Dying Every Day

Dying Every Day

Seneca at the Court of Nero

Book - 2014
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Explores the moral struggles, political intrigues and violent vendettas that enmeshed the ancient Roman writer and philosopher in the brutal daily lives of the imperial family and the regime of his student, Nero.
Publisher: New York :, Alred A. Knopf,, 2014
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780307596871
Characteristics: xix, 290 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm


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Mar 05, 2018

I found this book too repetitive to other books I have a read about the period. I decided not to finish it.

Mar 11, 2016

Seneca was born in 4 B.C. on the Iberian peninsula to the son of a accomplished rhetorician (Seneca the Elder). The young Seneca moved to Rome to study rhetoric and was introduced to Stoic philosophy. Entering politics he rose to the rank of Consul but ran afoul with Caligula. Banished to Corsica under Claudius (at the bidding of Claudius’ third wife Messalina), Seneca eventually returned to Rome to tutor the future emporer Nero, Claudius’ fourth wife’s (Agrippina’s) son. His writings include philosophical essays and letters along with chilling tragedies. Seneca became a close adviser to Nero on the emperor’s ascension to the throne. Nero spiraled out of control and Seneca was implicated in a plot to assassinate the emperor. Seneca committed suicide in 65 A.D. at Nero’s request.

How should we view Seneca? James Romm opens his book with divergent possibilities passed down through history: a Stoic philosopher, doing his best to minimize the actions of a deranged emperor, or maybe an opportunistic manipulator, enriching himself at others’ expense while hypocritically preaching virtue and ethics. Maybe a truer course in evaluating him lies somewhere between these two extremes, where “Seneca merely got more adept at weaving his opportunistic stratagems into the weft of his philosophic discourse.”

In focusing on Seneca’s careers and his writings in particular, the reader gets plenty of historical background on the author and Nero, but the book isn’t a biography of either man nor a complete history of Rome during this period. Romm stresses this point in advance. His focus is on reconciling the two sides of Seneca, a task he admits may be impossible. For someone that knows little or nothing about Seneca and wants to read his work, this book provides one way *how* to read him and what to look for in addition to the standard introductory summaries of his works. For anyone more familiar with the writer or the times, it would still provide a good overview on the arguments of how to view Seneca and his writings.

Romm explains how he arrives at many of his opinions given the many contradictory facts and opinions about Seneca. He doesn’t shy away from providing competing positions either…be sure to read the footnotes for some interesting places to dig deeper for various viewpoints. Romm may feel he has failed at unifying the two sides of Seneca, but he has succeeded in highlighting the human nature of Seneca and what that meant for both the courtier and the writer. Highly recommended.


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