Infomotions, Inc.Seneca. / Holland, Francis Caldwell, 1865-1948

Author: Holland, Francis Caldwell, 1865-1948
Title: Seneca.
Publisher: London : Longmans, 1920.
Tag(s): maecenas, c. cilnius (caius cilnius), d. 8 b.c; seneca, lucius annaeus, ca. 4 b.c.-65 a.d; seneca; nero; emperor; caius maecenas; quinquennium neronis; annaeus seneca
Contributor(s): Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.)
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Identifier: seneca__00holluoft
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OF ENGLAND since the Acces- 
sion of George III. 1760-1860. 
By the Right Hon. Sir Thomas 
Erskine May, K.C.B., D.C.L. (Lord 
Farnborough). Edited and continued 
to 191 1 by Francis Holland. 3 vols. 
Vols. I.-II., 1 760-1 860. 

Vol. III., i860 -191 1. By Francis 





From the double bust of Seneca and Socrates in 
the Berlin Museum. 







All rights reserved 


, ^e ^^T\r\(pQ * . 




This essay in biography was originally intended 
as an introduction to a translation of Seneca's 
letters, the greater part of which has been com- 
pleted. But as this translation is not likely ever 
to be published, I have decided, after long hesita- 
tion, to print the introduction by itself, on the 
chance that here or there some reader may be 
found to share my interest in the subject. 

Of the three branches into which philosophy, 
in the ancient view, divided itself — ethic, physic, 
and logic — it is with the two first alone that Seneca 
was concerned. He never lost touch with life and 
reality. To those who ' love to lose themselves in 
a mystery,' and rest in an ' O Altitudo ! ' Seneca 
as a philosopher makes no appeal. Rather would 
he teach men how to find themselves and, so far 
as is possible to souls closed in by a ' vesture of 
decay,' to understand the meaning of life and of 
death. His meaning is never ambiguous. How- 
ever shallow a pool may be, as has often been 
said, you cannot see to the bottom if the water 
is muddy. Like the waters of the Lake of Garda, 
on the other hand, Seneca's thoughts combine 
clearness with depth. He played too large a part 


in a critical period of history and of thought 
to find time for the abstract speculations and 
dialectical subtleties with which the logical 
branch of philosophy was concerned, and in 
which the Greek masters of the Stoic school 
were mainly interested; and no doubt it is this 
esprit positif which so commended him to his 
great debtor, Montaigne. 

I have added, 'to fill the page,' a paper on 
Caius Maecenas, which appeared long ago in the 
Dublin Review. I have to thank the editor for 
the permission to republish, which has not been 




Introductory Note v 

I. Marcus Ajsj^eus^Sen^xla^ ANii__iiis_.SQNS:r- 
The Controversiae — Helvia — The 
Battle of the Books . . . , i 

II. Early Years and Education — Sotion, 

Attalus, Fabianus . . . . rs" 

III. The Principate of Caligula, a.d. 37-42 . 24 

IV. Exile in Corsica, a.d. 41-49 ... 32 

V. Return from Exile — Last Years of 

Claudius, a.d. 48-54 .... 46 

VI. The Quinquennium Neronis, a.d. 54-59 . 57 

VII. Seneca in Power 75 

VIII, The Tragedy of Baiae, a.d. 59 . . .86 

IX. Decline of Seneca's Influence — Death of 

Burrhus and of Octavia ... 98 

X. Seneca in Retirement — His Friends and 

Occupations iiF 

XI. Letter to Lucilius on Aetna — Seneca's 

Riches and Apologia .... 136 

XII. The Conspiracy of Piso and the Death of 

Seneca 150 

XIII. The Philosophy of Seneca . . 164 

Caius Maecenas 187 



Seneca. — From the double bust of Seneca and Socrates in 
the Berlin Museum. 

{From tJic Volume on Petronius in the Loeb Classical Library, William Heinemann) 




A PLEASANT impression of the tranquil old age 
of Marcus Annaeus Seneca, the father of the 
philosopher, under the principate of Tiberius, 
is given in the dedications to his three sons, 
Novatus, Lucius Seneca, and Mela,^ which are pre- 
fixed to his five books of Controversiae. These 
Controversiae, which first came into fashion in 
the time of Cicero,^ were imaginary cases argued 
on one side and the other by the professors in 
the schools of rhetoric for the instruction of their 
pupils, or by the pupils in the presence and 
under the direction of their masters. They turned 
on disputable questions of ethics or law — a 

1 ' Docti Senecae ter numeranda domus ' (Martial, iv. 40). 

' Dialog, de Orat. 35. Before the age of Cicero general 
questions were discussed in the schools as theses, in Cicero's 
time these became causae, and were modelled on the actual cases 
tried in the courts, and these in their turn were succeeded by 
the controversiae, which came to hold, as the form through which 
eloquence was taught, the chief place in the education of the 
young Roman (Seneca, Controv. i. Pref.). 



non-existent rule of law being generally assumed 
for the purpose of the pleadings — and the more 
dramatic and improbable the circumstances 
imagined by the rhetoricians, the more crowded 
with pupils were their schools, and the greater 
their consequent renown.^ 

In the great days of the republic, when the 
sovereign power at Rome was vested ultimately 
in the various assemblies of her citizens, the faculty 
of swaying these assemblies by eloquence was 
almost the one necessary qualification for a 
successful career, yet it was not till the genera- 
tion immediately preceding the establishment of 
the Empire that the art of rhetoric was taught 
systematically at Rome. Before that time a 
youth who looked forward to a forensic career 
would be introduced by his father to one of 
the celebrated orators of the day, whose methods 
he would study, whose pleadings he would never 
fail to attend, and to whom he would render 

1 Tyrants and pirates were favourite characters in these 
declamations — tyrants who issue edicts ordering sons to execute 
their fathers, pirates with lovely daughters who rescue and elope 
with their father's prisoners. The art is to involve the actors 
on either side in a conflict between equally sacred obligations. 
In their beginnings, however, in the time recalled by the elder 
Seneca, the controversiae were less extravagant and more nearly 
related to reality. Thus in a controversy declaimed before the 
Emperor Augustus with Agrippa and Maecenas in attendance, 
in which Marcus Seneca's chief friend, Porcius Latro, was the 
principal interlocutor, the case supposed relates to a father of 
two sons, one of whom he had disinherited. The disinherited 
son forms a connection with a woman who bears him a son. 
On his death-bed he sends the woman to his father, and com- 
mends to him his son. The father adopts the boy. The other 
son disputes this arrangement, and pleads that his father is not 
of sound mind or capable of making such a disposition. The 
case is argued between them. 


what assistance he could.^ When rhetoric was 
first studied in Rome as an art, and for the 
training just described was substituted that of 
the schools, the causae there discussed were 
made to resemble as closely as possible the cases 
of the forum — the one bearing to the other the 
same sort of relation that the proceedings in 
political debating societies bear to the debates 
in the House of Commons. But after the fall 
of the republic, when the orators who had 
numbered kings and nations among their clients, 
or had impeached proconsuls for the oppression 
of provinces, were succeeded by the delatores, who 
earned fame, indeed, and vast sums of money, 
but also the detestation of all honest men by 
bringing accusations against great senators whom 
the emperors wished to destroy,^ the rhetorical 
exercises of the schools became ever more and 
more remote from reality. The object of teachers 
and pupils alike was not to bring conviction 
to the minds of their hearers, but to win ap- 
plause for their own cleverness. Rhetoric ceased 
to have an object outside itself — it became an 
art for art's sake. The triumph of the contro- 
versialists in these fantastic contests was the 

1 The next step for an ambitious youth was the impeachment 
of some great State offender. Thus Juhus Caesar in his twenty- 
first year impeached Dolabella, and Asinius PolHo at about the 
same age became famous by his prosecution of Cato. 

* The State having become, as it were, personified in the 
emperor, the prosecution of the victims of imperial tyranny 
appeared to the prosecutors to be of the same nature as the 
famous impeachments of republican times, and an orator such 
as Memmius Regulus, while serving as the instrument of a 
Domitian's cruelty, would regard himself as a Cicero accusing 


invention of the effective aphorisms, antitheses, 
or epigrams called sententiae, which were ap- 
plauded for their pithiness or ingenuity, and 
easily retained in the memory. * Knowledge is 
the foundation of eloquence ' — ' rem tene, verba 
sequentur/ wrote the elder Cato in the earliest 
Roman treatise on oratory. The rhetoricians 
of the schools seemed to reverse this maxim, 
and to believe eloquence to be the foundation of 
knowledge — so all-important a place did rhetoric 
hold in the later Roman scheme of education, 
and so remote from the real business of life 
and of the forum had their rhetorical exercises 
become. No one, as Tacitus wrote, in republican 
times attained great power without the aid 
of eloquence. Consequently, the attainment of 
linguistic mastery of expression was the chief 
aim of education, and so continued to be after the 
establishment of the Empire. In the grammatical 
course, which preceded that of rhetoric, boys were 
trained through the medium of classical poetry. 

Marcus Annaeus Seneca is himself generally 
described in modern books as a rhetorician ; 
but although he was intimate with the greatest 
masters of the art, attended their lectures and 
declamations with assiduity, and treasured their 
sententiae in his memory, there is no direct 
evidence that he himself ever taught in the 
schools. He came to Rome from his native 
Corduba in Spain as soon as the close of the 
civil wars allowed him to leave that colony, 
afterwards regretting that he had not been 
able to come sooner, since then he might have 


heard the living voice of Cicero — an epithet 
commonly used, he adds, but to the voice of 
Cicero really applicable.* 

His collection of Controversiae was made at 
the request of his sons who, anxious to know 
something of the character and style of the 
famous rhetors of the preceding generation, 
begged their father to tell them all he could 
remember on the subject. His memory had 
been famous in the days of his youth; and we 
cannot wonder that it was esteemed a prodigy 
if we may believe his assurance that he was 
then able to repeat without an error two thousand 
names in the right order after a single hearing. 
But in his old age, he adds, it had become 
capricious ; he could no longer count on its ready 
and immediate obedience to his will, but was 
obliged to wait its pleasure. For the events of 
his youth it was as strong as ever, but it could 
not retain what was in later years entrusted to 
its keeping ; just as in a vessel already filled to 
which more water is added what is on the surface 
overflows and is lost, but what is below remains. 
He applauds the desire of his sons to learn 

1 Cicero, after Julius Caesar's final victories had silenced his 
voice in the forum, amused himself by giving lessons in declama- 
tion to Hirtius and Dolabella — two of the most distinguished of 
Caesar's officers — on their return from the war. These great 
pupils of his — ' grandes praetextatos ' he calls them — were at 
that time compensating themselves for the fatigues of their 
campaigns by a life of pleasure at Rome. ' They were my 
masters,' said Cicero, ' in the art of dining, as I was theirs in the 
art of speaking ' (Cicero, Ep. ix. i6 ; Suet, de clans Rhet.). This 
was in the year 46 B.C. If Marcus Seneca was fifteen or sixteen 
years of age at the time, he would have been born about the year 
61 B.C. (Sen. Controv. i. Pref.). 


something of the eloquence of the past generation 
— in the first place, because the more numerous 
and various the models before them the less are 
they likely to become mere imitators ; and, in 
the second place, because the age is degenerate, 
and because the art of rhetoric having reached 
its height about the time of Cicero had, accord- 
ing to the universal law of change, been de- 
clining ever since. In the days of freedom, so 
he continues, rhetorical exercises had a serious 
object, since by eloquence a man might reach 
the highest offices of the State ; but, since the 
overthrow of the republic, this spur to effort 
had largely been withdrawn. He had heard all 
the great orators except Cicero, and the task 
of satisfying the praiseworthy curiosity of his 
sons by returning as it were to school in his old 
age, and bringing to light out of the caverns of 
his memory all that they contained of the decla- 
mations made in the schools by the celebrated 
rhetoricians of the past, would be to him a de- 
lightful labour. The publication of their witty 
sayings and ingenious subtleties would also in- 
cidentally have the useful effect of checking the 
unacknowledged plagiarisms of their degenerate 

The elder Seneca was a Roman of the old 
school, of equestrian rank, a lover of the past — 
orderly, austere, and methodical. His wife, Helvia , 
belonged to an influential provincial family, 
in which a severe simplicity was a tradition.^ 

* ' Bene in antiqua et severa institutam domo ' {Cons, ad 
Helv. xvi.). 


Like most mothers of distinguished men she 
was, if we may accept the description left 
of her by her son the philosopher, a woman 
of remarkable character and intelligence. Her 
husband, to whom any departure from old 
Roman customs and ideas was distasteful,^ was 
opposed to what we now call the higher educa- 
tion of women, and would not suffer her to devote 
much time to study, a circumstance regretted 
by her son, in whose judgment there were few 
on whom such opportunities would have been 
less likely to be wasted, or who in the little time 
actually allowed could have acquired so much. 
He tells us that his mother took deep interest 
in his philosophical studies, while her delight 
in his society was inexhaustible ; and, on the 
other hand, that the very sight of her always 
filled him with an almost boyish gaiety and 
gladness. After her widowhood, which succeeded 
within thirty days the death of the kindest of 
brothers, she administered with the utmost care 
and disinterestedness the inheritance of her three 
sons ; refusing all personal advantage from it as 
if it had been another's, and giving as much care 
to its management as if it had been her own. 
In the same way the course of honours which 
two of her sons successfully pursued, and the 
fortunes they acquired, though giving her pleasure 
for their sake, were a source not of profit to 
herself, but of additional expense — so much 
better did she deem it to give than to receive. 
Novatus, the eldest of the three sons of Marcus 

^ ' Nimis majorum consuetudini deditus ' {Cons, ad Helv. xvi.). 


Seneca and Helvia, was adopted by his father's 
friend, Junius GalUo the rhetorician, by whose 
name he became known. He entered early on 
an official career, passing through all the official 
dignities till he became consul suffedus, after 
which he became Proconsul of Achaia in the year 
52, where the accident of a riot, resulting in the 
appearance of Paul of Tarsus before his tribunal, 
immortalised a name which all the praises of 
his brother Seneca, who describes him as the 
most irresistibly charming man of his age, could 
not have rescued from oblivion.^ If we may 
trust his brother's description, he was indeed 
a man made to be loved. 'No one man,' writes 
the younger Seneca, with his usual rhetorical 
exaggeration, ' is so agreeable to another as Gallic 
to all who know him ' — ' nemo enim mortalium 

1 The identity of the Gallio of the Acts with GalHo the brother 
of Seneca is made practically certain by an incidental reference 
to his brother in Achaia in one of the philosopher's letters to 
Lucilius : ' Illud mihi in ore erat domini met Gallionis, qui cum 
in Achaia febrem habere caepisset, protinus navem adscendit, clami- 
tans non corporis esse, sed loci morbum' {Ep. civ.). Achaia, which 
comprised all the Peloponnesus and the greater part of Hellas 
proper with the islands, had been an imperial province under 
Tiberius and Caligula, but was transferred to the Senate by 
Claudius in a.d. 44 (Tac. Ann. i. 76; Suet. Claudius, 25). The 
date of Gallio's proconsulship (52) has been ascertained by the 
discovery of an inscription at Delphi containing four fragments 
of a letter of Claudius to the city. Pliny alludes to a voyage 
made by Gallio for the sake of his health, which may be the 
same as that spoken of by Seneca : ' Praeterea est alius usus multi- 
plex, principalis vera navigandi phthisi a^ectis, ut diximus, aut san- 
guinem egerentibus : sicut proxime Anneum Gallionem fecisse post 
Consulatum meminimus' (Plin. N.H. xxxi. 6). Seneca had been 
recalled from exile in 49, and his brother Gallio must have been 
consul suffectus in 50 or 51. It was the custom of the emperors 
at that time to nominate consuls for short periods, though the 
year was named only after those first appointed. 


uni tarn dulcis est quam hie omnibus.' ^ ' His 
courtesy and unstudied charm of manner win 
every heart, yet so modest is he that not only 
does he shrink from the very approaches of 
flattery, but listens with equal reluctance to the 
praises which his numerous excellences have 
really deserved.' ^ 

The youngest brother Mela, to whom the 
second book of ' Controversies ' is exclusively 
addressed, though described by his father as 
mentally the best endowed of the three, made 
an early resolution to content himself with his 
hereditary rank and, leaving the career of honours 
to his two accomplished brothers, to devote 
himself to a life of studious retirement. His 
father, though he did not conceal his own prefer- 
ence for an active career, acquiesced without 
much difficulty in this decision, declaring that 
he was ready, when his two elder sons had put 
out to sea, to keep the third in harbour. That 
Mela was his favourite son, and that this lack 
of ambition was a disappointment to one so 
enamoured of traditionary ways as the elder 
Seneca, will seem probable to the reader of the 
dedication addressed to him; nor would he have 
been greatly consoled had he been able to fore- 
see that this contempt for the ancient State 
dignities would not prevent his son from accumu- 
lating a large fortune as procurator of the imperial 
demesne under the principate of Nero. 

1 Cf . Statius, Sylv. ii. 7 : ' Hoc plus quam Senecam dedisse 
mundo, Aut dulcem generasse Gallionem.' 

2 Nat. Quaest. iv. Praef. 


The Senecas appear to have been a most 
united family. But whereas the father held 
the view common to old men in every age that 
the era of great men was over, and that in 
the new generation there was an unexampled 
dearth of talent and ability in every kind, the 
sons were believers in progress, with scant 
respect for authority, tradition, or national 

The reminiscences of the Controversiae in 
which the father endeavours to convince his 
sons by description and quotation of the 
superiority of the past generation, were the 
outcome of this difference of view. In the 
preface of the last book he declares that they 
shall trouble him no longer. He owns he is 
weary of the subject. At first he thought it 
would be pleasant to summon up remembrance 
of things past and recall the best years of his 
life under the mild Augustus, but he now feels 
half ashamed, as if he attached too much import- 
ance to such studies. These exercises of ingenuity, 
he says, are well enough if taken lightly : take 
them too seriously and they disgust. He could 
not admire the modern rhetorician Musa, whom 
his sons had insisted on his accompanying them 
to hear. He thinks his style turgid and un- 
natural, declares the man has no sincerity, and, 
in spite of Mela's frowning disapproval — ' licet 
Mela mens confrahat frontem ' — gives instances 
of what he means from the declamation he had 
heard. Clearly between father and sons, in 
spite of high mutual affection and respect, no 


agreement on these points was reached or 

The positions of the various controversialists 
in the ' battle of the books,' fought in the second 
half of the first century between the upholders 
of the classical tradition in writing and speaking 
and the new school, between ancient and modern 
ideas and standards, are admirably given in the 
dialogue De Oratorihus, generally ascribed to 
Tacitus. The dialogue is for all time a model of 
urbane controversy, in which the most complete 
difference of opinion is effectively expressed with- 
out a trace of acerbity or sarcasm. The views 
of the author are probably represented by the 
gentle Maternus, who, after Afer and Messala 
have pleaded the cause of the moderns and of 
the ancients respectively, takes a middle course. 
He admits with Messala the fact of the decay of 
eloquence, but argues that this is the result of 
the change in the character of the times and in 
the nature of the government rather than of any 
decline in the abilities of men. Augustus, in- 
deed, together with everything else, had pacified 
eloquence which could only flourish in turbulent 
times ; but he suggests that eloquence was not 
of such importance that it was desirable that 
the times should be turbulent in order that it 
might flourish. He might have added that good 
art being the true representation of emotion, 
passion, or thought, which the artist has himself 
experienced either actually or through sympathy, 
it must change with the changing life of the 
day and cannot be limited by old conventions. 


Original minds may not force their ideas into an 
ancient mould on pain of illustrating the couplet 
of Boileau : 

'Voulant se redresser soi-meme on s'estropie, 
Et d'un original devient une copie.' 

When, however, we compare the graceful, easy- 
flowing style of Livy, Cicero, and Virgil, their 
avoidance of over-emphasis or abrupt transi- 
tions, the rise and fall of their periods, and 
the even texture of their narrative, compar- 
able to a good mountain road, which is never 
irksome to a traveller whatever the height to 
which it rises — when we compare this with the 
bold realism, the disregard for convention and 
tradition, the cosmopolitanism, and the striking 
but often isolated thoughts and aphorisms of 
Lucan and Tacitus and Juvenal, we can under- 
stand the extreme dislike which such admirers 
of antiquity in later generations as Quintilian 
or Aulus Gellius or Pronto felt for the younger 
Seneca, whom they rightly regarded as the 
chief author of this revolution in taste. The 
transition resembles, both in its nature and in 
the circumstance of the intervening revolution, 
that from the French encyclopaedists of the 
eighteenth century to Chateaubriand and Victor 
Hugo — a transition deplored by Sainte-Beuve, 
who might be called the Quintilian of the nine- 
teenth century. 



Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the second son of 
Marcus Seneca and Helvia, was born at Corduba 
about the commencement of the Christian era.^ 
He was living at Rome, as we have seen, with 
his parents and brothers in the days of Tiberius, 
and while still a boy was seized with a passion 
for those philosophical studies which were to 
be the chief interest of his life and his best title 
to fame. His earliest master in philosophy was 
Sotion, a native of Alexandria, under whose 
influence he ' thought nobly ' for a time of the 
doctrines of Pythagoras. 

Sotion showed us [he afterwards wrote in a letter to 
Lucilius ^] ' the reasons of Pythagoras and afterwards of 
Sextius for abstaining from meat — reasons differing from 

1 ' Quae Tritonide fertiles Athenas 

Unctis, Baetica, provocas trapetis, 

Lucanum potes imputare terris. 

Hoc plus quam Senecam dedisse mundo, 

Aut dulcem generasse Gallionem.' 

(Statius, Sylv. ii. 7.) 
* Ep. cviii. 


one another yet in each case of a high nature. Sextius 
maintained that man could find food enough in the 
world without shedding blood, and that the association 
of the satisfaction of his appetites with the slaughter 
of beasts was a cause of cruelty. He thought, too, that 
it was wise to circumscribe as much as possible the raw 
material of luxury, and, moreover, that a vegetarian 
diet was best for the health. But Pythagoras beUeved 
in the common nature and the inter-communion of all 
things. Nothing, he thought, that has Ufe can perish; 
but all things must suffer change and pass in never- 
ending succession from one form into another. We 
cannot tell after how many vicissitudes and how many 
dwelling-places a soul will return into the form of man, 
but we run the risk of committing murder or even parri- 
cide when we slay or devour an animal in which some 
soul we have known in human shape may be abiding. 
When Sotion had expounded to us these doctrines of 
Pythagoras, he would ask us whether we believed that 
lives passed from one body to another, that what we 
called death was but transmigration, that the souls of 
men might inhabit flocks or wild beasts or fishes, that 
nothing perished in the universe but only changed its 
place, and that men and animals no less than the heavenly 
bodies go their appointed rounds and know the same 
vicissitudes ? ' Great men,' he would add, ' have believed 
these things, but I do not wish to fetter your judgment 
concerning them. Yet if they be true you are right to 
abstain from meat, and if false what harm can you suffer 
from such abstention ? It is at least a useful economy,' 
Moved by these considerations I eat no meat for a 
whole year, and after a very short time found this 
regimen not only easy but agreeable. My mind 
seemed lighter and more agile — to this day I cannot 
affirm with certainty whether it really was so or not. 
You will wonder why I abandoned this diet. I will 
explain to you why. My youth was passed under the 
principate of Tiberius, at a time when foreign rites 


were prohibited in Rome.^ Abstention from the flesh 
of certain animals was held to be evidence of an in- 
chnation towards the Jewish superstition, and there- 
fore at the request of my father, who was no enemy 
to philosophy but feared a scandal, I returned to my 
former habits, and he found no difficulty in persuading 
me to eat better dinners.^ 

From Sotion the Pythagorean, the young 
Seneca passed to the lecture-room of Attains 
the Stoic, whose influence upon his life and 
ideas was of a more decisive character. Attains 
is described by the elder Seneca as by far the 
acutest and most eloquent philosopher of his 
time — * magnae vir eloquentiae, ex philosophis, 
quos nostra aetas vidit, longe et subtilissimus et 
facundissimus.' ^ We know nothing of his life, 
except that, having been cheated of his property 
by Sejanus, he consoled himself as a philosopher 
should by following the plough ; but we know 
something of his mind by the many references to 
him and quotations from his sayings to be found 
in the works of his admiring pupil, Lucius Seneca. 

1 This edict was issued in the year 19 : ' Actum et de sacris 
aegyptiis judaicisque pellendis : factumque patrum consultum, 
" ut quatuor millia Hbertini generis, ea superstitione infecta, 
quis idonea aetas, in insulam Sardinian! veherentur . . . ceteri 
cederent Italia, nisi certam ante diem profanos ritus exuissent " ' 
(Tac. Ann. ii. 85). 

2 Ep. cviii. The old reading was : ' Patre itaque me rogante, 
qui non calumniam timebat, sed phUosophiam oderat, ad 
pristinam consuetudinem redii,' but it is probable that the 
suggested emendation of Lipsius is correct, since we may infer 
from the decorous conservatism manifest in the writings of the 
elder Seneca that he was unlikely to be indifferent to scandal, 
and from his words to Mela — ' non sum bonae mentis impedi- 
mentum ' — that his attitude to philosophy was at least tolerant. 

^ Suas. ii. 


The young enthusiast besieged, so he tells us, the 
door of Attains' classroom ; he was always the 
first to enter when it was opened, and the last 
to leave. Nor was this all. Attains was a 
man of easy access, most friendly disposed 
towards his pupils, whose ingenuous advances 
he was ever ready to meet more than half-way. 
The young Seneca would walk with him and 
draw him into discussion on subjects of perennial 
interest. It was Attalus, he tells us, who taught 
him to distinguish between reality and appear- 
ances, between the eloquence of truth and that 
of display, between intrinsic beauty and the empty 
sound of swelling words. He would pour con- 
tempt alike on luxury and on avarice ; he would 
extol a chaste body, a sober table, a mind purified 
not only from unlawful but even from superfluous 
pleasures. He told his pupils that those who 
came to a philosopher's lectures merely as an 
agreeable way of passing the time, to hear and 
not to learn, to listen to eloquent phrases and 
ingenious conceits, without any intention of 
shaping anew the conduct of their life, would 
derive no profit from philosophy. 

However transitory [Seneca afterwards wrote] might 
be on many the effect of such exhortations, yet the 
minds of the young being tender and impressionable, 
if the master is sincere and solely occupied with the 
good of his pupils his words will have lasting effects. 
At all events [he adds] this was true in my case. My 
admiration for him was boundless, and when I heard 
him speak of the faults, the errors, and the evils of life, 
I often was moved with compassion for mankind, and 
he seemed to me more than human. 


Under the influence of this teaching Seneca 
for a time lived a life of asceticism according 
to the strictest rule of the Stoics and, though it 
was not long before he reverted to a more ordinary 
way of life, there were some habits then contracted 
and some abstinences then resolved upon which 
he never abandoned. In the letter already quoted, 
written to Lucilius near the end of his life, after 
describing the teaching of Attains and his own 
youthful enthusiasm, he adds : 

Something of all this remained with me, Lucilius. 
After the great original impulse had spent its force, I 
persevered in some fragments of that high enterprise. 
Thus I have abstained throughout my life from such 
delicacies as oysters and mushrooms. They are not food, 
but condiments, meant to stimulate a jaded appetite, 
and the delight of the gluttonous because they are easily 
swallowed and easily vomited. So, too, from that time 
onward I have never used ointment, believing that the 
best odour for the body is the absence of odour ; never 
touched wine ; and always avoided hot-air baths. To 
boil down the body and exhaust it by sweating always 
seemed to me a luxurious superfluity. From other 
renunciations I desisted ; but I returned to what I had 
abandoned with a moderation that came much nearer 
to abstinence than self-indulgence — a moderation per- 
haps even more difficult in practice than total absten- 
tion, for certainly it is often easier to abandon a habit 
altogether than to keep it within modest bounds.^ 

Another of Seneca's habits, dating probably 
from this time, which ought to win him some 
sympathy from Englishmen, was the daily cold 

1 Ep. 108. 


bath all the year round, for which, as in one of 
his letters he tells us, he became known : 

I, that famous cold-bather (Psychrolutes), who, on 
the first of January, used to disport myself in the 
moat ; who used to celebrate the coming of the new year 
by leaping into the water brought down from the hills, 
j ust as others would celebrate it by some auspicious words 
spoken read or written, first transferred my camp to 
the Tiber, and lastly to this tub of mine which, when 
I am feeling my strongest and acting in perfect good 
faith -with myself, is heated only by the sun.^ 

Another master, whose memory was ever 
honoured by Seneca, and by whom at this time 
he was instructed, was the learned author Papirius 
Fabianus, an old friend of his father. Fabianus 
had acquired an early reputation as a rhetorician, 
having studied rhetoric under Blandus — the first 
man of equestrian rank to teach that art in Rome.^ 

The elder Seneca describes his style in decla- 
mation as easy fluent and rapid, but lacking in 
vigour and incisiveness. He had succeeded so 
well, he tells us, in banishing such passions as 
anger or grief from his own breast that he had 
lost the power of representing them ; and this in a 
rhetorician was a defect. But his critic had not 
long the opportunity of hearing him, for Fabianus 
soon transferred his allegiance from rhetoric to 
philosophy and natural science, and it was as a 

1 Ep. 83. 

* Until that time the teaching of rhetoric had been confined 
to freedmen. The elder Seneca, in stating this, expresses his 
wonder that it should at any time have been considered dis- 
honouring to teach what by universal admission it was honourable 
to learn. 


philosopher that he contributed to the education 
of the younger Seneca.^ 

Fabianus was a copious author. His works are 
frequently cited by Pliny in the Natural History, 
and Lucius Seneca says of his philosophical 
writings that they were surpassed only by those 
of Cicero, Pollio, and Livy. He wrote in a level 
style and with a certain carelessness of diction 
that seemed to prove him more occupied with 
his matter than his manner. 'Too much atten- 
tion to style,' replied Seneca to his correspondent 
Lucilius who had read on his recommendation a 
book of Fabianus and been much disappointed, 
' does not become a philosopher who should be 
thinking of more important matters. How can 
a man defy fortune if he is nervous about words ? 
Had you heard him, as I did, your admiration 
for the whole would have left you no leisure to 
criticise the parts. What though the calm progress 
of his discourse was interspersed by no sudden and 
striking reflections {" suhiti ictus sententiarum"), 
the very evenness of its flow had a charm of its own. 
There was nothing laboured about his eloquence ; 
it accompanied him like a shadow without any 
effort on his part. You could see that he felt 
what he said or wrote ; that his object was to 
show you what he admired and not to excite your 
admiration for himself. He was not slovenly 

1 Even after he had formally abandoned rhetoric for 
philosophy he continued to study eloquence as a means, though 
no longer as an end — his example in this respect being held up 
for imitation by Marcus Seneca to his son Mela whom he 
endeavoured to convince of the importance of eloquence what- 
ever way of life he might see fit to adopt. 


in his use of words, but unconcerned ; his sole 
interest was the profit of his hearers/ Seneca 
ends his description by adding that Fabianus' 
lectures were admirably calculated to elevate the 
mind of a well-disposed youth and to spur him 
on to imitate so excellent an example, without 
causing him to despair of success.^ 

Such were the instructors of the young Seneca 
under the principate of Tiberius. His health 
throughout life was delicate. While still young 
he was brought to great misery by an affection 
of the lungs, which he calls suspirium.^ 

Wasted to a shadow [he afterwards wrote], I was 
often tempted to cut short my life, but the old age of 
the kindest of fathers still held me back. I reflected 
that I ought to consider not so much with what fortitude 
I could die, but how impossible it was that he could 
bear my loss with fortitude. Therefore I bade myself 
live ; for there are times when it is a mark of courage even 
to live. I will tell you what were then my consolations, 
observing first that these were also the most useful of medi- 
cines, for certain it is that whatever elevates the soul does 
good to the body. My studies saved me. It was to 
Philosophy that I owed the power to rise from my bed 
and the recovery of my health — and this is the least 
of my obligations to her. My friends watched with me : 
their encouragements and their conversation contributed 
much to my restoration. There is nothing, my dearest 
Lucilius, like the affection of friends to assist and renew 
a sick man ; nothing that so certainly beguiles us from 
the expectation and the fear of death. ^ 

1 Ep. loo. 

^ ' Satis enim apte dici suspirium potest. Brevis autem valde, 
et procellae similis, impetus est : intra horam fere desinit' {Ep. liv.), 
» Ep. 78. 


Through several of his illnesses, and probably 
through this one, Seneca was nursed by his 
aunt — a half-sister of Helvia and the widow of 
Vetrasius Pollio, for sixteen years governor of 
Egypt under Tiberius. ^ It was she who had 
brought him as a child from Spain to Rome; 
and he regarded her with especial admiration 
and respect. He relates in her honour an 
incident of which he was himself a witness. 
Her husband died at sea ; there was a storm ; 
the ship's tackle was destroyed and the ship in 
great danger ; the only thought of the widow 
was for her husband's body from which no 
danger could separate her and which she 
succeeded in saving. At a later date, though 
naturally modest and retiring with a dislike of 
publicity of any kind that stood out in strong 
contrast to the general tone of the fashionable 
women of her time, she exerted all her influence 
to obtain for her nephew the quaestorship and 
became, as he wrote to his mother, ambitious 
for his sake.^ 

Towards the end of the principate of Tiberius, 
Lucius Seneca, at the desire of his father, 
abandoned for a time the schools of philosophy 
and practised with success at the Bar, This 
was the usual beginning for those who were 
ambitious to succeed in an official career and to 
raise themselves through the various ascending 

1 It was the custom of Tiberius to continue in their civil 
and military governments and offices for long periods of years, 
and sometimes for life, those whom he thought worthy of his 

* Consol. ad Helviam, 


magistracies to senatorial rank and the govern- 
ment of provinces. 

Your brothers [the elder Seneca wrote to Mela] are 
ambitious ; and are preparing themselves for a career 
in the forum and in office in which even success has its 
dangers. Time was when I myself longed for and 
applauded such a career ; and, dangerous though it be, 
I have urged your brothers to pursue it, so far at least 
as they can do so within the strictest limits of honour.^ 

That the temptations to overstep these limits 
in the closing years of Tiberius were numerous 
may be inferred from the short description left 
us by Seneca of the time — a description by a 
disinterested eye-witness with no anti-imperial 
prejudices which the defenders of that emperor 
find it more difficult to explain away than the 
invectives of later writers. 

Under Tiberius [he wrote] there grew up a frenzied 
passion for bringing accusations which increased till it 
became almost universal and proved more destructive 
to citizens than any civil war. Words spoken by men 
when drunk and the most harmless pleasantries were 
denounced. There was safety nowhere ; any pretext 
was good enough to serve for an information. Nor, 
after a time, did the accused think it worth while to 
await the result of their trials, for this was always the 

There had never been a public prosecutor 
in Rome ; it had been of old the duty of citizens 
to keep watch over one another in the interests 
of the republic ; and for the republic was after- 

* Seneca, Controv. ii. Praef. 
'^ De Benef. iii. i6. 


wards substituted the emperor. To bring a 
charge under the law of majestas, in the presumed 
interest of the emperor, had become the quickest 
road to forensic distinction and a fortune. It is 
to the credit of Seneca that, unhke SiHus Italicus 
and many others, he remembered his father's 
proviso with regard to honour and was innocent 
of this kind of impeachment. 



We know little of the life of Seneca during the 
closing years of Tiberius and the principate of 
Caligula. Tiberius died in 37, and the elder 
Seneca at a great age some years earlier, prob- 
ably in Spain, as his three sons were absent 
from his death-bed ^ and we know that his 
widow administered with care and sagacity their 
rich inheritance. Writing in the first year of 
Claudius, the younger Seneca speaks of the 
money reputation and honours lavishly bestowed 
on him by fortune of which exile had deprived 
him and of the public honours earned by 
the industry of his brother Gallio. For these 
distinctions the philosophical Mela had scorned 
to compete ; but he too is spoken of as wealthy. ^ 
Seneca was married and the father of a boy, 
whom he thus described to his mother : 

1 ' Carissimum virum, ex quo mater trium libeforura eras, 
extulisti, Lugenti tibi luctus nuntiatus est, omnibus quidem 
absentibus liberis ; quasi de industria in id tempusconjectis malis 
tuis ut nihil esset ubi se dolor tuus reclinaret ' {Consol. ad Helv. ii.) . 
Lucius Seneca wrote a biography of his father with the title 
De Vita Patris. Of this only the fragment of a sentence remains. 

» His son Lucan was born in the year 39 at Corduba and 
brought to Rome in 40 when seven months old. The author of 
the ancient life of Lucan who tells us this says also that Mela 
was known at Rome through his brother Seneca, ' a man famous 
for every virtue,' and through his love of a quiet life (' propter 
studium vitae guietioris '). 


Marcus, the most winning of children, in whose 
presence sadness cannot endure. What breast so heavy- 
laden that his embrace cannot lighten ? What wound 
so fresh that his kisses cannot soothe ? What tears 
can resist his gaiety ? What mind so oppressed by 
care that his nonsense cannot relax ? Who can help 
laughing at his pranks ? What brooding meditation so 
concentrated and absorbed that his deHghtful chatter 
cannot interrupt and turn the brooder himself into 
a fellow-chatterbox ? I pray the gods that he may 
survive me.-^ 

Gallic, too, had married and was a widower. 
Kis daughter Novatilla was regarded by Seneca 
almost as a child of his own and lived as much 
with him as with his brother. 

No work of Seneca published before the 
death of Caligula has come down to us, but 
that his publications before that date were 
numerous and successful we know from a refer- 
ence of Suetonius, who speaks of him as then 
at the height of his popularity — ' turn maxime 
placentem.' His earlier books must have con- 
tained the bulk of the poetry dialogues and 
speeches mentioned by Quintilian.^ Connected 
with the official class through his mother's 
family, witty, accomplished, original, and of 
gentle and conciliating manners, he appealed 
to the new generation by his daring innovations 
in manner and disregard for old conventions, by 
the freedom of his criticisms of the great orators 
and poets of the past, and by the singular 
power in which he was afterwards only ex- 
celled by Tacitus, of enshrining striking thoughts 

* Cons, ad Helv. xvi. ^ Inst. Oral. x. i. 


in short sentences that fixed themselves in the 
memory by their precision and completeness. 

Caligula who, vain about everything, was 
especially vain of his oratorical powers, affected 
to despise the style of Seneca which he described 
in an oft-quoted phrase as ' sand without lime/ ^ 
The tyrant really possessed some genuine talent 
for invective — when angry his words came 
readily, he moved restlessly from place to place 
as he spoke, and his loud voice could be heard 
from a distance. He had also much skill in 
persuasion, and in his saner moments a winning 
manner that was almost irresistible.^ It was 
his custom to make speeches before the Senate at 
the trials of great offenders, on which occasions 
the equestrian order was summoned by proclama- 
tion to attend the sittings, and the fate of the 
prisoner was often decided by the opportunities 
which an attack on the one hand or a defence 
on the other respectively offered to the imperial 

The ornamental manner of Seneca, studded 
with detached epigrams, contrasted strongly with 
the torrential eloquence of the emperor and on 
one occasion nearly cost him his life. He had 
spoken in the Senate in the emperor's presence 
with such eloquence and success that Caligula's 
jealousy was aroused, and the orator would have 
paid the extreme penalty for his triumph had not 
one of the imperial mistresses persuaded her lover 
that Seneca was in a rapid consumption and must 

* ' Arenam sine calce ' (Suet., Cal. 53). 

* Joseplius, Ant. xix. 2. ^ Suet., Cal. 53. 


shortly die in any case.^ It was doubtless to this 
escape that he alluded when he wrote long after- 
wards to Lucilius that a disease, seemingly mortal 
had prolonged the lives and proved the salva- 
tion of many men.^ Whether from this alarm, or 
from the state of his health, or because after the 
death of his father he felt more at liberty to 
follow his own inclinations, Seneca at this time 
ceased to plead causes and devoted himself to 
literature and philosophy. Through his quaestor- 
ship he was a member of the Senate, where he 
must have been present at the remarkable scenes 
which followed the assassination of Caligula 
and may have shared in the brief dream of a 
restoration of their old supremacy from which 
the senators were so rudely awakened by the 
soldiers and the populace. 

Scattered about in Seneca's works are stories 
of the emperor whom he declared that Nature 
could only have produced to show what the 
greatest vices could effect when found in the 
highest station; and they are interesting as the 
only accounts of the tyrant, except that of Philo 
Judaeus, which we have from an eye-witness. 

Though one of the chief amusements of Caligula 
was to hold up to ridicule the bodily imperfections 
of others, his own appearance, Seneca tells us, in 
his last years was itself well adapted to mockery. 
He was bald, with stray hairs drawn down over 
his forehead to conceal his baldness ; his livid 

^ Dion, lix. ig. 

* Ep. 78. ' Multorum mortem distulit morbus ; et saluti illis 
fuit videri perire.' 


complexion bore witness to the disorder of his mind ; 
he had the wrinkled brow of an old woman, and 
deep set under it wild and ferocious eyes. His 
neck was hairy, his legs slender, and his feet 

This description, overcharged perhaps at any 
time, can only have been applicable to Caligula 
as he was when the illness which destroyed his 
mind had in its effects led him to those shameful 
physical excesses and yet more shameful cruelties 
and extravagances which degraded the last two 
years of his principate. It cannot have been true 
of the young Caius during the first months of his 
reign, adored throughout the Empire, courteous, 
generous, eloquent, and charming as he then 
appeared while, with ' Youth on the prow and 
Pleasure at the helm,' the ship of State rode 
proudly along after the gloomy closing years of 

Nothing [wrote Philo of that time] was to be seen 
throughout our cities but altars and sacrifices, priests 
clad in white and garlanded, the joyous ministers of the 
general mirth, festivals and assemblies, musical contests 
and horse-races, wakes by day and night, amusements, 
recreations, pleasures of every kind and addressed to 
every sense. 

For the Roman aristocracy this halcyon period 
came to an end with the recovery of Caius from 
his illness,^ for the exigencies of his luxury and 
his megalomania having exhausted his treasury, a 

^ De Constant. Sapientis, i8. Cp. Suet., Cal. 50. 
2 "With the people the emperor, hke Nero, seems to have re- 
tained popularity to the end (Josephus, Ant. Jud. xix. i. 20, ii. 5). 


veritable reign of terror began in order to supply 
it from the spoils of rich victims, and increased 
in intensity as the consciousness of guilt made 
him suspect the designs of every man of note or 
honesty. We are reminded o'f the death of Sir 
Thomas More by Seneca's account of the serene 
last hours of Julius Canus — one of the senators 
who was put to death. 

Canus Julius [he writes], a man of such commanding 
greatness that his glory could not be obscured even 
by the envy that always attaches to contemporaries, 
was leaving the presence after a long altercation with 
Caligula. * I may as well tell you,' said the tyrant 
by way of final rejoinder, ' so that you may not flatter 
yourself with false hopes, that I have given orders for 
your execution.' ' I thank you, most excellent prince,' 
replied Canus. . . . He passed the ten days' interval 
between sentence and execution with a mind free from 
any kind of anxiety — indeed, the perfect tranquillity dis- 
played in his words and actions almost passes belief. 
He was playing at draughts when summoned by the 
centurion in charge of the prisoners destined to die that 
day. He counted his pieces, and said to the other player, 
* Look, I have most left. Now you are not after my 
death to pretend you have won.' And turning to the 
centurion, ' I call you to witness,' he said, ' that I 
am a piece to the good.' His friends were lamenting ; 
grieved at losing such a man. ' Why so sad ? ' he said. 
' You will go on discussing whether the soul is immortal ; 
but I shall know in a few minutes.' His search for 
truth persisted to the very end ; and death itself afforded 
him a new subject for investigation. He was accom- 
panied by a philosopher and already stood near to the 
altar on which the daily sacrifice was offered to our 
god CaHgula. What were the subjects of his thoughts ? 
He declared his intention in that last rapid moment 


carefully to observe whether the soul is conscious of its 
flight ; and he promised, if he discovered anything, to 
return and tell his friends where and what were the 
souls of the departed.^ 

It was impossible, as Seneca observed, to prac- 
tise philosophy longer ; and this tranquillity in the 
midst of tempests argued a soul vi^orthy of eternity. 

To pity the fates of such men as Canus, Socrates, 
or Sir Thomas More w^ould be to misunderstand 
them. But the emperor's freakish cruelty could 
not always be so thwarted ; and another incident 
related by Seneca is probably more characteristic 
of the time than that just recorded. There was 
a rich knight called Pastor whose son, having 
offended Caligula by the luxuriance of his hair 
and the elegance of his apparel, had been thrown 
into prison. Pastor came to the emperor to beg 
for his son's release; whereupon Caligula, as 
if suddenly reminded of something he had for- 
gotten, ordered the youth to instant execution. 
The same day he invited the father to a banquet 
of one hundred covers ; and instructed a spy to 
observe his looks and conduct. Pastor came, 
showing no discomposure in his countenance. 
The feast was splendid, and the emperor drank 
to his health, plied him with wine, sent him 
ointments and garlands, treated him with especial 
courtesy, and bade him drown his cares in wine 
and good-fellowship. Pastor, a gouty old man, 
showed no sign of distress. He anointed himself 
with the oil, crowned himself with the garlands, 
and drank more than would have become him 

1 De Tranquill. Animi, c. 14. 


had he been celebrating his son's birthday instead 
of his funeral. Why did he act thus when sick 
to death at heart ? He had another son.^ 

After Caligula, paying the penalty of his 
misdeeds, had died by the hand of a military 
tribune named Cassius Chaerea whom jeering 
personal insults had goaded into action, his uncle 
Claudius was discovered by a soldier hiding behind 
a curtain in a dark corner of the palace, dragged 
trembling from his hiding-place to the praetorian 
camp, and saluted as emperor by the soldiery. 

On the news of the assassination the Senate 
met and resolved to restore the ancient constitu- 
tion. They were at first supported by four urban 
cohorts ; and, for the last time in Roman history, 
the watchword was given by the consuls. Chaerea, 
who came to ask for it, was received with loud 
applause ; and the word, chosen was Lihertas. 
But the praetorian soldiers were determined that 
the supreme power should be their own gift ; 
and the people, far from desiring a return to the 
troublous times of the republic, regarded the 
emperor as a refuge against senatorial oppression 
and many masters as the worst of evils. On 
the second day only one hundred senators obeyed 
the summons of the consuls to the Temple of 
Jupiter, whence their own militia, after clamorously 
calling on them to choose an emperor, repaired, 
on their hesitation, to the camp and took the 
oath of fidelity to Claudius. The Senate there- 
upon submitted to necessity and decreed to 
Claudius all the honours attached to the principate. 

1 De Ira, ii. 33. 



The new emperor had all his life been the object 
of ridicule and contempt. He was fifty years 
old, slow-minded, awkward in his motions, weak 
on his legs, with tremulous head and hands 
and a tongue too large for his mouth, fearful 
to excess, apathetic to such a degree that no 
insult could rouse in him resentment nor suffer- 
ings move him to pity, greedy and sensuous, 
learned, pedantic, and absent-minded — honest 
withal and well-meaning. As a child his mother 
Antonia described him as a monstrosity, an 
unfinished and abandoned attempt of Nature ; 
and would say of a man that he was as great a 
fool as her son Claudius. The Emperor Augustus, 
noted for his grace and beauty, was ashamed 
of his strange young kinsman ; and sequestered 
him as much as possible from the public view. 
He was kept in rough hands under the discipline 
of pupilage for an unusually long time, and 
admitted to no public honours until after the 
death of Augustus, when Tiberius, who treated 
him with more consideration, bestowed upon 
him consular privileges while still denying him 


the consulship. To this honour he was at last 
promoted by Caligula on his accession ; but 
the mortifications he was compelled to endure 
at his nephew's Court exceeded all that he had 
previously experienced. He became the butt 
of the courtiers, and the victim of a thousand 
practical jokes played upon him to amuse the 
emperor. When he arrived late for dinner he 
was made to take the lowest place at the table ; 
when he slept, as he usually did after satisfying 
his gluttonous appetite, they pelted him with 
olive stones or drew slippers over his hands, 
so that he might rub his eyes with them on 
waking. In Campania, however, where he had 
lived in retirement for many years on his exclusion 
from public business, in the intervals of the 
time given to the pleasures of the table and to 
the gaming which he loved, he had cultivated 
his understanding, and studied to some effect. 
He was an excellent Greek scholar, could make 
a good set speech when given time for prepara- 
tion, and was the author of numerous works on 
historical and grammatical subjects. 

Claudius began his reign well. He recalled 
the citizens unjustly exiled by his predecessor, 
and restored to them their goods ; he repealed 
the oppressive new taxes ; he administered 
justice personally with great assiduity, assisted 
by the consuls and praetors as assessors ; he 
burnt aU incriminating letters left by Caligula 
after having shown them to the persons con- 
cerned ; he forbade the practice of making 
bequests to] the emperor to which rich men 


had been accustomed to resort as the only way 
of securing the disposition of the rest of their 
property in accordance with their will ; and he 
restored to the cities from which they had been 
taken the statues which Caligula had brought 
to Rome. Other measures, such as the pro- 
hibition of Jewish ceremonies and the closing 
of public-houses, were of a more questionable 

But the emperor's dull, timorous, and self- 
indulgent nature soon tired of well-doing ; a 
creature of habit, and dreading change of any 
kind, he fell ever more completely under the 
influence of his dissolute, cruel, and rapacious 
wife Messalina, and of the freedmen to whose 
faces he was accustomed, until at last he became 
almost as neglected and despised as he had been 
before his accession. That no man is despised 
by others until he first despises himself, is an 
observation made by Seneca. Claudius despised 
himself and was comically conscious of his 
weakness. Once when a female witness was 
giving her evidence before the Senate, he said : 
' This was my mother's maid and freedwoman ; 
but she always regarded me as her master. I say 
this because there are still some people living in 
my house who do not regard me as their master.' 

The empress and the freedmen, by working 
on his fears, were able to secure the condemna- 
tion of anyone whose estates they coveted or 
whose designs they suspected ; and, by selling 
offices and justice, to amass huge fortunes for 
themselves. The two ruling passions of Claudius 


were for women and for the bloody spectacles 
of the arena. The first enslaved him to his suc- 
cessive wives and their favourites ; the second 
made him find more satisfaction in the con- 
demnations which provided material for his 
amusements than in the acquittal of accused 

Among those who were recalled from exile 
at the beginning of the new reign were the 
emperor's nieces, Julia and Agrippina, whom 
their brother Caligula, with his usual inconstancy, 
had banished after having heaped upon them 
every kind of honour. Julia was beautiful and 
ambitious ; and Seneca, attached as he was to 
the house of Germanicus, was much in her 
society. The emperor also conversed with her 
often alone and seemed likely to fall under her 
influence. Messalina, w^ho received from the 
proud beauty neither honour nor flattery, became 
jealous and alarmed. Julia's husband had been 
suggested as a possible successor to Caligula 
after his assassination,^ and the remembrance 
of this may perhaps have enabled the empress 
to persuade Claudius again to banish her within 
a year of her recall from exile. However that 
may be, banished she was on a charge of adultery, 
and shortly afterwards put to death in her place 
of exile. Seneca, in the brief struggle for power 
between the empress and Julia, had attached 
himself to Julia, and shared her disgrace. He 
was accused of a criminal intrigue with Julia and 
banished to Corsica by a decree of the Senate.^ 

1 Josephus, Ant. Jud. xix. 4. ^ Dion Cassius, Ix. 8, 


A capital sentence was first proposed ; but 
this, on the emperor's interposition, was changed 
to one of exile.^ 

From the barren and inhospitable shores 
of Corsica, where Seneca in middle life was de- 
tained for nearly eight years, he wrote, after an 
interval of six months from his arrival, the ' Con- 
solation ' to his mother H el via which Bolingbroke 
has paraphrased in his ' Reflections upon Exile.' 
She must grieve, he tells her, neither for his 
sake nor her own. Not for his ; for he is not 
unhappy. All that he has lost, all that fortune 
had so lavishly bestowed upon him — honours, 
money, fame — he had never held as if they were 
his own. 

I kept a great interval between me and them. 
She took them, but she could not tear them from 
me. No man suffers by bad fortune, but he who 
has been deceived by good. If we grow fond of her 
gifts, fancy that they belong to us, and are perpetually 
to remain with us, if we lean on them, and expect to be 
considered for them, we shall sink into all the bitterness 
of grief as soon as these false and transitory benefits 
pass away, as soon as our vain and childish minds, 
unfraught with solid pleasures, become destitute even 
of those which are imaginary. But if we do not suffer 
ourselves to be transported by prosperity, neither shall 
we be reduced by adversity. Our souls wiU be of proof 
against the danger of both these states ; and having 
explored our strength we shaU be sure of it.^ 

All that is best in man, he urges, lies beyond 

^ Consol. ad Pol. xxxvii. : ' Deprecatus est pro me senatum, 
et vitam mihi non tantum dedit, sed etiam petiit.' 
* Consol, ad Helviam, v. (Bolingbroke's translation.) 


the power of others. It cannot be given ; it 
cannot be taken away. No change of place — 
and exile is nothing more — can take from him 
the glorious spectacle of the universe, nor the 
contemplating mind, roaming sacred and im- 
mortal through all the past and all the future, 
which is itself the noblest part of that universe. 
In support of his contention, not very con- 
vincing in itself, that since so many people quit 
their country of their own accord there can be 
no great hardship in an involuntary exile, Seneca 
gives an interesting account of the Rome of his 

Consider Rome. How few of the inhabitants of 
that vast city are Romans ! They come from colonies 
and municipalities ; they flow together from the whole 
world. Some are brought by ambition ; some by their 
public duties ; others have been entrusted with missions ; 
luxury in search of opportunities, and industry seeking 
a larger field for action, entice others. Many come in 
search of pleasure ; many others to improve their minds 
by liberal studies ; while some bring their beauty and 
others their eloquence to market. Every race of man 
hastens to the city which offers the greatest prizes both 
to virtue and to vice. 

If, then, his mother has no cause to grieve for 
him, neither should she grieve for herself. To 
the loss of a protector he knows that she is in- 
different, for she has never cared for the success 
of her sons in respect of her own interests. For 
her distress at her son's absence it is indeed harder 
to find a remedy. But he exhorts her to console 
herself with her other sons, to one of whom, 
Gallio, his honours will be chiefly valuable as 


ornaments to be laid at her feet ; to the other, 
Mela, his leisure, as it may enable him to enjoy 
more of her society. Her grandchild, Novatilla,^ 
has recently lost her mother ; let Helvia be a 
mother to her and undertake the formation of her 
mind and manners ; she will find relief in an 
occupation so honourable. Her widowed sister, 
too, will prove to her the greatest comfort of all. 
It is not, however, to these that she must look 
for the real cure of her distress. That must be 
something beyond the reach of fortune ; and 
can only be found in the philosophical studies to 
which she must return. Philosophy, if in good 
faith she receive it within her soul, will leave no 
room for grief or for anxiety, or for the unprofit- 
able troubles of a vain despair ; to all other faults 
and infirmities her breast has long been closed, 
with philosophy it will be closed to these also. 
Seneca ends his letter by describing his occupations 
on the island : 

Since you will be constantly thinking of me whether 
you will or no ; since, indeed, I shall be with you more 
than your other children, not because I am dearer to 
you than they, but because the hand naturally seeks 
the painful spot, I will tell you how to think of me. 
Picture me, then, as happy and active, believe that 
all is as well with me as possible ; and all is really 
well when the soul, freed from cares, is at leisure for 
its own business, now taking pleasure in lighter studies, 
now in an eager pursuit of truth rising to the contem- 

1 This was the daughter of GalUo, then known as Novatus. 
To bim Seneca dedicated his treatise De Ira published in 41, in 
the interval between the death of Caligula and his banishment 
to Corsica. 


plation of its own nature and that of the universe. 
First, I consider the land and its situation ; next, the 
surrounding sea with its ebb and flow ; then the space 
betwixt heaven and earth, and all its terror-striking and 
tumultuous appearances — the thunder and lightning, the 
clouds and hurricanes, the snow and hail ; and, lastly, 
my mind, leaving behind in its progress all that is below, 
pierces through to the heights, and enjoys the most 
beautiful spectacle of things divine, while, mindful of its 
eternity, it wanders through all that is past and dreams 
of all that through all the ages is to come.^ 

Another treatise, or fragment of a treatise, 
of a very different character has generally been 
ascribed to Seneca, and is supposed to have been 
written by him from his place of exile. This 
is the ' Consolation to Polybius ' on the death of 
his brother. The rich freedman Polybius acted 
as literary secretary {a studiis) to Claudius — an 
important post under that learned prince — and 
was the author of prose translations of Homer 
into Latin and of Virgil into Greek. Not only is the 
'Consolation' filled with the most abject flattery, 
both of him and yet more of the emperor, but it 
is flattery of such a kind, so maladroit, so obviously 
insincere, that it is hard to believe that it can ever 
have given pleasure to a human being; and still 
harder to suppose that a learned, witty, and self- 
respecting man of the world, with the talent for 
pleasing which even his critics allowed Seneca to 
possess — a writer, moreover, very sensitive in the 
matter of his own reputation — could have imagined 

1 Peragratis humilioribus, ad summa prorumpit, et pulcherrimo 
divinorum spectaculo fruitur, aeternitatisque suae memor, in 
omne quod fuit futurumque est omnibus saeculis, vadit. 


that it was capable of giving such pleasure. 
Claudius is complimented on the excellence of his 
memory — Claudius who inquired when Messalina 
was coming to dinner on the day after her execu- 
tion ^ ; Polybius is assured that he is on a level with 
Homer and Virgil, and that if he celebrates the 
acts of the emperor, in whose super-excellence he 
may find at once material for his history and a 
perfect model for historical composition, his work 
will be read by the latest posterity. 

All the serious works of Seneca abound with 
lofty and striking thoughts so happily expressed 
that they stamp themselves upon the mind. 
Scarce any writer has been more often quoted 
with or without acknowledgment, or more deserves 
quotation, than he of whose treatises it has been 
said by one of the best of English critics that in 
their combination of high thought with deep 
feeling they have rarely, if ever, been surpassed. 
But high thought and deep feeling and moral 
dignity are alike absent from the ' Consolation to 
Polybius.' There is hardly a sentence in it worthy 
of quotation. The sentiment is commonplace 
where it is not affected. The writer observes 

^ Consol. ad Pol. xxxiii. : 'Tenacissiraa memoria retulit.* At 
first sight it seems incredible that Seneca could have written this 
except in conscious mockery, on which an unlimited faith in the 
emperor's dullness of apprehension could alone have emboldened 
him to venture. Even the flatterers of Louis XIV did not speak 
of his frugality or humility, nor would it have served them to do 
so. Flattery to gain its end must rest, however superficially, on 
some foundation of fact. But the learned Claudius may really 
have had a good verbal memory, often to be found in combina- 
tion with the forgetfulness that comes from want of interest or 


of the Stoic school to which Seneca belonged, 
that its philosophers were more remarkable for 
hardness than for judgment, and that had they 
ever known what it was to suffer real adversity 
they would have been compelled to recant their 
doctrines and confess the truth. Moreover, Seneca 
was no flatterer; for the noble panegyric of the 
young Nero's clemency, written before the emperor 
had forfeited all title to that virtue, and at a time 
when it was of high importance to the common- 
wealth to interest the vanity which was his ruling 
passion in the maintenance of his reputation in 
that regard, was not flattery. Tacitus tells us that, 
in Seneca's last message to Nero, he reminded 
him that he was not given to adulation, adding 
that no one knew this better than the emperor, 
who had more reason to complain of his freedom 
than of his servility .^ Again, we are told that his 
enemies, when plotting his fall, among many 
other accusations charged him with aversion to 
the emperor's favourite amusements, with depre- 
ciating his skill in horsemanship, and with thinking 
scorn, and expressing it, even of the celebrated 
voice. ^ He himself in the De dementia, after 
describing the golden age that had followed the 
accession of Nero, says that he does not dwell 
upon this picture to flatter the emperor's ears, 
for that he would always rather trouble them by 
a truth than please them by adulation. Dion 

^ Tac. Ann. xv. 6i : ' Nee sibi promptum in adulationes 
ingenium. Idque nulli magis gnarum, quam Neroni, qui saepius 
libertatem Senecae, quam servitium expertus esset.' 

^ Ann. xiv. 52. 


Cassius, it is true, or his abbreviator, in the course 
of that singular invective against Seneca which 
contrasts so strangely with his earlier references 
to him, says that he addressed a book full of 
flattery from Corsica to the imperial freedmen ; 
but adds, that on his return from exile he 
was ashamed of it and succeeded in suppress- 
ing it.i The conjecture of Diderot is, that the 
original treatise having perished that which we 
now possess is a forgery, composed by one of the 
numerous hostile critics of the life and writings of 
Seneca whom the conservative reaction against 
him in the second century called into existence, 
and that it was designed to load with odium and 
ridicule philosopher, freedman, and emperor alike. 
Much of it certainly reads like a parody; for 
those characteristics of Seneca, which are easy of 
imitation or caricature — the short sentences, the 
antitheses, the sudden turns, the rhetoric, and so 
forth— are all there ; while there is little trace 
of his wit, or subtlety, or imagination, or depth, 
or mental elevation. The climax is replaced by 
anti-climax, the sursum corda by unworthy re- 
pinings of which Ovid might have been ashamed. 
Yet glad though one might be to take refuge 
in the surmise of Diderot from a conclusion 
discreditable to Seneca, the internal evidence of 
his authorship is almost irresistible, and the cir- 
cumstances in which a man of his temperament 
then found himself go far to explain, though they 
cannot altogether excuse, the temporary super- 
session of his finer instincts. There are passages 

* Dion, Ixi. lo. 


in the treatise so characteristic of Seneca, both 
in manner and in matter, that they may seem to 
readers famihar with his other writings almost 
beyond the skill of an imitator.^ 

In the last chapter, after exhorting Polybius 
to distract his mind from his sorrow by plunging 
more deeply than ever into his learned studies, 
the writer, by a sudden and characteristic turn, 
admits that to root it out altogether would 
neither be possible nor even desirable. 

Let your tears flow [he says] as nature will ; neither 
check nor encourage them. But do not hug your sorrow, 
or think that by so doing you honour the dead. Let 
your lost brother be often in your thoughts, talk natur- 
ally about him, meditate on his excellent qualities and 
describe them to others ; tell them all that he might 
have been had he lived. You will forget him and cease 
to honour his memory if you associate it with sadness, 
for the soul naturally turns away from what is painful. 

These very arguments in the same sequence 
but in different words, this very advice and con- 
solation, Seneca many years later addressed to 
another friend who had lost a little son.^ The 

^ E.g. in chap, xxviii. : ' Si velis credere altius veritatem 
intuentibus, omnis vita supplicium est. In hoc profundum 
inquietumque projecti mare, alternis aestibus reciprocum, et 
modo allevans nos subitis incrementis. modo majoribus damnis 
deferens, assidueque jactans, nunquam stabili consistimus loco : 
pendemus et fluctuamur, et alter in alterum illidiniur, et aliquando 
naujragium Jacimus, semper timemus.' 

* Ep. 99. Cp. especially the reflection in the ' Consolation,' 
' Naturale est enim, ut semper animus ab eo refugiat ad quod 
cum tristitia revertitur,' with that in the letter, ' Nemo enim 
libenter tristi conversatur, nedum tristitiae ' ; and the advice 
in the former, ' Omnia dicta ejus ac facta et aliis expone, et 
tibimet ipse commemora,' with that of the latter, 'De illo fre- 
quenter loquere, et memoriam ejus quantum potes celebra.' 


coincidence may, of course, have its origin in 
the skill of a forger, but in that case he must 
have possessed a power of reserve very unusual 
in his kind ; for we have here no caricature, but 
an apparent example of the manner in which a 
train of thought recurs to a writer after a long 
interval of years when once again treating a 
similar subject. 

Moreover, when we consider the circumstances 
in which Seneca then found himself, and the 
character of the man, we find it less difficult 
to believe in his authorship. In the prime of 
life, at the summit of his fame, ambition, and 
popularity {'turn maxime placentem'), having 
already entered through his quaestorship on the 
course of honours, married happily, and with a little 
son Marcus to whom he was tenderly attached, 
lately reunited to an adored mother whom he 
was not likely, if his exile were prolonged, ever 
again to see, he was suddenly thrown on a false 
charge into solitary exile in a barren and un- 
healthy island. And Seneca was not cast in an 
heroic mould. Though his gaze was on the 
stars, his feet were often in the mud. He him- 
self humbly owned that he did not live up to 
his own ideals, and said with Horace, ' Video 
meliora pr oho que, deteriora sequor.' At the end 
of a few years of an exile which was destined 
to last for nearly eight, his spirit was broken. 
In the verses which he wrote in Corsica he 
speaks of himself as a corpse, and threatens 
a false friend — whoever that might be — now 
become his enemy, with the vengeance of the 


dead.^ Everything in the island displeased him 
— the burning heat of the summer, the terrible 
cold of the winter, the unfertile soil, the loneliness 
and ruggedness of the country.^ 

The cri de cceur with which he ends the work 
— perhaps the only sincere passage it contains — 
bears strong witness to its authenticity : 

I have strung together these thoughts [he writes 
sadly] to the best of my ability {utcimque potui) from a 
brain dulled and confused by the rust of a long inactivity. 
They are, perhaps, quite unworthy of your attention, 
quite unfitted for the object I had in view. But what 
would you have ? How can a man overwhelmed by 
his own misfortunes give comfort to others ? How can 
he find the words he wants, or express his meaning 
with felicity, when the only language he hears is one so 
harsh and uncouth as to offend the ears even of the 
more civilised among barbarians themselves ? 

^ Occisi jugulum quisquis scrutaris amici, 

Tu miserum necdum me satis esse putas ? 
Desere confossum. Victor! vulnus iniquo 
Mortiferum impressit mortua saepe manus. 

* Non panis, non haustus aquae, non ultimus ignis ; 
Hie sola haec duo sunt : exsul et exsilium. 


CLAUDIUS, A.D. 48-54 

A PALACE revolution at Rome in the year 48 
brought the exile of Seneca to an end. Messalina, 
made reckless by passion for her lover Silius, 
resolved to risk all on a desperate throw, and, 
at his urgent entreaty, agreed publicly to marry 
him while Claudius was away at Ostia, after 
which he was to seize the supreme power and 
adopt her son Britannicus. The freedmen of 
Claudius — Narcissus, Callistus, and Pallas — fearful 
of losing their power and fortunes, hesitated 
between three courses — either to do nothing, or 
by secret threats of informing the emperor to 
sever Messalina from Silius and force her to 
abandon her designs, or without further delay 
to communicate to Claudius what was going 
forward and to risk the destruction that would 
almost inevitably follow should Messalina once 
more find an opportunity of controlling in 
a personal interview the infirm will of the 
timorous and besotted Caesar. The last course 
recommended itself to Narcissus, at once the 
boldest of the freedmen and the most attached 
to the emperor. Claudius, informed, was on 


his way back from Ostia, while in the garden 
of his palace the Bacchanalia were being cele- 
brated with feasting and drinking and the wildest 
excesses. Messahna herself, as a Bacchante, her 
hair flowing and shaking the thyrsus, and 
Silius, crowned with ivy, led the revels ; and 
around them women, clad in skins, danced 
and sang in mad self-abandonment. One of 
the revellers, who had climbed to the top of a 
tree, was asked by his comrades what he saw : 
' An awful storm coming up from Ostia,' he re- 
plied, in words afterwards regarded as a presage. 
Soon after came the news that Claudius knew 
all, and was returning post-haste to Rome and 
vengeance. The company scattered, and Messalina 
went out to meet the emperor with her children, 
Octavia and Britannicus. Narcissus, however, 
and his confederates contrived to prevent a 
meeting ; Claudius, stunned, stupid, and silent, 
left all to the freedman ; Silius was seized and 
put to death ; and the same night Messalina, 
by Narcissus' direction and the emperor's pre- 
tended order, suffered the same fate. The news 
was brought to Claudius at his dinner. He was 
not told whether she died by her own hand or by 
that of another, nor had he the curiosity to ask. 

In the ensuing days [says Tacitus] he showed no 
signs of anger or of hatred, of joy or of grief, or of 
any human emotion ; nor was he moved in any degree 
by the sight either of his sorrowing children or of 
the triumphant satisfaction displayed by Messalina's 

1 Ann. xi. 38. 


The crisis over, the next object of the f reed- 
men was to provide a successor to the place and 
power of Messahna. The candidate of Narcissus 
was AeHa Petina, a former wife of Claudius, 
whom he had divorced for trivial reasons/ and 
the mother of his daughter Antonia. Callistus 
supported the claims of Lollia Paullina, a beau- 
tiful woman of immense wealth, who had 
been married for a short time to Caligula. 
Pallas espoused the cause of Agrippina, the 
daughter of Germanicus, the sister of Caligula, 
and the niece of the emperor. Claudius, the 
slave of habit and easily governed by those 
who had access to him, was exposed to the arts 
of Agrippina, whose relationship gave her oppor- 
tunities not enjoyed by her rivals of alluring 
her amorous uncle. This relationship, however, 
was in another way an obstacle to the alliance, 
for Roman public opinion regarded such marriages 
as incestuous, and Claudius himself had recently 
been prevailed upon by Agrippina — who wished 
to clear the way for her son's marriage — to cancel 
the betrothal of his daughter Octavia to Lucius 
Silanus by a false charge against that senator 
of a criminal attachment to his sister. But the 
courtier Vitellius, conspicuously servile even in 
an age of servility, who had been employed to 
concoct the charge against Silanus, again placed 
his services at the disposal of Agrippina, and 
easily persuaded the Senate to implore the 
emperor, in the public interests, to contract this 
marriage. At the same time such marriages 

1 ' Ex levibus offensis ' (Suet., Claudius, 26). 


were declared legal by a decree of the Senate. 
Claudius was married to Agrippina, her son 
Domitius was betrothed to Octavia and soon 
after adopted by the emperor under the name 
of Nero, Silanus slew himself, while LoUia, accused 
of consulting the Chaldaeans concerning the em- 
peror's marriage, was driven into exile, and soon 
afterwards obliged to end her life by order of the 

But Agrippina [adds Tacitusj, that she might not 
become known through evil deeds alone, obtained for 
Annaeus Seneca his recall from exile, and at the same 
time the praetorship. She thought that this would be 
a popular step, because of his high reputation for learning 
and eloquence, and she was, moreover, desirous to entrust 
to him the education of her son Nero, whose succession 
to the Empire he might be expected to further by his 
counsels, bound to Agrippina, as he would be, through 
gratitude, and hostile to the house of Claudius out of 
resentment of his exile .^ 

His return to Rome gave Seneca an oppor- 
tunity of observing at close quarters the abuses 
of one of the worst governments that Rome 
had known. The chief feature of the reign of 
Claudius was the transfer of the administration 
from the ancient magistracies to a kind of imperial 
civil service, at the head of which were the freed- 
men of the imperial household. The provinces 
were governed for the most part by procurators, 
or direct representatives of the emperor, chosen 
not from among the senators, but from knights 
and freedmen ; and to these were committed, by 

* Ann. xii, 8. 


a decree of the Senate, the full judicial powers 
exercised in Rome by the emperor. In Rome 
Claudius became the minister of his freedmen 
secretaries, who accumulated vast fortunes by 
the sale of honours and commands, pardons 
and punishments, and at their pleasure rescinded 
the emperor's decisions, tampered with his war- 
rants, and cancelled his donatives. Pallas, the 
most powerful of them, was his financial secre- 
tary, and the paramour of Agrippina. Those 
powers, we are told by Tacitus, for which in 
former times the rival orders of the State had 
so fiercely contended, which had passed from 
knights to Senate and from Senate to knights, 
and which had been the chief subject of the war 
between Marius and Sylla, were by Claudius 
given over to his nominees of any rank. The 
earlier Caesars had indeed given full powers 
to their representatives in provinces such as 
Egypt, specially reserved to them under the 
constitution of Augustus, but these had always 
been knights of distinction — it was reserved to 
Claudius to raise the authority of freedmen of 
his household to a level with his own and that 
of the laws.^ 

Claudius himself had a passion for sitting 
in judgment, which recalls the judge in Racine's 
comedy. In the early part of his reign he would 
sit all day in the Forum, or in the portico of one 
of the temples, hearing cases even on feast-days, 

^ Tac. Ann. xii. 60: ' Matios posthac et Vedios et cetera 
equitum praevalida nomina, referre nihil attinuerit ; cum 
Claudius libertos, quos rei familiari praefecerat, sibique et 
legibus adaequaverit.' Also Suet., Claudius, 28. 


and giving his decisions rather on what ap- 
peared to him general principles of equity than 
in obedience to the letter of the law. He had a 
loud, hoarse voice, difficult to follow, and though 
he sometimes showed sagacity on the bench, 
his judgments were, we are told, rash and un- 
considered, and at times in the highest degree 
absurd. He would always decide against the 
absent in favour of the present, however in- 
voluntary such absence may have been, and 
in his anxiety to finish the greatest amount 
of business in the shortest possible time would 
often pronounce judgment after hearing only 
one side of the case. He made no attempt to 
preserve his dignity. Pleaders would pull him 
back to the bench by his cloak as he was hurry- 
ing off to his dinner. On one occasion a knight, 
accused of some offence by the meanest kind 
of witnesses, was so exasperated by the emperor's 
stupidity that he flung his papers at the imperial 
head.^ So long, however, as Claudius tried cases 
openly no great harm was done. But after a 
time he was persuaded by his wives and freed- 
men to try political offenders in camera, with his 
unworthy favourites as assessors ; and the worst 
instances of cruelty and oppression that disgraced 
his reign were the result. The opinion of Seneca 
on these methods of administration may be 
gathered from the pasquinade on the apotheosis 
of Claudius which he afterwards wrote, and 
from the reforms in the early part of Nero's 
reign of which he was the author. 

* Suet., Claud, xv. 


Nero was twelve years old when adopted by 
Claudius ; Britannicus, the emperor's son, three 
years younger. They were now brothers in the 
eye of the law, and Nero as the elder was given 
precedence. Claudius announced the adoption in 
a speech to the Senate, defending it on grounds 
suggested to him by Pallas as a step taken in 
the public interest with a view to the lightening 
of his own labours and the provision of a support 
for the childhood of Britannicus. He cited the 
precedents of Augustus, who, in the lifetime of 
his grandsons, had shared his power with his 
stepsons, and of Tiberius, who had adopted his 
nephew Germanicus and placed him on an equality 
with his own son Drusus.^ 

In the year 51 Nero, then at the beginning of 
his fourteenth year, assumed the toga virilis — a 
ceremonial event of much importance in the life 
of a young Roman of distinction, for it marked 
the close of his childhood and his entrance into 
public life. The usual time for this step was the 
beginning of the fifteenth year, but Nero's powerful 
protectors, anxious by his early advancement 
to forward his succession to the principate, 
anticipated by a year the natural period of his 
majority. The Senate, with characteristic sub- 
servience, at once petitioned the emperor by 
address that Nero might be empowered to enter 
on the consulship in his twentieth year, that in 
the meantime as consul designate he might be 

1 The contemporary genealogists observed that the adoption 
of Nero was the first instance of an adoption into the Claudian 
gens although the patrician family of the Claudii was one of 
the oldest in Rome. 


granted proconsular authority outside the city, and 
that the title of princeps jiiventutis, or prince of 
the youth, might be conferred upon him, to all 
which petitions Claudius was graciously pleased 
to assent. The soldiers and people were at the 
same time gratified with donatives. 

Britannicus meanwhile was the object of general 
pity. He was thought a boy of much promise, 
though whether this opinion was well-founded, or 
whether it was merely the result of the interest 
naturally excited by his misfortunes, is a question 
left doubtful by the historian. He was neglected 
by the Court, deprived of the most faithful of his 
attendants, and surrounded by the creatures of 
Agrippina. At the circus games held in honour 
of Nero's majority the people marked the contrast 
between that prince's splendid attire adorned 
with the triumphal ornaments, and the humble 
praetexta, or boy's dress, of Britannicus, and the 
heir to the Empire seemed to be indicated by 
the distinction. The twelve-year-old child having 
continued to call his brother Domitius instead of 
Nero after the adoption, this was made matter 
of grave complaint by Agrippina to Claudius, who 
thereupon removed his former tutors and sub- 
stituted for them the stepmother's nominees. 

The most important step, however, taken by 
Agrippina in her son's interests was the reorganisa- 
tion of the praetorian guard under a single chief. 
This force, to which the protection of the emperor's 
person was entrusted, was at that time under 
the joint command of Geta and Crispinus — two 
officers who owed their commissions to Messalina, 


and were believed to be devoted to the cause of 
her children. They were now removed, on the 
pretext that in the interests of discipline it would 
be better if the whole force were commanded by 
a single prefect, and Afranius Burrhus, a soldier 
of great distinction though of humble origin, was 
appointed in their room. History has little that 
is good to record of Agrippina, but it must be 
admitted to her credit that to her the world owed 
the rise to power of Burrhus and of Seneca, and 
so indirectly the five years of admirable govern- 
ment which those statesmen afterwards enabled 
it to enjoy. 

Though Seneca obeyed the call of Agrippina 
to return to Rome and undertake the educa- 
tion of her son, he would have preferred to make 
other use of his recovered liberty. His own wish 
was to settle in Athens, as Atticus had done, and 
there to live a contemplative life in the study of 
moral and natural philosophy. He soon perceived 
how cruel and profligate was the disposition 
of his young pupil; and, though he persuaded 
himself that he had in some degree succeeded 
in mollifying it, he is said to have observed in 
conversation with his intimates that if ever the 
young lion tasted human blood the ingrained 
ferocity of his nature would assert itself.^ 

In the year 53 Nero, then in his seventeenth 
year, was married to Octavia ; and in the same 
year made his first appearance in the Senate as 
an orator by pleading the cause of the citizens of 
Ilium. This speech was in Greek. It dealt with 

^ Scholiast in Juv. Sat. 5, 109. 


the legendary connection of Rome with Troy 
and the descent of the JuHan race from Aeneas ; 
and won from the wilHng Senate, with the total 
remission of taxes to the men of Ilium which was 
its nominal, the applause which was its real, object. 
This success was followed by a Latin speech 
on behalf of Bonona which had been wasted by 
fire, and a large subsidy in aid of the citizens 
was the result. Of all the arts eloquence pos- 
sessed the least attraction for Nero, and those 
speeches, which excited great admiration, were 
the compositions of Seneca. 

In the following year (54) a succession of strange 
occurrences was thought to portend a revolution. 
There were rumours of monstrous births ; tents 
and standards were struck by lightning ; one 
magistrate from each rank — a quaestor, an aedile, 
a tribune, a praetor, and a consul — died within a 
few months. The emperor's health was failing ; 
and he was beginning to show some symptoms 
of a returning affection for his son Britannicus, 
whose interests were advanced by the still powerful 
freedman. Narcissus. One day he exclaimed in 
his cups that though he was fated to suffer the 
crimes of all his wives, he was fated also to 
punish them.^ Agrippina, thoroughly alarmed, 
resolved to act ; and with the help of a woman 
called Locusta — a poisoner, we are told, long 
considered a necessary instrument of the Court — 
gave poison to her husband in his favourite dish 
of mushrooms. The death was concealed, and 

1 Tac. Ann. xii. 64 : 'Fatale sibi, ut conjugum flagitia ferret, 
dein puniret.' 


Britannicus with his sisters kept within the palace, 
till all was in readiness for the peaceful succession 
of Nero. The Senate had been summoned on 
the news of the emperor's illness, and vows were 
offered for his recovery. At last at midday on 
October 13, the doors of the palace were flung 
open, Nero, escorted by Burrhus, presented to the 
guard and, no rival appearing, received with 
acclamation. Burrhus next brought him to the 
camp ; where, after he had addressed the soldiers 
and promised them a donative, he was saluted as 
imperator. The choice of the soldiers was con- 
firmed by a decree of the Senate, and followed 
by the ready submission of the provinces. 



The first business of the Senate in the new reign 
was to decree a public funeral to Claudius, and 
his apotheosis. On the day of the funeral Nero 
made a speech composed for him by Seneca.^ 
So long as he spoke of the antiquity, triumphs, 
and honours of the Claudian race, of the unbroken 
prosperity in external affairs that distinguished the 
reign of Claudius, and of the taste of that prince for 
letters and the arts, he was heard with approval ; 
but when he went on to praise the late emperor's 
wisdom and foresight his hearers could not restrain 
their laughter ; ' though the speech,' adds Tacitus 
with characteristic ambiguity, ' like all Seneca's 
compositions, was of remarkable elegance and 
charm, for indeed there was something in the 
man's turn of mind which was exactly fitted to 
the taste of that generation/ It is probable that 
the failure of this part of his speech did not 
greatly displease the imperial orator ; for in spite 
of the magnificence of the funeral ceremonies, 
the memory of Claudius and the apotheosis itself 

1 It was observed that he was the first of the emperors whose 
speeches were written for him by others. » ., 


were the subjects of contemptuous ridicule at 
the Court. Claudius, said Gallio, in allusion to 
the hooks with which the bodies of condemned 
criminals were drawn down the steps of the 
Gemoniae and flung into the Tiber, had been 
dragged to heaven with a hook.^ Nero exclaimed 
that now it was clear that mushrooms were food 
for the gods ; and Seneca produced his famous 
jeu cV esprit under the title of the ' Apocolocyntosis 
or Pumpkinification of Claudius.' 

In this satirical medley of prose and verse 
the arrival of Claudius at the gate of heaven with 
dragging foot and perpetually shaking head is 
described ; his reception by Hercules, who, 
accustomed as he is to monsters, is so perturbed 
by the sight of this one that he has to look closely 
before he can distinguish ' a sort of man,' and 
believes himself at odds with a thirteenth labour ; 
the delight of Claudius on hearing himself addressed 
in Greek, and the hope he derives therefrom of 
being able to add his own histories to the library 
of heaven ; the debate in heaven on his admission, 
and his expulsion at the instance of Augustus, 
who makes his maiden speech on the occasion. 
Next we hear of his descent to the infernal regions, 
under the escort of Mercury, by way of Rome, where 
the sight of his own funeral taking place amid 
general rejoicings makes him understand for 
the first time that he is dead ; of his delight on 
his arrival in hell to find himself in the midst 
of old friends, and his discomfiture at the unex- 
pected reply to his inquiry by what good fortune 

» Dion, Ix. 35. 


they all came to be there assembled — ' You sent 
us, murderer of all your kin ' ; of his trial, followed 
by the condemnation to play at dice for ever with 
a bottomless box ; and, finally, of his conveyance 
to Caligula, who claimed him as his slave on the 
plea of having often been seen beating him on 
earth, and his eventual assignment as a clerk 
to Menander, Caligula's freedman. The piece, 
witty and amusing though it be and unique of 
its kind in Latin literature, shows a lack of 
good feeling more characteristic of the time 
than of Seneca, to whose reputation it can add 

The idleness, dissipation, and hatred of business 
which distinguished the young emperor combined 
with his vanity and love of popularity to throw 
the whole administration of affairs in the early 
part of his reign into the hands of Seneca and 
Burrhus. The single object of these two states- 
men appears to have been the public good, and as a 
consequence of this singleness of aim no shadow 
of misunderstanding from first to last marred the 
harmony of their mutual relations — a rare circum- 
stance, as Tacitus remarks, in the history of public 
men. The virtues of the one supplemented 
those of the other. Burrhus was known for the 
austerity of his life, the bluntness of his speech, 
and the severity of his military discipline ; Seneca, 
notwithstanding his stoicism, was a courtier and a 
wit, he knew how to charm others without loss of 
personal dignity, and was a master of eloquence. 

After the funeral ceremonies of Claudius had 
been completed and the pretence of mourning 


laid aside/ Nero made his entry into the Senate- 
house and announced the pohcy of the new reign 
in a speech composed for him by Seneca. After 
reminding his hearers that his boyhood had been 
passed in no scenes of civil or domestic discord, 
and that he had consequently no injuries to avenge 
or hatreds to satisfy, he proceeded to touch on 
the abuses of the late regime and to explain the 
new system of government which he proposed to 
follow. The reign of law, he said in effect, was 
to replace that of caprice. He did not propose to 
busy himself personally in the trial of offenders ; 
the scandal of the secret investigations in the 
Cabinet where accusers and accused alone were 
present was to end ; the court was no longer to be 
a market where offices, privileges, and pardons 
were sold to favourites ; his private fortune must 
be distinguished from the public revenue, his 
household from the ministers of the republic. 
The Senate were to be reinstated in its ancient 
functions, and consular tribunals to be restored 
to Italy and the senatorial provinces, with the 
right of appeal to the Senate.^ Let the Senate, 
he said in conclusion, address themselves to the 
administration of the republic ; he himself would 
take thought for the armies committed to his care. 
This speech was heard with exultation by 

1 ' Peractis tristitiae imitamentis ' {Ann. xiii. 4). 

- This refers to the division of the provinces into imperial 
and senatorial provinces made by Augustus — the latter being 
administered by the Senate, the former directly by himself 
through procurators. Under Claudius the distinction had been 
practically abolished, and the whole Empire, with a few excep- 
tions, sucli as Achaia, governed by the emperor's procurators 
who, like FeUx in Judaea, were often freedmen. 


the senators. They decreed that it should be 
engraved in letters of silver, and read publicly 
at the beginning of each new year, hoping to 
bind the emperor by this recurring publication 
to observe the charter of liberties it contained.^ 
Nor were those hopes at first deceived. The 
Senate, under the direction doubtless of Seneca 
and Burrhus, made early use of its recovered 
liberties, and Acts were passed dealing with recent 
abuses. The young emperor himself declared his 
intention of walking in the steps of his ancestor 
Augustus, and seized every opportunity of showing 
courtesy, humanity, and liberality. The heavier 
taxes were reduced or repealed. Informers were 
discouraged, and their fees reduced to a fourth. 
The ruinous burdens which successful candidates 
for honours had been compelled to endure were 
reduced within more reasonable limits ; appeals 
were instituted from the judges to the Senate ; 
the law against forgery was strengthened ; and 
lawyers' fees were regulated.^ 

These reforms were opposed by Agrippina, 
who had no wish for the downfall of a system 
by which she had profited so largely. But her 
influence was already on the wane. When her 
power had been threatened in the preceding reign, 
she had contrived the death of Claudius in order 
to preserve it, but she was now to find that her 
ambition had overleapt itself. At first, indeed, 
all had gone well. Her violence and imperious 
temper intimidated Nero and bent him to her 
wishes, though he longed to shake off a detested 

» Dion Cassius, Ixi. 3. * Suet. Nero, x. 


yoke. He began by heaping honours on the 
mother to whom he owed the Empire. She 
accepted these honours as her due, and was 
imprudent enough continually to remind him 
of his obligations. The assassination of Silanus, 
Proconsul of Asia, gave early proof of what might 
be expected from the continuance of her power. 
Silanus had owed his safety in the preceding reigns 
to his inactivity and notorious lack of ambition, 
but as a descendant of Augustus he had been 
spoken of as a possible rival to Nero, and he was 
the brother of another Silanus for whose death 
under Claudius Agrippina had been responsible. 
Agrippina, therefore, caused him to be poisoned 
at his own table, employing as her agents two 
men charged with the management of the imperial 
estate in the province. The crime was committed 
with so little attempt at concealment that it was 
a secret to none. Narcissus, too, who had opposed 
her marriage with Claudius, was imprisoned with 
such severity that he took refuge in self-destruction. 
Other executions would have followed but for 
the interposition of Seneca and Burrhus. Nero, 
who was innocent of the murder of Silanus and 
had been opposed to the punishment of Narcissus, 
was glad to support his two ministers, and in so 
doing to satisfy his vanity by earning a reputation 
for clemency and good government. Moreover, 
the man who had most influence with Agrippina 
was the fabulously rich freedman Pallas, her 
paramour, whose moroseness and arrogance had 
made him universally detested. The destruction 
of the power of the freedmen was a preliminary 


step essential to the restoration of the just and 
humane administration contemplated by Seneca, 
and so long as Agrippina remained all-powerful 
that object could not be effected. 

An incident that occurred before Nero had 
been many months emperor served to show 
which side had gained the victory in this brief 
struggle for power between the reformers and 
the upholders of the old system. Agrippina 
had been accustomed during the principate of 
Claudius to appear in the company of that feeble 
sovereign on state occasions and openly to share 
his sovereignty. Nor had she anticipated that 
her position in that respect would be changed for 
the worse by the succession of her son to power. 
But one day Nero was seated on his throne and 
about to receive some Armenian ambassadors, 
when his mother entered the audience chamber 
and advanced with the intention of seating herself 
beside him to share in their reception. Though 
all who were present were indignantly conscious 
that such an assessor would lower the imperial 
dignity in the eyes of the Armenians, Seneca 
alone had the courage to intervene. At his 
whispered suggestion the prince left his throne 
and advanced down the hall, as if out of respect 
to greet his mother. An excuse was then found 
for postponing the reception of the delegates, and 
the scandal was averted. 

Seneca has been charged with ingratitude to 
Agrippina, to whom he owed his return from 
exile and the appointment as Nero's tutor on 
which were founded his wealth and greatness. 


But he had to choose between resistance to the 
power of the empress and the abandonment 
of his projects of reform, and it is by no means 
clear that he ought to have chosen the latter. 
In his treatise De Beneficiis he says that if a 
man has received favours from a tyrant he ought 
to repay him with what benefits he can, so long 
as he can do so without injury to others.^ To 
have supported the cruel and corrupt influence 
of Agrippina would have been signally to have 
violated this condition ; while if he had retired 
from public life, deserted Burrhus, and surrendered 
his opportunities of serving the State, he would 
none the less have been accused of ingratitude 
by Agrippina, who had counted on his active 

At all events the prosperity of the first five 
years of the reign of Nero, the famous quin- 
qiiennmm Neronis, during which the emperor, 
abandoning himself to his pleasures, left the whole 
business of the State to Seneca and Burrhus, 
silenced for the time the detractors of those 
statesmen. The Emperor Trajan was afterwards 
wont to declare that this, in his judgment, was 
the period in which the Romans enjoyed the 
best government under the Empire.^ Even the 
malicious historian Dion Cassius, enemy though 
he was to Seneca's reputation, writes that these 
statesmen, once the full control of affairs had 
fallen into their hands, exercised it with a justice 

1 De Bene}, vii. 20. 

* ' Merito Trajanus saepius testatur procul differre cunctos 
principes Neronis quinquennio ' (Aurelius Victor, de Caesar, c. 5). 


and an ability which won for them universal 
applause.^ It was something when in the strange 
course of human destiny supreme power over the 
civilised world had fallen into the hands of a 
vicious and worthless youth, not only to have 
saved five years from the wreck, but even to have 
made them memorable for their excellence. That 
this feat was accomplished by Seneca cannot 
be denied, though the means he employed to re- 
tain and confirm his power unquestionably need 

The steps taken at the end of the year (54) 
to repel a Parthian invasion of Armenia, and 
the appointment of Corbulo, an able general, 
whose sole claim to promotion lay in his merits 
to the chief military command there, increased 
the confidence felt in the administration, and 
were taken as signs that the era of appointments 
by favour and intrigue was at an end. The 
Senate wished to erect gold and silver statues to 
the emperor, and to call the month of December 
by his name, but he modestly declined these 
honours. Nor would he listen to delators who 
brought accusations of disaffection against knights 
and senators. 

The year 55, the second of the reign, was 
marked by fresh acts of a wise indulgence to 
which the Romans had been unaccustomed since 
the early years of Tiberius. The young emperor 
pledged himself to a policy of conciliation in 
numerous speeches in which the world recognised 
the hand of Seneca. These speeches, adds Tacitus, 

1 Dion, Ixi. 4. 


he put into the prince's mouth either in order to 
display his own talents or else that all might know 
in what honourable principles he had trained 
the mind of his imperial pupil. Most of the 
historian's references to Seneca are marked by a 
certain reserve or unfriendly suggestion as of one 
anxious not to be unfair yet resolved to do no 
more than bare justice to a man with whom he 
was out of sympathy. In this instance it would 
seem, on the face of it, at least as probable that 
in interesting Nero's vanity in a reputation for 
clemency, and engaging him by public professions 
to maintain it, Seneca was acting on public grounds 
as that he was merely endeavouring to win applause 
for himself. 

It was at this time that he addressed to the 
emperor the finely conceived and nobly expressed 
treatise De dementia, the first part of which 
has been happily preserved to us. In this treatise 
the philosopher described the emperor as not only 
the principle of unity that linked together the 
vast regions of the Empire, but also the mind that 
directed the huge body, the limbs of which it 
restrained from mutual destruction. The re- 
public, he said, and Caesar have so grown together 
that they cannot be torn asunder without the 
destruction of both, and the union is such that 
•Caesar will practise clemency to his subjects for 
the same reason that a man is merciful to his 
own members. Bleeding or a surgical operation 
may be required, but he will shed no blood nor 
inflict any pain that is not inevitably necessary 
for the common good. Seneca pictures the young 


prince serenely contemplating the vast masses 
of his subjects — so various in race and character, 
so ready for internecine strife, kept in peace only 
by their common allegiance ; and thus speaking to 
himself : 

From out the host of mortal beings I have been 
chosen and thought worthy to do the work of the gods 
upon the earth. I have been given the power of life 
and death over all the nations. To determine the 
condition and to control the destinies of every race 
and of every individual is my absolute prerogative. 
Whatever Fortune has to give, through my work she 
gives it ; from my rephes as from a fountain peoples 
and cities draw their happiness. There is no prosperity 
in all the world save by my favour and allowance. These 
countless swords, sheathed by my peace, at a sign from 
me would leap from their scabbards. It is in my power, 
were I so minded, utterly to destroy or expatriate whole 
nations ; their liberties are mine to give or to withhold ; 
kings at my word become slaves ; the brow of whom I 
will I encircle with a diadem ; cities come into being or 
are lost according to my will. In this supreme position 
neither anger, nor the natural impetuosity of youth, 
nor the foolish stubbornness of men hardly to be borne 
by the most patient of tempers, nor even that dire 
ambition so common in princes drawing them on to 
display their power by terror-striking acts, have ever 
moved me to inflict a single unjust punishment. The 
humblest blood is precious to me ; my sword lies buried 
in its sheath ; if a suppliant has nothing else to plead, 
yet as a man he will find favour in my sight. My severity 
I keep concealed ; my clemency in the open and ready 
for use. I have rescued the laws from the obscurity 
and neglect into which they had fallen, and I observe 
them as if I too had to render an account of my actions. 
I have been touched by the youth of one prisoner, by the 
age of another ; the rank of some, the helplessness of 


others, have moved me to pardon ; where no other 
reason for mercy could be found, I have forgiven for the 
pleasure of forgiving. If this day the immortal gods 
were to bid me give an account of my stewardship of 
the human race the reckoning would show no loss. ' It 
is true, Caesar,' replies Seneca ; ' and you may claim 
with confidence that of all the citizens entrusted to 
your care not one either through open violence or secret 
treachery has been lost to the commonwealth. Your 
only ambition has been to be praised for the rarest 
quality of all — a glory vouchsafed to none of your pre- 
decessors — the glory of innocence. You have not wasted 
your pains. That singular goodness of yours has not 
been valued grudingly or unwilHngly. Your subjects 
are grateful indeed. No individual was ever so dear 
to another as you, their great and lasting treasure, are 
to the whole Roman people. But you have undertaken 
a heavy task. In this first year you have given us a 
taste of your rule, and have set up a new standard by 
which you yourself will be judged. No one will any 
longer care to remember the times of the divine Augustus 
or the early years of Tiberius ; you yourself have supplied 
the only model by which men will wish that you yourself 
should be guided.' 

No man, wrote Seneca, in one of his letters, 
can paint a picture though his colours are all 
ready unless he knows exactly what it is he wishes 
to paint. In this picture of the innocent autocrat 
who, making his choice between the two great 
rival forces by which men are governed, finds 
his strength in their love rather than in their fear, 
Seneca anticipated, as he often does, the teach- 
ing of Christianity. There may be flattery in his 
words, but it is flattery of a noble sort and directed 
to a noble end. So far Nero, guided by his 
ministers, had really governed his subjects with 


justice and humanity ; and would have almost 
deserved the praise he received had not this 
result been attributable rather to his aversion 
from business and love of popularity than to 
any worthier motive. 

In this second year of his reign Nero, who 
from the first had abhorred his guiltless and 
unhappy wife Octavia, fell passionately in love 
with a young freedwoman named Acte. The affair 
was confided to the prince's boon companions — 
chief among whom was Otho, afterwards emperor 
— and to the ministers, but was otherwise a secret. 
Seneca and Burrhus, hopeless of reconciling Nero 
to Octavia, regarded without displeasure his in- 
fatuation for a good-natured girl, whose influence 
injured no one while it satisfied the dangerous 
passions of her lover in a manner harmless to the 
commonwealth. But Seneca carried his com- 
plaisance too far if it was at his suggestion that 
his most intimate friend, Annaeus Serenus, captain 
of Nero's bodyguard, to disguise the real intrigue, 
played the part of Acte's lover and openly sent 
her the presents which really came from the 
emperor. This artifice at first deceived Agrippina ; 
but she soon came to know the truth. Always 
in extremes, she stormed, menaced, and insulted ; 
and then, finding her rage of no effect, passed 
to the most abject flattery and submission with 
no better success. Nero, when the discovery was 
first made, endeavoured to conciliate her by a 
rich present of robes and jewellery; but this she 
received with disdain, exclaiming that she had 
given him all and he was returning her a part. 


Her subsequent submission merely emboldened 
him to dismiss her minion Pallas from all his 
offices, and openly to bring her power to an end. 

On this Agrippina, flinging prudence to the 
winds, gave a free rein to the ungovernable 
temper which she had inherited from her mother. 
Britannicus, she exclaimed, was now of an age 
to succeed to that inheritance which her own 
injustice had transferred to a usurper. Since so 
many crimes had been committed in vain she 
would confess them all, and, since by the mercy 
of the gods Britannicus still lived, make repara- 
tion. She would go to the camp accompanied by 
Britannicus and present herself to the soldiers — 
bidding them choose between the pedant Seneca, 
who with the low-born cripple Burrhus had the 
audacity to aspire to govern the world, and the 
daughter of Germanicus.^ She was to find, how- 
ever, that an emperor was easier to make than to 

To the unfortunate Britannicus her support 
proved even more disastrous than her hostility. 
Nero's latent jealousy and suspicion had already 
been roused to activity by an incident which had 
occurred during the Saturnalia of the preceding 
December. There was a game played by Roman 
boys consisting in the choice of a ' king ' by lot, 
whose commands, whatever they might be, the 
rest were obliged one by one to obey. On this 
occasion the lot fell on Nero, and to expose 
Britannicus to ridicule he ordered him to stand 
in the middle and sing a song. The boy obeyed ; 

* Tac. Ann. xiii. 14. 


and sang in so pathetic a manner the misfortunes 
of one who had been driven from his father's 
house and despoiled of his inheritance, that he 
moved all his hearers to compassion. 

Agrippina was doubtless aware of her son's 
suspicions when she threatened him with the rivalry 
of Britannicus ; but she does not seem to have 
anticipated their natural result in that prince's 
destruction. Such, however, it proved. The minis- 
trations of Locusta — the recognised Court poisoner 
— were again employed ; and Britannicus was 
poisoned at a banquet in the presence of Nero 
and his Court. The wine, tried by his taster, 
was designedly so heated that he called for water 
to cool it, and in the water thus added to his 
drink a deadly poison was administered. So 
rapid was its effect that he fell back instantly 
deprived of sense. A thrill of horror ran 
through the company. The more imprudent 
dispersed ; others better advised remained seated 
and looked fixedly at Nero for their cue. He 
with an air of indifference remarked that 
Britannicus had from his infancy been subject 
to such fits and that he would soon be better. 
There was a short silence, and then the feast 
proceeded as if nothing had happened. The 
terror and consternation visible in the countenance 
of Agrippina served to convince all present that 
she was as innocent of complicity in the murder 
as Octavia herself, who in spite of her extreme 
youth had been taught by adversity to conceal 
every symptom of feehng. In the same night the 
ashes of Britannicus were hurriedly buried in the 


Campus Martius — all preparations having been 
made beforehand. In a subsequent edict Nero 
defended these hasty obsequies and the omission 
of the usual funeral speeches and ceremonies by 
a reference to ancient usage ; and, bewailing the 
loss of his brother's support, expressed his reliance, 
as the last of a family born to Empire, on the 
enhanced devotion of Senate and people. The 
estate of Britannicus, his houses, and villas, were 
divided by the emperor among the gravest and 
most honoured of his own friends, with the object, 
it was thought, of binding them to acquiescence. 
It would not have been safe to refuse the imperial 
gifts, but the conduct of such men as Seneca and 
Burrhus in accepting them did not escape 
animadversion } 

No presents, however, could soften the anger 
of Agrippina. Her friends were admitted to 
secret interviews ; she raised money from every 
quarter ; she caressed Octavia ; she made court 
to the soldiers ; and extolled the qualities of 
certain of the chief among the nobility as though 
she were seeking a leader for her party. When 
the news of these proceedings reached Nero he 
retaliated by discharging her bodyguard and re- 
moving her from the palace to another house, 
where, always accompanied by a large body of 
centurions, he made her a few brief and formal 

Agrippina's enemies now thought that their 

^ Tac. Ann. xiii. i8 : 'Nee defuere, qui arguerent viros 
gravitatem asseverantes, quod domos, villas, id temporis, quasi 
praedam divisissent.' 


time had come. Junia Silana, formerly her inti- 
mate friend and her rival in race, in beauty, and in 
wantonness, but whose friendship had been turned 
by a private quarrel into hatred, devised a plot 
for her ruin. Two clients of Silana, Iturius and 
Calvisius, agreed to accuse the empress-mother of 
a plot to overthrow Nero and to marry Rubellius 
Plautus, a descendant through his mother of 
Augustus, whom she would at the same time 
place on the throne. An actorc ailed Paris, a 
favourite minister of Nero's pleasures, was chosen 
to reveal the pretended conspiracy. 

Late one night, when the emperor was heavy 
with wine, Paris entered his apartment with 
tragic countenance and told his story. The 
first impulse of the terrified Nero was to give 
order for the immediate execution of his mother 
and Plautus, but he was dissuaded from doing 
so by Burrhus and Seneca, who pointed out the 
flimsy nature of the evidence against Agrippina 
and the injustice of condemning her unheard. 
The next morning Seneca and Burrhus pro- 
ceeded to her house to inquire into the matter, 
when she defended herself with spirit and success, 
and demanded an audience of her son. This 
was granted ; and completed the discomfiture 
of her opponents. Agrippina knew her son 
well. Disdaining to defend herself or to remind 
him of his obligations, she boldly denounced 
her accusers and demanded redress. Nero, who 
was as cowardly as he was cruel and treacherous, 
feared those who defied him, and was accus- 
tomed to submit to his imperious mother. He 


promised all she asked. Silana was exiled for 
life ; Calvisius and Iturius for a term of years. 
Paris could not be spared and was forgiven. 
On this occasion, at least, Seneca and Burrhus 
rescued their former patroness from urgent 



The two following years (56 and 57) were quiet 
and uneventful. Peace reigned throughout the 
Empire, while in Rome the Senate, to which a 
part of its former authority had been restored, 
was occupied in legislative work, especially in 
connection with the administration of the 
revenue, which was transferred from the quaestors, 
to whom it had been entrusted by Claudius, 
to prefects who had served as praetors, and 
were men of longer experience. The decaying 
colonies of Capua and Nuceria were assisted 
by the introduction of new drafts of veterans 
and by subsidies. The Roman import duty 
on slaves was remitted ; but this, observes 
Tacitus, was found to be a boon rather in ap- 
pearance than in reality to the importer, since 
he had already succeeded in transferring the 
tax to the consumer by adding it to his price.^ 

The provincial cities in Italy and else- 
where in the Empire enjoyed at this time an 
almost complete system of self-government. Their 

* Ann. xiii. 31 : 'Quia, cum venditor pendere juberetur, in 
partem pretii emptoribus accrescebat/ 


institutions had been modelled on those of re- 
publican Rome, and unlike those of Rome had 
endured in reality as well as in name. Of muni- 
cipal magistrates the duumviri, answering to 
the consuls, presided over the municipal senate 
and exercised judicial powers ; the aediles were 
in charge of works and buildings and of the 
police ; while the quaestors administered the 
revenue. These magistrates were all elected by 
the people,^ and were expected by public opinion 
to show their sense of the honour conferred 
upon them by a gift to their city. Aqueducts, 
roads, temples, theatres were habitually pre- 
sented to their fellow-citizens by magistrates 
during their term of office. Thus the labour of 
the community was directed to public and not 
to private uses by those to whom the possession 
of money had given the power of choosing its 
direction, and great prosperity was the result. 
' The whole world is full,' wrote the rhetorician 
Aristides under the Antonines, ' of gymnasia, 
fountains, porticoes, temples, workshops, and 
schools ... all the towns are radiant with ele- 
gance and splendour, and the land has become 
one vast garden.' 

In Rome itself all was not so well. The 
administration was, it is true, well conducted by 
Seneca and Burrhus, to whom the emperor left 
the whole business of government. But the de- 
testable character of the degenerate aesthete on 
the throne began so early as the year 56 to make 
itself felt. The public atrocities which followed 

* The suffrage was universal and the elections by ballot. 


his personal assumption of the government were 
foreshadowed by the crimes and extravagances 
by which his private Hfe was aheady stained. 
His favourite nocturnal amusement at this time 
was to sally forth disguised from his palace into 
the streets, accompanied by his boon companions, 
whom he would cause to attack those whom 
they met, insult women, break open doors, and 
plunder shops. Sometimes the people attacked, 
not recognising their assailant, would defend 
themselves vigorously ; and the marks of their 
fists would be visible on the emperor's face the 
next day; so, to avoid such accidents for the 
future, he directed a body of gladiators to follow 
him at a distance, and to use their weapons if 
matters became serious. When it became known 
that Caesar was the hero of these nocturnal 
expeditions his example was followed by others, 
whose objects were more practical, and who used 
his name to secure their booty ; until, according 
to the historian, Rome at night came to resemble 
a captured city given over to plunder. His 
encouragement of faction fights in the theatres 
was scarcely less mischievous. 

These years marked the high tide of Seneca's 
prosperity. ' Seneca,' wrote the elder Pliny of 
that time, ' than whom no man was ever less 
beguiled by appearances, was then the prince of 
learning and at the summit of that power by 
which he was afterwards overwhelmed.' ^ The 

* Pliny, NM. xiv. 4 : ' Novissime Annaeo Seneca, principe turn 
eruditionis ac potentiae quae postremo nimia fuit super ipsum, 
minima utique miratore inanium.' 


most powerful statesman was at the same time 
the most admired writer of the day. His speeches, 
treatises, and poetry were in everybody's hands. 
The rising generation, says Quintihan, would 
scarcely read any other author,* and the concoc- 
tion of epigrams and aphorisms (sententiae) after 
his manner became the literary fashion. 

His nephew Lucan, son of the prudent Mela, 
was the most brilliant of the poets of the new 
school. After other more conventional essays 
in poetry he published, while still under twenty- 
five years of age, the first part of an epic poem 
on the civil wars, written on a completely new plan. 
Boldly discarding the whole of the supernatural 
machinery of Olympus, considered ever since the 
days of Homer an indispensable adjunct to an 
epic, he described events and characters with 
what historical accuracy his researches could 
supply. He had no respect for remote antiquity — 
' famosa vetustas miratrixque stn ' ^ — the stirring 
scenes of the century which preceded his own 
offered material enough for his rushing, impetuous 
rhetoric. Why blunt its force and lose all the 
interest attaching to the connection between 
character and events by invoking the inter- 
position of shadowy beings in whom his readers 
had ceased to believe ? Keenly interested in 
the world as it appeared to him amid the strife 
of men, and a violent partisan, he was, like Byron, 
of too passionate a nature, and lived too much 
in the present to find time for subjective musings, 

^ Quint. X. I : ' Turn autem solus hie fere in manibus 
adolescentium fuit.' * Phars. iv. 654-5. 


for the wonder and pathos of Virgil, or the wide 
surmise of Lucretius. He had, as QuintiHan ob- 
served, the temperament rather of an orator than 
of a poet.^ The romance of reahty, the picture 
of a rudderless world and of the interaction of 
events and character, for the first time challenged 
the ruling idea of every previous epic — the idea 
that men were but irresponsible puppets moved 
by divine agencies which the seer's eyes were 
alone strong enough to detect. The Senecas were 
a daring race of innovators who held Olympus in 
scanty respect. 

I am not such a fool [wrote Seneca in one of his 
letters] as to repeat the old soothing lullabies of Epicurus, 
and to tell you that the fear of hell is vain, that no Ixion 
is bound to a revolving wheel, that the shoulder of 
Sisyphus rolls no stone up the hill, that no entrails 
can be devoured and restored every day. No one is 
childish enough to fear Cerberus and the darkness and the 
ghostly appearance of spirits clinging to their skeletons. 
Death either consumes us or frees us. If we escape, 
better things await us when we have laid down our 
burden ; if we are consumed, nothing remains.^ 

Lucan, in the course of the extravagant com- 
pliment to Nero which disfigures the first book 
of the ' Pharsalia,' declares that the worship of 
all the other gods has been rendered superfluous 
at Rome by the presence of that amiable prince ; 
and entreats him, when he takes his final leave 
of earth, to take up his position well in the centre 

* Inst. Ovat. X. i. 90; ' Lucanus ardens et concitatus et 
sententiis clarissimus et, ut dicam quod sentio, raagis oratoribus 
quam poetis imitandus.* 

* Ep. 24. 


of heaven lest the balance of the universe should 
be imperilled. In the later and republican part 
of the poem he contrasts in a famous line the 
triumphant injustice of the gods with the defeated 
virtue of Cato.^ And we know that Gallio cared 
for none of these things. 

Nero was himself a poet as well as a painter, a 
sculptor, a musician, and a singer. His first step 
on acceding to the principate was to summon 
to the palace Terpnus, the most celebrated lute- 
player of the day, in whose company he would 
spend half the day and half the night listening 
to his performances and receiving his instructions. 
Lucan, too, the nephew of the chief minister, 
was at first in high favour. Nero recalled him 
from Athens, where he was finishing his educa- 
tion, admitted him to the company of his intimate 
friends, and made him quaestor. But Lucan's 
poetic success afterwards excited the emperor's 
jealousy ; who probably also disapproved of his 
disregard for the traditional rules of composition. 
The first publication of poems in Rome consisted 
in their recitation by the author to an invited 
company of friends.^ One day when Nero was 
present at a recitation by Lucan of a newly com- 
posed poem he affected to be weary, and suddenly 
left the room without waiting for the end. This 
was an insult the sensitive poet could not forgive. 
He revenged himself by lampoons and epigrams 
directed against the emperor and his friends, who 

^ i. 128 : ' Victrix causa dels placuit, sed victa Catoni.' 
2 Attendance on such occasions was an imperative social 
obligation, which became to many a nuisance almost intolerable. 


retaliated by forbidding him either to recite or 
to pubUsh any further poems. Nothing could 
have been thought of more calculated to mortify 
and enrage a young author intoxicated by his 
popularity and his public and private triumphs. 
It was then that he wrote the last part of the 
' Pharsalia,' with its stinging attacks on the 
imperial system and its exaltation of the heroes 
of the republic. 

One result of the quarrel between Nero and 
Lucan was the attack directed on the new school 
by writers connected with the Court. Conspicuous 
among these was Petronius, the leader of Nero's 
dissolute friends, the arbiter of fashion, an artist 
in luxury, a man for whose judgment in such 
matters the emperor had so high a respect that 
he thought no diversion agreeable or refined until 
Petronius had stamped it with the hall-mark of 
his approval. In a kind of picaresque character- 
novel, unique of its kind in surviving Latin litera- 
ture, Petronius introduced an old poet called 
Eumolpus, very much out-at-elbows, to plead the 
cause of classical tradition against new methods. 
Eumolpus complains that in these degenerate 
times, when a man has learnt the art of making 
glittering epigrams in the schools of rhetoric 
and proved a failure at the Bar, he turns to the 
composition of poetry as to a haven of rest and 
enjoyment. Yet really to be a poet he should be 
steeped in literature, he must avoid all popular 
or hackneyed diction, his epigrams must not 
stand out abrupt and disconnected from the 
body of his discourse, but be woven with 


concealed art into the texture of the material they 
adorn. Homer and Virgil, and Horace with his 
exquisite ielicity— curiosa felicitas— prove this. 

For instance [he adds, in direct allusion to the 
' Pharsalia '], a man who should be daring enough to 
undertake to sing of the Civil War without being in the 
central current of literature will sink under the burden. 
We do not want him to tell us what really happened ; 
historians will do that far better. The poet should 
lead us rapidly hither and thither ; he should not hesitate 
to use his invention or to have recourse to the intervention 
of the gods, so that we may rather gain the impression 
of a soul not mistress of herself but inspired by a divine 
frenzy than of a witness giving his careful evidence in 
a court of justice.^ 

Eumolpus proceeds to illustrate his meaning 
by reciting 295 verses of his own composition, 
in which he had rewritten the opening section 
of the ' Pharsalia ' according to the traditional 
method. The gods of Olympus are introduced; 
and more or less direct events. Venus, Mercury, 
and Mars are on the side of Caesar ; Apollo, 
Diana, Hercules, and Mercury are Pompeians. 
But the only result of the experiment is to convince 
the reader how right Lucan was to dispense with 
this antiquated machinery, especially in a subject 
so modern; how superfluous in accounting for 
the motives of the various actors in the drama 
is the hypothesis of divine suggestion ; and how 
by that hypothesis the human interest of the 
story is diminished. 

The attack on the schools of rhetoric in the 
first chapter of what is left to us of the book is 
more effective. A sensible protest is there made 

» Sat. 118. 


against the emptiness of the teaching in such 
places. The themes of declamation, the writer 
declares, are ridiculous and impossible ; the good 
literature of the past is entirely neglected ; the 
great object is to achieve smartness of phrase and 
an appearance of brilliancy however unrelated these 
may be to the realities of life ; the whole is neglected 
for the parts : in fact, he concludes, so soon as 
eloquence began to be studied as an art and taught 
by rule of thumb, men ceased to be eloquent — 
just as a man who spends much time in the kitchen 
will not be savoury. Whatever takes the fancy 
of boys is unlikely to be really fine, yet it is 
exactly that which is most admired and studied 
in the schools. Quintilian said the same thing 
of Seneca when he expressed his regret that one 
who could do all that he pleased should so often 
through lack of judgment be pleased to do what 
was not worth doing, for that if judgment had 
been added to his other gifts, instead of being the 
delight of boys he might have won the approval 
of men of taste.^ 

The year 58 was illustrated by the victories 
of Corbulo over the Parthians in Armenia. The 
successes of this able commander, who had restored 
the almost ruined discipline of the forces under 
his command, were recognised by the Senate after 
their usual manner in decrees for statues and 
triumphal arches to the emperor under whose 
auspices they were achieved. In the same year 
Seneca incurred a certain degree of unpopularity 
in connection with the trial and condemnation 
of Publius Suilius. This man had been a notable 

^ Quintilian, x. i. 


informer under Claudius, and the chief instrument 
of Messalina's cruelty. He it was who, at the 
instance of the Court, brought the charges which 
proved fatal to Julia, daughter of Drusus, Valerius 
Asiaticus, Lupus, and many others. He had, in 
fact, been the Fouquier Tinville of the worst years 
of Claudius ; and as such was particularly odious 
to the humane Seneca to whom the death of no 
Roman citizen during his term, of power has been 
imputed by any historian. After the death of 
Claudius and the change of system, Suilius showed 
no penitence for his misdeeds — preferring, says 
Tacitus, the reputation of a criminal to the atti- 
tude of a suppliant. In the year 58 he was prose- 
cuted under the lex Cincia for having accepted 
fees as an advocate beyond the legal limit. The 
charge itself was unfair, for the law was obsolete 
and had been habitually disregarded ; but his 
adversaries were resolved that Suilius should not 
altogether escape the penalty of his misdeeds, and 
their impatience would not suffer them to await 
the issue of the indictment for peculation and 
oppression in his government of Asia which, also 
brought against him, could not, owing to diffi- 
culties in collecting evidence, be proceeded with 
for a year. Suilius, in no wise abashed, retorted 
by accusations against Seneca which, reported 
by Tacitus, and repeated with amplifications by 
Dion or his abbreviator, Xiphilinus, have been ac- 
cepted with too ready a credence by later historians. 

Seneca [he said], who had been most justly exiled 
by Claudius, could never forgive that prince's friends. 
He had passed his life in futile controversies that amused 


the inexperience of youth ; and was envious of those who 
had kept burning the torch of Hving and uncorrupted 
eloquence in the defence of their fellow-citizens. He 
(Suilius) had been quaestor to Germanicus ; but Seneca 
had stained the honour of that prince's house. Was it 
worse to accept a fee for honourable work from a client 
who was ready to give it, or to corrupt the virtue of royal 
women ? Was it virtue and the maxims of philosophy 
that taught him to accumulate so vast a fortune in 
four years of Court favour ? At Rome he had drawn 
in legacies as with a net ; the provinces were exhausted 
by his usuries. 

The language of the old accuser was reported 
to Seneca v^ith exaggerations, and did not incline 
him to indulgence. The trial was pressed on, and 
conducted before the emperor himself. Suilius 
pleaded that all he did was by order of Claudius, 
but Nero interrupted him to say that he had 
ascertained from his father's notes that no accusa- 
tion had been commanded by him. Then Suilius 
alleged the commands of Messalina, but was 
asked why he alone was chosen to give his voice 
and services to the tyrant ? In the end a part 
of his goods was confiscated, and he himself 
banished to the Balearic islands, where he is said 
to have passed the remainder of his life in great 
comfort. His son Nerulinus, who was shortly 
afterwards prosecuted, was acquitted at the in- 
stance of the emperor. Seneca has been charged 
with vindictiveness on this occasion, yet if times 
and circumstances are taken into account, we may 
rather wonder at the mildness of the vengeance 
which a powerful minister thought it sufficient to 
exact from such an adversary. 


the tragedy of baiae. institution of the 

' juvenalia: 59 

The power of Seneca, whose position had been 
in some degree shaken by the attacks of Suilius, 
was threatened at about the same time by a 
more formidable antagonist. Poppaea Sabina, 
beautiful, charming, nobly born, rich, and intelli- 
gent, concealed beneath a modest exterior a cold 
heart, a calculating disposition, and a total lack 
of scruple. She was married to the brilliant and 
dissipated Otho, one of the chief friends of Nero 
and ornaments of his Court, after having been 
divorced from a former husband, Crispinus. Otho, 
whether from imprudence or ambition, vaunted 
the charms of his wife to the emperor, and would 
often, when about to rejoin her after dining at the 
palace, describe in glowing terms the happiness 
to which he was returning. The natural result 
followed. Poppaea was presented to Nero, and at 
first affected to be deeply smitten by his beauty 
while awed by his greatness. But when the 
emperor proceeded to make her his addresses 
she changed her tone, spoke of her duty to Otho, 
and contrasted that courtier's liberality and 


magnificence with the poorness of spirit shown 
in Nero's devotion to Acte the freedwoman, with 
whom she scorned to enter into competition. 
Otho was banished from the Court and in some 
danger of his Ufe, but finally Nero, through the 
interposition of Seneca, sent him out as governor 
to Lusitania, where, like Petronius in Bithynia, he 
proved by the excellence of his administration 
that his extravagance and debauchery in Rome 
had been due rather to the lack of any more 
rational cutlet for his activity than to a vicious 
disposition. That he was capable of magnanimity 
he showed in the last scene of his life ; and his 
friendship for Seneca, of which Plutarch speaks, 
stands to his credit.^ 

There were many complaints in this year of 
the rapacity and injustice of the farmers of the 
taxes ; and in consequence the total abolition 
of customs duties was seriously debated in Nero's 
Council. This drastic proposal having been 
abandoned other measures were taken. In order 
to secure that no more money should be raised 
than was needed for public purposes, an edict was 
issued that the nature of each tax and the principles 
on which it was collected, which had hitherto 
been kept secret, should be published by the 
tax-gatherers, and that no demand should be 
made later than a year after a tax had become 
due. In the assessment of a merchant's posses- 
sions for purposes of taxation, his ships were not 

^ He remained for ten years governor of Lusitania, returning 
in 68 for the stormy three months' reign which was ended by his 
defeat and death. Tac. Ann. xiii. 45 ; Suet. Otho, 3. 


to be taken into account. Observance of these 
excellent provisions did not long outlast the power 
of Seneca and Burrhus. 

The following year (59) brought with it the 
definite emancipation of Nero, and the conse- 
quent decline of good government. Although the 
emperor hated his mother, although he exercised 
his ingenuity to contrive mortifications for her 
to the point of hiring bravoes to shout insults 
from their boats as they sailed past her villa on 
the Campanian coast, he could never overcome 
the awe with which she inspired him, and when 
she met him face to face she could always bend 
him to submission. Agrippina was therefore an 
obstacle to the ambitious designs of Poppaea, 
who knew that while she lived Nero would never 
dare to discard Octavia and marry herself. 
Scandalous rumours were abroad and widely 
credited, that Agrippina was endeavouring to 
preserve her power by inviting her son to incest ; 
while a minority declared that the horrible 
suggestion proceeded from Nero himself. In any 
case Acte, prompted by Seneca, brought these 
rumours to the notice of the emperor, with the 
intimation that if they gained credit among the 
soldiers there would be a mutiny. Nero, greatly 
alarmed and already moved by the persistent 
taunts of Poppaea, resolved to rid himself of his 
mother ; and, his first attempts to poison her having 
been foiled by the precautionary measures of the 
experienced empress, cast about for other means. 

Anicetus, a freedman in command of the fleet 
at Misenum and an enemy of Agrippina, suggested 


the expedient that was adopted. He offered to 
supply a vessel so constructed that at a given 
signal the roof of the principal cabin might 
be made to fall in, and the ship itself to sink 
through the opening of a hole in the bottom. 
The contrivance being approved, Nero wrote a 
letter to his mother couched in terms of humility 
and submission, in which he prayed for a recon- 
ciliation, and invited her to meet him at Baiae. 
Agrippina went rejoicing, was received with 
loving effusion, nobly entertained, placed above 
her son at table, treated at first with the affection- 
ate lightness, ease, and familiarity natural to a 
young man in conversation with his mother, and 
afterwards to her yet greater satisfaction gravely 
consulted on matters of State, until the hour came 
at last for her departure. Then Nero embraced 
her with extraordinary warmth, and seemed un- 
able to detach his gaze from her countenance. 

It was a fine starlight night, and the sea was 
calm when Agrippina went on board the gaily 
decorated ship that had been prepared for her. 
She was sitting in her cabin with a maid and 
Gallus, one of her suite, when, soon after the ship 
had left the harbour, part of the ceiling fell in 
and crushed Gallus to death. The empress and 
her attendant, Acerronia, however escaped all 
hurt ; and, the mechanism through which a 
leak was to have been simultaneously sprung 
having failed to act, those of the sailors who 
were in the secret endeavoured to capsize the 
boat by bringing all weight to bear on one side. 
Agrippina and Acerronia were thrown into the sea, 


where Acerronia either attempted to save herself 
at her mistress's expense, or else her mistress 
at her own — it must ever be doubtful which — by 
crying out that she was the empress, and calling 
for help for the emperor's mother. Thereupon 
she was beaten to death by the oars of the sailors. 
Agrippina swam for her life, and was rescued by a 
boat from the shore. Returned to her villa, re- 
flection on the circumstances convinced her both 
that a crime had been attempted and that she 
must conceal her suspicions. She therefore sent 
a messenger to Nero to inform him of the grave 
danger she had been in, and to relieve his anxiety 
on her account by the assurance that, except for 
a slight blow on the shoulder, she had sustained 
no injury. She begged him not to come to her 
for the present, though she knew his impulse 
would be to come, for what she needed most of 
all for her recovery was complete rest and quiet. 

Nero was terrified by the news that his attempt 
had failed. His guilty imagination pictured the 
daughter of Germanicus full of rage, rousing the 
soldiers, arming slaves, and proclaiming her 
wrongs to Senate and people. He sent for Seneca 
and Burrhus, told them all that had happened, 
and asked their advice. They had none to give. 
But Anicetus was not at the end of his resources. 
He had already contrived to slip a dagger between 
the feet of Agrippina's messenger while he was 
performing his commission. The man was seized, 
accused of having been sent by Agrippina to 
assassinate the emperor, and promptly executed. 
Anicetus now proposed to slay the empress in her 


villa, and to give oxit that she had destroyed 
herself on hearing that her plot to take her 
son's life had failed. Nero eagerly agreed to this 
proposal, and the deed was done. 

Matricide, even in the Rome of the first cen- 
tury, was thought an enormous crime ; and Nero 
dreaded the effect of the news on public opinion. 
Had his first contrivance proved successful and 
the death of Agrippina seemed the result of an 
accident at sea, it had been his intention to express 
sorrow for her loss and to honour her memory in 
the customary manner with altars and temples. 
As it was he knew not what to expect, and was 
appalled by a sense of the magnitude of a crime 
which, had it passed unsuspected by others, would 
have probably given his seared conscience no 
uneasiness. But the next morning he was en- 
couraged by the flattery of the military officers, 
who came at the suggestion of Burrhus, to con- 
gratulate him on his escape from the dagger of 
Agrippina's emissary. The neighbouring towns 
of Campania followed suit by sending delegates 
to felicitate the emperor and by offering sacrifices 
of thanksgiving in their temples. Nero himself 
affected, out of grief for his mother's loss, almost 
to regret his own escape ; but he could no longer 
endure the sight of Baiae and came to Naples, from 
which place he sent a letter to the Senate composed 
for him by Seneca. In this letter, after relating 
how one of Agrippina's confidential freedmen 
had been surprised in his presence armed with a 
dagger, and how the empress on the miscarriage 
of her attempt against his life had taken her own, 


he proceeded to an indictment of the whole of 
his mother's career. He dwelt on the atrocities 
of the reign of Claudius, and insinuated her re- 
sponsibility for them ; he recalled her ambition 
to be his colleague in the Empire and to receive 
in his company the oath of allegiance ; and 
asserted that on her failure to achieve this object 
she had opposed all donatives to soldiers or people. 
He was obliged, he added, to recognise, however 
great his natural grief for her loss might be, 
that her death was a public benefit.^ The letter 
deceived nobody. No one could believe that 
the wreck was an accident or that Agrippina 
would have been mad enough to send a single 
individual to attack the emperor in the midst of 
his guards. The character of Nero was already 
so well known that no fresh infamy on his part 
could any longer cause surprise ; but the composi- 
tion of the letter by Seneca was the subject of 
hostile criticism, and was not only regarded at the 
time by his enemies as an avowal of complicity 
in the murder, but has weighed more heavily on 
his memory ever since than any other incident 
in his career. Yet that Seneca and Burrhus were 
the accomplices or advisers of Nero's plot to 
murder his mother is in a high degree improb- 
able ; it is unlike all we know of their characters ; 
and, as the event proved, such advice would have 

^ In this letter occurred the ingenious phrase afterwards 
quoted by QuintiUan as an example of a form of the senientia : 
' Facit quasdam sententias sola geminatio : qualis est Senecae 
in eo scripto quod Nero ad Senatum misit occisa matre, cum se 
periclitatum videri vellet : " Salvum me esse adhuc nee credo 
nee gaudeo " ' (Quint, viii. 5), 


been as unwise from the standpoint of their own 
interests as wicked from every other. After the 
deed had been done, Seneca probably convinced 
himself that there was nothing better to do than 
to make the best of a bad situation, and that if to 
desert his post, to abandon Burrhus, and to leave 
the Empire to the mercies of Nero would be an 
unpatriotic course, the only alternative was, not 
to condone the crime, but to deny that a crime 
had been committed. ' What better proof can 
a man give of devotion to virtue,' he wrote in 
one of his letters, * than a readiness to sacrifice 
reputation itself for conscience' sake ? ' ^ Yet when 
all is said, the letter to the Senate remains of all 
the recorded actions of Seneca the least defensible. 
Nero might have spared himself anxiety with 
regard to the Senate. The chief preoccupation 
of that assembly at this crisis was to show the 
unqualified nature of their submission to the 
autocrat. Decrees were passed for thanksgivings 
to the gods at every shrine ; for the annual cele- 
bration of the day on which the supposed plot 
had been frustrated ; and for the erection of a 
golden statue to Minerva to be placed next to 
that of the prince in the senate-house. Thrasea 
Paetus, who up to that time had acquiesced in 
silence or in a few formal words to decrees passed 
in honour of Nero, refused further compliance and, 
decHning to assent to these new compliments on 
such an occasion, withdrew from the senate-house, 
to which he but seldom returned. ' His action,' 
observes Tacitus drily, ' though full of danger to 

1 Ep. 81. 


himself was of no service to the cause of hberty.' * 
Nor were the people to be outdone in their 
manifestations of loyalty to the prince — a loyalty 
which with them was not wholly feigned, for 
Nero's lavish bounties, his shows, and popular 
manners had made him a favourite with the mob, 
while Agrippina, on the other hand, had been very 
unpopular. When, therefore, after an unusually 
long stay in Campania, he nerved himself to 
return to Rome, he was received with an enthu- 
siasm which far surpassed his most sanguine 
hopes, and made a triumphant entry into the city. 
This experience convinced him that he might do 
what he would with impunity ; and from this 
time forward he gave free play to the boundless 
intemperance of his vicious will. 

Nero was inordinately vain of his voice and of 
his performances on the lute. That his musical 
genius should be universally recognised was his 
chief ambition, and he longed to appear on the 
public stage there to win applause such as had 
been given to no other performer. He was wont 
to justify his passion for song and music by the 
example of a god honoured not only in Greece 
but in Rome, with whom the poets of his time 
never wearied of comparing him.^ And song, he 

* In making this remark the historian may have had in mind 
his own contrasted conduct under the tyranny of Domitian, 
during which he continued to attend the Senate and with bitter- 
ness in his heart shared in all its degradation. 

• Senec. Apoc. : ' lUe mihi similis vultu similisque decore. 
Nee cantu nee voce minor.' Lucan, Phars. i. 48-50 : ' Seu te flam- 
miferos Phoebi transcendere currus, Telluremque, nihil mutato 
sole timentem, Igne vago lustrare juvat.' Cf. also eclogues in 
Anthologia Latina of Riese, 725 and 726. 


would argue with some justice, is nothing without 
an audience.^ But Phoebus was not only the 
god of music, he was the charioteer of the sun ; 
and here also he was followed by the emperor. 
For Nero's second passion was the management 
of horses in chariots ; his skill in which he was 
almost as anxious to exhibit to the public as the 
beauty of his voice. While, however, his mother 
lived he shrank from degrading the majesty of the 
Caesars by the self-exposure involved in public 
exhibitions. He hated Agrippina, but he dreaded 
her contempt.^ 

After the death of Agrippina, Seneca and 
Burrhus found it impossible longer to resist the 
prince's inclinations. In the hope, therefore, that 
by a compromise they might satisfy his vanity 
while averting a public scandal, they caused a 
space of level ground at the foot of the Palatine 
hill to be enclosed on which Nero might exhibit 
his skill as a charioteer to a selected audience. 
But vanity, like jealousy, is a passion that makes 
the meat it feeds on ; and the only effect on Nero 
of the applause of his friends was to make him 
hunger for a larger circle of spectators. Barriers 
were cast aside and the Roman people invited 
to the spectacle. The populace, delighted to see 

^ Suet. Nero, 20 : ' Jactans occultae musicae nullum esse 

^ It has been thought remarkable, and a proof of their hard- 
ness of heart, that the Romans were more shocked by Nero's stage 
performances than by his cruelties or debaucheries. But if we 
consider what would have been the effect in modern times on 
the minds of their subjects of the appearance of a German or a 
Russian emperor on the public stage of the opera in female 
costume we shall feel less surprise. 


their emperor personally contributing to their 
favourite amusement, were loud in their plaudits ; 
while the ministers found to their distress that 
in endeavouring to direct and control they had 
only fanned the flame of Nero's folly. To cover 
his shame he persuaded the hoblest youth of Rome 
to follow his example, and rewarded with large 
sums of money those of them whose poverty if 
not their will consented. 

But though Nero had performed before the 
public as a charioteer, he did not as yet ven- 
ture to appear in the theatre as a singer or 
actor. For mimes, for all exhibitions of a 
man's person or physical accomplishments with 
a view to the public entertainment, the Romans 
had a contempt unparalleled in any nation ancient 
or modern. Self-exposure of any kind they 
condemned as a violation of that pudor which 
they ranked so high among the virtues. Nero 
was a poet and musician as well as a singer. He 
could sing his own poems to the accompaniment 
of his own lyre and music of his own composition, 
and he was resolved not to hide his talents. With 
this end in view he instituted the juvenalia, 
or festivals of the youth, to consist of musical 
and dramatic performances. These were privately 
celebrated from time to time in the emperor's 
palace gardens, and were accompanied by much 
profligacy and debauchery. They were attended 
by the Court, together with men and women of 
noble birth and of all ages, many of whom shared 
in the performances. Here, for the first time, 
Nero appeared on the boards in costume, lyre 


in hand, to sing songs which were greeted with 
rapturous applause. A group of Roman knights, 
taking the name of Augustani, formed them- 
selves into a society, the sole object of which 
was to applaud the emperor and to proclaim the 
glory of the ' divine voice.' Burrhus himself, 
with the officers of the guard, was reluctantly 
obliged to be present and to join in the applause.^ 
As Tacitus makes no mention of Seneca in this 
connection, we may perhaps infer that the 
philosopher excused himself from attendance. 

1 Ann. xiv. 15 : ' Centuriones tribunique et maerens Burrhus 
et laudans.' 




In spite of Nero's growing self-confidence and 
impatience of control, his aversion from business 
secured two more years of relatively wise and 
humane administration to Rome after the death 
of Agrippina. Until his vanity, that ' insatiate 
cormorant,' had consumed the vast resources 
left for its satisfaction by the economies of his 
predecessor, he was under no temptation to 
resort to oppression for its further supply. The 
law of majestas had been suffered to become 
obsolete ; informers had been discouraged ; 
governors of provinces had been made to give a 
strict account of their stewardship, and punished 
when they deserved it ; and the popularity which 
these wise measures of his ministers brought 
to the prince was more than doubled by the 
extravagance of his shows and his lavish dis- 
tributions of presents to the people. 

The chief event at Rome of the year 60 was 
the solemn institution by Nero of quinquennial 
games, consisting of gymnastic and musical con- 
tests, and also of chariot racing — destined to be 


continued at intervals of five years for centuries. 
A festival of this kind, copied from a Greek model, 
was a novelty to the Romans, who had been ac- 
customed to profess a singular contempt for the 
athletic and artistic achievements held in such 
honour by the Greeks.^ There were mutterings 
from conservatives, who deplored the State 
encouragement of Greek accomplishments un- 
worthy of Romans ; but these were answered by 
the upholders of modern ideas, who dwelt on the 
relief to the magistrates, ruined by the expense 
of the shows they were obliged to provide for the 
people out of their private means, when a part of 
this expense should be defrayed from the public 
purse ; and also on the stimulus to intellectual 
activity which the prizes at these contests for 
poetry and eloquence would supply. The first 
celebration of the Neronia, as the games were 
called, was decently conducted. The prize for 
eloquence was not competed for but formally 
allotted to Nero. 

The following year (61) was rendered memor- 
able by the disaster in Britain, where 70,000 
Romans are said to have been massacred in a 
sudden rising of the inhabitants under their warrior 
queen, Boadicea. The rising was suppressed by 
the energy and ability of the governor, Suetonius 
Paullinus. Nero had no liking for successful 
commanders, and Suetonius was rewarded for 
his victory by his recall. 

1 Lucan, vii. 270: ' Graiis delecta juventus Gymnasiis aderit, 
studioque ignava palaestrae.' Tac, Ann. xiv. 20 : ' Degener- 
etque studiis externis juventus, gymnasia et otia et turpes am ores 
exercendo, Principe et Senatu auctoribus.' 


In Rome the event of the year which excited 
the greatest interest was the murder of Pedanius 
Secundus, prefect of the city, by one of his own 
slaves, because of the demand which followed it 
for the enforcement of the old law under which 
when a master was killed by a slave all the other 
slaves of the household as well as himself were 
put to death. The people had grown accustomed 
to a milder regime, and the proposed punishment 
of so large a number of their fellow-men of both 
sexes and of every age nearly caused a revolt. 
Even in the Senate a minority protested against 
the application of so severe a law. The writings 
of Seneca, the most widely read author of the day, 
in which he pleaded the cause of slaves, insisted 
on their common humanity, called them ' humble 
friends ' and fellow-servants of fortune, and 
laughed at those who held it degrading to sit 
at table in their company, may have had some 
effect on public opinion. ^ Tacitus has preserved 
for us a speech made in the Senate by one 
Caius Cassius, in which we have the judgment of 
a Roman senator of the old school on the new 
ideas, full of false sentiment and degenerate soft- 
ness as he would think them, which found their 
leading exponent in the treatises of Seneca :— 

I have very often been present, Patres Conscripti, 
in this assembly when proposals have been made 

1 Ep. 47 : ' Servi sunt ? imo homines. Servi sunt ? imo con- 
tubernales. Servi sunt ? imo humiles amici. Servi sunt ? imo 
conservi, si cogitaveris tantundem in utrosque licere fortunae. 
Itaque rideo istos qui tvirpe existimant cum servo suo coenare : 
quare ? nisi quia superbissima consuetude coenanti domino 
stantium servorum turbam circumdedit.' 


contrary to the laws and institutions of our ancestors, 
and I have raised no opposition. This was not because 
I doubted at any time the wisdom and right policy of 
our ancient institutions, or supposed they could be 
altered except for the worse ; but, in the first place, 
because I would not in my zeal for the old order appear 
to attach too much importance to my own opinion ; 
and, in the second place, because a continual course of 
opposition in matters of lesser moment is apt to weaken 
the force of our resistance at times when the highest 
interests of the commonwealth are threatened. Consider 
what has just happened, A man of consular rank has 
been killed in his own house by a treacherous slave. 
No one interfered to save him or revealed the plot, 
and that although the law under which the whole family 
became responsible for his safety had not yet been called 
into question. Pass then, in the name of heaven, your 
act of indemnity. Whose rank will protect him when 
the prefecture of the city is of no avail ? How many 
slaves shall we need for our defence when four hundred 
could not secure the safety of Pedanius ? . , . Some 
there are who are not ashamed to pretend that the 
assassin was avenging the wrongs he had suffered 
because he was himself being robbed. Let us say at 
once, then, that Pedanius was justly slain ! Would you 
have me find arguments for enforcing a law established 
long ago by wiser men than we ? Well, then, I will 
suppose that it is a question of passing it for the first 
time, and I ask you whether it is credible that a slave 
should have formed the intention of kiUing his master 
and given no hint to any of his design by a single rash 
or threatening word ? He concealed his plot very suc- 
cessfully forsooth ; no one saw his weapon ; he passed 
the guard ; he opened the doors of the bed-chamber ; 
he passed in bearing a torch ; he committed the murder ; 
and no one was aware of what he was doing ! It is im- 
possible. , , . Our ancestors mistrusted the disposition 
of slaves, even when born in their own houses or on their 
estates and therefore bound to them by lifelong ties 


of affection and gratitude. But now when households 
are made up from distant nations, when we have slaves 
whose manners and religion differ so widely from our 
own, we can certainly never keep this vile multitude in 
order except by working on their fears. The innocent, 
it is said, will perish with the guilty. Why, so they do 
in a defeated army, when every tenth man is beaten 
to death ; the lot may fall on the brave. Something 
of injustice you will find in every great example ; but 
the interests of individuals must be sacrificed to the 
general good. 

No senator was bold enough openly to oppose 
the views of Cassius, and, though dissentient 
murmurs were heard condemning the mockery of 
justice that took neither sex nor age nor patent 
innocence into account, it was resolved that the 
law should be enforced. Riots ensued among the 
populace, and a threat of resistance was uttered. 
Thereupon the imperial displeasure was pro- 
claimed by edict, the road from the prison to 
the place of execution was lined with soldiers, 
and the four hundred slaves, men, women, and 
children, were put to death. 

The year 62 opened ominously with the revival 
of the law of majestas, or treason, which had 
lain dormant since the death of Claudius. At a 
banquet given at the house of Ostorius Scapula 
the praetor Antistius, one of the guests, recited 
some scurrilous verses of his own composition 
against the emperor. Cossutius Capito, who had 
been raised to senatorial rank by the influence 
of his father-in-law, Tigellinus, accused Antistius 
of treason before the Senate. Ostorius declared 
that he had heard no verses recited, but credit 


was given to the evidence of other witnesses, and 
Junius MaruUus, consul designate, moved that 
Antistius should be deprived of his praetorship 
and put to death in the ancient fashion. But 
Thrasea Paetus rose to oppose this motion, and, 
after much praise of Caesar and reproaches 
addressed to Antistius, declared that savage 
punishments such as that demanded belonged 
to another age, and that the laws allowed the 
adoption of milder alternatives. He therefore 
moved that Antistius should be punished by the 
confiscation of his property and banishment to 
an island. This motion was carried on a division ; 
but, before venturing to give effect to it, the consuls 
thought it prudent to ask counsel of the emperor. 
Nero, offended and embarrassed, replied that he 
had been attacked without a cause by Antistius, 
who certainly deserved to be punished. For 
the rest, had the Senate decided on the severer 
penalty, he should have interfered to prevent its 
infliction, but he could make no objection to their 
moderation. Indeed, they might acquit the 
prisoner altogether if they so pleased. In spite 
of the manifest annoyance of the emperor, the 
Senate did not recede from their vote ; some of 
them, says Tacitus, in order not to expose the 
prince to unpopularity, others perceiving safety 
in numbers, and Thrasea out of his natural great- 
ness of soul. This was perhaps the last occasion 
during Nero's reign on which the Senate showed 

The death of Burrhus, which soon followed, 
dealt a shattering blow to Seneca's power and 


influence for good. It is to the credit of both men 
that the friendship and union between them had 
remained throughout unbroken by any sentiment 
of rivalry or jealousy ; and, while the military 
force was under the command of Burrhus, Nero 
did not venture to rid himself of Seneca. Burrhus 
was succeeded in the command of the Praetorians 
by Tigellinus, the most profligate and corrupt of 
Nero's associates, with whom as a concession to 
public opinion was joined as a colleague Fenius 
Rufus — an honest man, liked by the soldiers 
and respected by the people on account of the 
integrity with which he had administered the 
distribution of corn. But Rufus was given no 
real power, while Tigellinus, on the other hand, 
who had cultivated a good understanding with 
Poppaea, acquired a predominant influence over 
the emperor, whose worst impulses he encouraged. 
After the death of Burrhus the enemies of 
Seneca redoubled their attacks, to which they per- 
ceived that the emperor was beginning to listen with 
scarcely veiled satisfaction. With the exaggera- 
tion customary in all ages when the fortunes of 
public men are in question, they dwelt on the 
extent of his revenues too vast for a subject, the 
number of his villas, and the beauty of his gardens, 
almost surpassing in magnificence, so they said, 
those of the emperor himself. They accused 
him, probably with more justice, of depreciating 
Nero's skill as a charioteer, and of openly derid- 
ing the celestial voice. They insinuated that he 
claimed a monopoly of eloquence, that so soon 
as Nero had begun to write poetry his own poetical 


activity had been found to increase, and that, in 
fact, he would allow nothing of eloquence to 
appear in the republic that did not proceed from 
himself. Nero, they said, had passed his child- 
hood ; let him shake off his yoke, and show that 
he needed no other guidance than that supplied 
him by the example of his ancestors. 

The appointment of Tigellinus to the post of 
Burrhus convinced Seneca that he could be of no 
further service to the State, and he became anxious 
to retire from public life. But it was no easy 
matter to withdraw from the service of the 
suspicious Nero. Seneca himself in one of his 
letters, with the worldly wisdom which he 
commonly blends with his philosophy, observed 
that it is dangerous to seem to seek a safe retreat, 
since a man implicitly condemns that which he 
shuns. ^ However, he obtained an audience, and on 
the plea of age and growing infirmities begged to 
be allowed to retire from the Court and devote 
the short remainder of his life to his studies. 
At the same time he entreated the prince to 
come to his assistance by allowing him to restore 
to his imperial benefactor the great possessions 
which he owed to his munificence. But Nero 
would not accept his resignation or the proffered 
sacrifice of his gardens and villas. He pro- 
fessed the highest value for the services of his 
minister, loaded him with caresses, and dis- 
missed him with tender reproaches that he 

* Ep. xiv. : ' Sapiens nocituram potentiam vitat, hoc primum 
cavens, ne vitare videatur. Pars enim securitatis et in hoc est, 
non ex professo earn petere ; quia quae quis fugit damnat.' 

10 6 SENFXA 

should be content to gain credit for disinterested- 
ness at the risk of exposing his friend to the 
suspicion of avarice, and that he should desire 
a retirement which would be interpreted as fear 
of Nero's cruelty. Seneca thanked the prince and 
withdrew ; but from that time forth changed 
his whole manner of life ; discontinued his re- 
ceptions of clients, spent little time abroad and 
avoided all society, devoting himself in seclusion 
to his studies, and writing his immortal letters to 
Lucilius. The change in the direction of affairs 
soon made itself felt . Burrhus, Tigellinus told Nero, 
had other interests ; but for himself, the emperor's 
safety was the one object. He endeavoured to 
alarm Nero with reports of conspiracies, and to 
plunge him into crime in order to secure his own 
position as an indispensable guardian and accom- 
plice. Rubellius Plautus and Cornelius Sulla were 
the first victims of this system. Plautus was a 
descendant through his mother of Augustus. 
He had adopted Stoic principles and, though a 
man of vast possessions, the simplicity and dignity 
of his domestic life had won him universal respect. 
Two years previously, in the year 6i, when the 
appearance of a comet, a slight illness of the 
emperor, and other signs had made many people 
believe that a change was imminent, he had 
been spoken of as a candidate for the Empire- 
Thereupon Nero had sent him a letter in which 
he suggested that, in order to silence these invidious 
reports for which he did not hold him responsible, 
it might be well that he should retire for a time 
to his ancestral estates in the province of Asia, 


and there live out his youth free from danger or 

intrigue. Plautus compHed, and was still living 

in the province when the death of Burrhus and 

the partial retirement of Seneca brought Tigellinus 

into power. Cornelius Sulla, a dull man, whose 

only importance was derived from his descent 

from the dictator, had been living in exile at 

Marseilles since the year 58, whither he had 

been sent on a trumped-up accusation of a plot 

against the emperor, of which no one who knew 

his indolent disposition believed him to be capable. 

Tigellinus, closely studying the humours of 

his master, discovered that these two men were 

the living fears in Nero's heart, and thereupon 

urged, as from himself, their destruction. Nero 

at once agreed, and on the sixth day after 

emissaries sent for the purpose had left Rome, 

Sulla was assassinated while dining at Marseilles 

and his head brought back to the emperor, who 

laughed at the premature whiteness of the hair 

on it. The execution of Plautus was a more 

dangerous business. Unlike Sulla, he had many 

friends and great possessions. He was warned of 

his danger by a despatch from his father-in-law, 

Antistius, who urged him to resistance. But 

Plautus was a Stoic philosopher and a fatalist, 

and he thought the doubtful chance of a longer 

life not worth the struggle, while he hoped that 

his submission might incline the emperor to a 

better treatment of his wife and children. Nero's 

assassin found him at noon stripped for the 

exercises of his gymnasium. Here he was slain, 

and his head, like that of Sulla, brought back to 


the exulting tyrant. An imperial message to the 
Senate made no direct mention of the deaths of 
Plautus and Sulla, but spoke vaguely of their 
factious disposition and the emperor's constant 
watchfulness over the public safety. They were 
thereupon expelled from the Senate and the usual 
supplications decreed. 

These crimes were followed by the murder 
of the innocent and unhappy Octavia. This 
princess, whose brief life had been but one series 
of calamities unredeemed by a single gleam of 
happiness, was adored by the people, who com- 
miserated her misfortunes and detested her rival 
Poppaea. Nero began by divorcing her on the 
ground of sterility, and removed her first to 
a house once inhabited by Burrhus and after- 
wards into Campania, where she was placed under 
a military guard. She was next charged with 
adultery with an Egyptian slave ; but the heroic 
constancy of her waiting-maids, who continued 
under torture to declare her innocence, made it 
necessary to abandon this charge, and the emperor, 
intimidated by popular clamour, decided to re- 
call her. Great rejoicings followed ; the statues 
of Poppaea were thrown down, and those of 
Octavia adorned with flowers. The multitude 
advanced towards the palace to express their 
gratitude to the emperor, but they were met by 
a charge from the soldiers and dispersed with 
bloodshed. Poppaea, assisted by Tigellinus, used 
all her wiles to restore Nero's resolution and to 
compass the ruin of Octavia. The services of 
Anicetus, the murderer of Agrippina, were again 


called into requisition. This man had become 
odious to Nero, on the principle that ' they love 
not poison that do poison need,' and was ready 
for any new crime to recover his favour. He 
agreed to accuse himself of being the lover of 
Octavia, and exceeded his instructions in the 
shamelessness of his pretended disclosures. After 
his statement made to Nero's council he was 
removed to Sardinia, and there enabled to spend 
the remaining years of his miserable life in physical 
comfort. Octavia, still but in her twentieth year, 
having witnessed the murders of her father and 
brother by a husband who had hated and cruelly 
treated her from the first day of their pretended 
union, was now confined in fetters in the island 
of Pandataria, and after a few days put to death. 
Her head was brought to her cruel rival, Poppaea, 
whose marriage to Nero had immediately followed 
the divorce. 

In the following year (63) Poppaea gave birth 
to a daughter, and Nero was beside himself with 
joy. The Senate fell in with his mood and 
voted temples, thanksgivings to the gods, and 
honours to the child and mother, with their 
customary subservience. The child was born 
at Antium — Nero's own birthplace — and thither 
the senators went to offer their congratulations — 
all except Thrasea, whose absence drew a bitter 
comment from the emperor. Afterwards Nero 
boasted to Seneca that he had reconciled himself 
to Thrasea. A flatterer would have replied with 
the anticipated protest against such an excess of 
magnanimity, but Seneca merely expressed himself 


delighted at the news and offered his congratu- 
lations — a reply, comments Tacitus, much to his 
honour and to that of Thrasea, but fraught with 
peril to both these excellent men. The child 
itself died in four months' time and Nero, excessive 
in all things, abandoned himself to the wildest 
manifestations of grief, which the divine honours 
voted to his lost treasure by a sympathetic Senate 
were powerless to assuage. 



During the last three years of his Hfe Seneca 
occupied himself as little as he could with public 
affairs. The emperor would not consent to his 
formal retreat, and still occasionally consulted 
him, but he lived at Rome as little as possible, 
making his health an excuse for spending most 
of his time in one or other of his villas. In his 
retirement, which he shared with his young wife 
Paullina, to whom he was tenderly attached, 
Seneca occupied himself with reading, writing, 
self-examination, meditation on the nature of 
things, and researches into natural history. His 
book of Naturales Quaestiones, written in the 
last year of his life, was the result of these re- 
searches in which, says Quintilian, he was some- 
times misled by those whom he employed to 
make investigations. This book, though without 
scientific value, assumes the existence of natural 
causes for all phenomena however unusual, 
and rejects the notion that they were special 


indications of the divine purpose, or bore any but 
accidental relation to human destiny.^ 

Seneca was also an expert vine-grower, and his 
vineyard at Nomentum was the admiration of 
Itahan agriculturists.^ The territory of Nomentum, 
a small and ancient town in the neighbourhood 
of Rome, was celebrated for its vineyards. A 
new system of cultivation had been introduced 
there with very successful results by a freed- 
man named Acilius Sthenelus. The methods 
of Sthenelus were imitated by the well-known 
grammarian Palaemon, a man of infamous morals 
and inordinate vanity, but whose energy and 
ability had raised him from the condition of a 
slave to wealth and high distinction in his 
profession.^ Palaemon bought at a low price 
some neglected land at Nomentum, and set to 
work to grow vines on it according to the system 
of Sthenelus. He succeeded so well that within 
eight years his vineyards had become an object 
of interest to all men engaged in vine-growing, 
and the proximity of Nomentum to Rome brought 
him a stream of visitors by which his vanity — 

1 Nat. Quaest. vi. 3 : ' lUud quoque proderit praesumere animo, 
nihil horum deos facere ; nee ira numinum, aut caelum concuti, 
aut terram. Suas ista causas habent : nee ex imperio saeviunt, 
sed ex quibusdam vitiis, ut corpora nostra, turbantur : et tunc, 
cum facere videntur, injuriam accipiunt.' 

* Nat. Quaest. iii. 7 : ' Ego tibi vinearum diligens fossor 
af&rmo.' Pliny, xiv. 4 : ' Annaeo Seneca . . . tanto praedii 
ejus amore capto, ut non puderet inviso alias et ostentaturo 
tradere palmam eam, emptis quadruplicato vineis illis intra 
decennium fere curae annum.' Columella, iii. 3. 

' Nevertheless, in the expressed opinion of both the emperors 
Tiberius and Claudius his moral character unfitted him to be 
placed in charge of youth. 


the leading motive, according to Pliny, of all his 
activities — must have been abundantly gratified. 
Among the rest came Seneca, who was so charmed 
with what he saw that he purchased the property 
at a price four times as large as that which Palaemon 
had paid for it less than ten years previously. 
The farm did not suffer from the change of owner- 
ship. Columella, a contemporary, writes that 
in his time the vineyards of Nomentum were 
celebrated for their excellence, and that the best 
yield of all was from that belonging to Seneca.^ 

The practical character of Seneca's philosophy, 
his love of tangible results, his constant desire 
to penetrate through appearances to realities, 
render comprehensible his taste for agriculture. 
A rival vine-grower, mentioned by Pliny, was 
Vetalinus Aegialus, by origin a freedman, who 
lived on an estate in the district of Liternum, in 
Campania, formerly occupied by Scipio Africanus 
during his exile from Rome. Seneca visited him 
there, and has left in one of his letters an interest- 
ing description of the house and olive plantations, 
with a detailed account of the various methods 
of planting and transplanting olive-trees and 
vines : 

I am writing you [Lucilius] this letter from the actual 
house of Scipio Africanus, where I am staying, and where 
I have adored his ' manes ' and the cofhn which I beheve 
to contain the body of that great man ... I find a 
house constructed of square stones, in a wood, surrounded 

1 Colum., De re rustica, iii. 3 : ' Nomentana regio celeberrima 
fama est illustris, et praecipue quam possidet Seneca, vir ex- 
cellentis ingenii atque doctrinae, cujus in praediis vinearum jugera 
singula cuUeos octonos reddidisse plerumque compertum est.' 



by a wall, with towers erected at each corner for its 
defence. There is a tank to supply the buildings and the 
plants which might suffice for the wants of a whole army. 
The small bath is rather dark, as we generally find in 
baths of that time. It gave me great pleasure to con- 
template Scipio's way of Uving and to contrast it with 
ours. It was in this dark corner that the terror of 
Carthage, to whom Rome owes it that she was captured 
only once, used to bathe his body wearied with country 
work, for his exercise took the form of labour, and he 
used to plough his fields himself, after the manner of 
the ancients. Under this humble roof he hved ; on 
this common pavement he walked. Who now would 
endure to bathe in this manner ? A man now thinks 
himself poor and mean unless his walls glisten with 
large and costly marble, with Alexandrian blocks con- 
trasting with Numidian, with elaborate texture of mosaic 
as from a painter's hand ; unless his arched roof is 
hidden by plate glass ; unless marble from Thasos, once 
the rare and conspicuous decoration of some temple, 
cover the walls of a swimming-bath into which he plunges 
a body exhausted by profuse perspiration ; unless water 
flows from silver sluices. And I am speaking only of 
common baths ; what shall be said when we come to the 
baths of freedmen, with their many statues, and columns 
supporting nothing but placed there merely for show, and 
by reason of their costUness ? What of the sound of waters 
rushing down the steps ? Our luxury has reached such 
a pitch that the very floor on which we tread must be 
set with precious stones. In this bath of Scipio there 
are chinks, hardly to be called windows, cut in the stone 
wall, so that light may be admitted without weaken- 
ing the defences. But nowadays we think baths musty 
unless they are contrived so as to admit the full rays 
of the sun to fall through vast windows upon the bathers 
and warm them as they bathe, and to enable them to 
enjoy from their seats a prospect of sea and land. New 
inventions of luxury constantly outstrip the old, and 
every novelty which made baths admired and run after 


at the time of their dedication soon becomes out of 
date and out of fashion. Of old, baths were few and 
their arrangements simple, for there was little need for 
decoration when the object of bathing was cleanliness, 
not pleasure, and when a bath cost less than a penny. 
Water was not poured over the bather, nor constantly 
renewed as from a hot spring to clean the grease from 
shining bodies. But, by Heaven, it was delightful to 
enter those dark bathing-places when you knew that 
a Cato or a Fabius Maximus or one of the Cornelii had 
tested the water with his own hands, for the office of 
inspecting the public baths, of seeing that they were 
clean and in good order, and that the temperature was 
kept at the right and most healthy level, was in old 
days discharged by the noblest aediles. . . . What a 
clown would Scipio now be thought, who had no broad 
window-panes through which to admit the Hght and 
was not accustomed to stew in a steaming bath under 
the full sunshine I The water in which he bathed was 
not filtered, but often cloudy, indeed after heavy rain 
almost muddy. But that mattered little to him, for 
he came to wash away sweat, not ointment. One can 
imagine the contemptuous comment : ' We do not 
envy Scipio if that was his manner of bathing.' But 
there is worse to come ; he did not bathe every day, 
for we are told by the recorders of old customs that our 
ancestors washed their legs and arms every day because 
they were stained by their work, but their whole bodies 
only once a week. ' Clearly they were very dirty fellows ' 
someone will say. Of what do you think they smelt ? 
Of warfare ; of labour ; of manhood. Men became 
fouler after elegant baths were invented. ... To use 
ointment is of no use unless it is renewed twice or thrice 
a day, otherwise it will evaporate. People glory in 
these odours, as if they were natural to their bodies. 
If all this seems to you too severe you must ascribe it 
to the spirit of the house, where I have been learning 
from Aegialus, the present owner of the estate and 
the most industrious of householders, how to trans- 


plant an old plantation. This is the sort of thing we 
veterans should learn, we are all of us planting olive 
yards for the benefit of those who come after us.^ 

In another letter he describes how, when 
attacked by fever, he escaped from Rome to 
Nomentum, disregarding the anxious remon- 
strances of Paullina, his second wife, who thought 
him too ill to move, and how quickly the sight 
of his vines and meadows, and the enjoyment 
of pure air after the fetid atmosphere of the 
city, restored him to health. In this letter, too, 
he dwells with gratitude on the devoted affection 
of Paullina, and says that it was this that 
reconciled him to life. His health had become 
a matter of concern to himself, because it was a 
matter of concern to her. 

For since I know that I am to her as the breath of 
life, I begin to be careful of myself that I may be careful 
of her, and I give up that indifference to fate which 
is the chief boon brought by old age. This old man, 
I tell myself, has youth in his keeping and must there- 
fore spare himself. ... It is sweet, moreover, to be so 
dear to a wife that a man becomes dearer to himself.'' 

Another villa owned by Seneca in the neigh- 
bourhood of Rome was in the Alban district, 
where many rich Romans possessed houses and 
whither the emperors themselves used to resort to 
their magnificent villa first occupied by Pompey, 
large remains of which are still visible at Albano. 
Seneca gives in one of his letters a characteristic 
account of a surprise visit he paid to his Alban 
villa about this time. He relates how he arrived 

' Ep. 86. =» Ep. 104. 


late at night after a troublesome journey and found 
nothing ready for his reception but the contented 
mind he brought with him. This he owed, so he 
writes, to the reflections that nothing external 
really matters if you take it lightly ; that all that 
is displeasing in our indignation arises from the 
feeling itself, not from its subject; that evil resides 
not in things, but in the opinion we have of them ; 
and that although there was no bread in the 
house but the coarse stuff eaten by his bailiff and 
labourers, he would find, if he waited long enough 
to be hungry, that this was better than the bread 
to which he was accustomed. Amusing himself 
with these philosophical meditations he went 
supperless to bed, and determined to eat no scrap 
till his appetite should clamour for the homely 
fare within his reach and he could digest it with 
pleasure. A stomach well-disciplined and trained 
to put up with indignities, he moralised the next 
morning to Lucilius, is of the greatest use to one 
who would be free. He is delighted to find with 
what perfect unconcern he can endure unexpected 
inconveniences ; for, as he remarks, a man if 
given time can brace himself to do without many 
things, the sudden loss of which he would feel. 

We do not understand how many of the things we 
use are superfluous till we begin to dispense \^dth them. 
Then we find that we made use of them merely because 
we possessed them. With how many things we surround 
ourselves only because others have done the same, be- 
cause it is the fashion ! A fruitful source of our errors 
is that we live by imitation and are guided by custom 
rather than by reason. When a practice of any kind 


is adopted but by a few we leave it alone, when more 
people take to it we follow suit, just as if it were better 
because more common, and when some extravagance 
becomes general we begin to think it right. For in- 
stance, no man of fashion cares to make a journey with- 
out being preceded by an escort of Numidian outriders 
and runners. He would despise himself if the road 
were not cleared for his passage and unless a great 
dust heralded the approach of a person of consequence, 
while the accoutrements of his mules must be of precious 
material wrought by great artists. 

He goes on to warn Lucilius to avoid the insi- 
dious society of those who declare virtue and jus- 
tice and philosophy to be empty names, and that 
to take pleasure as it flies is the only sensible course 
for an ephemeral being like man. Death, these 
say, will take all ; why then anticipate its action 
by the surrender of what it will take? What 
madness to act as steward for your heir and so 
make him long for your departure, because the 
more you have the better pleased will he be to 
see you go. Reputation is a bubble, pleasure the 
one reality. Such siren-songs as these, says 
Seneca, must be shunned like the plague. They 
turn us from our country, from our parents, from 
our friends, from virtue, and dash us to pieces 
on a rock of degradation. No one is good by 
accident ; virtue is a difficult science and must 
be learnt. Pleasure, which we share with the 
animals, which attracts the meanest of created 
things, must be a petty and contemptible thing. 
Poverty is an evil only to him who declines it. 
Superstition is very madness ; it fears those 
whom it should love ; it dishonours those whom 


it worships. As well deny the existence of gods 
as report so vilely of their character. There 
is no hope for the sick man whom his physician 
urges to intemperance.^ 

One fruit of retirement, especially to Seneca's 
taste, was the increased opportunities which it 
brought him of intercourse with his friends. 
Throughout his life he had cultivated friendship 
with chosen men of every rank, and he had a 
high idea of all that was implied in the term. 

Consider long [he writes] before admitting a man to 
be your friend, but when you have done so, admit him 
to your heart of hearts, speak as freely to him as to 
yourself. Do you indeed so live as to entrust nothing 
to yourself which you would be ashamed to confide even 
to an enemy ; yet since there are things which we are 
accustomed to keep secret, share with your friend all 
your cares, all your thoughts. If you think him faithful 
you will make him so.^ 

The wise man, even if sufficient unto himself, wishes 
to have a friend ; if on no other account yet that he 
may practise friendship , . . not for the reasons Epicurus 
gives, that he may have someone to nurse him when 
ill or to succour him when in prison or in want, but that 
he may himself have someone to nurse, or to liberate 
when a prisoner. He who regards himself and for his 
own sake seeks for friendship is in error ; as it has begun, 
so will it end. He has prepared a friend to bring him 
aid when in chains, at the first clank that friend will 
leave him. . . . You begin a friendship for your own 
advantage, if a greater advantage offers you will break 
it, because you have looked for a reward outside itself. 
Wherefore do I make myself a friend ? To have one 
for whom I can die, whom I can follow into exile, for 
whose life I may risk and spend my own.^ 

1 Ep. 123. » Ep. 3. * Ep. 9. 


Friendship [he writes to Lucilius] makes all things 
common between us, neither prosperity nor adversity 
can fall to our single share. We live in common. No 
one can live happily who looks to himself alone, who 
turns everything to his own profit ; you must live for 
another if you would live for yourself — ' alteri vivas 
oportet, si vis iibi vivere.' The binding union which 
mingles all with all and claims that there are rights 
common to the whole human race must be carefully 
and sacredly observed. To this end the cultivation 
of that tie of intimate friendship I spoke of is of the 
greatest service, for he who shares all things with his 
friend will share much with mankind.^ 

The soul knows no pleasure comparable to a sweet 
and faithful friendship. How good it is to have one to 
whom you can confide every secret, whose knowledge 
you fear less than your own, whose conversation soothes 
your cares, whose judgment solves your perplexities, 
whose cheerfulness drives away melancholy, whose very 
sight enchants you.^ 

In spite of, perhaps owing to, this lofty notion 
of friendship, Seneca had a goodly list of friends. 
Nearest of all to his heart was Annaeus Serenus, 
captain of Nero's bodyguard, whose name suggests 
that he may have been a relation. To him he 
addressed the treatise De Constantia Sapientis ; 
and the De Tranquillitate Animi is in the 
form of a dialogue between Serenus and himself. 
The younger man is made to consult Seneca with 
respect to certain difficulties which he has en- 
countered in his progress in philosophy. His 
reason has convinced him that a simple life is the 
best, and his real inclinations agree with his 
reason. Yet he finds his eyes dazzled by the 

' Ep. 48. * De Tranquill. Anim. i. 7. 


splendour he sees around him ; and he is conscious 
of an occasional conflict between his moral and 
physical nature, troubling him much as sea-sickness 
may trouble a man though the ship is in no danger. 
These weaknesses humiliate and disturb him, and 
he asks Seneca to prescribe some means by which 
he may gain a constant and invulnerable tran- 
quillity of soul. Seneca in reply treats, as he 
says, the whole question in order that from the 
general remedy Serenus may extract what he 
needs to meet his own case. His remedy, in 
brief, is self-devotion to the welfare of others, 
whether by public service of the State, in which a 
man must regard honours only so far as they 
may help him to be useful to his friends, to his 
fellow-citizens, and to the whole world ; or, if 
the temptations incident to such a life may not 
safely be confronted, to the equally necessary 
work of teaching the world the meaning of justice, 
of piety, of patience, of fortitude, of the contempt 
of death, of the nature of the gods, and finally, 
what all may have who will, of a good conscience. 
We have no power over fortune. Life is in one 
sense a perpetual servitude, whatever its out- 
ward aspect ; but we have power to act rightly, 
however fortune may treat us, and there are no 
conceivable circumstances in which we may not 
secure tranquillity by serving our fellow-creatures 
in the measure of our power. A discriminating 
choice of friends, moderation in all things, with a 
rational end kept constantly in view in all our 
actions and desires, the elimination of the super- 
fluous, the a\ oidance alike of anxiety and of frivolity, 


achieved by constantly keeping in mind the truth 
that external things being beyond our power 
and subject to fortune are unimportant, to laugh 
rather than weep at the follies and vices of the 
multitude, recreation, and the cultivation of 
cheerfulness — these are the more worldly-wise 
counsels addressed to Serenus personally with 
which Seneca closes his treatise. It was written 
during the Quinquennium, at the height of his 
prosperity, and is free from the gloom, the sense 
of impending tragedy, the passionate exhortations 
to constanc}^ the tremendous seriousness which 
mark his later writings when the reign of terror 
had begun. 

Serenus died while still young of a dish of 
poisonous fungi.^ Of his grief at this event Seneca 
afterwards wrote to Lucilius, whom he was con- 
soling for the loss of a friend : 

Though I write thus to you, yet I myself mourned 
for my dearest friend Annaeus Serenus with such ex- 
travagance of lamentation that I am become a name 
among those who have been vanquished by sorrow — the 
last thing I desired. Now, however, I blame myself, and 
perceive that the chief reason of my excess of grief was 
that I had never thought that he could have died before 
me. I only reflected that he was younger, and much 
younger — as if the Fates preserved the order of age.^ 

Another of Seneca's friends of a very different 
sort was Demetrius, the cynic philosopher. Deme- 
trius was a native of Sunium, and early in his 
long life became known for the originahty and 
independence of his character. He illustrated 

^ Pliny, xxii. * Ep. 63. 


the doctrines of his school no less by his life 
than by his teaching. Confining his wants to the 
barest necessities, living on the roughest fare, 
clad in the coarsest garments, he was in need of 
nothing that man could give him, and therefore 
had no motive for concealing his opinions on 
life or on the actions of mankind out of any 
human respect. Seneca, at the summit of his 
fame and power and wealth, retained the highest 
admiration and regard for this half-naked 
champion of poverty and of contempt for the 
world's goods. 

Nature [he says] would seem to have bred him 
(Demetrius) in our times in order to show that neither 
could we corrupt him, nor he correct us. He is, 
though he deny it, a perfectly wise man ; one whose 
constancy of resolution nothing can shake ; whose un- 
laboured eloquence following its natural course and intent 
on its end is little concerned with the choice of words 
or the modulation of periods, but is exactly suited to 
the great subjects it treats, and the true expression of 
a mighty soul. Providence, I am persuaded, has decreed 
that the man should lead such a life, and has endowed 
him with such powers of speech, that this age might lack 
neither an example nor a reproach.^ 

The teaching of Demetrius was that of his 
school, but confirmed in his instance by an 
unchanging practice. 

The wise man [he taught] must despise whatever is 
subject to fortune, must raise himself above fear, and 
learn to attach no value to riches save those that spring 
from himself, remembering always that there is little to 
fear from men, and nothing from the goodness of the gods ; 

* De Benef. vii. 8. 


he must disdain all those superfluities that torment 
while they seem to adorn our lives, and understand that 
death is the source of no evil but the end of many ; 
consecrating his soul to virtue he must think her way 
the plainest whithersoever it may lead him ; he must 
hold himself a social being born for the service of all, 
and regard the world as a hostel where all men are 
fellow-sojourners ; he must open his conscience to the 
gods and live as if all his actions were public.-^ 

Among the many great sayings of my friend 
Demetrius [Seneca writes elsewhere], here is one that 
I have just heard and that still rings in my ears, * The 
man who has never known adversity seems to be un- 
happiest of all, for he has never been able to test himself.' ^ 

Demetrius concealed neither his thoughts 
nor his dwelling-place, yet he contrived to live 
without serious molestation under tyrant after 
tyrant, and died at last in extreme old age in the 
principate of Domitian. Caligula endeavoured to 
propitiate him by an enormous present of money, 
but the philosopher laughingly rejected it, ob- 
serving afterwards that if the emperor wished 
to corrupt him he should at least have offered 
him his whole empire. Later he lived for a time 
at Corinth, where he made the acquaintance of 
the thaumaturgist Apollonius of Tyana. Coming 
to Rome, he became the honoured companion 
and spiritual adviser of Seneca, Thrasea, and 
other distinguished men. He was present with 
Helvidius at Thrasea's death, and it was to him 
that that high-minded senator addressed his last 
words. ^ When Nero's gymnasium was completed 
he made his way into the new building and there 

^ De Benef. vii. i. ' * De Providentia, 3. 

^ Tac, Ann. xvi. 35J 


denounced the custom of bathing, declaring that 
the bathers only enfeebled and polluted themselves, 
and that such institutions were a useless expense. 
' He was only saved from immediate death, as 
the penalty of such language, by the fact that Nero 
was in extra good voice when he sang on that 
day, which he did in the tavern adjoining the 
gymnasium, naked, except for a girdle round his 
waist.' ^ The philosopher was nevertheless charged 
by TigelHnus with having ruined the bath, and 
was banished from Rome. After the death of 
Nero he returned to the city, but, wearing out 
the patience of Vespasian by the frankness of 
his criticisms, he was again banished with other 
philosophers by that emperor. 

A third friend of Seneca was Caesonius Maximus. 
He is only once mentioned in Seneca's letters, but 
we know from Martial how close was the friend- 
ship between the two men. * This powerful friend 
of the eloquent Seneca,' writes the poet, ' was 
almost as dear to him as the beloved Serenus, 
perhaps even dearer.'^ 

Maximus was a Roman of the governing class 
who passed through the usual course of honours, 
ending as consul suffectus and proconsul in 
Sicily under Nero.^ After Seneca's death Maximus 

^ Philostratus, Apol. iv. 42. 
* Martial, vii. 45 : 

! Facundi Senecae potens amicus, 
Caro proximus, aut prior, Sereno.' 

' The consuls who gave their name to the year were those 
appointed on the first of January. These were the consules 
ordinavii, but under the Empire they were accustomed to resign 
their of&ces after a few months or even weeks, and consules 
suffecti were appointed to fill their places. 


with others of his friends was banished from 
Italy without trial. A certain Quintus Ovidius, 
to whom Martial afterwards addressed two epi- 
grams, and who, according to that poet, was 
to Maximus all that Maximus was to Seneca, 
braved the tyrant's resentment by accompanying 
him into exile, and earned through this gallant 
action such immortality as Martial's verses could 
bestow. The letters of Seneca to Maximus were 
published and were extant in Martial's time, 
but have been lost.^ 

In a letter to Lucilius, Seneca describes a 
two days' jaunt made by Maximus and himself. 
Their purpose was to try with how many of the 
things commonly thought indispensable by a rich 
Roman on his travels it was possible, without 
real inconvenience, to dispense. 

There are many things [he wrote] which we think 
necessary, but should not miss if some accident were to 
deprive us of them. If, then, we of set purpose went 
without them we should not feel their loss. That 
lesson I have learnt from my expedition. Starting 
with slaves so few that a single waggon could hold 
them, and without any luggage that we did not carry 
on our persons, I and my friend Maximus have been 
enjoying a delightful two days' expedition. I slept 
on a mattress spread on the bare ground. One rain- 
mantle acted as sheet and one as coverlet. Nothing 
unnecessary was served at our meals, which took little 
time to prepare. Dried figs were invariable ; and our 
tablets were always ready at hand to note impressions. 
The figs, when there is bread, serve as a seasoning ; when 
there is none, they serve as bread. ... I drove in a 
rustic waggon. The mules just showed they were alive 

1 Tac, Ann. xv. 7 ; Martial, vii. 44, 45. 


by moving ; the muleteer went barefoot, not because 
it was summer, but because he had no shoes. I own, 
however, that I felt some uneasiness at being thought the 
owner of this conveyance, and the fact that I did so 
shows that I have not yet succeeded in freeing myself 
from false shame. Whenever we met some splendid 
equipage, do what I would I felt embarrassed — a proof 
that I am not yet steadfastly fixed in the principles 
I approve and commend, for the man who is ashamed 
of a humble vehicle will glory in a costly one. I have 
made little progress. As yet I hardly venture to practise 
frugality in public ; I still have regard to the opinion 
of wayfarers.^ 

But the most interesting of Seneca's friends 
was the Epicurean, Lucilius Junior, to whom 
the famous letters were addressed, as well as 
the Naturales Quaestiones and the treatise De 
Providentia. Lucilius was an administrator, a 
philosopher, and a poet. He had known Seneca 
when they were both young at Pompeii, where 
he had a house, and where perhaps he was 

A man [Seneca wrote to him in Sicily] must be dull 
and insensible indeed, my Lucilius, who forgets his friend 
until reminded of him by some local association, yet 
famiUar spots do sometimes wake again the sense of 
bereavement deep hidden in our hearts, not by reviving 
a perished memory, but by rousing it from slumber. 
Thus the grief of mourners even when softened by time 
is renewed by the sight of a familiar slave at the door, 
or of clothing, or of a house. I cannot describe how 
I missed you and how fresh seemed the pain of losing 
you when I arrived in Campania, and especially at 
Naples and when I saw your Pompeii. I see you with 

1 Ep. 87. 


extraordinary distinctness, especially as you were when 
I was quitting you. I see you swallowing your tears 
and attempting in vain to show no signs of the strong 
emotion you felt. I seem but yesterday to have lost 
you. But to those who remember, what may not be called 
' yesterday ' ? Only yesterday I sat as a boy under 
Sotion the philosopher, yesterday I began to plead causes, 
yesterday I ceased to wish to plead, yesterday I became 
unable to plead. Infinite is the swiftness of time. We 
see this most clearly when we look back, for it escapes 
the notice of men intent on the present, so unbroken and 
continuous is time's headlong flight. The reason is this. 
All time past is in the same position ; you may regard it 
as a whole, it is spread before you and uniform : all things 
belonging to it are merged in the same abyss, nor, when 
the whole is brief, can long intervals within it exist. 
Our actual life is a point, less than a point ; but nature, 
to make it seem longer, has divided it into parts. One 
she has made infancy, another childhood, another youth, 
another the interval between youth and old age, another 
old age itself. How many degrees in so narrow a space ! 
But a little time ago I was in your company, yet this 
little time is a considerable part of our life ; on the 
brevity of which we should constantly meditate. I used 
not to think the passage of Time so rapid. Now its 
flight seems to me incredibly swift ; whether it is that 
I see the goal approaching, or whether I have begun to 
notice and reckon up all I lose.^ 

And in a later letter he relates how the sight of 
Pompeii again recalled to him Lucilius and his 
own youth. 

Lucilius raised himself from small beginnings 
by his own industry and talents. During the 
reigns of Caligula and Claudius he is said to 
have played a difficult part with honour to him- 

1 Ep» 49. 


self, to have refused to flatter the reigning 
favourites, and to have risked his hfe through 
fidehty to his friends. ^ Under Nero he became 
Procurator of Sicily, and it was from that island 
that he corresponded with Seneca. Seneca warns 
him so earnestly against ambition and the danger 
of listening to flatterers, that we may fairly con- 
jecture that this warning indicates the presence 
of corresponding infirmities in the man to whom 
it was addressed. But he praises his temperance, 
modesty, and disinterestedness. 

Lucilius from his youth gave much of his 
time to liberal studies, and especially to poetry 
and philosophy. While he was in Sicily he wrote, 
at the suggestion of Seneca, a poem on Aetna, 
which is still extant.^ In this poem Lucihus 

1 Sen., Nat. Quaest. iv. in Praef. Seneca does not explain the 
circumstances to which he alludes. 

* The authorship has been disputed, especially by Lipsius ; 
but the identification seems almost established. It is probable 
that Cornelius Severus, a poet of the Augustan age, whom 
Seneca mentions together with Virgil and Ovid as having 
treated the subject, and to whom the poem has in consequence 
been attributed, like Virgil and Ovid only introduced a descrip- 
tion of Aetna into one of his poems ; and in any case he 
cannot have been the author of the existing work which contains 
words first used in a later generation. On the other hand, the 
coincidences with Seneca are so striking that those who hold 
that the poem was written by Severus have been driven to the 
hypothesis that Seneca borrowed from it some of his ideas in 
the Naturales Quaestiones. Here we have, on the one hand, 
a poem written on the subject of Aetna by a philosopher of 
the Epicurean school, and from the style and language bearing 
the marks of the Neronian age and of the school of Seneca ; 
and on the other, a Lucilius Junior who is not only procurator 
of Sicily, a poet, and an Epicurean philosopher of the age of 
Nero, but one to whom Seneca suggests that he should write 
a poem on this very subject. Such is a summary of part of 
the evidence. 


treats his subject in a scientific and philosophical 
spirit, discarding, not in silence Uke Lucan, but 
with open contempt, all supernatural explanations 
of the phenomena. The poets, he tells us, vainly 
imagined the pallid kingdom of Pluto beneath 
the ashes, the waters of Styx with Cerberus, the 
giant Tityos spread over seven acres, Tantalus 
with his eternal thirst foiled by the retreating 
water, Ixion and the wheel, Minos and his judg- 
ments. Not content with this they pry into 
the manners of the gods, and picture them full 
of worse than human lusts and passions. But 
as for me, he continues, ' truth is my only care.' 
Seneca says the same thing in prose : 

Remember [he says to Marcia] that evil exists not 
for the dead. All those tales of infernal regions are 
fables invented to terrify us. For the dead there is 
neither darkness nor prison, nor rivers of fire, nor Lethe, 
nor tribunals, nor accused. In that free state there are 
no fresh tyrants. These things are the fond imagina- 
tions of poets who delude us into empty fears. Death 
is alike the reward and the end of all pain ; beyond it 
our sufferings cannot extend ; it replaces us in that 
state of perfect tranquillity which was ours before we 
were born. If we pity the dead, we should pity those 

And again, in the treatise De Vita Beat a he 
speaks of the folly of poets who impute every vice 
to Jupiter — making him a parricide, a usurper, 
and a seducer. Their motive must be, he says, 
to relieve men by such examples from any sense 
of guilt in their own actions.^ 

1 Aetna, 72-89 ; Seneca, Cons, ad Marc. 19 : De Vita 
Beata, 26. 


For Seneca philosophy was divided into two 
branches, the one concerned with human and 
the other with divine matters. The former is 
what we should now call moral philosophy or 
ethics ; the latter natural science. For the purely 
speculative part of philosophy, for all that had 
no bearing either upon the conduct of human 
life or upon the order of nature, he felt not only 
indifference but an impatient contempt. Lucilius, 
on the other hand, was much more attracted by 
metaphysics. He enjoyed the logical puzzles, 
paradoxes, and distinctions of the schools, and 
was constantly endeavouring in his letters to 
entice Seneca into abstract discussions. Again, 
in the matter of style, to which Lucilius attached 
a high importance, Seneca is constantly impress- 
ing upon him the danger of paying too much 
attention to words. ' Ovatio vultus animi est,' 
he says. * Speech is the countenance of the soul ; 
if it is over-polished and coloured and, so to 
speak, manipulated, one infers that the soul also 
is unsound and feeble.' Constantly he returns to 
these topics, and dwells on the waste of time 
involved in idle exercises of ingenuity. 

How do they help me ? [he asks]. Do they make me 
braver, more just, more temperate ? I have no leisure 
for such exercises ; I still need a doctor. Why teach 
me this useless science ? You promise great things ; you 
give me small ones. You told me I should be fearless 
when swords were glancing around me, when the dagger's 
point was at my throat ; you said I should be with- 
out concern in fire or shipwreck. Teach me to despise 
pleasure and glory ; when I have learnt that, we may 


proceed to the solution of riddles, to nice distinctions, 
to the elucidation of obscurities ; for the present let us 
keep to the essential.^ 

To understand Seneca's reiterated inp^istence 
in these letters on the vital necessity of a mental 
discipline which should brace the mind against 
all that might befall, and prepare a man to 
face death at any moment at the hands of a 
tyrant, we must remember that they were written 
at a time when these trials were becoming 
increasingly possible for every man of mark. 
Philosophy, he is always saying, is concerned 
with action, not with words ; and the test of 
proficiency is the concordance of practice with 
theory. It teaches us to distinguish realities 
from appearances. Death, for instance, may 
come through a tyrant or a fever, pain through 
disease or an executioner ; such differences cannot 
change their nature, they are still but death 
and pain. Yet we fear them far more in the 
one case than in the other, for it is the pomp 
and circumstance of things and not the things 
themselves that form the subjects of our fear.^ 
' Remember,' he tells him, ' that there is nothing 
admirable in man except his soul, to which when 
great all other things are small.' ^ Wisdom con- 
sists in constancy of will — a constancy unalter- 

1 Ep. 109. In tliis long controversy between the rhetoricians 
and philosophers, between ' the artists of the pure form of speech 
and the investigators of the inmost nature of things,' Seneca, in 
direct opposition to his father's view, was the protagonist of the 
philosophers. See Friedlander, iii. 3. 

* 'Ef&cientia non effectum spectat timor.' 

^ ' Cogita in te, praeter animum, niliil esse mirabile : cui 
magno nihil magnum est ' {Ep. 8). 


able by external circumstances. It is thus that 
the service of philosophy becomes the only true 
freedom. This constancy can only be acquired 
by continual attention to realities — the spinning 
of syllogisms and the ravelling and unravelling 
of academical knots are nothing to the purpose. 
It is the first sign of a weak and untrained mind 
to dread the unexperienced. To banish this dread 
should be the chief end of our endeavours. We 
shall find our medicine pleasant to the taste, for 
it is one that pleases while it heals. 

A happy life [he says] is founded in a freedom from 
concern and an abiding tranquillity. These are the gifts 
of greatness of soul, and of a steady persistence in what 
has been well resolved. We may reach this goal if 
we behold truth as a whole, if in all we do we preserve 
order, moderation, fitness, and a will guiltless and kindly, 
looking to Reason for guidance and never departing 
from her precepts, which are alike lovable and wondrous. 
. . , Let the man who finds his chief good in tastes 
and colours and sounds renounce the fellowship of the 
most glorious of living beings second only to the gods ; 
and join dumb animals rejoicing in their pasture. . . . 
No man is free who is the slave of his body. For 
not only does his anxiety on its behalf throw him into 
the power of all those who can injure it, but it is itself 
a surly and exacting commander. The free spirit 
sometimes quits it with calm indifference, sometimes 
springs from it with a generous ardour, and in either 
case cares as little for its future destiny as we do for 
that of the bristles of our beards after shaving.^ 

Though the main object of Seneca's counsels 
was to prepare his friend to meet with forti- 

1 Ep. 92. 


tude whatever fate might have in store for 
him, he does not neglect the humbler warnings 
of prudence. He advises him to live as retired 
a life as possible, to avoid singularity, to occupy 
himself as little as possible with politics while 
avoiding a conspicuous withdrawal from them, 
for this too excites suspicion, and to be cautious 
with whom he conversed. 

For your greater security [he writes] I would have you 
observe certain precautions, which you must take from 
me as though I were prescribing rules for the preserva- 
tion of your health when living in your Ardeatine villa. 
Reflect what are the motives which incite a man to 
the destruction of another : you will find them to be 
hope, envy, hatred, fear, or contempt. 

He proceeds to give admirable advice as to 
how to avoid exciting these emotions in the 
minds of others ; but ends by saying that, after 
all, every man's best security is his innocence, 
and that the guilty, though they sometimes 
chance to escape, can never feel sure of doing so. 
The man is punished who expects punishment ; 
and whoever deserves it expects it. Thus the 
imprudent always suffer the penalty of their follies 
and crimes. But if all these precautions are 
taken, can I guarantee your safety ? I can no 
more promise you that, replies Seneca, than I can 
promise perpetual health to a man who takes due 
care of himself .^ Roman senators during the last 
half of Nero's principate lived under a sword of 
Damocles comparable to that which threatened 
French aristocrats during the Reign of Terror. 

> Ep. 14. 


' Palpitantibus praecordiis vivitur.' The mission of 
Seneca was to give courage to the despairing, to 
teach them to meet death with fortitude, and to 
convince them that no man need be a slave, since 
the liberty to die could not be taken from him. 
Thus the great refuge from tyranny was self- 
destruction, the right to which he asserts time 
and again with terrible earnestness. ' There are 
professors of wisdom,' he writes, 'to whom it is 
anathema to offer violence to our own persons or 
cut short our own lives. We must wait till Nature 
releases us. Those who say this do not see that 
they are barring the way to liberty. The eternal 
law contains nothing better than this, that it has 
given us only one entrance into life but many 
exits.' 'No one is justified in complaining of life, 
for no one is obliged to live. Are you content ? 
Then live. Not contf^^-n^ ? You may return whence 
you came. ' ^ And later in the same letter, ' The way 
to that great liberty is opened with a bodkin : our 
safety is contained in a prick.' ^ And again in the 
De Ira : ' Wherever you cast your eyes you 
will find the end of your ills. Do you see that 
precipice ? It is the descent to liberty. That sea ? 
that river ? that well ? Beneath their waters liberty 
lies concealed. Do you see that little misshapen 
tree ? There hangs liberty.' ^ 

* Ep. 68 : ' Hoc est unum, cur de vita non possumus queri ; 
neminem tenet. . . . Placet ? vive. Non placet ? licet eo reverti 
unde venisti.' 

' ' Scalpello aperitur ad illam magnam libertatem via : et 
puncto securitas constat.' Cp. Hamlet, 'When he himself may 
his quietus make with a bare bodkin.' 

3 De Ira, ii. 15. 



Seneca was greatly interested in an expedition 
round Sicily made by Lucilius, and the letter in 
which he speaks of it may be given in full, not 
only as an illustration of his inquiring and specu- 
lative mind, but because in it he makes the first 
suggestion of the poem on Aetna : 

I am waiting for your letters to hear what new dis- 
coveries you have made in sailing round Sicily, and 
especially what fuller information you can give me 
about Charybdis. For I know very well that Scylla 
is a rock and not very formidable to navigators, but I 
am anxious to hear from you whether Charybdis answers 
to her reputation in story. If you happen to have 
observed it (and it is worthy of observation), tell me 
whether the whirlpools appear when the wind is in one 
quarter only, or if that sea is afflicted with them in 
every kind of weather ; and also if it is true that any- 
thing drawn into that vortex is carried many miles 
under water and only reappears near the coast of Tauro- 
menium. After you have written fully to me of aU this, 
I shall venture to commission you further, for my sake, 
to ascend Aetna, which is said to have been formerly 
seen by navigators from a greater distance than now, 
whence the inference is drawn that it is consuming 


away and gradually subsiding. But the cause may rather 
be that the fire has died away and bursts forth with 
less force and magnitude than formerly, the smoke also 
becoming more sluggish for the same reason. Neither 
of these theories is incredible ; the one that the 
mountain by daily consumption is becoming less, the 
other that the fire does not remain the same — the fire 
that does not spring from the mountain itself but boils 
up from some underground pit where it is generated 
and fed from below, the mountain itself yielding it not 
ahment but a passage. There is a well-known district 
in Lycia, called Hephaestion by the inhabitants, where 
the soil is perforated in several places, and a perfectly 
harmless fire runs round it which does no injury to 
the plants. So the country is fertile and grassy, nothing 
is scorched by the flames, which gHmmer but faintly 
and have no force. But let us reserve these things 
for another time, and then when you write to me on 
the subject I shall also ask how far the snows, which 
even summer cannot melt, much less the volcanic fires, 
are distant from the crater's mouth. And you have no 
right to impute this trouble to me, for if no one had 
commissioned you to do so you suffer from a certain 
malady which would not have allowed you to rest till 
you had described Aetna in a poem and approached this 
ground sacred for ail poets. That Virgil had already 
done full justice to this subject did not prevent Ovid 
from handling it ; nor did both of them together deter 
Severus Cornelius. So happy a material does this place 
afford to all, that those who have gone before appear 
to me not to have anticipated all that can be said, but 
to have opened the way. It makes a great difference 
whether your subject has been exhausted or only treated ; 
in the latter case it grows as time goes on, and the in- 
vention of former writers is no obstacle to that of their 
successors. Moreover, the latter are placed in the best 
position. They find words ready for use, and by arrang- 
ing these differently can give them a new appearance ; 
nor do they steal them as if they belonged to others. 


for they are public property. Lawyers deny that any 
public property can be appropriated by prescription. I 
am mistaken in you if Aetna does not whet your appetite. 
Already you are wishing to write something great and 
equal to the work of your predecessors — equal, I say, 
for j^our modesty does not allow you to hope for more ; 
a modesty so great that I think you would rather with- 
hold something from the full force of your genius than 
run the risk of surpassing them, so high is your reverence 
for the elder poets. Wisdom has this good point among 
the rest, that no one can be surpassed therein by another 
except during the ascent. When you reach the summit 
all are equal, there is no room for an increase, a halt is 
made. Can the sun add aught to his greatness ? Can 
the moon wax further than she is wont ? The seas do 
not increase ; the universe preserves the same habit and 
measure. Whatever has completed its natural magni- 
tude cannot gain in stature. Wise men, in so far as 
wise, are equal and on a level. Each of them may 
have his own proper gifts : one will be more easy 
of access, another readier, another more fluent, another 
more eloquent ; that wisdom of which we are speaking, 
that only source of happiness, will be equal in all. Whether 
your Aetna can sink down and fall in upon itself, or 
whether the constant action of the fire can draw down 
this lofty summit, so conspicuous over a wide expanse 
of sea, I know not ; neither flame nor crumbling away 
can lower the height of virtue. This is the one majesty 
that can never be degraded ; it can be neither extended 
nor reduced. Its magnitude is fixed, like that of the 
heavenly bodies. To her let us endeavour to raise 
ourselves : much is already done, or rather, to confess 
the truth, not much. For it is not goodness to be better 
than the worst. Who boasts of eyes that shrink from 
dayhght ? for which the sun shines through a mist ? 
Though he may be satisfied to have escaped from total 
darkness, he does not yet enjoy the full light of day. 
Then will our soul have cause for rejoicing when escaping 
from the darkness in which it was involved, it sees no 


longer dimly and uncertainl}^ but admits the perfect 
light ; when it is restored to its heavenly home and has 
recovered the place to which it was born. Our soul's 
origin calls it heavenward. It will gain heaven even 
beiore it is loosed from these bonds if it fling away its 
faults and emerge unstained and untrammelled into the 
contemplation of the divine mysteries. This is what 
we should do, my dearest Lucilius ; toward this end 
should we strain with our whole strength, though few 
know what we do, and none see us. Glory is the shadow 
of virtup • it will accompany even those who shun it. But 
just as a shadow sometimes goes before and sometimes 
follows after, so glory is sometimes before us and offers 
itself to the view, but at other times holds back until 
envy has passed away, when it appears the greater for 
having come late. How long Democritus seemed a 
madman ! Fame scarce welcomed Socrates. How long 
was Cato ignored by the State ! It rejected him, and only 
understood when it had lost him. Had Rutilius never 
suffered wrong his innocence and virtue would have re- 
mained hidden ; he became famous through the violence 
done to him. Did he not thank his fortune and embrace 
his exile ? I speak of those whom Fortune by persecu- 
tion has rendered illustrious in their lifetime ; how many 
are those whose accomplishments have become known 
only after their death ! how many whom Fame has not 
received but dragged out ! You see how greatly not 
merely the learned, but this whole throng of the 
unlearned, admire Epicurus. He was quite unknown 
at Athens itself, where he lived in obscurity. Many 
years after the death of his friend Metrodorus, speaking 
in one of his letters with grateful recollection of their 
friendship, he ends with this — that among so many ad- 
vantages it was of no disservice to Metrodorus and him- 
self that they lived in that famous country of Greece, not 
only unknown, but almost unheard. Did he on this ac- 
count remain undiscovered after he had ceased to exist ? 
Did not his opinions then shine forth ? Metrodorus also 
confesses in one of his letters that Epicurus and himself 



were less audible than they should have been, but 
foretold that they would have a great and estabhshed 
name among those who were willing to follow in their 
footsteps. No virtue remains concealed ; to have l^in 
concealed is no loss. The day will come which will 
reveal what is hidden and suppressed by the maUgnity 
of the age. The man who thinks only of his own genera- 
tion is born for few. Many thousands of years, many 
thousands of peoples, will come after : look to them. 
Even if all your contemporaries are silent through envy, 
there will come those who will judge you without favour 
or prejudice. If Fame can offer any reward to virtue, 
neither will this be lost. The verdict of posterity, indeed, 
will be nothing to us ; yet posterity will honour us and 
resort to us though we perceive it not. Virtue will 
requite us whether alive or dead, if only we follow her 
in good faith, if we adorn not ourselves with the false 
and meretricious, but remain the same whether we have 
to act in a conspicuous position and after due warning ; 
or suddenly and unprepared. Simulation profits nothing. 
A false exterior adopted for appearance' sake imposes 
superficially upon a few ; truth is always the same in 
all her parts. There is no soHdity in the things that 
deceive. A lie is thin; if you look closely you can see 
through it.^ 

Seneca was immensely rich. His gardens 
(' Senecae praedivitis hortos ' ^), his villas, his furni- 
ture were renowned ; and although he was com- 
pletely free from the grosser forms of self-indulgence 
and was personally simple to the point of austerity 
in his manner of life, these riches and the elegance 
of his surroundings laid him open to a charge of 
inconsistency between his theory and his practice, 
which was pressed home by his enemies during 
his lifetime, and has never ceased to be repeated 

* Ep. 79, ^ Juv. ix. 


by later critics, '^^ut to suppose that Seneca 
thought riches an evil in themselves — as the first 
Christians, who were his contemporaries and 
whose teaching resembles his on many other 
points, really did think — is to misunderstand his 
whole doctrine. Things in themselves, according 
to the Stoics, are neither good nor evil, but only 
the use we make of them and the manner in 
which we regard and handle them. They are 
the material, not the substance, of good and evil. 
A wise man may possess riches so long as he 
regards himself merely as Fortune's banker, and 
is ready to yield them up at her demand with 
as little regret as a banker pays out the deposits 
of his clients. The danger is lest the rich man 
should confound his shirt with his skin and regard 
his possessions as part of himself. If he does not 
do this he may without inconsistency prefer riches 
to poverty, just as he may deny that exile is 
an evil, and yet if it be in his power spend his life 
in his native land, or as he may think a short 
Hfe as desirable as a long, and yet may live to a 
tranquil old age. The reason, indeed, for thinking 
lightly of such things is not that we may rid 
ourselves of them, but that we may enjoy them 
without anxiety. The difference between you and) 
me, wrote Seneca to his critics, is that my richest* 
belong to me ; you to your riches. 

In the treatise De Vita Beata, addressed to his 
brother Gallio, Seneca stated with uncompromising 
frankness and force— impossible, one would think, 
to a disingenuous man — the charges brought 
against him on this head, and gave his answer. 


The following extracts will enable the reader to 
form his own judgment on accusation and defence. 
The genuine humility of the man — rare indeed 
among Romans — his objective outlook and his 
mental detachment, are nowhere more conspicuous. 

If, then, one of these barking critics of philosophy 
says to me : ' Why are your words so much stronger 
than your deeds ? How is it that you talk submissively 
to superiors ; and consider money a necessary means to 
your ends, and are affected by its loss ? Why do you 
weep when you hear of the loss of a wife or a friend ? 
Why are you careful of your reputation and vexed 
by slander ? Why that elaborate adornment of your 
country-seats so far beyond the needs of nature ? Why 
are your banquets not restricted to the limits of your 
rule ? Why this beautiful furniture, this wine older 
than yourself, these trees that yield nothing but shade ? 
Why does your wife wear in her ears the fortune of a 
rich family ? Why are your attendants clothed in precious 
raiment ? Why does the service at your house amount 
to a fine art, the plate arranged with the utmost skill 
and attention, the chief carver himself an artist ? ' You 
may add if you please : ' Why do you possess estates 
across the sea ? Why have you slaves whose names 
you know not ? — are you so forgetful that you cannot 
remember the few there are, or are you so unthrifty 
as to have more than you can remember ? * I will help 
you to abase me anon and suggest for your use fresh 
objections which have escaped your attention : now 
hear my reply. ' I am not a wise man, and, so please 
your malice, I never shall be. I therefore do not claim 
to be equal with the best, but only better than the 
worst. Enough for me if every day I make some little 
progress, and can clearly see and denounce my own 
errors. I am not cured ; I never shall be cured. I con- 
trive palliations rather than remedies for my malady ; 
and am content if its attacks become gradually rarer. 


Compared to your pace, however, I am a tolerable runner. 
In what I am going to say I speak not for myself ; for 
I am sunk in every kind of fault, but for one who has made 
progress. This charge of inconsistency was brought 
by the mahgnant enemies of all virtue against Plato, 
against Epicurus, against Zeno, It is of virtue, not of 
myself, that I speak ; I make war upon vices, my own 
before all others. When I can, may I live as I ought. 
Your poisonous malice, the gall with which in sprinkling 
others you destroy yourselves, shall never affright me 
from communion with the best, or prevent me from 
celebrating — not the life which I lead, but the life 
which I know should be led — or from adoring virtue and 
following her footsteps at however vast a distance, even 
on my hands and knees. . . . Philosophers, it is said, 
do not practise what they preach. But they practise 
much of what they preach and finely conceive. If, indeed, 
their lives were on a level with their doctrines, what could 
equal their felicity ? In the meantime good words and 
a breast stocked with good thoughts are not to be despised. 
So excellent a form of study, though it fail of its full 
effect, in itself deserves to be had in honour. What 
wonder that few should reach so difficult a summit ? 
Yet we ought to respect the climbers, even if they slip ; 
for great is their attempt. The man is generous who, 
regarding not his own individual strength but that of 
the nature proper to man, conceives in his mind and 
endeavours to carry out an ideal so high that in practice 
it lies beyond the reach even of the loftiest of the human 
race. Such a man has thus resolved within himself : 
* I will meet death as calmly as I hear of it : my soul 
supporting my body, there is no labour that I will not 
undergo. Riches, whether present or absent, I will 
equally despise ; neither the sadder if I have them not, 
nor elated if they shine in my possession. I shall consider 
aU land as if it were mine ; my own land as if it belonged 
to all. I shall live as knowing that I am born for others ; 
and for this I shall give thanks to Nature. For how 
could she better have consulted my interests ? She 


gave me to all men ; but she has given all men to me. 

That which I have I shall neither meanly hoard nor 

foolishly squander. None of my possessions will seem to 

me more truly my own than what I have well bestowed ; 

benefits I shall reckon neither by number nor by weight, 

but by the worth of the recipient. I shall never count 

the cost of what I give to merit. Opinion shall never, 

and conscience always, guide my actions. ... I will be 

pleasant to my friends, mild and placable to my enemies, 

I will forgive before my forgiveness is asked, I will 

satisfy all honest petitions. I shall know that the world 

is my country with the gods as its rulers, and these I 

shall regard as the judges of all I do and all I say. And 

so whenever Nature takes once more my spirit to herself, 

or when my reason releases it, I shall go hence bearing 

witness that I have loved a good conscience and a good 

manner of life, and that none through me have suffered 

loss of liberty, myself least of all.' ^ 

Such was the apologia of Seneca, and we can- 
not doubt that it was sincere. His personal habits 
were simple to the verge of austerity ; the choice 
wine that he gave to his guests he did not him- 
self touch ; he was distinguished as a generous 
friend to honest poverty, especially among men of 
letters ; nothing is recorded by historians of his 
five years of power to lead us to question the truth 
of his boast, that by his means no man had been 
unjustly deprived of liberty. 

But there was another consideration relating 
to the source of his wealth which he could not 
directly advance, but which he suggested in 
several other passages in his books. Without 
mortal offence to the emperor he could not have 
refused his gifts. In his treatise ' On Benefits ' 

» De Vita Beata, 17, 20. 


he lays down the rule that we should not re- 
ceive favours except from those on whom, were 
the circumstances altered, we would confer them. 
It is a burden to incur obligation to those whom 
we can neither love nor respect. Thereupon the 
question is raised whether if a brutal and passionate 
tyrant, who will hold himself insulted by a refusal, 
offers us a present we are bound to refuse it. 
The king has the soul, let us say, of a robber or 
pirate and is unworthy that we should accept 
his bounty. The answer made is that when we 
are free to choose we must take nothing from 
the unworthy ; but that in the case supposed we 
are not accepting but obeying,^ and again : 

To refuse a gift is to incense against ourselves an 
insolent monarch, who would have all that comes from 
his hands valued at a high rate. It matters not whether 
you are unwilUng to give to a king or to receive from 
him, the offence is equal in either case, or rather even 
graver in the latter, since to the proud it is more bitter 
to be disdained than not to be feared.^ 

In another passage of the same work he dis- 
cusses the question whether gratitude is due to 
tyrants, and whether their favours should be re- 
turned, and answers affirmatively with respect to 
all cases where this is consistent with the public 
weal. If, he says, he had had the misfortune to 
be obliged by one who subsequently became the 
most infamous of tyrants, who found a pleasure 
in shedding human blood and breaking all the 
rights and laws of human society, then he would 
feel aU bonds dissolved between them, because 

1 De BeneJ. ii. i8. * Ibid., v. 6. 


the duty he owed to humanity must always 
take precedence of an obUgation to a single 

But [he adds] although this is so, and although 
from the time when by violating every human right 
and so making it impossible for himself to be wronged 
by any man, he has made me free to do what I will 
againFi; him, yet I shall still reckon myself bound to 
discharge my debt so far as may stand with my pubhc 
duty. I must not add to his power for evil ; I must not 
increase his destructive forces or confirm those he has. 
But if without injury to the commonwealth I may 
return his kindness, I will do so. I would save his 
infant son from death, for that could not injure the 
victims of his cruelty ; but I would not contribute a 
penny to the support of his mercenaries. If he hanker 
after marbles and fine raiment, that can do no mischief 
to any man, and I will help him to them ; soldiers and 
arms I will not supply. If he entreat me as a great 
kindness to send him comedians and women, and other 
such delights which may temper his brutaUty, I will 
find them for him willingly. Though I will not supply 
him with triremes and ships of war, he shall have 
luxuriously fitted boats of pleasure for his amusement. 
But if I despair altogether of his amendment, the same 
hand shall at one blow discharge my debt to him and 
confer a benefit on all mankind, for to such a nature 
death is a remedy, and to speed his departure the one 
kindness I can do him.^ 

These words were written after Seneca's retire- 
ment and shortly before the outbreak of the con- 
spiracy of Piso, with the aims of which, whether 
he knew of it or not, he must unquestionably have 
sympathised. By that time Nero had sunk into 

^ De BeneJ. vii. 20. 


an abyss of infamy from which it was evident 
that death alone could rescue him. 

That Seneca made a good and generous use \ 
of his riches, we have not only his own testimony I 
but that of Juvenal and Martial. And first as 
to his own. In the De Vita Beata, after explain- \ { 
ing that a philosopher may legitimately be rich, , ; 
provided that his riches are honourably acquired, \ \ 
taken from no man, earned at the expense of j j 
no man's sufferings, stained with no blood, and 
spent as honourably as they were gained, he adds ' 
that they should not be rejected, unless either | 
they are thought by their possessor to be useless, 
or unless he confesses that he does not know ' 
how to use them. This brings him to a descrip- 
tion of their proper employment, and he proceeds 
thus : 

He will give either to the good, or to those whom he 
can make good. He will take the greatest trouble to 
discover the worthiest and give to them, as one who 
remembers that he must account not only for what he has 
received but for what he has spent. He will give for good 
and adequate reasons, since an ill-bestowed gift must be 
counted as a bad form of wastefulness. His purse will be 
open indeed, but have no holes in it ; much wiU come 
from it, but nothing fall. It is a mistake to suppose that 
bounty is an easy art. If it is thoughtfully given, if 
there is no promiscuous squandering, it is on the contrary 
most difficult. I oblige one man, I discharge my obliga- 
tions to another, I come to the aid of a third, I take 
pity on a fourth. I find one whose poverty binds him 
to occupations unworthy of his abilities — I release 
him from that poverty. To some, even though they 
are in need, I wiU not give, because, whatever I give, 
they mil always be in need ; to others I will offer aid 


though they have not asked it ; on others, again, I 
will press it though they refuse. 1 cannot be careless 
in this matter ; I never invest with more care than in 
stock of tliis nature. Do you expect interest, then ? 
I am asked. Well, at least, I do not wish to throw my 
investment away. I wish so to place my donation that 
though I must never seek a return, yet I may believe 
a return to be possible. It should resemble a buried 
treasure which you do not disinter unless it be necessary. 
What an opportunity for kindness may not a rich man 
find in his own household — for why should our liberality 
be confined to the free ? Nature bids us do good unto 
all men, whether free legally, or virtually by our consent : 
wherever there is a man, there is room for kindness.-^ 

— - Such were Seneca's views, instinct with his 
customary good sense and moderation, on the 
subject of almsgiving and the use of money. 
They have a modern ring, and would have qualified 
him in the island of Britain eighteen hundred years 
later for high office in the Charity Organisation 
Society. We have some evidence that, in this 
instance at least, his practice was on a level with 
his precepts. 

No one [wrote Juvenal, some twenty years after- 
wards] now expects to receive what Seneca used to 
send to very humble friends, or what the good Piso 
or Gotta used to give ; for in those days a bountiful 
disposition was thought to add lustre to honours and 

And Martial, whose Spanish origin may have 
recommended him to Seneca, in the same vein re- 
grets in two of his epigrams the spacious days of 
Piso and Seneca and Memmius, whom he prefers 

1 De Vita Beata, 24. ' Juv. v. 108. 


to the most liberal patrons of his own time.^ 
Three other of Martial's epigrams are addressed 
to Lucan's widow Polla, so that it is clear that his 
friendship with Seneca's family did not end with 
the philosopher's death.^ 

* Martial, iv. 40; xii. 36. * Ibid., vii. 21, 22, 23. 


OF SENECA, A.D. 64-65 

The last public office held by Seneca was that 
of consul suffedus, which he shared with Trebellius 
Maximus. During their consulship a senatus 
consultum was passed to protect executors or 
trustees, who by a legal fiction were technically 
the sole heirs of the estates which they 
administered, from liabilities attaching to such 
estates, on the principle that no man ought to 
suffer on account of a trust which he has faithfully 
discharged.^ Trebellius was afterwards governor 
of Britain, where his inactivity and want of 
military experience made him unpopular with 
the army. The date of this consulship is generally 
assigned to the year 62, on the insufficient ground 
that Tacitus makes mention of a decree passed 

1 Ins. Tit. 23 (4) : ' Neronis quidem temporibus, Trebellio 
Maximo et Annaeo Seneca coss. senatus-consultum factum est, 
quo cautum est, ut, si haereditas ex fidei-commissi causa restituta 
sit, actiones, quae jure civili haeredi et in haeredem competerent, 
ei et in eum darentur, cui ex fidei-commisso restituta esset haere- 
ditas. Post quod senatus-consultum, praetor utiles actiones ei 
et in eum qui recepit haereditatem, quasi haeredi et in haeredem, 
dare coepit.' 


by the Senate in that year for the restraint of 
fictitious adoptions.^ 

The year 64, though a year of peace, was one 
of calamity for Rome. From the time when 
TigeUinus had succeeded to the power and 
influence of Seneca and Burrhus, the progress 
of Nero in the path of infamy had become ever 
more rapid. Early in this year he sang on the 
stage of the theatre at Naples, choosing that 
city for his first public appearance because its 
population was Greek. Thence he designed to 
go to Greece, the home of the arts, and com- 
pete for prizes at the historical festivals; but 
abandoned that project for the time. He then 
returned to Rome and made preparations for a 
visit to Egypt ; but, to the great joy of the popu- 
lace, who thought that his presence in Rome 
secured their supply of amusements and provisions, 
he changed his mind as to this also and remained 
in the city. Charmed with this evidence of the 
popularity he always coveted, and inferring that 
it was more easily and more agreeably gained 
by the methods of TigeUinus than by those 
recommended by Seneca, he thereupon plunged 
into the wildest excesses of luxury, extrava- 
gance, and open debauchery. He entertained the 
citizens at gorgeous banquets in public places, 

1 It seems unlikely that Seneca should have been named 
consul by the emperor in the year of the death of Burrhus and 
his own partial disgrace. On the other hand, we know that 
Nero refused to accept his resignation, and may at that time have 
designated him consul as a mark of continued confidence. More- 
over Trebellius, who was governor of Britain at the time of Nero's 
death, would probably have received this appointment not very 
long after holding the consulship. 


seemed to regard, in Tacitus' phrase, the whole 
city as his house, and prostituted the noblest 
Romans to the pleasures of the mob. 

There followed the great fire, in the course 
of which the greater part of Rome was burnt 
to the ground. Nero, who was reported to have 
watched the flames from the tower of Maecenas 
with aesthetic delight, while he chanted in costume 
a poem of his own composition on the destruction 
of Troy, was accused of having himself contrived 
the fire. Incendiaries were seen in the confu- 
sion rushing about with torches in their hands, 
stopping attempts to extinguish the fire, and 
crying out that they had authority for what 
they were doing. These were probably robbers, 
but they were widely believed to be emissaries 
of the emperor. Nero, alarmed at the loss of 
his darling popularity, was roused to unwonted 
efforts. He threw open his gardens and the 
Campus Martins to the homeless multitude, and 
ran up hastily built shelters for their reception ; 
he imported necessaries from Ostia and the 
neighbouring towns ; he supplied the people 
with food at the lowest prices. Finally, he 
sought to divert suspicion from himself by ac- 
cusing the new and unpopular sect of Christians 
of the crime, and after having by torture ex- 
tracted confessions from some among them, large 
numbers were arrested on their information and 
put to horrible deaths. He illuminated his 
gardens at night with the burning bodies of 
these victims, and in the habit of a charioteer 
mingled with the throng at the circus games, 


where the Christian martyrs, clad in the skins of 
wild beasts, were torn to pieces by his hounds. 

Whether or not Nero was concerned in the 
burning of Rome, the catastrophe allowed him 
to satisfy his passion for the grandiose in the 
rebuilding of Rome, and especially of his own 
palace, on a magnificent scale. The old city with 
its tall houses and narrow winding streets was 
gone, and broad regular thoroughfares with houses 
of moderate height, built of stone and fronted 
by colonnades, were laid out in its place. At 
the same time a fire-brigade and an improved 
water-supply were organised. For the erection 
of his own ' Golden House,' with its gardens and 
lakes, its woods and solitudes, its open spaces 
and prospects, a large area was reserved, and 
even the Romans of that day, accustomed as 
they were to every form of idle display, were 
amazed at its superb extravagance. 

This reckless prodigality, coinciding as it 
did with the great destruction of wealth due 
to the fire, was followed by the inevitable conse- 
quences. The treasury was exhausted, and could 
only be refilled by injustice and oppression. 
Italy, says Tacitus, was devastated, the provinces 
ruined. The gods themselves did not escape, for 
the temples were despoiled of their treasures and 
their images, and ancient historical memorials 
ruthlessly destroyed in both Italy and Greece. 
Seneca, who, though he had lost all influence, 
had never been allowed entirely to break his 
connection with the government, protested against 
these proceedings, and, when his protests were 


disregarded, made a last effort to obtain per- 
mission to withdraw into some distant retreat. 
When this was refused, he made his health a 
pretext for not quitting his bed-chamber, and 
is said to have guarded himself against Nero's 
attempts to poison him by reducing his diet to 
water and the simplest food, the source of which 
he could control. This is the last notice we have 
of his intervention in public affairs. 

The following year (65), the last of Seneca's 
Hfe, was marked by the great conspiracy of Piso 
and the ruthless proscription of senators and 
others that followed its discovery. Piso, the head 
of the ancient and illustrious Calpurnian family, 
had been favoured alike by nature and by fortune, 
and was perhaps the most popular man in Rome. 
With a handsome countenance and a graceful 
person he showed courtesy to all, and indulged 
the love of magnificence which he combined with 
literary tastes in a profusion which concihated 
the affections and gained the admiration of a 
pleasure-loving age. He was a generous patron 
of men of letters, and was bracketed with his 
friend Seneca in regretful reminiscence by the 
Flavian poets. He was, moreover, famed for his 
eloquence, which he had employed in pleading 
the cause of citizens in the Forum. With all 
these advantages Piso was too indolent and easy- 
going to make a good chief of an enterprise that 
required energy, active ambition, and resolution 
to bring it to a successful issue. 

The object of the conspiracy was the death 
of Nero and the transfer of the Empire to Piso. 


The conspirators were many in number, and for 
the most part of senatorial or equestrian rank. 
They included the consul designate Plautius 
Lateranus ; Lucan, the poet who, forbidden by 
Nero to publish or recite his poetry, had already 
avenged himself in secret by the invective against 
the tyranny of the Caesars contained in the later 
books of the Pharsalia ; Subrius Flavins, a tribune 
of the praetorian guard ; Senecio, who had been 
an intimate friend of Nero's ; and Fenius Rufus, 
the colleague of Tigellinus in his praetorian com- 
mand. Various schemes, dictated by their re- 
spective temperaments, were suggested by one 
or other of the plotters. Some were for boldly 
attacking the emperor while he was singing on 
the public stage, trusting for success to the disgust 
so widely felt for these performances ; but the 
desire for impunit}^ ' ever adverse to great enter- 
prises,' led others to prefer a scheme for setting 
fire to the palace, when Nero might be slain in 
the midst of the ensuing confusion. While the 
conspirators were discussing these proposals and 
disputing with one another, the indiscretion of a 
woman named Epicharis nearly led to the dis- 
covery of the plot. Volusius Proculus, who had 
been among those employed by Nero in the murder 
of his mother, was a naval officer of the fleet at 
Misenum in high command. Dissatisfied with 
the manner in which his guilty services had been 
rewarded, he complained of his wrongs to Epicharis, 
and spoke of revenge. This woman, who was in 
the secret of the plot, was induced by his words 
to hope that she might obtain for her friends 


this important recruit, and so, without betraying 
the names of the conspirators, sufficiently indicated 
what was afoot to lead him to report to the emperor 
what he had heard. Epicharis was summoned 
to Rome and confronted with the informer who, 
however, found it impossible to confute her resolute 
denials. Nero's suspicions had nevertheless been 
aroused, and Epicharis was detained in custody. 

This alarm determined the conspirators to 
hasten their attempt. Nero was about to be Piso's 
guest in his villa at Baiae, and the opportunity 
seemed to many of them an excellent one for 
carrying out their designs. But Piso refused to 
violate, after the manner of Macbeth, the laws 
of hospitality. ' Better,' he said, ' that the deed 
should be done in the city, in that detested house 
founded on the spoils of citizens. What was 
done for the sake of the republic should be done 
openly.' At last they resolved to execute their 
plot at the Circus' games, where Nero was more 
accessible than at other times. Lateranus, on 
pretence of a petition, was to fall at the knees of 
the emperor and, seizing them, to overturn him, 
when the other conspirators would attack him 
with their daggers. Piso, who was to await events 
at the Temple of Ceres, was then to be summoned 
to the camp by Fenius the prefect and by others, 
and proclaimed emperor. The first blow was to 
be struck by Flavins Scevinus, a conspirator 
of senatorial rank, who had consecrated to this 
end a dagger in the Temple of Safety, and now 
withdrew it for its work. 

To the imprudence of Scevinus the discovery 


of the conspiracy was due. On the day before 
that fixed upon for the execution of the plot, 
after a long conference with his fellow-conspirator 
Natalis, he returned home, signed his will, and 
complaining of the rustiness of the dagger which 
he had withdrawn from the temple, ordered his 
freedman Milichus to sharpen it. There followed 
a dinner of unwonted splendour and numerously 
attended, when it was evident to all that the 
host had something on his mind, and the gaiety 
which he affected appeared forced and unnatural. 
Afterwards he emancipated his favourite slaves, 
and gave presents of money to others ; and, 
lastly, he bade Milichus prepare bandages for 
wounds, and all that was necessary for stopping 
the flow of blood. All these circumstances roused 
the suspicions of Milichus. The hope of reward 
with the fear lest his treachery might be antici- 
pated by the inferences of some other observer 
from the same tokens, in which case his fidelity 
would be of no service to his master and dangerous 
to himself, overcame his sense of obligation to 
the patron to whom he owed his freedom, and 
led him early the next morning to report his 
suspicions to the emperor. Scevinus was seized 
and brought to the palace. There he answered 
the charges with boldness, denying some of the 
acts imputed to him, and explaining others with 
such plausibility that the charge would have 
broken down had not Milichus recalled the con- 
ference with Natahs and suggested that the 
latter should be arrested and examined as to 
its subject. This was done, and Natalis and 


Scevinus, being separately examined and giving 
inconsistent accounts of their conversation, were 
flung into irons and, succumbing to the threat 
of torture, made both of them a full confession, 
each doubtless under the impression that the 
other had first confessed. Natalis was the first 
to name Piso, and then with the view, according 
to Tacitus, of giving pleasure to Nero, he related 
that he had visited Seneca on Piso's behalf to 
complain of the cessation of their intercourse. 
Seneca, he said, had excused himself on the 
ground that frequent conversations and meet- 
ings would conduce to the interests of neither, 
but had added that his own welfare depended on 
Piso's safety. Lucan and others were incrimi- 
nated by Scevinus. Lucan, after long denials, 
was led to confess by a promise of pardon, but 
admirers of his poetry may hope that the report 
that, in order to conciliate the sympathy of a 
matricide emperor, he had the unspeakable base- 
ness to accuse his mother, Atilia, of complicity was 
an invention of his enemies. 

Nero now bethought himself of Epicharis, 
who had been detained in custody on the informa- 
tion of Proculus. Tigellinus caused this woman 
to be questioned under torture ; but the most 
exquisite inventions of his exasperated cruelty 
could not wring from her a single name, and 
while on the second day, unable to walk, she 
was being supported to the torture-chamber, 
she contrived by strangling herself to thwart the 
further efforts of her persecutors. Her constancy 
was in striking contrast to the weakness of her 
distinguished confederates, whose courage had 


been broken by the very sight of instruments 
of torture. 

The friends of Piso urged him at this juncture 
to repair to the camp and appeal to soldiers and 
populace. As things were, they said, nothing 
worse could happen to him if he failed than if 
he submitted, while Nero with his degenerate 
following were easily to be overcome. But the 
indolent and indifferent Piso was destitute of 
the imagination that might have brought such 
an attempt to a successful issue. Without await- 
ing the band of soldiers sent by the emperor 
to arrest him — a band chosen from among the 
most recent recruits, since the fidelity of the 
veterans in such an employment was suspect — 
he opened his veins and died, having first drawn 
up a will wherein in terms of fulsome adulation 
he made a large legacy to the emperor, in the 
hope of thereby securing a peaceful succession 
to the rest of his estate for the beautiful wife 
whom he had stolen from a friend. There fol- 
lowed a great proscription of conspirators real 
or alleged, conducted with great cruelty by 
Tigellinus, actively assisted b}/ his colleague, 
Fenius Rufus, who hoped by the zeal with which 
he prosecuted his late accomplices to clear him- 
self from all suspicion of a share in their guilt. 

Whether or how far Seneca was cognisant of 
this conspiracy must remain uncertain, nor does 
Tacitus express an opinion on the subject. That 
the friend of Piso, the uncle of Lucan, would 
have rejoiced at its success we cannot doubt, 
just as Cicero rejoiced at the Ides of March. 
But, Uke Cicero, he was probably not consulted 


beforehand, and even if the evidence drawn by 
fear of torture from Scevinus was accurate, it 
only went to show that he was indirectly sounded 
on Piso's behalf and returned an ambiguous 
answer. We are told, indeed, by the untrustworthy 
historian Dion Cassius that Seneca was deeply 
concerned in the conspiracy, and that he declared 
that it was necessary to rescue the State from 
Nero and Nero from himself, but this seems to 
be merely an adapted quotation of a general 
maxim in the treatise De Vita Beata. However 
this may be, the discovery of the plot proved 
the ruin of Seneca, for it gave Nero the long- 
coveted opportunity of effecting the destruction 
of a mentor whom he hated ever the more the 
more he departed from his precepts and merited 
a disapproval which was not concealed. 

The remainder of the story may be tran- 
scribed without paraphrase from Tacitus, since, 
if we except the brief and malignant narrative 
of Dion — an historian who ever gives proof of 
an envious dislike of great men and a desire to 
belittle them — he is the only extant authority 
for the last scene of Seneca's life.^ 

Then came the death of Annaeus Seneca, which 
gave great joy to Nero : not that he had any clear 
evidence of his guilt, but because he could now do by 
the sword what he had failed to do by poison. The 
sole witness against him was Natalis, and his evidence 
only came to this, that he had been sent to see Seneca 
when ill, and to complain of his refusing to see Piso : ' It 
would be better,' he had said, ' for such old friends to 

1 I have ventured to borrow Mr. G. G. Ramsay's excellent 


keep up their habits of intercourse.' To this Seneca 
had replied : ' Frequent meetings and conversations 
would do neither of them any good : but his own welfare 
depended on Piso's safety.' 

Gavius Silvanus, Tribune of a Praetorian Cohort, 
was ordered to take the report of this incident to Seneca, 
and to ask him, ' Whether he admitted the correctness 
of the question of Natalis, and of his own answer to it ? ' 
Either by chance or purposely, it happened that Seneca 
was returning on that day from Campania, and had 
halted at a suburban villa four miles from Rome. Thither, 
towards evening, the tribune proceeded ; and having 
surrounded the house with soldiers, he delivered the 
emperor's message to Seneca when he was at table 
with his wife Pompeia Paulina and two friends, 

Seneca's reply was : ' Natalis had been sent to 
complain on behalf of Piso that he was not permitted 
to visit him ; and he had tendered in excuse the state 
of his health and his love of quiet. As to his reason 
for regarding the welfare of a private individual as of 
more value than his own safety, he had had none. He 
was not a man addicted to flattery : and that no one 
knew better than Nero himself, who had more often 
found him too free than too servile in his utterances.' 
On receiving this report from the tribune in the presence 
of Poppaea and Tigellinus, who formed the emperor's 
inner council of cruelty, Nero asked, ' Was Seneca pre- 
paring to put an end to himself ? ' The tribune de- 
clared that he had observed no sign of alarm or dejection 
in Seneca's face or language. He was therefore ordered 
to go back and tell him he must die. Fabius Rusticus 
states that the tribune did not return by the same 
road by which he had come, but that he went out of 
his way to see Faenius, the prefect ; and having shown 
him Caesar's order, asked him, ' Should he obey it ? ' 
and that Faenius, with that fatal weakness which had 
come over them all, told him to execute his orders. 
For Silvanus himself was one of the conspirators, and 
he was now adding one more crime to those which he 



had conspired to avenge. But he spared his own eyes 
and tongue, sending in one of the centurions to announce 
to Seneca that his last hour was come. 

Seneca, undismayed, asked for his will ; but this the 
centurion refused. Then turning to his friends, he 
called them to witness that, ' Being forbidden to requite 
them for their services, he was leaving to them the sole, 
and yet the noblest, possession that remained to him — 
the pattern of his life. If they bore that in mind, they 
would win for themselves a name for virtue as the reward 
of their devoted friendship.' At one moment he would 
check their tears with conversation ; at another he 
would brace up their courage by high-strung language 
of rebuke, asking, ' Where was now their philosophy ? 
Where was that attitude towards the future which 
they had rehearsed for so many years ? To whom was 
Nero's cruelty unknown ? What was left for one who 
had murdered his mother and his brother but to slay 
his guardian and teacher also ? ' 

Having discoursed thus as if to the whole company, 
he embraced his wife, and abating somewhat of his 
tone of high courage, he implored her to moderate her 
grief, and not cling to it for ever : ' Let the contemplation 
of her husband's hfe of virtue afford her noble solace 
in her bereavement.' 

She, however, announced her resolve to die with 
him ; and called on the operator to do his part. Seneca 
would not thwart her noble ambition ; and he loved 
her too dearly to expose her to insult after he was gone. 
' 1 have pointed out to thee,' he said, ' how thou mayest 
soothe thy life ; but if thou prefer a noble death, I will 
not begrudge thee the example. Let us both share the 
fortitude of thus nobly dying : but thine shall be the 
nobler end.' 

A single incision with the knife opened the arm of 
each, but as Seneca's aged body, reduced by spare 
living, would scarcely let the blood escape, he opened 
the veins of his knees and ankles also. Worn out at 
last by the pain, and fearing to break down his wife's 


courage by his suffering, or to lose his own self-command 
at the sight of hers, he begged her to move into another 
chamber. But even in his last moments his eloquence 
did not fail ; he called his secretaries to his side, and 
dictated to them manj^ things which being pubhshed 
in his own words I deem it needless to reproduce. 

Nero, however, had no personal disHke to Paulina ; 
and, not wishing to add to his character for cruelty, 
he ordered her death to be stayed. So, at the bidding 
of the soldiers, the slaves and freedmen tied up her 
arms and stopped the flow of blood ; perhaps she was 
unconscious. But with that alacrity to accept the 
worst version of a thing which marks the vulgar, some 
believed that so long as she thought Nero would be 
implacable she clutched at the glory of sharing her 
husband's death ; but that when the hope of a reprieve 
presented itself the attractions of life proved too strong 
for her. She lived on for a few years more, worthily 
cherishing her husband's memory ; but the pallor of 
her face and hmbs showed how much vitality had gone 
out of her. 

Meanwhile Seneca, in the agonies of a slow and 
lingering death, implored Statius Annaeus, his tried 
and trusted friend and physician, to produce a poison 
with which he had long provided himself, being the 
same as that used for public executions at Athens. The 
draught was brought and administered, but to no purpose ; 
the limbs were too cold, the body too numb, to let the 
poison act. At last, he was put into a warm bath ; and 
as he sprinkled the slaves about him he added : ' This 
libation is to Jupiter the Liberator ! ' He was then 
carried into the hot vapour bath, and perished of suffoca- 
tion. His body was burnt without any funeral ceremony, 
in accordance with instructions about his end which 
he had inserted in his will in the heyday of his wealth 
and power. 



The practical and unsystematic character of 
Seneca's philosophy makes it less easy to describe 
than to understand. Its chief aim was the forma- 
tion of character, and his pupils were taught to 
possess their souls in peace by the acceptance, 
so far as they were applicable to actual life, of 
Stoic principles. Philosophy, he says, is not a 
popular profession devised for ostentation or the 
display of ingenuity ; it lies not in words, but in 
realities. Nor do we pursue it in order to spend 
our days agreeably or to banish weariness from^' 
our leisure ; it cultivates and forms the mind, 
orders life, guides our actions by showing us 
what to do and what not to do, sits at the helm 
and directs our course through the changes and 
chances of the world. What is the one true, 
possession of man ? Himself, answers Seneca. 
What is Liberty ? — to be the slave of no want, 
of no chance, to meet Fortune on equal terms ; 
but if a man desire or fear external things he is 
so far the slave of him who has them to give or 
to withhold. 

Among the external things to be regarded ob- 


jectively as neither good nor evil in themselves, 
save through the opinion we form of them, must 
be reckoned in Seneca's philosophy our own "" 
bodies, in which as in boats we travel so strangely . \ 
from port to port. In these bodies is sown the \>^\2 
divine seed which develops or decays, according -^ 
to the soil in which it is planted and the cultiva- 
tion it receives. If the seed prospers and a reason- 
able soul is engendered this is the real man-spirit 
still cleaving, like a sun-ray, to its divine origin, 
and his body but the case in which the jewel lies, 
indispensable certainly to his appearance in the 
physical world, as the instrument is indispensable 
to the heard melody, but no more the source from 
which he springs than the violin on which it is 
played is that of a sonata of Beethoven, or the 
ground on which the sun's rays shine is that of light. ^ 
This complete separation in thought of our spiritual '; : 
selves from the few pounds of matter in which < Xv^L 
we are clothed, and through which we act and j 
suffer, lies at the root of the Stoic conception of 
happiness and wisdom, which indeed in their 
opinion are the same. We are only as miserable / 
as we think ourselves. We are free, because all 
our actions are in our own power, and if we are 
ready to sacrifice our external possessions, includ- 
ing among them our bodies, rather than lose this 
freedom, it cannot be taken from us. Other men / 

* ' Animus : sed hie rectus, bonus, magnus. Quid aliud voces 
hunc, quam Deum in humano corpora hospitantem ? Hie 
animus tarn in equitem Romanum, quam in libertinum, quam 
in servum potest cadere. Quid est eques Romanus, aut 
libertinus, aut servus ? Nomina ex ambitione, aut ex injuria 
nata' {Ep. 31). 


may have power over our bodies — indeed every 
man has that if he chooses to exert it without 
regard to consequences — they can have none over 
ourselves. ' Vindica te tibi ' — claim to be lord of 
yourself, make good your claim to be free for 
your own sake, subject not 3^our will to another's, 
wrote Seneca in the first of his letters to Lucilius, 
and the remaining series are largely a commentary 
on that text, 
f Philosophy, as Seneca understood it, is the 
) study of the works of God and of the nature of 
/ man ; of natural science and of the moral law. 
^ He would have understood and assented to the 
saying of the modern sage who declared that 
the two great subjects of his admiration and 
reverence were the starry heaven outside him 
and the moral law within. Man's nature he held 
to be twofold — an inherited instinctive or physical 
nature which he shares with the animals, and a 
rational nature which is divine. The last is the 
proper or distinguishing character of man, and 
only so far as it gains the mastery can he truly 
be said as man to live. The end of philosophy 
is to secure this predominance, and so far as it 
succeeds in so doing man is placed beyond the 
, power of Fortune and his felicity is assured. 
His good and evil reside in the choice which it is 
always in his power to make. External things — 
his own body included — are in themselves neither 
good nor evil, but they are the material out of 
which man makes the one or the other. ' They 
reach not unto the soul,' as Marcus Aureiius 
says, ' but stand without still and quiet, and 


it is from the opinion only which is within that 
all the tumult and all the trouble doth proceed.' 
It is excellent, wrote Seneca, to combine the free- 
dom from concern of a God with the physical 
frailty of man.^ All nature is one. We are all 
members of a single great body.^ In the physical 
world this is clear to the view, for the actual 
material of which it is composed is used successively 
for all things — for minerals, for plants, and for 
animals. But it is also true of the spiritual world 
to which man alone of living things has been 
granted admission. Hence it follows that we are 
called by our spiritual nature to recognise our 
universal kinship and to love one another, hence 
come our notions of equity and justice, and a 
belief which consciously or unconsciously we must 
hold that it is better for a man to be wronged 
than to wrong. 

Thus Seneca was a dualist. For him, as has 
been said, there is the world of matter of which 
our bodies__are_a part, and there is the world of 
spirit "wEich isjdLvine. Bodies are the instruments 
of our free action when we possess ourselves, but 
when we obey their behests we lose our freedom 
and become the slaves of those who can threaten 
us with or save us from the perils to which the 
body is exposed — poverty, sickness, or external 
violence. Of these we dread the last most because 
of its tumultuous onset, whereas the others creep 
silently upon us accompanied by nothing formid- 

^ Ep- 53- 'Ecce res magna, habere imbecillitatem hominis, 
securitatem Dei.' 

^ Ep. 95 : ' Omne hoc quod vides, quo divina et humana 
conclusa sunt, unum est : membra sumus corporis magni.' 


able to our eyes or ears. Yet there is no difference 
in respect of the sole physical realities — pain and 
death. It was a Stoic maxim that the good of 
man lies in a certain regulation of his choice with 
regard to the appearances of things ; and it is 
only in the spiritual world that this faculty of 
choice can be said to exist. So far as the body 
controls the human will in its own interests — 
answering with corresponding reactions the stroke 
of its perceptions and sensations — that will is 
determined and becomes the servant of what it 
should command. To obey the orders of the 
body is to serve another's will and to surrender 
that true liberty which to the Stoic was life itself. 
Again and again Seneca recurs to this thesis : 

My dearest Lucilius [he writes], do, 1 beseech you, 
the one thing that can make you happy. Scatter and 
tread under foot all those extrinsic splendours which 
hang on the promises of others ; look to the true good, 
and rejoice in what is your own. And what is that ? 
Yourself, and the best part of yourself.l This little 
body, even though nothing can be done without it, 
is rather a necessary than a great matter.^ 

My body [he says in another letter] I regard but 
as a chain by which my liberty is fettered. I offer 
it therefore to Fortune as an object for her attacks ; 
nor through this shield do I allow myself to be pierced. 
In this is all my vulnerable part ; this frail and exposed 
house does my soul inhabit inviolate. This flesh shall 
never constrain me to fear or unworthy simulation. 
Let me never lie for the sake of this poor carcase.^ 

^ Ep. 23. 

2 Ep. 65 : ' Nunquam me caro ista compellet ad metum ; 
nunquam ad indignam bono sinaulationem ; nunquam in honorem 
hujus corpusculi mentiar.' 


In Seneca's view a man cannot be said to live 
a man's life who does not serve his own will. 
He becomes an automaton acted on by the material 
world outside him, on which he himself in his 
turn reacts. True he cannot live for himself 
unless he live for others,^ for we are all children 
of the same Father, all members of one great 
body ; but it is of his own free will that he must 
live for others, and not through submission of 
his will to theirs. All action is really voluntary. 
No man need be a slave who is ready to take the 
consequences to his body — pain or death at the 
most — of a refusal to serve. The doctrine of the 
divine immanence was held by Seneca as firmly 
as was possible to an understanding so sceptical 
and an imagination so mobile, and it lies at the 
root of his theory of life. 

There is no need to raise our hands to heaven [he 
tells I^uciUus] or to prevail upon the keeper of the temple 
to admit us to the presence of the image, as if by such 
means our prayers were more likely to be heard. God 
is near you, He is with you, He is within you. I tell 
you, LuciUus, the Holy Spirit abides within us,^ watching 
over and guarding our good or evil destiny : as we treat 
Him, so He treats us. No good man is without God. 
Can any unassisted by Him rise above Fortune ? Lofty 
and sublime are His counsels. In every good man God 
dwells, though what God is uncertain. ... If you see a 
man unmoved by danger, unaffected by desires, happy 
in adversity, calm in the midst of tempests, looking at 
men from a higher station, at the gods from a level, 

1 ' Qui sibi amicus est, scito hunc amicum omnibus esse 
{Ep. 6). ' Alteri vivas oportet, si tibi vis vivere ' {Ep. 48). 

* 'Sacer intra nos spiritus sedet, malorum bonorumque 
nostrorum observator et custos.' 


will you feel no veneration for him ? Will you not 
say, Here is something so great and so sublime that it 
is incredible he should resemble the Httle body in which 
he dwells ? . . . Just as the rays of the sun reach indeed 
the earth yet are still in the place whence they are trans- 
mitted : so a great and sacred soul sent down to the 
earth, that we might have closer knowledge of divine 
things, holds intercourse indeed with us but cleaves to 
g, its own origin.^ 

At the same time Seneca was no believer in 
extreme asceticism — a practice which he regarded 
as a confusion of means with end. The body is 
not to be indulged, lest like an overfed horse it 
should get out of hand ; but since it is our instru- 
ment of action, our only means of communication 
with the outside world, since through it we enter 
into relations with the external things that form 
the materials on which, and the medium through 
which, our choice can be exercised, we are to regard 
it as a useful servant, and to clothe, clean, protect, 
and maintain it in a manner suitable to its nature 
and with a view to its highest efficiency. It is a 
tool which we are to keep in good condition, 
a house to be kept in repair ; but we must ever 
be careful not to confound the tool with the work- 
man, the house with its inhabitant. 

Seneca held, as we have seen, that man's 
characteristic excellence and peculiar attribute 
is his reason, which is nothing but a part of the 
divine nature sunk in a human body.^ Therefore 
to follow reason is to act according to his nature ; 
just as for other animals to follow the lead of 
their bodies is to act after their kind. It is 
^ Ep. 41. * Ep. 64. 


opposed to his physical, inherited, or irrational 
self in respect of which he belongs to the world 
of matter. Though this latter part of him has the 
greater dynamic power, and has ever been the 
source of the greater number of human actions, 
yet inasmuch as body and the necessary actions 
that proceed from bodily affections or passions — 
whether hunger, fear, or lust — are not peculiar 
to human beings but are common to them and 
all other animals, we do not speak of them as 
natural to man. Such words as ' humanity ' and 
' kindness,' recurring as they do in many languages, 
point to this distinction. It was ever in the 
mind of the Roman Stoics, and is the foundation 
upon which many of their seeming paradoxes rest. 
In one of the very few allusions to Seneca to be 
found in the writings of his actual contemporaiies, 
we are told by the elder Pliny that no man was 
less beguiled by the appearances of things — 
' minime mirator inanium ' — and this indeed is 
just what we might infer from his works. In spite 
of the rhetoric by which they are sometimes 
adorned, and sometimes disfigured, we hear and 
recognise a familiar human voice in reading his 
letters. The sense of remoteness which we feel 
towards writers of past generations is proportioned 
to the greater or less degree in which their nature 
was subdued to the transient humours of the 
time in which they worked. Shakespeare could 
perceive and describe these humours — the strings 
by which human puppets are moved — as clearly 
as Ben Jonson, but because he could also perceive 
and describe the universal humanity that lies 

172  SENECA 

at the back of them, because he recognises the 
something in every man that either controls or 
checks or yields to them, his characters seem to us 
modern and natural, and Jonson's, because he 
cannot do this, mechanical and obsolete. Seneca, 
with his constant desire to see with his own eyes 
things as they are and not as they are reputed to be 
— to remove the mask from things as well as from 
persons — has the same power.^ We never have to 
plead the opinions of his time as an apology for 
any opinion he holds. We may agree with him 
or disagree, but it is a Hving voice we hear — never 
a mere echo. For Reason being universal and 
absolute, independent of time and place, and of the 
humours of mankind, the voice of Reason, no matter 
from what distance of space or time, reaches us 
as a living voice. We feel our kindred with the 
speaker however great an interval may separate 
us from his physical presence. We recognise 
and greet in him our common nature, for this is 
the true nature of man, the X0709 — the ' spirit ' 
of the New Testament as opposed to the ' flesh,' 
the seed, the new birth, the divine spark, the real 

Seneca defines wisdom as constancy of will — 
'semper idem velle atque idem nolle.' There is no 
danger, he adds, lest this constancy should have a 
wrong object, since it is impossible that anything 
but what is right should at all times please us. 
There must be but one same efficient motive to 

^ Ep. 24 : ' Illud ante omnia memento, demere rebus 
tumultum, ac videre quid in quaque re sit : scies nihil esse in 
istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem. — Non hominibus tantum, sad 
et rebus persona demenda est, et rgddenda fades sua.' 


all our actions, and we shall never regret them 
whatever their results. Actions, like things, are 
in themselves neither good nor bad — it is the 
manner and the circumstances that qualify them. 
The veiy same action is base or honourable, 
according to the mental disposition of the actor. 
A man attends assiduously the sick bed of his 
friend, and we approve. But if he does this with 
a view to an inheritance, we regard him as a 
vulture awaiting his prey. The action is the 
same in both cases, but in the first we recognise 
what we significantly call the man's humanity, 
that is, goodness, truth, and beauty, those fruits 
of the universal human spirit, of which man could 
not have formed the idea were they not the very 
material of his reasonable soul ; and our conscious- 
ness of the self-regarding source of the same action 
in the other case fills us with a certain disgust. 
As with things so with actions, we must weigh 
them without regard to their reputation, and con- 
sider not what they are called but what they are. 

Notwithstanding his rhetoric and antitheses, 
it is this recall to reality which is the dominant 
note in Seneca's writings. An excellent critic, 
who was by no means an undiscriminating ad- 
mirer of his subject, has written: 'The less a 
man cares for the practical, the real, the less 
he will value Seneca. The more a man envelops 
himself in words and ideas without exact mean- 
ing, the less will he comprehend a writer who 
does not merely deal in words, but has ideas 
with something to correspond to them.'^ Seneca 

1 G. Long. 


had the contempt of a man of the world for 
pedantry, though the impatience with pure 
speculation that he felt as an ethical instructor 
was tempered in some degree by his own insati- 
able curiosity. ' We sometimes find,' he wrote 
in one of his letters, ' that the pursuit of liberal 
arts makes men tedious, wordy, unreasonable, 
self-satisfied, and ignorant of what they should 
know, just because they have learnt what is 
needless.' ^ Philosophy, in his view, is the science 
of reality, ' the knowledge of which the gods 
have given to none,' he tells us, ' but the power 
of attainment to all. Had they indeed made this 
a common possession, had we been born wise, 
wisdom would have lost her chief excellence and 
have been subject to Fortune, whereas it is her 
most precious and noble quality that she falls of 
herself to no man's lot, that each man owes her 
to himself, and seeks her from no other.' ^ This 
acquisition of ' self-control in accordance with 
fixed principles that are self-prescribed ' forms 
what is called character, which, as Kant remarks, 
implies a subject conscious of something which he 
has himself acquired. The man who possesses 
it is free, for he is the slave of nothing — of no 
want, of no chance; he meets Fortune on equal 
terms and can do what he pleases, for nothing 
pleases him that he ought not to do. The 
philosopher sees things as they are presented to 
him by nature, not as they are represented to him 
by his imagination worked on by the suggestion 
of others. ' Above all things, remember,' writes 

1 Ep. 88. 2 Ep. 90. 


Seneca, ' to strip things of their glamour and to 
contemplate each as it is in itself: you will find 
that they contain nothing formidable but your 
own fear. ' ^ ' Non effedus sed efficientia timor 
spectat,' he says elsewhere; it is the pomp and 
circumstance of pain and death (the only positive 
physical evils), not pain and death themselves, 
which we fear, that is, from which we suffer in 
anticipation. We think death the greatest of 
evils, when the only evil connected with it is 
one which vanishes on its appearance, namely, 
the terror it inspires. We are indignant and 
complain, and do not perceive that the only 
reality of ill is to be found in our indignation 
and complaints. 

To have a right judgment in all things it is 
sufficient to have our own judgment (or perception 
of the differences between things) unbiased by 
that of others ; then we acquire the inestimable 
boon of becoming lords of ourselves. When a 
man serves his own will and not other persons or 
things he will do right, because he then acts on 
general principles ; and general thoughts are just. 
No man is a rogue for the pleasure of being a 
rogue, but to gain some end which seems to him , 
a good one, but which to the philosopher would 
not seem worth a struggle were it even attainable ' 
innocently. The slave of his passions may fancy 
that in serving them he is serving his own will ; 
but it is not so, for he has lost his self-control 
and must obey those who are able to gratify or 
not to gratify those passions. He is, as Hamlet 

* Ep. 24. 


says, ' a pipe for Fortune's finger to sound what 
stop she please.' One gift, says Seneca, we have 
from Nature, and that is, that the hght of virtue 
is visible to all ; even those who do not follow 
perceive it ; but if we are not distracted by the 
false opinions of things suggested to us from 
outside or by our own bodily selves, to perceive 
and to follow the light will be all one.^ 

Stoicism in the centuries before Christ was 
like a motor started but off the clutch. There is 
a great deal of potential energy, but being merely 
potential it results in nothing but noise. Seneca 
supplied the clutch to Stoicism by applying it to 
the practical conduct of life, and he was followed 
in this work by Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. 
Thus a statesman, a slave, and an emperor, differing 
as widely in temperament as they did in position, 
reached, nevertheless, the same conclusions as to 
the nature of man and the secret of his felicity. 
What the Greeks preach, the Romans practise, 
says Quintilian — a greater matter.^ As was natural 
to one who had lived in the centre of things and 
seen much of men and affairs, Seneca felt little 
but disdain for the logical and metaphysical puzzles 
which occupied so much of the time and thought 
of the earlier Greek philosophers and schoolmen, 
and which seem to have had a great attraction 
for his Epicurean friend, Lucilius. He reproaches 
philosophers with teaching how to dispute rather 
than how to live, and their pupils with attending 

^ De Beneficiis, 717. 

2 ' Quantum enim Graeci praeceptis valent, tantum Romani 
(quod est majus) exemplis ' (Quintilian, xii. 2). 


lectures in order to sharpen their wits rather than 
improve their characters. The most mischievous 
of mortals he declares to be those who bring their 
philosophy to market and by not practising what 
they preach seem a living proof of the futility 
of their doctrines. He argues with force against 
those who maintained the sufficiency of general 
principles and the needlessness of precepts for 
their application to the conduct of life. Virtue, 
he says, consists partly in theory and partly in 
practice ; you ought both to learn and to make 
good what you have learnt by your actions. If 
this is so, the precepts of wisdom are of service as 
well as her decrees ; they issue, as it were, edicts 
by which our affections are bound and constrained. 
The earlier philosophers were so occupied with 
the form of the human understanding that they 
neglected its material content. The driving power 
was supplied but continued unlinked to the 
engine to be driven. Seneca, too, considered the 
external world but as the material of wise men — 
the ball, not prized for its own sake, on which 
the player is to exercise his skill — but to show 
the bearing of this discovery on the actual 
circumstances of life and action seemed to him 
the main business of philosophy. 

Not out of ivory only [he tells us] was Phidias skilled 
in making statues, he made them of bronze ; if you 
brought marble or any cheaper material to him he 
would turn it to the best use of which it was capable. 
So, if riches fall to him, the wise man wiU display his 
wisdom amidst riches, if not, then in poverty ; if he 
can, in his native country, if not, then in exile; if he 



can, as a general, if not, then as a soldier ; if he can, 
in health, if not, then in sickness. Whatever fortune 
befall him, he will carve out of it something memorable.^ 

The lives of most men are passed in a perpetual 
struggle to improve the external circumstances 
of their lives ; either their reputations — that is, the 
opinions held of them by other people — or their 
fortunes — that is, their power of directing the 
labour of other people to the satisfaction of their 
own desires and caprices. Thus for the sake of 
an imagined life they lose their real life. Could 
we recognise that the attainment of these objects 
is not in our own power, and that even if by the 
aid of Fortune they are attained they bring no 
real happiness with them, but only through their 
transitory nature disillusionment, we should accept 
the chances and circumstances of our lives without 
perturbation or care, use them as it befits us to 
use them with the same tendency whatever they 
are, and be at peace. 

Seneca was a man of quick sympathies, im- 
pressionable, witty, and amiable, humane, fasti- 
dious, and full of good sense, interested perhaps 
in man rather than in men, yet devoted to his 
friends, and combining a desire to please and 
success in pleasing, with a love of nature and 
solitary meditation. He was a citizen of the 
world,^ who could take a detached view of men and 
things, and his generous conviction that distinctions 
of rank and status had their origin in opinion, 
itself the child of fortune, and in the names in 

' Ep. 85. 

* ' Non sum uni angulo natus ; patria mea totus hie est mundus.' 


which that opinion was registered rather than in 
any real superiority or inferiority, often led him 
to anticipate the ideas of a very distant future. 
Quintilian describes him as no great philosopher 
('in philosophia parum diligens '), but praises him 
as a moral instructor of distinction whose works 
are to be studied — by those able to sift the good 
from the bad — for the sake of the striking thoughts 
with which they abound. He allows him a ready 
wit, flowing perhaps too easily from a perennial 
source, industry, and a wide knowledge of natural 
history, though he remarks that he was some- 
times misled by those whom he had commissioned 
to make investigations ; but with all this he charges 
him with an absolute lack of judgment and with 
being the chief corrupter of eloquence and intro- 
ducer of new methods in composition which utterly 
unfitted him to guide the taste of the youth 
of his generation, in whose hands for a time 
his books alone were to be found. He denounces 
him, indeed, as a sort of literary anarchist, whose 
influence on the manner of his age was disastrous, 
and having once again admitted that there was 
much in his works to approve, much even to ad- 
mire, by those who could distinguish (and for those 
whose taste was sufficiently formed this, he says, 
would be good practice), he sums up his criticism 
with the remark that it was a pity one capable 
of doing what he pleased should not more often 
have been pleased with better things. ^ Quintilian, 

^ ' Digna enim fuit ilia natura, quae meliora vellet, quae quod 
voluit effecit.' One is reminded of Jonson's reply to Shakespeare's 
fellow-players, who boasted that he had never blotted a line, 
' "Would he had blotted a thousand.' 


on conventional lines, was one of the best critics 
that have ever passed judgment on the works 
of others — the Sainte-Beuve of his age. But 
Seneca was in literature a revolutionary, with a 
dislike of convention, scant respect for tradition, 
and impatience of authority ^ ; and Quintilian, 
the classicist, was of opinion that he owed his 
popularity not to his good qualities — the ' multae 
et magnae virtutes ' which he freely recognised — 
but to his dangerously attractive faults — his 
rhetoric and his detached sentences, good, bad, 
and indifferent, not woven according to the rules 
of art into the texture of a complete work, but 
scattered in careless profusion as they occurred 
to him and lying where they fell. For Roman 
conservatives such as Quintilian, Roman citizenship 
was a primary consideration, and for a Roman 
citizen moral obligations were in large measure 
confined to their relations with their fellow- 
citizens. For Seneca, on the other hand, and his 
school, man was sacred to man as man ^ — the idea of 
citizenship with its rights and duties was swallowed 
up and lost in that of humanity, all men were 
brothers and sprang from the same origin.^ The 
most useful life a man could lead was spent in 
helping, teaching, and consoling his fellow-men 
— be they Romans or barbarians, free or slave. 
The maxims in which Seneca enshrined these 
notions seemed to Quintilian rhetorical common- 
place calculated to please children and of a sub- 

1 Ep. 33 : 'Non sumus sub rege, sibi quisque se vindicet.' 
* Ep. 95 : 'Homo res sacra ho mini.' 

» Cp. his contemporary, Pliny, ii. 7 : ' Deus est mortali 
juvare mortalem ' ; and St- Paul passim. 


versive tendency. Such ideas, he may have 
thought, might be suited to the schools of declama- 
tion; but introduced into serious treatises and 
found in conjunction with much that was really just 
and wise, they could not be too strongly condemned. 

Was Seneca the author of the tragedies which 
bear his name ? That they were written by him 
or by one of his family we know from the quotation 
by Quintilian of an extant line of the Medea,^ 
while other mentions are made of the tragedies of 
' Seneca ' by the grammarians of the second century 
— Terentianus Maurus, and Valerius Probus. It 
is evident, however, that one of the plays, the 
Odavia, cannot have been written by Lucius 
Seneca, who appears in it as a principal character, 
since it contains in the guise of a prophecy a 
fairly accurate description of the death of Nero.'' 

Conceding this, most modern writers have never- 
theless attributed the remaining eight tragedies 
to the philosopher. Yet apart from the fact that 
there seems no sufficient reason for separating 
the Octavia from the rest of the collection, the 
case against his authorship seems to me so strong 
as to be almost conclusive. Quintilian, in his 
account of Roman writers of tragedy from Accius 
and Pacuvius down to Pomponius Secundus, whom 
he had known personally, makes no mention of 
Seneca. This, if at the time he was writing Seneca 

1 ' Interrogamus, aut invidiae gratia : ut Medea apud Senecam 
— " quas peti terras jubes ? " ' (Quint, ix. 2. 8). 
* ' Veniet dies tempusque, quo reddat suis 

Animam nocentem sceleribus, jugulum hostibus, 
Desertus, et destructus, et cunctis egens.' 

Oct. 629-631. 


the tragedian were actually alive, is comprehensible, 
for Quintilian avoids all criticism of his living 
contemporaries, and only alludes without naming 
him to Tacitus himself. But if Lucius Seneca 
were the author of the plays, how could he have 
passed him over in silence ? Moreover, he tells us 
that Lucius Seneca practised almost every form 
of literature, leaving behind him orations, poems, 
epistles, and dialogues. Why no mention of the 
tragedies ? But the strongest external reason 
for disbelieving in the identity of Seneca the 
tragedian with Seneca the philosopher is to be 
found in the poem of Sidonius ApoUinaris, written 
in the fifth century, in which he distinguishes 
between the two.^ It is difficult to believe that 
Sidonius, to whom letters were the chief interest 
in life, and who lived in an age before the final 
break up of the Empire had cast a doubt on so 
many origins, could have been mistaken on such 
a point. He writes, too, as he naturally would if 
no question on the subject had been raised, as if 
the matter were one of common knowledge. 

As to the internal evidence, the defects of 
Seneca are visible in the plays, tempered by few 

1 ' Non quod Corduba praepotens alumnis 
Facundum ciet, hie putes legendum : 
Quorum unus colit hispidum Platona, 
Incassumque suum monet Neronem : 
Orchestram quatit alter Euripidis, 
Pietum faeeibus AeSv^hylum secutus 
Aut plaustris solitum sonare Thespin : 
Qui post pulpita trita sub cothurno 
Ducebant olidae matrem capellae.' 

Carm. ix. 

Cp. Carm. xxiii, : ' Quid celsos Seneeas loquar.' 


of his better qualities. Quintilian says of the 
later writers of that school, that all they can do 
is to imitate and exaggerate the faults and manner- 
isms of their master, since his real excellence is 
beyond their capacity. By resembling they, so to 
speak, slander him.^ I do not dwell upon the 
absence of all allusion to the tragedies in his 
letters, though he quotes Euripides and Publius, 
for Seneca was completely free from that literary 
vanity which was so conspicuous in Cicero, and 
in no one of his letters does he mention any other 
of his works. Indeed, with the exception of a 
single passage in his twenty-first letter, in which 
with a certain solemnity he promises Lucilius that 
as Idomeneus lives for ever in the letters of 
Epicurus, Atticus in those of Cicero, so it was 
also in his power to confer immortality on his 
own correspondent, we hear nothing of his great 
position and reputation from himself. 

The denunciations of tyrants and tyranny with 
which the plays abound, and the direct references, 
as they appear to be, to Seneca's own relations 
with Nero which they contain, have appeared to 
M. Boissier conclusive evidence of his authorship. 
But they also make it in a high degree unlikely that 
the plays were published during Nero's lifetime, 
and would rather indicate their publication under 
Vespasian by another member of Seneca's family. 
' He who distributes crowns at his will,' we read 
in the Thyestes, ' before whom trembling nations 
bend the knee, who by a sign of his hand disarms 

^ One wonders whether he may not have had Seneca the 
tragedian among others in his mind when so writing. 


Medes, Indians, and tribes dreaded of the Parthians, 
is himself uneasy on his throne ; he shudders at 
the thought of the caprices of fortune and of the un- 
foreseen strokes by which empires are overthrown.' ^ 
Again, in the same play, ' Believe me, we are 
deceived by the glozing surface of prosperity, and 
we are wrong indeed to regret its loss. While 
I was powerful, I never ceased to tremble ; but 
now I can cause fear or jealousy to none, I am 
happy. Crime does not seek out the poor man 
in his hut. He dines at a modest table, whereas 
we run the risk of poison when we drink from 
golden goblets. I speak from experience.' ^ It is 
evident that the writer of these passages had Nero 
and Seneca in his mind; Seneca had indeed ex- 
perienced the danger he describes,^ but that he 
would have published or even committed to writ- 
ing such sentiments in the tyrant's lifetime is 
hard to believe. Who, then, can be the author of 
the plays ? Seneca's brothers did not long survive 
him. His nephew Lucan was condemned ; and as 
the blood spurted from his opened veins with his 
dying voice he declaimed a passage from the Phar- 
salia descriptive of his situation. His father, Mela, 
claimed his estate; but the claim was contested 
by Lucan's intimate friend, Fabius Romanus, who 
professed to find among the papers left him letters 
involving Mela in the conspiracy. This was 
enough for Nero, who coveted Mela's great wealth, 
and a message was sent him, with the usual 
result. He at once anticipated a condemnation 
by opening his veins, leaving behind him a will 

* Thyestes, 600. * Ibid., 446. ^ Tac, Ann. xv. 45. 


in which he bequeathed a great sum of money to 
TigeUinus^ in the hope that by interesting the pre- 
fect in the vahdity of the document his remaining 
legacies might be secured to his family. That 
he was successful in this is probable, because a 
generation later we find Lucan's widow, PoUa, 
living wealthy and honoured under Domitian, and 
receiving the seldom disinterested attentions of 
the Flavian poets. Gallio, after Seneca's death, 
was violently attacked in the Senate ; but saved 
for the moment by friends, who reproached his 
antagonist with taking advantage of the public 
misfortunes for the gratification of private hatred 
and opposing the humane impulses of their merciful 
prince. We hear no more of him from Tacitus ; 
but Dion relates that he perished shortly after- 
wards by his own hand. The only other Seneca 
of whom any mention has survived is Marcus, 
the son of the philosopher, of whom he wrote so 
tenderly from his Corsican exile. Can he have 
been the dramatist ? Nothing obliges us to 
believe it ; but it is possible, and has been 

Seneca's reputation has passed through many 
vicissitudes. He has been long neglected, and 
his character when discussed has been harshly 
appreciated. Yet good wine cannot come from 
a tainted vessel ; and if we judge his work by the 
use that has been made of it by famous poets 
and moralists, we must call it a noble heritage. 
Shakespeare and Milton have transmuted many 
of his thoughts into glorious poetry — Milton 
taking directly from him, Shakespeare in all 


probability by way of Florio's Montaigne. From 
the first he has excited admiration and hostihty 
in almost equal measure. He is perhaps the 
only pagan whom the early Christian writers — 
Tertullian, Augustine, Lactantius, and Jerome — 
regarded with all but unmixed approval. On 
the other hand, the pedantic Roman archaists of 
the Antonine period — Aulus Gellius and Fronto — 
detested him as the corrupter of taste and a 
dangerous innovator. It must always be remem- 
bered that his was no abstract philosophy of the 
study. It was addressed by a former man of 
action to men living under a reign of terror, 
whose lives were in daily peril ; and its object was 
to free them from anxiety and brace their minds 
to meet their fate with indifference and dignity. 
Consequently it is in dangerous times that he 
has found the greatest favour. 



The battle of Actium had been fought and won. 
For the third time in Roman history the gates of 
the Temple of Janus were closed as a sign that 
war had ceased. After a century of civil war and 
confusion the Romans accepted, some of them 
with joy, others with a half-ashamed relief, others 
again with melancholy resignation, the repose 
and security offered to them by the new govern- 
ment. The historian Livy, whom the emperor 
was accustomed playfully to tax with his Pom- 
peian sympathies, turned, as he tells us, to the 
composition of Roman history and the contem- 
plation of the ancient glories of the State in order 
to distract his mind from what seemed to him 
the incurable degeneracy of the times. Horace, 
who had served as an officer under Brutus at 
Philippi, took refuge in Epicurean philosophy 
and the cultivation of friendship, while he advised 
his friends to rid themselves of hopes and fears, 
to make the best of the passing hour, and not to 
trouble about the future. We must all die : so 
what, after all, does anything matter ? is the 
constant burden of his song. ReconciUation and 


oblivion were the order of the day. To the son 
of that Cicero, the thunder of whose eloquence 
in defence of the old constitution had cost him 
his life, fell the duty as consul of announcing to 
the people the news of the battle of Actium and 
of presiding over the games and pageants given 
in honour of the victory. The untamable soul 
of Cato was applauded with impunity by the 
Court poets. Men, like Messala, who had distin- 
guished themselves on the republican side in the 
civil war were admitted to the intimacy of the 
emperor ; and the letter of the old constitution 
was preserved inviolate at a time when its spirit 
was fundamentally subverted. 

Augustus seems really to have been by tem- 
perament a conservative. He cared little for the 
pomp and circumstance of power, and was under 
no temptation to imitate those excesses of uncon- 
stitutional language and demeanour, the fatal 
candour of which had proved more disastrous 
to his uncle Julius Caesar than the most violent 
of his actions. He knew that wounded vanity 
is a more potent factor in the making of patriots 
than loss of liberty. Moreover, he was attached 
to the Roman traditions and religion ; he was a 
lover of order, system, and decorum ; he had the 
historical sense ; he had an admirable taste in 
literature ; he was an indulgent friend ; and 
he loved the freedom from restraint in social 
intercourse secured with such difficulty by 

When Augustus returned from his final vic- 
tory at Actium, he contemplated a genuine 


restoration of the republic ; and to this course 
he was urged by his most powerful lieutenant, 
Marcus Agrippa. But he was dissuaded from 
adopting it by his other chief adviser, the Tuscan 
knight, Caius Maecenas, who, left in charge of 
the city while the emperor was still absent, had 
recently increased his influence by his skilful sup- 
pression in its inception of a conspiracy against 
his master's life, formed by Lepidus, the son of 
the triumvir.^ 

The character of this celebrated man is in 
itself an interesting study ; and, typically dif- 
fering as it does from that of all the public men 
in earlier Roman history, it enables us to appreciate 
more clearly the nature of the change that came 
over Roman life after the accession of Augustus 
to sole power, and to weigh with more intelli- 
gence the advantages and disadvantages of that 

Maecenas, in the first place, was a great rea- 
list. He professed and probably felt nothing but 
disdain for all good and evil derived not from 
things themselves, but from the opinions men 
form of them. Thus, though proud of his old 
Etruscan lineage, he would never consent to enter 
the Senate or to hold the official honours — now 
become in the main titular — of praetor or consul. 
He died^as he was born^ in the equestrian order. 
It is indeed possible that his moderation in this 
matter was in part a compliment to the em- 
peror, who, himself descended from an equestrian 
family in which his father had been the first 

1 Yell. Paterculus, ii. 88 ; Appian, iv. 49. 


senator, was not at all ashamed to avow the fact 
in his published memoirs ^ ; and this theory 
receives some support from the circumstance 
that the successor of Maecenas in the confidence 
of Augustus, Crispus Sallustius, followed his ex- 
ample in this respect, as he did in his luxurious 
way of living — ' diversus a veterum instituto ' - — 
and in his Melbournesque pose of indolence and 
indifference. None the less were his contem- 
poraries astonished by the modesty of Maecenas, 
there being no prior instance in Roman history of 
a public man who enjoyed all the reality without 
any of the titular distinctions of power. What- 
ever its real origin, this much-commended ab- 
stention from the honours of the State can have 
caused the statesman little effort. His pene- 
trating vision pierced through the appearances of 
things to their essence, and so all those dignities 
which owed their importance to the vain opinions 
of mortal men were to him as nothing. ' Nil 
admirari prope res est una.' Perhaps it was of 
Maecenas that Horace was thinking when he 
wrote that celebrated line. 

His, again, was the tolerant temperament often 
found to spring from complete scepticism. Of 
the substantial well-being of his fellow-men he 
was sincerely desirous. But he did not think 
this likely to be promoted by the restoration of 
their ancient liberties. His good-nature, like 
that of Sir Robert Walpole, was the child 
of his low opinion of human nature — of his 

* Suet., Oct. 2. * Tac, Ann. iii. 30. 


pessimism. He expected little from the virtues 
of others, and therefore felt no anger when their 
actions did not exceed his expectations. With 
idealism he had no sympathy. He cared for 
nothing but the actual and the tangible. The 
only way in which he showed his power, we are 
told by a hostile critic, was by doing as he pleased 
— by his contempt for appearances. Romans of 
the old school were shocked to see him lounging 
about the streets of Rome at a time when, in the 
absence of Augustus, his power in that city was 
absolute, with his robe hanging loosely about him 
and a hood pulled over his head leaving his ears 
exposed ; like a fugitive slave in a comedy, so 
they said.^ For the fate of his body after death 
he felt a very characteristic indifference. ' Nee 
tumulum euro : sepelit Natura relicfos,' ^ he wrote 
in one of the few Unes of his poetry that have 
been preserved to us. What to him was a grave 
or a monument ? Life was the great reality ; 
death the negation of life. And accordingly he 
clung to Hfe with a passionate and pathetic 
insistence which to the Stoic Seneca appeared 
contemptissimus, but from another point of 
view may even be regarded as heroic. ' Torture 
my body,' he cries in the well-known lines to 
Fortune, ' rack me with gout ; break and distort 
my Hmbs ; nail me to a cross ; grant me but 
Life, and it is well.' Seneca has generally been 
echoed, and these verses have been often quoted 
to show the innate effeminacy of Maecenas ; but 
how do they differ, save by inferior expression, 

* Seneca, Ep. 114. * Id., Ep. 92. 


from the great lines which Milton puts into the 
mouth of Belial ? 

Who would lose, 
Though full of pain, this intellectual being. 
Those thoughts that wander through eternity, 
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost 
In the wide womb of uncreated night 
Devoid of sense and motion ? 

However, that Maecenas was really self- 
indulgent and over-luxurious in his manner of 
life is, of course, undeniable. All the Roman 
authorities are agreed upon this point. Epicu- 
reanism was the fashionable philosophy of the 
time, and there can be little doubt that of this 
fashion the indolent statesman was a principal 
leader. He disliked forms and despised conven- 
tions. The small Roman banquets, with their 
wines and their sweet ointments, their music and 
their roses, were clearly delightful to him. He 
forgave the numerous infidelities of his beautiful 
wife Terentia ; and although he often divorced 
her he as often took her back, thinking perhaps 
that to act otherwise would be to fling away the 
substance of his pleasure for a shadow. But, 
realist though he was, the fact that the emperor, 
to whom he was sincerely attached, was among 
her lovers appears to have troubled his declining 
years. He forgave Augustus, nevertheless, and 
bequeathed to him the greater part of his pos- 
sessions. Velleius Paterculus tells us that though 
provident and energetic enough when something 
definite had to be done, as soon as the business 
in hand ceased to be urgent he relapsed into an 


indolence and softness more than feminine.^ He 
delighted in the games of the Campus Martius. 
His friends he chose from inclination and without 
respect of persons from among the poets and wits 
of his time ; his acquaintance with a view to 
amusement. Horace describes a dinner-party at 
the house of the rich parvenu Nasidienus at 
which Maecenas was present attended by two 
boon companions (umbrae). For the diversion 
of the great man the pomposity and vanity of 
the host were ruthlessly exploited by his two 
followers under the forms of politeness ; the 
noise increased as the wine circulated ; and the 
feast came to an end amid riotous buffoonery.* 
We see him, through the eyes of Propertius, 
driving through Rome in a cunningly- wrought two- 
wheeled chariot of a kind lately imported from 
Britain ^ ; while at other times he would forget 
the cares of State and dine merrily with Horace 
' sine aulaeis et ostro ' at the Sabine farm which 
the poet owed to his munificence. 

The Palace of Art, the construction of which 
as an habitation for his soul was the object of 
Maecenas's later life, proved, as we shall see, but 
a crumbling and unstable edifice. But in the 
meantime it demanded a splendid material en- 
vironment, and this he provided by his house and 
gardens on the Esquihne. Here he transformed 
the old Roman plebeian cemetery into a park, 
famous through many succeeding generations; 
and here he built a lofty tower, from the sunmiit 
of which he would spend hours in contemplating 

1 ii. 88. « Hon, Sai. ii. 8. » Prop. ii. i. 


the beautiful prospect of the Campagna with the 
slopes of Tibur in the distance and nearer at hand 
the fume and fret and riches of the Eternal 
City.^ Maecenas was a valetudinarian, with a 
horror of death. He was a victim to acute 
insomnia. The elder Pliny assures us that for 
the last three years of his life he never enjoyed 
a moment's sleep ^ ; and, quite incredible as this 
statement may be, even its approximate accuracy 
is quite enough to account for the ceaseless 
complaints with which, as we know from Horace, 
he was accustomed to overburden his friends. 
Ingenuity was exhausted to devise a remedy for 
this terrible affliction. The sound of falling 
waters, the choicest wines, the music of sym- 
phonies gently rising and falling in the distance — 
* symphoniarum cantum ex longinquo lene re- 
sonantium ' — all were vain.' The tower itself — 
standing amid its vast gardens and orchards — 
was a centre of quiet. There Augustus took 
refuge when attacked by illness ; thither came 
the unsocial and unhappy Tiberius to rest his eyes 
from the hated sight of his fellow-men ; there 
Nero sang in costume the story of burning Troy 
as he watched with aesthetic delight the flames 
that were consuming his ill-fated capital. Such 
was the retreat chosen by Maecenas, when he 
obtained the emperor's permission to retire from 
public life and to seek what Tacitus calls a sort 
of peregrinum otium within the city. Here he 
entertained the poets to whom he owes most of 

^ Hor., Od. iii. 29. » Pliny, Hist. Nat. vii, 52. 

» Sen., De Prov. iii. g. 


his fame, and here he held close intercourse with 
the pure spirit of Virgil, to whom he had pre- 
sented a house on the Esquiline close to his own. 
Augustus, in one of the pleasant letters to him 
happily preserved to us by Suetonius, declares 
his wish to steal from him Horace, whom he de- 
sires to engage as a private secretar3^ ' Veniet 
ergo' he writes, ' ah ista parasitica mensa ad 
hanc regiant, et nos in scrihendis episfolis juvabit ' 
(' Let him quit that parasitic table of yours for 
our palace, and he shall help us with our corre- 
spondence ' ^) . But Horace declined the proposal ; 
and Augustus, ever reasonable, had the good sense 
not to be offended. Both Horace and Virgil, 
however, much preferred the country to the town, 
and their patron, sorely against his will, was 
obliged to indulge their inclinations in this respect. 
Maecenas had evidently a genius for friend- 
ship. We read that a certain Melissus, a dis- 
tinguished grammarian, although free-born, had 
been exposed in his infancy by his mother and 
brought up as a slave. He became of the house- 
hold of Maecenas, and was by him treated rather 
as a friend than as a servant. Afterwards, his 
mother, repenting of her action, claimed him as 
her son, and he was thus given the opportunity 
of recovering his freedom. But, preferring to 
liberty his actual condition in the service of 
Maecenas, he rejected the proffered acknow- 
ledgment. He was afterwards manumitted by 
Maecenas, introduced to the emperor, and ap- 
pointed librarian to the new Octavian Library.'' 

» Suet,, in vita Hor. » Suet,, De Illus. Gramm. 21, 


It is often the case with men whose friendship 
is valuable and enduring that their manner in 
the early stages of acquaintance shows a certain 
tentative reserve. The plant of genuine affection 
between male friends is apt to be of slow growth. 
Maecenas was no exception to this rule. Horace 
tells us that when he was first introduced to 
Maecenas, to whom he was recommended by 
Virgil, he was received rather coldly and not 
recalled for nine months. But from that time 
onwards there seems to have been no break in a 
mutual sympathy that ever increased. As a 
friend Maecenas was no respecter of persons. 
With the emperor he used a freedom which he 
permitted to those who were more or less depen- 
dent on himself. The well-known story of how, 
when Augustus was sitting at the seat of justice 
and about to condemn many men to death, 
Maecenas, unable from the press to approach him, 
threw to him a little scroll with ' Surge tandem 
carnifex ' (' Rise, hangman ! ') written on it, and 
how the emperor at once rose and left the tri- 
bunal without another word, is equally credit- 
able to both these friends. The lives of the 
accused were spared, and the bold minister 
gained rather than lost credit with his master.^ 
Nor did he lose his favour when, by his indis- 
cretion in confiding to his wife Terentia the secret 
of the discovery of Murena's conspiracy, he risked 
the failure of the measures taken for its suppres- 
sion. To his own dependents he extended the 
indulgence received by him from the emperor. 

* Dion Cassius, iv. 7 


He was not offended when Horace broke his 
promise of returning to Rome, and Hngered month 
after month first in his Sabine farm and afterwards, 
during the winter months, on the southern coast. 
The poetic apology he earned from him would, 
it is true, have soothed the indignation of most 
men. ' Horati Flacci, ut mei, mentor esto ' 
('Remember Horace as you would myself), 
was his last testamentary recommendation to the 
emperor.^ Horace did not long survive him, and 
was buried on the Esquiline close to his patron's 

The patience of Maecenas was tried by the 
rather feeble character of Propertius, and he used 
often to urge that poet to quit his lovelorn ditties 
and compose something more worthy of his 
talents. Propertius replied by citing his patron's 
moderation in remaining a knight as an example 
to others to confine themselves within modest 
spheres of action.* Virgil was an even older 
friend than Horace, but his shyness and taci- 
turnity probably rendered their relations less 
easy and unreserved. In the anonymous bio- 
graphy of Virgil which has descended to us from 
ancient times there are two replies made by the 
poet to the minister which one would fain be- 
lieve to be authentic. On one occasion he was 
asked by Maecenas, characteristically enough, ' Is 
there anything, Virgil, that man can possess with- 
out satiety ? ' ' In everything,' was the reply, 
' staleness or abundance produces disgust — except 
in understanding.' At another time Maecenas 

1 Suet., in vita Hor. * Prop. iii. 9. 


asked him in what manner it was profitable to 
enjoy and preserve great gifts of fortune. Virgil 
replied : ' Then only when a man is ambitious to 
surpass others as greatly in justice and liberality 
as he does in wealth and honours.' 

Maecenas was a copious author, but he prob- 
ably did not attach much importance to his own 
compositions. It is remarkable that among all 
the compliments showered upon him by his para- 
sitica mensa — by Horace, Virgil, and Propertius 
— not one relates to his literary productions, and 
it is a fair inference that his vanity was not much 
interested in their success. He was as indifferent 
to the literary as he was to the political traditions 
of Rome. The nova elocutio which he introduced 
into his poetry, the transpositions of words from 
their natural places for the sake of effect, the 
preciosities of his style, were derided by his 
contemporaries, and cited by later critics like 
Seneca and Quintilian as the classical examples 
of this kind of vicious composition.^ The few 
specimens of his poetry that have descended to 
us abundantly bear out the charge, though it 
must be remembered that, for the most part, 
they are expressly cited with that object. The 
severe taste of Augustus, who equally disliked the 
affected imitation of old writers by the use of 
obsolete words, and the over-ornate and eccentric 
manner of the new school, did not spare the 
euphemisms and quaintnesses of the minister's 
style. Macrobius has preserved for us the end 
of a letter from the emperor to Maecenas in 

* Sen., Ep. 19, 114 ; Quint, ix. 4. 


which he parodies his friend's style with happy 
effect : ' Vale mel gentium,' so it runs, ' melcule, 
ebur ex Hetruria, laver Aretinum, adamas super- 
nus, Tiberinum margaritum, Cilniorum smaragde, 
jaspis figulorum, berylle Porsennae, carbunculum 
Italiae.' ^ Maecenas's love of precious stones, of 
which we have evidence in some surviving hen- 
decasyllables addressed by him to Horace, is also 
rallied in this letter. Seneca, to whom we owe 
much of our scanty knowledge of Maecenas, tells 
us that his writings were often great in their 
meaning, but enervated by their expression.^ 

The change effected in the Roman character 
at the close of the first century before Christ, with 
its subsequent developments, offers an interesting 
study to the philosophic historian. The house 
was completed, the architects who had superin- 
tended its completion had fought for its posses- 
sion, into which the strongest of them had finally 
entered. The employment which had absorbed 
the lives of the workmen was at an end, and now 
their unemployed descendants began to look about 
them and to wonder what they were to do next. 
In fact, the cultivated Romans, having for the 
first time leisure to remember that they were 
alive, began the dangerous search for theories of 
life. Philosophy, which, as we learn from Cicero, 
was still in his time by many considered a study 
below the dignity of a Roman gentleman, now 
began powerfully to attract the attention of the 
educated classes, and the writings of the Greek 
philosophers were eagerly discussed. Stoicism, 
» Mac, Sat. ii. 4 » Ep. 92- 


with its seeming paradoxes, appealed very little at 
first to the downright Roman mind. A love of the 
palpable and a contempt for subtlety were among 
its prominent characteristics. The via media of 
the Peripatetics found more favour, but men in 
search of a new belief do not readily adopt com- 
promises, which spring from the attempt to adapt 
to new conditions an old creed that we are loth 
to desert. But Epicureanism, which professed 
to base itself upon common sense and the direct 
testimony of the senses, and which swept im- 
patiently away the whole paraphernalia of logic 
with its definitions and distinctions, progressed 
with amazing rapidity. Bodily pleasure, cried 
the Epicureans, is the ultimate good ; and a 
respectable life is to be recommended, because 
without it bodily pleasure becomes impossible. 
Pain is the only real evil ; other so-called ills are 
the artificial creations of opinion. The foolish 
are tossed to and fro on the phantasmal waves 
of hopes and fears ; let them pull themselves 
together and shake off the dream, and they will 
find themselves on dry land. By the study of 
unsophisticated beasts we may see nature as in a 
mirror ; let us imitate them, and no longer groan 
under the tyranny of convention. The opposite 
of pain is exemption from pain, and this is the 
highest enduring pleasure. Pain must often be 
endured and even courted in order to avoid a 
future greater pain, and pleasure sacrificed to the 
attainment of a future greater pleasure. To attain 
these objects courage is a useful and temperance 
an essential quality. As objects in space appear 


smaller or larger as they are nearer or more distant, 
so do pleasures and pains in time. The function 
of wisdom is to estimate their real magnitude, 
and to correct by reason the errors induced by 
the fallacious aspect which they offer to the 
passions. The accessories of pleasure and pain 
rather than the things themselves excite our hopes 
and fears ; by philosophy these accessories will 
be made to vanish, and the two objects — which 
alone have a real existence — will be regarded in 
their own naked proportions. Providence is a 
myth ; the combination of atoms, which in 
infinite time has formed man, is fortuitous ; 
there is a continual passage of elements into 
things and of things into elements ; the world 
and all that therein is are things, and therefore 
mortal ; nothing endures but the atoms of which 
the number of shapes is limited, while in each 
shape the number of atoms is infinite. 

Though the contradictions and poverties in- 
volved in this system were ably exposed by Cicero 
in his book De Finibus, yet the tenets continued 
to spread, and deeply affected the Roman char- 
acter and history. Liberty now seemed an unsub- 
stantial notion, an empty name, for which it was 
the height of absurdity to suffer. Alone among 
philosophers the Epicurean lecturers never alluded 
in their discourses to the ancient heroes of Greece 
and Rome. Atticus is a good specimen of the 
best class of men who at this time adopted Epicu- 
reanism. Living in accordance with his principles 
in retirement at Athens, where his amiability 
made him the idol of the people, he remained 


throughout his life on the best terms with the 
various party-leaders, nor did the assassination 
of his friends appear to him a sufficient reason 
for quarrelling with their assassins. Sylla and 
Pompey, Marcus Brutus and Julius Caesar, Cicero 
and Antony, and finally Octavius, were all in- 
cluded in the list of his friends. 

Suave etiam belli certamina magna tueri 
Per campos instructa tua sine parte pericU. 

Consistent to the end, he deliberately starved 
himself to death in order to avoid the greater 
pain of a lingering illness. The civil wars must 
have appeared to him a melancholy absurdity, 
useful only as they placed in more striking relief 
his own philosophical tranquillity. 

It is not difficult to account for the rapid 
spread of the new philosophy among the Roman 
upper classes. The miseries of the civil wars gave 
reason to those who asserted their irrationality. 
The contrast between the tangible enjoyments 
possible under the strong imperial government 
and the pains which were endured while Brutus 
and Cato were still struggling for an idea was 
made and registered by the practical Roman 
mind. The Emperor Augustus, who regarded 
life as a sorry play in which he was amused to 
find that the principal part had fallen to himself, 
Augustus, with his sceptical good sense and 
moderation, encouraged to some extent the ideas 
which afforded so effective a guarantee for the 
stability of his government, though at times he 
was alarmed at the progress they had made 


and endeavoured to check them by precept and 

And his minister, Maecenas, found ready to 
his hand a theory of Ufe which exactly accorded 
with his own inclinations and habits of mind. 
Cultured, luxurious, and good-natured, he disUked 
stiffness, whether in manners, literature, or dress. 
He was himself of noble birth, but believed the 
distinctions of rank to be the creations of an 
empty convention. His enjoyment of the plea- 
sures of life has seldom been rivalled, and his 
main departure from the principles of his school 
lay in his consequent horror of death. He was 
a man of great intellect, of an exquisite taste in 
literature, and there was probably no affectation 
in his laughing disregard of all the old Roman 
conventions. Such was Maecenas ; and great 
indeed must have been the change which had 
passed over the genius of the Roman Common- 
wealth when such a man could appear at its 




Augustus Imp. = (i) Claudia, (2) Scribonia, (3) Livia 
Julia = (i) Marcellus, (2) M. Agrippa, (3) Tiberius 





L. Aemilius Agrippina (major) 
Paulus — Gennanicus 

Aemilia = (i) Claudius, (2) App. 
Lepida | Junius Silanus 

L. Silanus, 
affianced to Octavia, 
d. of Claudius 


= Julia, 
d. of Drusus, 
the son of 


Caius Caligula 

Cn. Domitius 

Nero Imp. 

Drusilla Livil' 

= M. Lepidus = M. Vi 


Livia Drusilla = (i) Tiberius Claudius Nero, (2) Augustus 

Tiberius Imp. = Vipsania Agrippina 


Drusus Claudius = Antonia (mino 

Germanicus Tiberius Claudius ii 
Agrippina minor. = Valeria Messa 
See Table I | 


Marcus Annaeus Seneca = Helvia 

Britannicus Octa. 


M. Annaeus 

by adoption 
Junius Gallio 


Lucius Annaeus = (i) — (2) Pompeia 
Seneca | Paulina 


M. Annaeus I 

= Atilia 

d. of Atilius Lu 

of Corduba 

M. Annaeus Lu' 
the poet 
= Polla Argen 

Printed by Spottiswoode, Ballantyne &• Co. Ltd. 
Colchester, London &• Eton, Eagl&nd 








Holland, Francis Caldwell 




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