Miskatonic University Press

Robert Hughes on Seneca

quotes stoicism

From Rome (2011) by Robert Hughes, a marvellous book, full of wonderful insight and wisdom:

Coming from Spain, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (d. 65 CE) was Nero’s tutor, and a stupendously voluble writer: his surviving prose works alone run to over a thousand closely printed pages. He took great pride in his Stoicism, but no Stoic was ever longer-winded or more self-infatuated. He could argue both sides of a case—when Claudius died it was Seneca who compose the eulogy delivered on him by Nero, his successor, but also Seneca who wrote a satire on the departed emperor, the “Apocolocyntosis” or “Pumpkinification” of Claudius, who was imagined as turning into a dim-witted, sententious vegetable god. Seneca was a hypocrite almost without equal in the ancient world. He sang the praises of moderation: “To be a slave to self is the most grievous kind of slavery; yet its fetters may easily be struck off…. Man needs but little, and that not for long.” Fine words, which unhappily bear little relation to the real facts of Seneca’s life: he was a mercilessly greedy usurer. Few can have mourned him when, on direct orders from Nero, he committed suicide by opening his veins in a hot bath.