Seneca: Roman Philosopher, Playwright

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Seneca was a well-known Roman essayist, philosopher, and playwright in the 1st Century.

He was born on Jan. 1, 4 B.C, in the Cordoba Province of Hispania, what is now Spain. His name at birth was Lucius Annaeus Seneca. His father, a historian, was also named Seneca, and they were later named Seneca the Elder and the Seneca the Younger in order to distinguish between the two. The family moved to Rome a few years after the boy was born, and he grew up studying philosophy and rhetoric. He lived in Egypt for a time with an aunt and uncle. He was later elected quaestor and served in the Senate.


The last post that he had was as tutor and then adviser to the emperor Nero. The playwright had run afoul of the emperor Caligula in 38 and had been exiled to Corsica. Seneca found favor with the second wife of the next emperor, Nero, and he returned Rome in 49. The tutoring ran from 49 to 52; the advising ran from 54 to 62, after which the aging playwright retired and kept to his writings.

Seneca found himself implicated in one of the plots to kill Nero, known as the Piso conspiracy. The emperor ordered Seneca to end his own life, which he did. He died on Jan. 1, 65, in Rome.

Seneca is far more well-known as a playwright than as an imperial tutor. He channeled Greek writers and stories, mostly tragedies, among his subjects. Among his famous plays were these:

  • Agamemnon
  • The satire Apocolocyntosis
  • The Mad Hercules
  • Medea
  • Oedipus
  • Phaedra
  • The Phoenician Women
  • Thyestes
  • The Trojan Women

He wrote more than 100 letters on moral issues and also wrote many essays on ethics and philosophy and, in particular, the Greek philosophers. An adherent to and student of Stoicism, Seneca served as an inspiration to several philosophers during the Renaissance.

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