The Ethics of the Family in Seneca, VI: rewriting the family

Seneca wrote his famous letters to Lucilius near the end of his life. They are not just philosophical letters to a friend, but a structured curriculum in Stoic philosophy, as the entries are meant to be read in sequence, with the reader assuming the role of Lucilius. Moreover, Seneca is careful not to alienate his […]

The Ethics of the Family in Seneca, V: the imperfect imperial family

Octavian Augustus, the adoptive son of Julius Caesar, was the first Roman emperor. The battle of Actium of 31 BCE, where he defeated the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, marked the end of the Hellenistic period and the rise of the new empire. While Octavian had hardly been a particularly ethical individual in his […]

The Ethics of the Family in Seneca, IV: the desirable contest between fathers and sons

What is the best relationship between fathers and sons? Certainly not the one that was characteristic of ancient Roman society. The pater familias, the father of the family, had literal power of life and death over everyone in his household, including his sons and daughters. Although rarely fully deployed during the imperial period, such power […]

Seneca to Lucilius: old age and death

The 26th letter written by Seneca to his friend Lucilius begins in this fashion: “I give thanks to myself, in your presence, that I do not sense any impairment in my mind, even though I do in my body. Only my faults have grown old, and those parts of me that pay service to my […]

The ethics of the family in Seneca, III: the mystery of marriage

How do the Stoics think of marriage (or, in modern terms, stable monogamous relationships)? That’s the topic of the third chapter of Liz Gloyn’s The Ethics of the Family in Seneca. It turns out that here, as in several other aspects when it comes to the conception of the family, Seneca is subtly subversive, if […]

Seneca to Lucilius: the effective teaching of virtue

Is it possible to teach virtue? Opinions differed among the Greco-Roman philosophers, as I have discussed in an earlier post. The Stoics, of course, answered in the positive, but they were not blind to the difficulties inherent in the task, as is clear from letter XXV from Seneca to Lucilius, which in the wonderful Chicago […]

The ethics of the family in Seneca, II: band of brothers

Last time we have examined Seneca’s treatment of motherhood as discussed in Liz Gloyn’s The Ethics of the Family in Seneca. The second type of family relationship we’ll look into is that between brothers, for which Gloyn mostly uses the third of Seneca’s letters of consolation, to Polybius. This is a somewhat controversial letter, as […]

Seneca on anger: the Medea

Medea is one of those perennially fascinating characters of Greco-Roman lore: a “barbarian” (i.e., non-Greek) who falls in love with the argonaut Jason, helps him steal the fabled golden fleece by betraying her father and killing her brother — on condition that Jason later marry her. Once back to safety, Jason decides that it is […]

The ethics of the family in Seneca, I: model mothers

What did the Stoics think about the family? Good question, and it depends on which Stoics we are talking about. The early ones, Greek, and directly influenced by the Cynics, and thus of rather free customs? Or the late ones, Roman, and definitely more prudish? They certainly had widely different opinions about sex, for one. […]

Stoic Q&A: Seneca’s parting words to his wife?

S. writes: I have read your post discussing Seneca’s life and among other topics his death, and to which extent it is to be understood as being deliberately directed or “theatrical.” Regardless of the authenticity, when I personally first came in contact with Stoicism, what has been ascribed to Seneca as his words to his […]