Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca, or Seneca the Younger) (ca. 4 BC–AD 65) was a Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature.
Born in Córdoba, Hispania, Seneca was the second son of Helvia and Marcus (Lucius) Annaeus Seneca, a wealthy rhetorician known as Seneca the Elder. Seneca's older brother, Gallio, became proconsul at Achaia (where he encountered the apostle Paul about AD 52). Seneca was uncle to the poet Lucan by his younger brother Annaeus Mela.
Tradition relates that he was a sickly child and that he was taken to Rome for schooling. He was trained in rhetoric and was introduced into the Stoic philosophy by Attalos and Sotion. Due to his illness, Seneca stayed in Egypt (from 25-31) for treatment.
After his return, he established a successful career as an advocate. Around 37, he was nearly killed as a result of a conflict with the Emperor Caligula who only spared him because he believed the sickly Seneca would not live long anyway. In 41, Messalina, wife of the Emperor Claudius, persuaded Claudius to have Seneca banished to Corsica on a charge of adultery with Julia Livilla. He spent his exile in philosophical and natural study and wrote the Consolations.
In AD 49, Claudius' new wife Agrippina had Seneca recalled to Rome to tutor her son who was to become the emperor Nero. On Claudius' death in 54, Agrippina secured the recognition of Nero as emperor over Claudius' son, Britannicus.
For the first five years, Nero ruled wisely under the influence of Seneca and the praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus. But, before long, Seneca and Burrus had lost their influence over Nero, and his reign became tyrannical. With the death of Burrus in 62, Seneca retired and devoted his time to more study and writing.
In 65, Seneca was accused of being involved in the Pisonian conspiracy, a plot to kill Nero. Without a trial, Seneca was ordered by Nero to commit suicide. Tacitus gives an account of the suicide of Seneca in his book, the Annals, in Book XV, Chapter/Number 60 through 64. His wife, Pompeia Paulina, intended to commit suicide after but was forbidden to do so by Nero. She attempted suicide by cutting her wrists, but the wounds were bound up, and she did not make a second attempt. Unfortunately for Seneca, who also chose to cut his wrists, his diet caused the blood to flow slowly, thus causing pain instead of a quick death. He took poison given to him by a friend, but it didn't work. He dictated to a scribe, and then jumped into a hot pool. He did not try to drown, but instead, it appears, tried to make the blood flow faster. Tacitus wrote in his Annals of Imperial Rome that Seneca died from suffocation from the steam rising from the pool.
Works attributed to Seneca include a satire, a meteorological essay, philosophical essays, 124 letters dealing with moral issues, and nine tragedies. One of the tragedies attributed to him, Octavia, was clearly not written by him. He even appears as a character in the play. His authorship of another, Hercules on Oeta, is doubtful. Seneca's brand of Stoic philosophy emphasized practical steps by which the reader might confront life's problems. In particular, he considered it important to confront the fact of one's own mortality. The discussion of how to approach death dominates many of his letters.
Many scholars have thought, following the ideas of the nineteenth century German scholar Leo, that Seneca's tragedies were written for recitation only. Other scholars think that they were written for performance and that it is possible that actual performance had taken place in Seneca's life time (George W.M. Harrison (ed.), Seneca in performance, London: Duckworth, 2000). Ultimately, this issue is not capable of resolution on the basis of our existing knowledge.
The tragedies of Seneca have been successfully staged in modern times. The dating of the tragedies is highly problematic in the absence of any ancient references. A relative chronology has been suggested on metrical grounds but scholars remain divided. It is inconceivable that they were written in the same year. They are not at all based on Greek tragedies, they have a five act form and differ in many respects from extant Attic drama, and whilst the influence of Euripides on some these works is considerable, so is the influence of Virgil and Ovid.
Seneca's plays were widely read in medieval and Renaissance European universities so they strongly influenced tragic drama in that time, such as Elizabethan England (Shakespeare and other playwrights), France (Corneille and Racine) and the Netherlands (Joost van den Vondel) .
Medieval writers and works (such as the Golden Legend, which erroneously has Nero as a witness to his suicide) believed that Seneca had been converted to the Christian faith by Saint Paul, and early humanists regarded his fatal bath as a kind of disguised baptism.
Dante, nevertheless, placed Seneca in the heaven.
Seneca the younger also makes an appearance as a character in Monteverdi's opera L'incoronazione di Poppea.