Seneca - Anger, Mercy, Revenge (Chicago, 2010).pdf - Anger Mercy Revenge T h e C om pl e t e Wor k s of L u c i u s A n n a e u s Se n e c a Edited by

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Unformatted text preview: Anger, Mercy, Revenge T h e C om pl e t e Wor k s of L u c i u s A n n a e u s Se n e c a Edited by Elizabeth Asmis, Shadi Bartsch, and Martha C. Nussbaum Seneca Anger, Mercy, Revenge T r a nsl at e d b y Robe r t A . K a s t e r a n d M a r t h a C . N us sb au m The University of Chicago Press Chic ag o a nd L ondon Robert A . K a ster is professor of classics and the Kennedy Foundation Professor of Latin Language and Literature at Princeton University. M a rth a C. N ussbau m is is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 2010 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. Published 2010 Printed in the United States of America 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 1 2 3 4 5 ISBN-13: 978-0-226-74841-2 (cloth) ISBN-10: 0-226-74841-3 (cloth) Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 b.c.–65 a.d. Anger, mercy, revenge / Seneca ; translated by Robert A. Kaster and Martha C. Nussbaum. p. cm. — (The complete works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca) Includes bibliographical refererences and index. isbn-13: 978-0-226-74841-2 (cloth : alk. paper) isbn-10: 0-226-74841-3 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 b.c.–65 a.d.—Criticism and interpretation. I. Kaster, Robert A. II. Nussbaum, Martha Craven, 1947– III. Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 b.c.–65 a.d. De ira. English. 2010. IV. Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 b.c.–65 a.d. De clementia. English. 2010. V. Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 b.c.–65 a.d. Apocolocyntosis. English. 2010. VI. Title. VII. Series: Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 b.c.–65 a.d. Works. English. 2010. pa6665.a1 2010 878′.0109—dc22 2009045362 The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992. Contents Seneca and His World / vii On Anger tr ansl ated by Robert A. K aster Translator’s Introduction / 3 On Anger / 14 Notes / 97 On Clemency tr ansl ated by Robert A. K aster Translator’s Introduction / 133 On Clemency / 146 Notes / 180 The Pumpkinification of Claudius the God tr ansl ated by M arth a C. Nussbaum Translator’s Introduction / 197 The Pumpkinification of Claudius the God / 215 Index / 237 Seneca and His World E l i z a be t h A sm is, Sh a di B a r t sch, a n d M a r t h a C. N ussb au m Seneca once remarked of Socrates that it was his death by hemlock that made him great (Letter 13.14). With reason: Socrates’ death demonstrated the steadfastness of his philosophical principles and his belief that death offered nothing to fear. When Seneca himself, then, was ordered to commit suicide by Nero in 65 CE, we might well believe Tacitus’s account in his Annals (15.63) that the Roman Stoic modeled his death on that of Socrates, discoursing calmly about philosophy with his friends as the blood drained out of his veins. In Tacitus’s depiction we see, for once, a much-criticized figure living up to the principles he preached. Seneca’s life was mired in political advancement and disappointment, shaped by the effects of exile and return, and compromised by his relationship with the emperor Nero—first his pupil, then his advisee, and finally his murderer. But his many writings say little about his political career and almost nothing about his relationship with Nero except for what can be gleaned from his essay On Clemency, leaving us to turn to later sources for information—Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio Cassius in particular. We know that Seneca was born to a prominent equestrian family in Corduba, Spain, some time between 4 and 1 BCE. He was the second of three sons of Helvia and Lucius Annaeus Seneca (the youngest son, Annaeus Mela, was the father of the poet Lucan). The elder Seneca had spent much of his life in Rome, and Seneca himself was brought to Rome as a young boy. There he was educated in rhetoric and later became a student of the philosopher Sextius. But his entry into political life was delayed, and when he did enter upon the cursus honorum late in Tiberius’s reign, his ill health (he had asthma and possibly tuberculosis) was a source of difficulty. In any case his career was cut short. He survived Caligula’s hostility, which the sources tell us was thanks to his talents in oratory, but was sent into exile on Corsica by Claudius shortly after Caligula’s death in 41 CE. The charge, almost certainly false, was adultery with Caligula’s younger sister, Julia Livilla. Seneca spent his time in exile in philosophical and natural study and wrote vii Seneca and His World viii the Consolations to Helvia (his mother) and to Polybius (Claudius’s freedman secretary), revealing in the latter how desperately he hoped to be recalled to Rome. When Seneca did return in 49 CE, it was under different auspices. Claudius had recently remarried, to Germanicus’s daughter Agrippina, and she urged him to recall Seneca as tutor to her son, the twelve-year-old Nero. Claudius already had a younger son, Britannicus, but it was clear that the wily Agrippina wished to see her own flesh and blood on the throne. When Claudius died five years later, Agrippina was able to maneuver Nero into position as emperor—and Britannicus was dispatched by poison shortly after, in 55 CE. From 54 until his influence waned at the end of the decade, Seneca acted as Nero’s advisor, together with the praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus. We know he wrote a speech on clemency for Nero to deliver to the Senate soon after his accession, and Seneca’s own essay On Clemency may contain some inkling of his strategy to keep the young emperor from running amok. Seneca’s use of the term rex, or king, applied to Nero by analogy in this piece, is surprising from a Roman senator, but he seems to have hoped that flattering Nero by pointing to his limitless power and the value of clemency would be one way to keep him from abusing that power. Both Seneca and Burrus also helped with the civil and judicial administration of the empire. Many historians, ancient and modern, feel that this early part of Nero’s reign, moderated by Seneca and Burrus, represented a period of comparative good rule and harmony (the “quinquennium Neronis”). The decline started in 59 CE with Nero’s murder of Agrippina, after which Seneca wrote the emperor’s speech of self-exculpation— perhaps the most famous example of how the philosopher found himself increasingly compromised in his position as Nero’s chief counsel. Certainly as a Stoic, Seneca cuts an ambiguous figure next to the others who made their opposition to Nero clear, such as Thrasea Paetus and Helvidius Priscus. His participation in court politics probably led him to believe that he could do more good from where he stood than by abandoning Nero to his own devices—if he even had this choice. In any case, Seneca’s influence over Nero seems to have been considerably etiolated after the death of Burrus in 62. According A Short Introduction to Stoicism Stoicism is one of the world’s most influential philosophical movements. Starting from the works and teaching of the three original heads of the Greek Stoic school—Zeno of Citium (335–263 BCE), ix Seneca and His World to Tacitus, Seneca tried to retire from his position twice, in 62 and 64. Although Nero refused him on both occasions, Seneca seems to have largely absented himself from the court after 64. In 65 CE came the Pisonian conspiracy, a plot to kill Nero and replace him with the ringleader, C. Calpurnius Piso. Although Seneca’s nephew Lucan was implicated in this assassination attempt, Seneca himself was probably innocent. Nonetheless, Nero seized the opportunity to order his old advisor to kill himself. Seneca cut his own veins, but (so Tacitus tells us) his thinness and advanced age hindered the flow of blood. When a dose of poison also failed to kill him, he finally sat in a hot bath to make the blood flow faster. His wife, Pompeia Paulina, also tried to commit suicide but was saved on orders from Nero. Because of his ethical writings, Seneca fared well with the early Christians—hence the later forging of a fake correspondence with St. Paul—but already in antiquity he had his fair share of critics, the main charge arising from the apparent contradiction between his Stoic teachings on the unimportance of “externals” and his own amassing of huge wealth. Perhaps for this reason he never gained the respect accorded the “Roman Socrates,” the Stoic C. Musonius Rufus, banished by Nero in 65, even though Seneca’s writings have had far more influence over the centuries. In Seneca’s own lifetime one P. Suillius attacked him on the grounds that, since Nero’s rise to power, he had piled up some 300 million sesterces by charging high interest on loans in Italy and the provinces—though Suillius himself was no angel and was banished to the Balearic Islands for being an embezzler and informant. In Seneca’s defense, he seems to have engaged in ascetic habits throughout his life and despite his wealth. In fact, his essay On the Happy Life (De vita beata) takes the position that a philosopher may be rich as long as his wealth is properly gained and spent and his attitude to it is appropriately detached. Where Seneca finally ranks in our estimation may rest on our ability to tolerate the various contradictions posed by the life of this philosopher in politics. Seneca and His World x Cleanthes (331–232 BCE), and Chrysippus (ca. 280–207 BCE)—it became the leading philosophical movement of the ancient GrecoRoman world, shaping the development of thought well into the Christian era. Later Greek Stoics Panaetius (ca. 185–109 BCE) and Posidonius (ca. 135–51 BCE) modified some features of Stoic doctrine. Roman thinkers then took up the cause, and Stoicism became the semiofficial creed of the Roman political and literary world. Cicero (106–43 BCE) does not agree with the Stoics on metaphysical and epistemological matters, but his ethical and political positions lie close to theirs, and even when he does not agree, he makes a concerted effort to report their positions sympathetically. Roman Stoics Seneca, Epictetus (mid-first to early second century CE), Musonius Rufus (ca. 30–ca. 102 CE), and the emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–80 CE, emperor 161–80) produced Stoic works of their own (the last three writing in Greek). The philosophical achievement of the Greek Stoics, and especially that of Chrysippus, was enormous: the invention of propositional logic, the invention of the philosophy of language, unprecedented achievements in moral psychology, distinction in areas ranging from metaphysics and epistemology to moral and political philosophy. Through an accident of history, however, all the works of all the major Greek Stoics have been lost, and we must recover their thoughts through fragments, reports (particularly the lengthy accounts in Diogenes Laertius’s Lives of the Philosophers, in Cicero, and in Sextus Empiricus’s skeptical writings, since the Stoics are his primary target), and the works of the Roman thinkers—who often are adjusting Stoic doctrines to fit Roman reality and probably contributing creative insights of their own. This also means that we know somewhat less about Stoic logic or physics than about Stoic ethics, since the Romans took a particular interest in the practical domain. The goal of Stoic philosophy, like that of other philosophical schools of the Hellenistic era, was to give the pupil a flourishing life free from the forms of distress and moral failure that the Stoics thought ubiquitous in their societies. Unlike some of their competitor schools, however, they emphasized the need to study all parts of their threefold system—logic, physics, and ethics—in order to understand the universe and its interconnections. To the extent that a xi Seneca and His World Roman such as Cicero believed he could uphold the moral truths of Stoicism without a confident belief in a rationally ordered universe, he held a heretical position (one shared many centuries later by Immanuel Kant). Stoic physics held that the universe is a rationally ordered whole, and that everything that happens in it happens for the best of reasons. (It is this position, in its Leibnizian incarnation, that is pilloried in Voltaire’s Candide.) Rejecting traditional anthropomorphic religion, the Stoics gave the name Zeus to the rational and providential principle animating the universe as a whole, and they could find even in the most trivial or distressing events (such as earthquakes and thunderbolts) signs of the universe’s overall good order. This order was also a moral order based on the inherent dignity and worth of the moral capacities of each and every rational being. The Stoics believed that this order was deterministic: everything happens of necessity. But they were also “compatibilists,” believing that human free will was compatible with the truth of determinism. They engaged in spirited debates with “incompatibilist” Aristotelians, making lasting contributions to the free will controversy. Stoic ethics begins from the idea of the boundless worth of the rational capacity in each and every human being. The Roman Stoics understood this capacity to be centrally practical and moral. (Thus, unlike Plato, they did not think that people who had a natural talent for mathematics were better than people who didn’t, and they became more and more skeptical that even the study of logic had much practical value.) They held that all human beings were equal in worth by virtue of their possession of the precious capacity to choose and direct their lives, ranking some ends ahead of others. This, they said, was what distinguished human beings from animals: this power of selection and rejection. (Unlike most other ancient schools, they had little concern for the morality of animal treatment, since they thought that only moral capacity entitled a being to respect and good treatment.) Children, they said, came into the world like little animals, with a natural orientation toward self-preservation but no understanding of true worth. Later, however, a remarkable shift would take place, already set up by their possession of innate human nature: they would become able to appreciate the beauty of the capacity for choice and the way in which moral reason had shaped the entire Seneca and His World xii universe. This recognition, they said, should lead people to respect both self and others in an entirely new way. Stoics were serious about (human) equality: they urged the equal education of both slaves and women. Epictetus himself was a former slave. Stoicism looks thus far like an ethical view with radical political consequences, and so it became during the Enlightenment, when its distinctive emphases were used to argue in favor of equal political rights and more nearly equal economic opportunities. However, the original Stoics maintain a claim of great significance for politics: moral capacity is the only thing that has intrinsic worth. Money, honor, power, bodily health, and even the love of friends, children, and spouse—all these are held to be things that one may reasonably pursue if nothing impedes (they are called “preferred indifferents”), but they have no true intrinsic worth. They should not even be seen as commensurate with moral worth. So when they do not arrive as one wishes, it is wrong to be distressed. This was the context in which the Stoics introduced their famous doctrine of apatheia, freedom from the passions. Defining the major emotions or passions as all involving a high valuation of “external goods,” they argue that the good Stoic will not have any of these disturbances of the personality. Realizing that chance events lie beyond our control, the Stoic will find it unnecessary to experience grief, anger, fear, or even hope: all of these are characteristic of a mind that waits in suspense, awestruck by things indifferent. We can have a life that truly involves joy (of the right sort) if we appreciate that the most precious thing of all, and the only truly precious thing, lies within our control at all times. Stoics do not think that it is at all easy to get rid of the cultural errors that are the basis of the rejected passions: thus a Stoic life is a constant therapeutic process in which mental exercises are devised to wean the mind from its unwise attachments. Their works depict processes of therapy through which the reader may make progress in the direction of Stoic virtue, and they often engage their reader in just such a process. Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius describe processes of repeated meditation; Seneca (in On Anger) describes his own nightly self-examination. Seneca’s Letters show the role that a wiser teacher can play in such a therapeutic process, but Seneca evidently does not think that even he himself is free from erroneous attachments. The xiii Seneca and His World “wise man” is in that sense a distant ideal, not a worldly reality, particularly for the Roman Stoics. A large aid in the therapeutic process is the study of the horrible deformities that societies (including one’s own) suffer by caring too much about external goods. If one sees the ugly face of power, honor, and even love clearly enough, this may assist one in making the progress toward true virtue. Thus Seneca’s On Anger is an example of a genre that we know to have been common in Stoicism. Because of their doctrine of value, the Stoics actually do not propose radical changes in the distribution of worldly goods, as one might suppose equal regard for the dignity of all human beings would require. They think that equal respect does require dignified treatment of each person; thus Seneca urges masters not to beat their slaves or use them as sexual tools. About the institution of slavery, however, there is silence, and worse than silence: Seneca argues that true freedom is internal freedom, so the external sort does not really matter. Musonius, similarly, advocates respectful treatment for women, including access to a Stoic education. But as for changes in the legal arrangements that confined women to a domestic role and gave males power of life and death over them, he too is silent, arguing that women will manifest their Stoic virtue in the domestic context. Some Roman Stoics do appear to have thought that political liberty was a part of dignity, and thus died supporting republican institutions, but whether this attention to external conditions was consistent with Stoicism remains unclear. (Certainly Cicero’s profound grief over the loss of political freedom was not the attitude of a Stoic, any more than was his agonizing grief over his daughter’s death.) There was also much debate about whether the Stoic norm of apatheia encouraged people to detach themselves from bad political events in a way that gave aid and comfort to bad politics. Certainly Stoics were known to counsel retirement from politics (a theme in Seneca’s own life as he sought Nero’s permission for retirement, unsuccessfully), and they were thought to believe that upheaval was worse than lawless tyranny. Plutarch reports that Brutus (a Platonist) questioned potential coconspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar by trying to determine whether they accepted that Stoic norm or believed, with him, that lawless tyranny was worse than civil strife; only non-Stoics were selected for the group of assassins. Seneca and His World xiv During Nero’s reign, however, several prominent Stoics—including Seneca and his nephew, Lucan—joined republican political movements aimed at overthrowing Nero, and lost their lives for their efforts, by politically ordered suicide. Stoics believed that from the moral point of view, national boundaries were as irrelevant as honor, wealth, gender, and birth. They held that we are, first and foremost, citizens of the universe as a whole. (...
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