or Lucius Annaeus
(the praenomen being uncertain), usually called Seneca Rhetor to distinguish him from his more
celebrated son, was a native of Corduba in Spain. His birth may be placed about B.C. 60 and
his death shortly after that of Tiberius (A.D. 37). His family was of equestrian rank and in
good circumstances: his character, as revealed in his writings and described by his son, was
marked by sobriety, industry, and sternness. We know little of his life, except that he
resided on two occasions at least and for several years at Rome, where he is usually supposed,
though on insufficient evidence, to have practised as a speaker and professor of rhetoric,
without, however, attaining any very high distinction. He informs us that, except Cicero, he
had listened to all the great masters of Roman eloquence; and Cicero he might have heard had
he been willing to brave the risks of a visit to Rome while the Civil Wars were raging. But
then, as for the greater part of his long life, he preferred the quiet dignity of his estate
in Spain; and it was there that, when well advanced in middle age, he married Helvia, a lady
of good lineage and ancient virtue, by whom he had three sons, all of whom attained
distinction—Novatus, better known as the Gallio of the Acts of the Apostles; Seneca
the philosopher; and Mela , father of the brilliant poet Lucan.
Seneca was the author of a Roman history extending from the commencement of the Civil Wars
to the close of the reign of Tiberius. To this work two allusions—one in Lactantius
Inst. vii. 15.14
) and one in Suetonius (
）— must be referred. From the former we gather that,
like Tacitus, he commenced his history by a brief generalizing retrospect of Rome's entire
past, in which he compared the various epochs of her development to those of a human life.
Lucius Seneca, in a fragment of a lost biography of his father, claims for it a place among
the literary monuments of the age; but with some diffidence, as if conscious that his filial
piety overpowered his critical judgment. At all events, we hear nothing of it from any other
source. His other work, a series of reminiscences of contemporary rhetoricians, written in his
old age, has, to a great extent, survived. It consists of ten books of
, or discussions of legal cases, and one book of
, or themes for rhetorical declamation. The Suasoriae
were written last, but come first in order of publication from grounds of educational
convenience. The commencement is lost. The first, second, ninth, and tenth books of
, with their prefaces, are almost perfect. The gaps in the other
books are partially filled up by an abridgment (excerpta
) of the fourth
or fifth century, the prefaces to books v., vi., and viii., however, being lost. These
prefaces are by far the most interesting portion of the work. They are written by Seneca in
his own person, and contain, besides pleasant commonplaces and sallies of
genial humour, many valuable criticisms of the different speakers quoted, expressed in a pure
and classical Latin. The Controversiae
, which are almost entirely made up of
quotations, are for the most part treated under three heads: first, the
, or opinions of the rhetoricians as to the applicability of the law
to the question proposed; second, the Divisio
, or distribution of the legal
argument into its various points or subdivisions, each of which is considered separately; and
thirdly, the Colores
, or pleas for consideration, which, while admitting the
fact, extenuate its gravity or alter its legal complexion.
It is evident that a considerable proportion of the rhetorical quotations was in Greek,
declamatory exercises being indifferently undertaken in either language; but as the book was
used exclusively in the Western Empire, the Greek portions were to a great extent discarded,
and but few are now preserved. It is remarkable that Seneca himself displays a purer taste and
literary style than any of the rhetoricians he quotes, in most of whom the characteristics of
the Silver Age are already prominent.
The subjects of the Suasoriae
are of the kind ridiculed by Juvenal:
“Shall Alexander cross the ocean to find a new world to conquer?”
“Shall Cicero plead with Antony for his life?” “Shall Leonidas
withdraw from Thermopylae?” etc. They are mere school exercises, and, though
ingenious and often eloquent, can hardly be called profitable reading.
Bibliography.—In the earliest editions the above
writings are mixed up with those of Seneca the philosopher, and were not separated before the
editions of N. Faber (Paris, 1587-98)
and A. Schott (Heidelberg, 1603-4;
. An edition was issued by Gronovius (Leiden, 1649; Amsterdam,
. Modern critical editions are those of C. Bursian (Leipzig, 1857)
A. Kiessling (Leipzig, 1872)
; H. J. Müller (Prague, 1887)
The following critical notices are mostly from Teuffel: H. Höfig, De
Sen. Rhet. IV. Codd. MSS. Schottianis (Görlitz, 1858)
; J. Vahlen,
13, 546; A. Kiessling, ib. 16, 50; Beitr. z. Krit. lat.
, 32 (Basle and Geneva, 1864)
; Neue Beitr. zur Kr.
des Rh. S. (Hamburg, 1871)
; Cl. Konitzer, Quaest. in Sen.
Crit. (Breslau, 1864)
; Beitr. z. Krit. des Rh. Sen.
; R. Wachsmuth, Quaest. in Sen. (Posen,
; O. Rebling, Obss. Crit. in Sen. Patrem.
; C. Bursian, Spicilegium Crit. in Sen.
; H. T. Karsten, Spicil. Crit.
; Elocutio Rhetorica Sen. Rhet. (Rotterdam, 1881)
Also J. Körber, Ueber den Rhetor Sen.
(pp. 1-23, 58-66) und die
röm. Rhet. seiner Zeit
(pp. 23-58) (Marburg, 1864)
; O. Gruppe,
(pp. 24-47) (Stettin, 1873)
; M. Sander,
Quaest. Syntacticae in Sen. Rhet. (Greifswald, 1872)
D. Sprachgebrauch des Rhet. Sen. (Waren, 1877-80)
; A. Ahlheim,
De Sen. Rhet. usu Dicendi (Giessen, 1886)
; L. A. Senecae
Oratorum et Rhetorum Sententiae Divisiones Colores
, ed. H. J. Müller
(Bibl. Script. Gr. et Rom.
ed. Carl Schenkl) (Vienna, 1887)