because 
God is beyond the reach of misfortunes, but the wise 
man is superior to their anguish ; and because God is 
good of necessity, but the wise man from choice. This 
wretched and inflated paradox occurs in Seneca's 
treatise 07t Providence^ and in the same treatise he 
glorifies suicide, and expresses a doubt as to the 
immortality of the soul. 

Again, the two principles on which Seneca relied as 

the basis of all his moral system are : first, the principle 

that we ought to follow Nature ; and, secondly, the 

supposed perfectibility of the ideal man. 

I. Now, of course, if wc explain this precept of 



" following Nature " as Juvenal has explained it, and 
say that the voice of Nature is always coincident with 
the voice of philosophy — if we prove that our real 
nature is none other than the dictate of our highest and 
most nobly trained reason, and if we can establish the 
fact that every deed of cruelty, of shame, of lust, or of 
selfishness, is essentially contrary to our nature — then 
we may say with Bishop Butler, that the precept " to 
follow Nature " is " a manner of speaking not loose 
and undeterminate, but clear and distinct, strictly 
just and true." But how complete must be the 
system, how long the preliminary training, which alone 
can enable us to find any practical value, any appre- 
ciable aid to a virtuous life, in a dogma such as this ! 
And, in the hands of Seneca, it becomes a very empty 
formula. He entirely lacked the keen insight and 
dialectic subtlety of such a writer as Bishop Butler ; 
and, in his explanation of this Stoical shibboleth, 
any real meaning which it may possess is evaporated 
into a gorgeous mist of confused declamation and 
splendid commonplace. 

2. Nor is he much more fortunate with his ideal 
man. This pompous abstraction presents us with a 
conception at once ambitious and sterile. The Stoic 
wise man is a sort of moral Phoenix, impossible and 
repulsive. He is intrepid in dangers, free from all 
passion, happy in adversity, calm in the storm ; he 
alone knows how to live, because he alone knows how 
to die ; he is the master of the world, because he is 
master of himself, and the equal of God ; he looks 
down upon everything with sub]iiitt£ imperturbability. 


despising the sadnessess of humanity and smiHnorwith 
irritating loftiness at all our hopes and all our fears. 
But, in another sketch of this faultless and un- 
pleasant monster, Seneca presents us, not the proud 
athlete who challenges the universe and is invulner- 
able to all the stings and arrows of passion or of 
fate, but a hero in the serenity of absolute triumiph, 
more tender indeed, but still without desires, without 
passions, without needs, who can feel no pity because 
pity is a weakness which disturbs his sapient calm ! 
Well might the eloquent Bossuet exclaim, as he read 
of these chimerical perfections, " It is to take a tone 
too lofty for feeble and mortal men. But, O maxims 
truly pompous ! O affected insensibility ! O false and 
imaginary wisdom, which fancies itself strong because 
it is hard, and generous because it is puffed up I 
How are these principles opposed to the modest 
simplicity of the Saviour of souls, who, in our Gospel, 
contemplating His faithful ones in affliction, confesses 
that they will be saddened by it ! ' Ye sJiall weep and 
lament!'' Shall Christians be jealous of such wisdom 
as Stoicism did really attain, when they compare this 
dry and bloodless ideal with Him who wept over 
Jerusalem and mourned by the grave of Lazarus, who 
had a mother and a friend, who disdained none, who 
pitied all, who humbled Himself to death, even the 
death of the cross, whose divine excellence we cannot 
indeed attain because He is God, but whose example 
we can imitate because He was very Man ?* 

* Sf i Martha, Lcs Moralisles, p. 50; Aubertin, Shi^que d St. Path 
p. 250. 


The one grand aim of the life and philosophy of 
Seneca was Ease. It is the topic which constantly 
recurs in his books On a Happy Life, On Tranquillity 
of Mind, On Anger, and On the Ease and On the Firm- 
ness of the Sage. It is the pitiless apathy, the stern 
repression of every form of emotion, which was con- 
stantly glorified as the aim of philosophy. It made 
Stilpo exclaim, when he had lost wife, property, and 
children, that he had lost nothing, because he carried 
in his own person everything which he possessed. It 
led Seneca into all that is most unnatural, all that is 
most fantastic, and all that is least sincere in his 
writings ; it was the bitter source of disgrace and 
failure in his life. It comes out worst of all in his 
book On Anger. Aristotle had said that "Anger 
was a good servant but a bad master ; " Plato had 
recognised the immense value and importance of the 
irascible element in the moral constitution. Even 
Christian writers, in spite of Bishop Butler, have 
often lost sight of this truth, and have forgotten 
that to a noble nature " the hate of hate " and the 
" scorn of scorn " are as indispensable as " the love 
of love." But Seneca almost gets angry himself at 
the very notion of the wise man being angry and 
indignant even against moral evil. No, he must 
not get angry, because it would disturb his subhme 
calm ; and, if he allowed himself to be angry at 
wrong-doing, he would have to be angry all day long. 
This practical Epicureanism, this idle acquiescence in 
the supposed incurability of evil, poisoned all Seneca's 
career. " He had tutored himself," says Professor 


Maurice, " to endure personal injuries without in- 
dulging in anger ; he had tutored himself to look 
upon all moral evil without anger. If the doctrine is 
sound and the discipline desirable, we must be con- 
tent to take the whole result of them. If we will 
not do that, we must resolve to hate oppression and 
wrong, evm at the cost of philosophical coinpostire" 
But repose is not to be our aim : — 

" We have no right to bliss, 
No title from the gods to welfare and repose." 

It is one of the truths which seems to me most 
needed in the modern religious world, that the type 
of a Christian's virtue must be very miserable, and 
ordinary, and ineffectual, if he does not feel his whole 
soul burn within him with an almost implacable 
moral indignation at the sight of cruelty and in- 
justice, of Pharisaic faithlessness and social crimes. 

I have thus freely criticised the radical defects of 
Stoicism, so far as Seneca is its legitimate exponent ; 
but I cannot consent to leave him with the language 
of depreciation, and therefore here I will once more 
endorse what an anonymous writer has said of him : 
" An unconscious Christianity covers all his senti- 
ments. If the fair fame of the man is sullied, the 
aspiration to a higher life cannot be denied to the 
philosopher; if the tinkling cymbal of a stilted 
Stoicism sometimes sounds through the nobler music, 
it still leaves the truer melody vibrating on the ear." 

2. If Seneca sought for EASE, the grand aim of 
Epictetus was Free[)OM, of Marcus Aurelius was 


Self-government. This difference of aim charac- 
terises their entire philosophy, though all three of 
them are filled with precepts which arise from the 
Stoical contempt of opinion, of fortune, and of death. 
** Epictetus, the slave, with imperturbable calm, volun- 
tarily strikes off the desire for all those blessings of 
which fortune had already deprived him. Seneca, 
who lived in the Court, fenced himself beforehand 
against misfortune with the spirit of a man of the 
world and the emphasis of a master of eloquence. 
Marcus Aurelius, at the zenith of human power — 
having nothing to dread except his passions, and 
finding nothing above him except immutable necessity, 
— surveys his own soul and meditates especially on 
the eternal march of things. The one is the resigned 
slave, who neither desires nor fears ; the other, the 
great lord, who has everything to lose ; the third, 
finally, the emperor, who is dependent only on him- 
self and upon God." 

Of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius we shall have 
very little to say by way of summary, for they show 
no inconsistencies and very few of the imperfections 
which characterise Seneca's ideal of the Stoic philo- 
sophy. The " moral peddling," the pedagogic display, 
the puerile ostentation, the antithetic brilliancy, which 
we have had to point out in Seneca, are wanting 
in them. The picture of the mner life, indeed, of 
Seneca, his efforts after self-discipline, his untiring 
asceticism, his enthusiasm for all that he esteems holy 
and of good report — this picture, marred as it is by 
rhetoric and vain self-conceit, yet " stands out in noble 


contrast to the swinishness of the Campanian villas, 
and is, in its complex entirety, very sad and affecting." 
And yet we must admit, in the words of the same 
writer, that when we go from Seneca to Epictetus and 
Marcus Aurelius, "it is going from the florid to the 
severe, from varied feeling to the impersonal sim- 
plicity of the teacher, often from idle rhetoric to 
devout earnestness." As far as it goes, the morality 
of these two great Stoics is entirely noble and entirely 
beautiful. If there be even in Epictetus some passing 
and occasional touch of Stoic arrogance and Stoic 
apathy ; if there be in Marcus Aurelius a depth and 
intensity of sadness which shows how comparatively 
powerless for comfort was a philosophy which glorified 
suicide, which knew but little of immortality, and 
which lost in vague Pantheism the unspeakable bless- 
ing of realizing a personal relation to a personal God 
and Father — there is yet in both of them enough and 
more than enough to show that in all ages and in all 
countries they who have sought for God have found 
Him, that they have attained to high principles of 
thought and to high standards of action — that they 
have been enabled, even in the thick darkness, reso- 
lutely to place their feet at least on the lowest rounds 
of that ladder of sunbeams which winds up through 
the darkness to the great Father of Lights. 

And yet the very existence of such men is in itself 
a significant comment upon the Scriptural decision 
that " the world by wisdom knew not God." For 
how many like them, out of all the records of 
antiquity, is it possible for us to count ? iVre there 


five men in the whole circle of ancient history and 
ancient Hterature to whom we could, without a 
sense of incongruity, accord the title of ''holy?" 
When we have mentioned Socrates, Epictetus, and 
Marcus Aurelius, I hardly know of another. Just men 
there were in multitudes — men capable of high actions ; 
men eminently worthy to be loved ; men, I doubt 
not, who, when the children of the kingdom shall be 
rejected, shall be gathered from the east and the west 
with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, into the kingdom of 
heaven. Yts, just men in multitudes ; but how many 
righteous^ how many holy ? Some, doubtless, whom 
we do not know, whose names were never written, even 
for a few years, on the records of mankind — men and 
women in unknown villages and humble homes, " the 
faithful who were not famous." We do not doubt that 
there were such — but were they relatively numerous ? 
If those who rose above the level of the multitude — 
if those whom some form of excellence, and often of 
virtue, elevated into the reverence of their fellows — 
present to us so few examples of stainless life, can we 
hope that a tolerable ideal of sanctity was attained by 
any large proportion of the ordinary myriads .-* Seeing 
that the dangerous lot of the majority was cast amid 
the weltering sea of popular depravity, can we ven- 
ture to hope that many of them succeeded in reaching 
some green island of purity, integrity, and calm } We 
can hardly think it ; and yet, in the dispensation of 
the Kingdom of Heaven we see such a condition daily 
realized. Not only do we see many of the eminent, but 
also countless multitudes of the lowly and obscure, 


whose common lives are, as it were, transfigured with 
a light from heaven. Unhappy, indeed, is he who has 
not known such men in person, and whose hopes and 
habits have not caught some touch of radiance reflected 
from the nobility and virtue of lives like these. The 
thought has been well expressed by the author of Ecce 
Homo, and we may well ask with him, " If this be so, 
has Christ failed, or can Christianity die 'i " 

No, it has not failed ; it cannot die ; — for the saving 
knowledge which it has imparted is the most inesti- 
mable blessing which God has granted to our race. 
We have watched philosophy in its loftiest flight, but 
that flight rose as far above the range of the Pagan 
populace as Ida or Olympus rises above the plain : 
and even the topmost crests of Ida and Olympus are 
immeasurably below the blue vault, the body of 
heaven in its clearness, to which it has been granted 
to some Christians to attain. As regards the multi- 
tude, philosophy had no influence over the heart 
and character ; " it was sectarian, not universal ; the 
religion of the few, not of the many. It exercised 
no creative power over political or social life; it 
stood in no such relation to the past as the New 
Testament to the Old. Its best thoughts were but 
views and aspects of the truth ; there was no centre 
around which they moved, no divine life by which 
they were impelled ; they seemed to vanish and flit 
in uncertain succession of light." But Christianity, 
on the other hand, glowed with a steady and un- 
wavering brightness ; it not only swayed the hearts of 
individuals by stirring them tc their utmost depths, 

2 k 


but it moulded the laws of nations, and regenerated 
the whole condition of society. It gave to mankind a 
fresh sanction in the word of Christ, a perfect example 
in His life, a powerful motive in His love, an all 
sufficient comfort in the life of immortality made sure 
and certain to us by His Resurrection and Ascension. 
But if without this sanction, and example, and 
motive, and comfort the pagans could learn to do 
His will, — if, amid the gross darkness through which 
glitters the degraded civilization of imperial Rome, an 
Epictetus and an Aurelius could live blameless lives 
in a cell and on a throne, and a Seneca could practise 
simplicity and self-denial in the midst of luxury and 
pride — how much loftier should be both the zeal and 
the attainments of us to whom God has spoken by His 
Son ? What manner of men ought we to be ? If Tyre 
and Sidon and Sodom shall rise in the judgment to 
bear witness against Chorazin and Bethsaida, may 
not the pure lives of these great Seekers after God add 
a certain emphasis of condemnation to the vice, the 
pettiness, the mammon-worship of many among us to 
whom His love. His nature. His attributes have been 
revealed with a clearness and fulness of knowledge for 
which kings and philosophers have sought indeed 
and sought earnestly, but sought in vain ? 



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