Seneca the Younger

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Seneca the Younger, who was one of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic. He was a Stoic philosopher, he wrote blood-soaked tragedies, he was an orator, and he navigated his way through the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero, sometimes exercising power at the highest level and at others spending years in exile. Agrippina the Younger was the one who called for him to tutor Nero, and it is thought Seneca helped curb some of Nero’s excesses. He was later revered within the Christian church, partly for what he did and partly for what he was said to have done in forged letters to St Paul. His tragedies, with their ghosts and high body count, influenced Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Hamlet, and Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy. The image above is the so-called bust of Seneca, a detail from Four Philosophers by Peter Paul Rubens.

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  • Mary Beard 11 episodes
    Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge
  • Catharine Edwards 9 episodes
    Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London
  • Alessandro Schiesaro No other episodes
    Professor of Classics at the University of Manchester

Reading list

  • The Cambridge Companion to Seneca
    Shadi Bartsch and Alessandro Schiesaro (eds.) (Cambridge University Press, 2015) Google Books →
  • Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Seneca
    John G. Fitch (ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • Seneca: A Philosopher in Politics
    Miriam T. Griffin (Clarendon, 1976) Google Books →
  • Seneca on Society: A Guide to De Beneficiis
    Miriam T. Griffin (Oxford University Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • Morals and Villas in Seneca's Letters: Places to Dwell
    John Henderson (Cambridge University Press, 2004) Google Books →
  • Seneca: Phaedra
    Roland Mayer (Bristol Classical Press, 2002) Google Books →
  • Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero
    James Romm (Random House, 2014) Google Books →
  • The Passions in Play: Thyestes and the Dynamics of Senecan Drama
    Alessandro Schiesaro (Cambridge University Press, 2003) Google Books →
  • The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca including Natural Questions; Letters on Ethics; On Benefits; Anger, Mercy, Revenge; Hardship and Happiness; The Complete Tragedies, Volumes 1 and 2
    Seneca (eds. Elizabeth Asmis, Shadi Bartsch, and Martha C. Nussbaum) (University of Chicago Press, 2010-17) Google Books →
  • Epistles 1-65
    Seneca (trans. Richard M. Gummere) Google Books →
  • Six Tragedies
    Seneca (trans. Emily Wilson) (Oxford University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • The Senecans: Four Men and Margaret Thatcher
    Peter Stothard (Overlook Press, 2016) Google Books →
  • The Cosmic Viewpoint: A Study of Seneca's Natural Questions
    Gareth D. Williams (Oxford University Press, 2012) Google Books →
  • Seneca: A Life
    Emily Wilson (Allen Lane, 2015) Google Books →

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Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, Seneca the Younger, orator, philosopher and playwright, was born in the Roman province of Hispania, modern Spain, around 4 BC and was the first great Latin writer under the emperors after the fall of the Republic.