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Seneca: biography of the famous Stoic philosopher

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Lucio Anneo Seneca is one of the most representative philosophers of the school of Stoicismespecially from his later stage of development. He was one of the most important figures for philosophy during the Roman Empire and is taken up to this day in studies of Greek philosophy and contemporary ethics.

Although it is not an autobiographical writing, in all of his work, Seneca maintains a great connection between his daily experiences and the philosophical reflections that these aroused in him. The above has survived to this day through the written records that Seneca himself made.

In this article you will find a biography of Lucio Anneo Seneca as well as some of the main characteristics of his work.

  • Related article: "The 15 most important Greek philosophers in history"

Lucio Anneo Seneca: biography of a stoicist philosopher

Lucio Anneo Seneca was born in Córdoba, Spain approximately in the year 4 BC. C., at the height of the Roman Empire within the province of Hispania. He came from a distinguished, high-society family.

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His father, Marco Anneo Seneca, was a Roman orator and writer who did important studies on the history of oratory. Many of his works were attributed to Lucius Anneo during the Middle Ages, a time when Seneca Jr. was widely recognized. To differentiate him, he was called Seneca the Speaker or Seneca the Elder.

Seneca the Younger's life went through different moments that allowed him to reflect deeply on emotions, ambition, the healing power of philosophy, and death, among other topics. In fact, much of his writings are usually interpreted taking into account his biography. He studied rhetoric and philosophy in Rome and his career is recognized for having been successful, somewhat dramatic, and also political.

For example, he was accused of adultery and exiled to Corsica. Likewise, he was among the advisers of Emperor Nero in politically difficult moments, and was finally accused of complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero. For this reason he was forced to commit suicide in Rome in the year 65.

Stoicism and Seneca writings

Stoicism is a philosophical school founded by Zenón de Citio and which is based on the mastery of the passions and a life based on seeking happiness through reason. During the imperial period, this school had a great influence within literary works.

Especially the tragedies of Seneca, of important philosophical content, were of great relevance. For the same reason, Seneca is considered both a philosopher and a poet. Although this differentiation has been a controversial issue among specialists.

Formerly, in fact, it was thought that there had been "two Senecas": one philosopher and one tragic (or poet). Today it is accepted that Seneca's interest in ethics and psychology (especially the effects destructive of excessive emotionality), are present in all his literary work, both in verse and in prose.

In any case, his tragedies are recognized as darker writings than those made in prose. This is the case, for example, of the theme of death, which in his prose writings appears as a liberation; in fact, he justified suicide as an ethical way of dying. However, in tragedies, death is often presented as the transition to greater suffering.

Seneca agreed with a psychological monism, in that he did not distinguish between a rational and a non-rational component of the soul (just as the earlier Stoics did not). For these, knowledge is based on action, there is no distinction between a practical and a theoretical reason. In this sense, theorizing and reflecting on the ethical and moral aspects of everyday life is a way of producing knowledge, achieving happiness and virtue.

Later influence

Part of Seneca's stoicism is recognized as one of the most important antecedents of modern concerns about shaping ourselves and our lives. On the one hand, Seneca's work emphasizes the previous Stoic philosophy and adds some details to it. For another, his work is characterized by the absence of technicalities and for emphasizing the therapeutic properties and practical qualities of philosophy.

He defended the idea of ​​the equality of men and a lifestyle based on moderation. The latter represented the way to happiness, and should be accompanied by the rejection of superstitions. This part of his work was taken up in an important way by the Renaissance currents and by different philosophical schools of modernity.

Representative works

In his writings, he discusses some questions that have to do with moral problems in daily life. Among his most outstanding works are, for example, Letters to Licilio, The moral cards, Moral Essays, The Ambrosian Codex and Natural Questions. Along with The Consolation to her mother Helvia and the Consolation to Polybius, The Consolation of Marcia is the oldest known work to this day.

Bibliographic references:

  • Vogt, K. (2015). Seneca. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved August 13, 2018. Available in https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/seneca/#LifWor.
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