Why don’t the other Stoics mention Seneca?

14 replies on “Why don’t the other Stoics mention Seneca?”

Seneca is a very underrated Stoic–His letters are like consolations,
and mental therapy.

“A brave man can live and die in defiance of fortune ”

“Your mind has been given the armor to withstand everything with Fortitude”

“We are too readily satisfied with ourselves ”
“Now go question yourself if you are never downcast, or overanxious of what is to come, you have received the greatest Good a mortal can possess ”

“My Dear Lucilius I forbid you to be downcast or depressed ”


Personally I don’t believe that Seneca was “a hypocrite”. To preach something and do the “opposite” (as many seems to believe he did), one would need to be a psycho, not a hypocrite. If one looks carefully, he can see that Seneca mentions many things that Epictetus mentioned later, such as “externals”. Who can really say that Epictetus did NOT read Seneca? Also, quite frankly, many scholars said stupid things about Seneca, for example I am reading the Seneca Dialogues and Essays , the Oxford’s World Classics, which is excellent in many respects, and even there the scholar (whoever he is, I cannot remember the name, and I think scholars aren’t philosophers but rather historians), the scholar, as I was writing, writes fairly about Seneca, I think, except in a passage where the scholar writes that Seneca committed suicide “in a rather self -conscious manner” compared to the other Stoic who had a banquet (can’t remember name now). So I got hold of the Annals of Tacitus (a good edition from Penguin Books) and read the whole chapter about Seneca’s suicide. I am unable to note anything there that was “self-conscious”. I think the opposite, Seneca was really ballsy, and he readily put into ultimate practice his own philosophy. Even Tacitus admitted that Seneca “had thought for everything, including his end”. Seneca died painfully, he obviously was not expecting a prolonged and painful death, which is understandable and tragic. I make a great distinction between philosophers and scholars. If you read on wikipedia, it is mentioned that Seneca taught Nero philosophy, but is this really true? In Suetonius 52 there is written that Agrippina excluded philosophy from the curriculum because “it was not appropriate for her son”. I have been reading and reviewing the Letters for the last 4 years. To me Seneca was an incredible philosopher. I do not believe what that crook (Rufus? I forget) said about him. I don’t believe that Seneca was taking advantage of people in the UK and being a loan shark. If such things really happened, I believe he was not aware of it. The contrast between his philosophy and such conduct, would be too great and absurd. One would have to be, as I wrote, not just a hypocrite, but an egregious liar and madman. I do not believe this is who Seneca was. Of course, I cannot be 100 per cent sure that what I believe is the case. I might be wrong, but I doubt it. It seems to me that people say a lot of strange stuff about Seneca. For example, in “Dying Every Day” by James Romm (a good book in many respects), the author writes that when the centurion announced to Seneca that he had been ordered to kill himself, and he refused Seneca’s request to write his will, Seneca said to his family and friends: ” Very well. I then leave you the cast of my life (imago)”. Knowing Seneca’s writing style, I understood what he meant. I believe he meant ” I leave you the example I tried to give through my teachings.”. In other words, he meant: “I don’t care: I lived well.”. But Romm makes a weird distortion of the word “imago” and because he has no insight to interpret the philosophical meaning of what Seneca meant by “imago” (for even Romm admits that his book has nothing to do with Seneca’s philosophy: it is a book about history, not philosophy). Well I believe I know what Seneca meant by “imago”. A sort of memory, but not just any memory. It reminds me of what Schopenhauer said: “After I am dead, whoever looks for me, knows where to find me.”. Interestingly, neither Seneca nor Schopenhauer cared much about their funeral. Thanks for the video, it was interesting. Surely, Seneca is a mysterious figure, not easy to figure out. But I don’t believe he was phony, inauthentic, fake, etc. How could someone preach certain things, do the opposite, and carry through the day as if nothing happened? Also, elsewhere it is said (can’t recall the source) that Seneca learned Stoicism DURING exile, from other Stoics (Sextus?). This would mean that it is not what many people think, i.e. Seneca was a Stoic from early on. Of course, I might be mistaken. This source wasn’t written from a scholar, I can tell. But maybe it repeated something from a scholarly source, from memory. Thanks for your video, very interesting.

I am finishing to read the Oxford edition of Seneca’s dialogues and essays. It blows my mind to note all the tragic irony often found in philosophy, for example in the above mentioned book there is an extensive essay about mercy written for that stupid Nero loser. It is pretty incredible to see how Seneca recommended Nero to not do all the worst things he did, such as being a stupid and merciless villain, and ultimately, dying like a total coward who never learned anything (Seneca doesn’t introduce the topic in this essay, but of course he extensively does so in the Letters). It all seems a tragic fiction, just like one of the tragedies Seneca himself wrote (which I have read about although I have never read the tragedies themselves, at least not yet). Also, I believe I know why Cardano wrote that strange satire about Seneca, where he seems to indicate that Nero is a good person and Seneca the villain. Cardano lamented the death of a son for his entire life, and what Seneca wrote about grief, admittedly, at times, seems to be the weakest of his writings, for example he writes that grief is self serving. This is frankly stupid for several reasons, and I myself have thought extensively about grief for many years thinking about my mother who died young. This is not to say that Seneca is wrong, for indeed some people , when someone dies, will say stupid things such as “why did you leave me?” (as if the person who died , wanted to die, which he did not; or as if they left for a voyage into another dimension to have fun and leave the rest behind, which are indeed stupid and selfish thoughts, typical of people who are incapable of seeing how small everything is from the point of view of eternity, as Aurelius did). The mistake Seneca does is that he makes an accusation about grief being self serving. Then again, he does not opposes grief; he just exorts the reader to – understand- how it works, and to not let grief get out of control (” we may weep, but we must not wail”). So I think Cardano disliked Seneca for what he wrote about grief. Then again Cardano although he was a genius, was also quite silly and vain, but that is another story. As always, the difference between a philosopher and everyone else, even geniuses, seems great, for a genius can have extraordinary insight about an art or a science, but ultimately only a philosopher can examine the frailty and shortness of life. Personally, I think Seneca was a real expert in the field. Another thing that doesn’t seem to tally with what the “detractors” say about him, is why, with all the wealth he had at his disposal, was writing so much about the very things that people in general have no guts or insight to deliberate on, such as death and the smallness of life, instead of having fun, being merry, engaging oneself in orgies, etc etc, i.e. all the things that all other wealthy people were probably doing during Seneca’s times.

PS. in regard to Seneca’s suicide, I only mentioned it to counter argue against what seems to me are weak arguments many seems to have against Seneca, his presumed “hypocrisy” etc.
Also, Seneca mentions suicide in so far as to remove ourselves from the fear of death and excessive attachment to life. This is something taught in Buddhism as well, and other doctrines such as those of the samurai (Hagakure). But Seneca is constantly exhorting the reader to be brave in life, for one who wishes to die when he should not, is equally weak: “Don’t be in such a hurry….don’t worry, there will be plenty of things that will kill you. And now, let’s pull ourselves together and not be too gloomy: we will need to do that.”.

Well, I am just quoting from memory, the words aren’t reflected accurately but I believe the message is.

“Philosophy is a preparation for death.”. – Socrates

“If I were to ask you, ‘where is the way of the Samurai found? ‘, few would be able to answer. It is found in death. People assume that the world goes on without change, but thoughts such as these are vain ones” (Hagakure)

It seems ironic that to truly learn to live, one must learn about death. Instead, most people try to ignore it, or run the other way. That is not what Seneca seems to have done, at all.

” The mistake Seneca does is that he makes an accusation about grief being self serving”. Sorry, I meant that he makes too strict a generalization, for what he says might be true in some cases (some time ago I have half read a very good book about grief written by a very well known psychologist) but I don’t believe it is true for the majority of cases. And I take back what I said about some parts in the Seneca grief essay, being stupid or weak…. if I must be honest, I have not read anything by Seneca that is weak, much less stupid, even though I disagree with those parts, which are extremely few anyways.

I have just found something on wikipedia that I think should write here. It is about te Hagakure, yet it fits perfectly with Seneca’s philosophy and it perfectly explains what I was trying to (badly) explain myself earlier:

” Hagakure’s text is occasionally misinterpreted as meaning that bushido is a code of death. However, the true meaning is that by having a constant awareness of death, people can achieve a transcendent state of freedom, whereby “it is possible to perfectly fulfill one’s calling as a warrior.”

That’s it! This is what Seneca and the other Stoics were about. Not death itself, but an AWARENESS of it.

I have now read pretty much everything Seneca wrote, except his Tragedies. I thought about what Fronto said about Seneca, watched the video by Donald again…it is certainly a mystery. A few questions I think we should ask ourselves is, who knows what Fronto read of Seneca’s writings? Did he read all Seneca wrote about philosophy? Were the Seneca letters widely available at the time? Even if the “problem” would be the seemingly flattering stuff Seneca wrote about Nero (the item Fronto mentions), it would be as if you had read an excellent book, but 3 pages you detested, so you throw the book in the bin. Also, as someone who studied argumentation (I don’t believe in this day and age one can even remotely think of himself as a philosopher, without this skill. Not that I claim to be a philosopher, I am just someone who learns something), when I hear someone trashing someone or something, without solid logic, I dismiss them as intellectually common and feeble minded. I don’t know anything about Fronto, but it seems really strange to me for someone to read all Seneca wrote about philosophy, and dismiss it as a ‘sewer’, no less. But here’s the biggie: Seneca died like a total, tried and tested Stoic. Not only that, he even lived like one, at least in later age, for example he realized all this wealth wasn’t worth it, and repeatedly tried to give it to Nero, multiple times. MAYBE in his earlier years, Seneca could have done better, but does one has to be born perfect to be a real Stoic? Isn’t enough to do what Seneca did? I have now read (actually am reviewing, as I do with Seneca), the Penguin edition of The Discourses by Epictetus, and it seems really surprising to read Epictetus to mention Lateranus but not Seneca. As if the latter died much differently than the other? Personally, I will follow Epictetus’s own advice: “don’t care what other think”. If Seneca is a sewer, what is most of everything else in the world? Sorry, Fronto, sit down and hush.

by the way, one thing I REALLY don’t get is, why is “On Mercy/On Clemency” considered “flattering”? I have read it in the Oxford edition of the excellent “Dialogues And Essays”, and not only I noticed nothing “flattering” there, actually I was surprised that someone seemed to address an emperor in such a relaxed way. Maybe I am missing something, but personally I think the real trash lies with the detractors. Even if it were true that Seneca “flattered” the emperor, well, was that really so uncommon? I mean, it’s an emperor! Sure, someone like Diogenes Of Sinope would probably have told Nero to move out of the way or something, but does being meeker means kissing up to people, necessarily? I have read all the dialogues, essays, and all the letters of Seneca, all unabridged. Seneca just strikes me as someone who is kind of meek, there’s no anger as there is in The Discourses of Epictetus (and this is not necessarily, or at all, a criticism of Epictetus: angry or not, I don’t care, anger is not against the law, provided it never goes beyond an acceptable limit). I presume that Seneca was more “tranquil” than Epictetus, Diogenes the Cynic, and many other philosophers and men, because Seneca was wealthy. But does that means that he was a sycophant? How should have he addressed Nero? I think we will never really know why this suspicious attitude toward Seneca. And after all, one is free to ignore whomever. But the detractors, I think they were , and are, just envious because Seneca was rich. Frankly, it seems stupid to me, to think that one cannot be a philosopher because he’s rich. Seneca was not a Cynic, but a Stoic. The Stoics didn’t regard externals as good or bad, but indifferent. If Seneca had thrown his money into the river, that means he would have judged wealth as bad, so he kept it. And ultimately, he realized it was more trouble than worth it, so he tried to rid himself of the burden, and started to live more simply, and then once he realized he had to die, he even reproached his friends who were weeping, and said to them “Why the hell do you think I have been talking about philosophy and death until now?”, he grabbed a sword and cut himself, he even had hemlock ready. This, I think, demonstrates that he really did not care for material things in the world, such as wealth. Most millionnaires would have cried like babies, thinking of the great comforts they would be leaving. Myself, I think Seneca was a truly remarkable philosopher. Different and strange? Yes, like all the other ones. But just because one seems contradictory, does not imply that the person observing the apparent contradictions, really understand. That’s what I think, anyways.

In trying to understand facts about Seneca from other scholars, I end up more with asking questions than finding answers. For example, in the wikipedia article about the Consolations, there’s written the following :

” Seneca was most likely motivated to write this letter of consolation to Marcia in order to gain her favor; Marcia was the daughter of a prominent historian, Aulus Cremutius Cordus, and her family’s enormous wealth and influence most likely inspired Seneca to write this letter of consolation. Through the essay he sticks to philosophical abstractions concerning Stoic precepts of life and death. For a letter offering solace, he notably lacks empathy toward Marcia’s individual grief and loss”.

A few questions come to my mind:
1. Gain her “favour” in relation to what, exactly? The explanation above, in fact, explains nothing.

2. So this Marcia was the daughter of someone very wealthy. Fine, but this still explains nothing. Moreover, why was the wealth necessarily the reason why he wrote to her? That is, why was her necessarily the cause of his writing? It is as if, say, I go to a store to buy a roll of tape and the store happens to be painted green, and someone tells me I chose that store because it’s green instead of the tape. Well, how can that be a certainty? This seems to be a causal fallacy.

3. the last part of the wikipedia excerpt, I find very puzzling, if not ridiculous: why would one try to gain someone’s “favour” by being “detached”? Would not this someone try to be MORE empathic?

4. Equally puzzlingly: why does the author implies that the way Seneca wrote about grief and loss is “lacking” this or that? The assumption seems to be that unless one writes about something like the rest of the population, it must be “lacking”. Who established a set of standards in writing about grief and loss?

5. Why is it automatically assumed that Seneca’s aim was to console someone by patting them on the back? It seems to me that his essay goes way beyond these commonplaces.

6. If what the author above writes about “gaining favour” for writing something, is true, why does it applies only to Seneca? Doesn’t ANYONE writes or says something because they are trying to gain some kind of “favour”? For if this weren’t the case, why would anyone bother to write anything?

It seems to me that these most of these scholars don’t explain much at all. Nothing wrong with not being able to do something, of course, but these people seem to go around thinking they HAVE explained a lot.

” That is, why was her necessarily the cause of his writing?”. What I mean is, why is it automatically assumed that the wealth, or even her, was what spurred Seneca into writing that essay? Could it not be for example that he wanted to write about this for a time (let’s face it, what he writes doesn’t seem to be the work of something thought about about for five minutes, does it?) and he saw in this Marcia the opportunity to do so. So maybe he thought that the historian dad , could help, and that the wealth didn’t hurt either. So what? Why would Seneca have been more credible by writing to a bum? (and I am even one myself, and even I don’t care). Why is wealth (or the lack of it) seen as a deciding factor for personal credibility? Why is even being a “rhetorician” seen as something “somewhat negative” ? To me, the thing I really care about is, what is this Seneca writing, and is there any truth or substance in it?

Personally I think too much is made of this wealth thing about Seneca. I don’t particularly care about it at all.

by the way, the more I have read Seneca, the more I believe that it is distinctly possible that Epictetus DID read Seneca, and that he was much influenced too. I have found many concepts in Epictetus (I have read, and reviewed, the Discourses and the Enchiridion) that had been in fact explained by Seneca before. I am certainly not saying that Epictetus is a mere clone of Seneca, but that the other Stoics don’t mention Seneca, I think, do not automatically exclude that they haven’t READ Seneca.

somehow I have lost all my highlights in one of my Seneca books. I am currently re reading De Vita Beata, and again I find in Seneca things that Epictetus said later, such as:
“(the wise perso ) counts among transitory things not only his property and possessions and social standing but also his own body and his eyes and his hand and whatever else makes life particularly dear to a man, even his own self, and he lives as one who is on loan to himself and intends to return everything without complaint when the debt is recalled.”

I am not suggesting at all that Epictetus ‘copied’ Seneca or anything like that. Like Seneca, Epictetus is too eloquent for that

Luigi, I applaud your tenacity in this comment thread in trying to set the record straight while keeping your own perspective balanced. A lot of the modern prejudices against Seneca lack reality and integrity. IMO, most of the arguments can be reduced to a no true Scotsman fallacy.

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