M. Annaeus Se'neca or the elder Seneca or Seneca the elder
was a native of Corduba (Cordova) in Spain.
The time of his birth is uncertain; but it may be approximated to.
He says (Contr. Praef.
i. p. 67) that he considered that he had heard all the great orators, except Cicero; and that he might have heard Cicero, if the Civil Wars, by which he means the wars between Pompeius and Caesar, had not kept him at home (intra coloniam meam). Seneca appears to allude in this passage to some of Cicero's letters (ad Fam.
7.33, 9.16), in which Cicero speaks of Hirtius and Dolabella being his "dicendi discipuli" (B. C. 46).
It is conjectured that as Seneca might be fifteen in B. C. 46, he may have been born on or about B. C. 61 (Clinton, Fasti
), the year before C. Julius Caesar was praetor in Spain. Seneca was at Rome in the early period of the power of Augustus, for he says that he had seen Ovid declaiming before Arellius Fuscus (Contr.
x. p. 172). Ovid was born B. C. 43. Seneca was an intimate friend of the rhetorician M. Porcius Latro, who was one of Ovid's masters.
He also mentions the rhetorician Marillius, as the master of himself and of Latro.
He afterwards returned to Spain, and married Helvia, by whom he had three sons, L. Annaeus Seneca, L. Annaeus Mela or Mella, the father of the poet Lucan, and Marcus Novatus. Novatus was the eldest son, and took the name of Junius Gallio, upon being adopted by Junius Gallio. Seneca was rich, and he belonged to the equestrian class.
The time of his death is uncertain; but he probably lived till near the end of the reign of Tiberius, and died at Rome or in Italy.
It appears that he was at Rome early in life, from what has been stated as to Ovid; and he must have returned to Spain, because his son Lucius was brought to Rome from Spain when he was an infant. (L. Seneca, Consol. ad Helviam.
Seneca was gifted with a prodigious memory.
He was a man of letters, after the fashion of his time, when rhetoric or false eloquence was most in vogue. His Controversiarum Libri decem
, which he addressed to his three sons, were written when he was an old man.
The first, second, seventh, eighth, and tenth books only, are extant, and these are somewhat mutilated : of the other books only fragments
remain. These Controversiae are rhetorical exercises on imaginary cases, filled with common-places, such as a man of large verbal memory and great reading carries about with him as his ready money.
Another work of the same class, attributed to Seneca, and written after the Controversiae, is the Suasoriarum Liber
, which is probably not complete. We may collect, from its contents, what the subjects were on which the rhetoricians of that age exercised their wits : one of them is, "Shall Cicero apologise to Marcus Antonius? Shall he agree to burn his Philippics, if Antonius requires it ?" Another is, " Shall Alexander
embark on the ocean ?" If there are some good ideas and apt expressions in these puerile declamations, they have no value where they stand ; and probably most of them are borrowed. No merit of form can compensate for worthlessness of matter.
The eloquence of the Roman orators, which was derived from their political institutions, was silenced after the Civil Wars; and the puerilities of the rhetoricians were the signs of declining taste.
and Suasoriarum Liber
have often been published with the works of Seneca the son. The edition of A. Schottus appeared at Heidelberg, 1603 and 1604, Paris, 1607 and 1613
. The Elzivir print of 1672, 8vo., contains the notes of N. Faber, A. Schottus, J. F. Gronovius, and others.
The confusion between Seneca, the father, and Seneca, the philosopher, is fully cleared up by Lipsius, Electorum Lib. I. cap. 1, Opera, vol. i. p. 631, ed. 1675