In 2005 Brad Inwood—one of the most learned scholars of ancient Stoicism—illustrated Seneca’s philosophical works through a series of essays, collected in Reading Seneca: Stoic Philosophy at Rome (Oxford, Clarendon Press 2005):1 with this anthology, Inwood pursues his interpretation of Seneca as “a creative and engaged philosophical writer, prepared to argue for the merits of the positions which he holds” (p. xix), and not as a bare eclectic moralist, lacking in intellectual coherence and independence. This perspective is complex and fascinating, all the more so as “Seneca’s reputation among professional philosophers has sunk so low that by now he is barely considered a philosopher at all”, as observed by G. M. Ross in his brief account of Seneca’s Philosophical Influence.2
“Seneca’s Life and Works” is briefly recalled in a couple of pages (pp. xi-xii), thereafter the brief Introduction mainly focuses on the Epistles to Lucilius as a literary and philosophical work (“The Nature of Seneca’s letters”; “Seneca’s Motivation as Author”; “Seneca’s Approach to Writing Philosophy”, pp. xii-xxi). Inwood rightly underlines the importance first of all of Epicurus’ letters, then of Cicero’s Ad Atticum, as a stimulus to adopt the form of the literary epistles. The brevity of the treatment prevents Inwood from adding—in addition to the basic bibliographical references –3 certain quotations among the numerous remarks on the epistolary form scattered in Seneca’s work: for instance in epist. 21,3-5 Seneca promises Lucilius the same immortality Epicurus assured his friend Idomeneus, just as Cicero’s letters guaranteed Atticus the same. In epist. 118—translated and commented by Inwood (pp. 72ff. and 306ff.)—Seneca defines which topics should be entertained and which ones laid aside (“… It is better to deal with one’s own faults than those of other people, to examine oneself and to see how many things one is campaigning for, and to canvass for someone else”). He avoids everyday matters—such as chats about the weather—in order to urge his friend towards wisdom, focussing instead on quod et mihi et tibi prodesse possit ( epist. 23,1), a passage where prodesse —as elsewhere in Seneca—is translated from the Stoic
Regarding the literary and mainly philosophic motivations of Seneca’s work, Inwood notes how prevalent nowadays is the position of scholars—like Inwood Hadot, P. Hadot, M. Nussbaum and J. Cooper –5 who emphasize Seneca’s role as a moral and spiritual guide. He objects, however, commenting that this is only a persona, an “authorial self-presentation” which does not necessarily coincide with “the key to philosophical interpretation”, and therefore does not constitute “his basic authorial motivation” (p. xvii). From his point of view, this reading tends also to obscure interest in all the philosophical and technical details, which are not connected to the role of a moral guide, regarded in a strict sense: “in the letters Seneca writes a great deal about physics, dialectic, and what we would call metaphysics alongside of argumentation in ethics which is far more technical than mere moral guidance requires” (p. xviii). Hence the conclusion that “the safest approach to Seneca’s work is, as I have suggested, to regard him first and foremost as a man of letters, a littérateur, a writer whose first concern is with his art and his audience” (p. xviii).
No doubt—as underlined by Inwood—in Seneca’s work we come across a plurality of topics, voices and roles, that the author takes on in turn, and we should not forget that his role as a spiritual guide “is one that Seneca adopts to write his letters; it is apparently the voice which he often wishes to be heard first by his readers” (p. xvii). In Cooper’s interpretation, however, we find this very tantalizing idea equates—as a consequence of the recourse to dialogical and didactic elements—the Epistulae ad Lucilium and the Dialogi :6 “Seneca relies for his persuasiveness much more often on the rhetorical rules than the logical or philosophical aspects of his presentation”.7 In fact Inwood seems to understimate the inseparability of style and content in Seneca:8 as observed by Alfonso Traina,9 Seneca ( epist. 94,2 ff.) argues against Aristo the Stoic, that the decreta philosophiae, the actual dogmas of philosophy, the sophistries are not sufficient: it is necessary to resort to the psychagogic power of the words, conveyed by the rhetoric. Therefore the philosopher assumes the role of a monitor ( epist. 94,72), a coactor ( epist. 52,4), and appeals to the emotions, making full use of maxims, verses or prose proverbs ( epist. 94, 25-28), which “need no special pleader; they go straight to our emotions, and help us simply because Nature is exercising her proper function” (transl. Gummere).
In the following pages (pp. xxi-xxiv) Inwood elucidates “The Selection of Letters”: a collection of 17 letters (58, 65, 66, 71, 76, 85, 87, 106, 113, 117, 118-124) gathered—as we shall see below—in five groups. The selection responds to two main goals: the first one is to present an anthology of letters which are of interest from a philosophical point of view. The second one is to provide the reading of at least one entire book, in order to let the reader appreciate the literary unity of the books, beyond the apparent casual manner or thematic incongruity. The choice made was book XX ( epist. 118-124), “which contains a very high concentration of philosophically important letters”. The result—plausibly deliberate—is that the book provides us with a very innovative collection of texts so far often neglected by commentators.10 Inwood’s is the first commentary on the whole book XX; moreover the selection coincides in a very restricted way with previous English collections such as Summers’ (only epist. 76, 87, 122), and Costa’s (only epist. 122).11 Only epistle 65 was—when Inwood undertook his work (in 2001)—the object of a comprehensive commentary by Giuseppe Scarpat: in the meantime two monographs on epistles 85 and 87 were published, too late for the author to take account of them.12
The epistles are presented only in translation (pp. 1-103), since the guidelines of the series state that “no knowledge of Greek or Latin is assumed”. Nevertheless it would be of great interest to glance at the Latin original, particularly in the case of an author such as Seneca, who—as seen above—theorizes the necessity of resorting to the action of the words, to the oratorius vigor ( epist. 100,8).
The brilliant translation expresses the style of Seneca’s period at its best, fragmented in a series of brief and concentrated sentences, in parallel cola, often marked with an anaphora or other figures of sound, or varied, in order to underline the conceptual antithesis, which Inwood efficaciously reproduces. Let us consider for instance the beginning of epist. 1:13 “Do it, Lucilius my friend. Reclaim yourself. Assemble and preserve your time, which has until now been snatched out from you, stolen, or just gotten lost. Convince yourself that what I say is true: some of our time is robbed from us, some burgled, and some slips out of our hands. The most shameful loss, though, is what happens through negligence. And if you’re willing to pay attention: a good deal of life is lost for those who conduct it badly; most of it is lost for those who do nothing at all, but all of life is lost for those who don’t pay attention”. The translation fairly faithfully follows the original syntax, with its anaphoric repetitions and synonymic variations, in particular in the two verbal series aut auferebatur aut subripiebatur aut excidebat … quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt, and—in the final tricolon—let the reader appreciate the anaphoric climax, and the epiphora once again coupled with the synonymic variation ( magna pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, maxima nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus).
Likewise in epist. 85,23 ( Finis, ut puto, edendi bibendique satietas est. Hic plus edit, ille minus; quid refert? Uterque iam satur est. Hic plus bibit, ille minus; quid refert? Uterque non sitit. Hic pluribus annis vixit, hic paucioribus), a passage where the rendering of repetitions and variations could be tricky, Inwood adopts a ‘mimetic’ translation: “In my opinion, the goal of eating and of drinking is satiety. One person eats more, another less. What difference does it make? Both are now sated. One person drinks more, another less. What difference does it make? Both are not thirsty” (p. 44).14
Finally let us examine the epigrammatic phrase of epist. 87,3 fecit sibi pacem nihil timendo, fecit sibi divitias nihil concupiscendo, comparing Gummere’s translation (“and has secured peace for itself by fearing nothing, and riches by craving no riches”, vol. II, p. 325) with Inwood’s (“and makes itself calm by fearing nothing and makes itself rich by desiring nothing”, p. 48). The latter reproduces the isocolic structure of the phrase with much more clarity, based on the anaphora of fecit sibi (“makes itself”), the epiphora of the gerundive coming before the negative (“by …ing nothing”) and the oppositions pacem/divitias, timendo/concupiscendo.
Furthermore Inwood, in his commentary, does not fail to examine the problems of translation and exegesis, which are often difficult to understand fully without the Latin text. For instance, commenting epist. 58,5 Inwood observes (p. 113): “‘how much in Ennius and Accius has been obscured by the disuse of words’. Alternative translation: ‘how many words in Ennius and Accius have been overtaken by disuse'”.15 Only with the original in front of his eyes ( ut ex hoc intellegas, quantum apud Ennium et Accium verborum situs occupaverit) can the reader grasp the origin of the problem ( verborum could be connected to situs or with quantum) and approve Inwood’s choice or not; he adopts the second solution, in fact the more probable, with the partitive ( quantum…verborum).
The commentary takes up more than two thirds of the book (pp. 105-377). Each group of letters is prefaced by a brief introduction which illustrates its characteristics: group I presents three letters which has in common “a focus on themes in Platonic and to a lesser extent Aristotelian philosophy” (p. 107): the classification of beings (58), the doctrine of causes (65), the nature and equality of goods and virtues (66). Group II looks at topics eminently Stoic, like virtue and the supreme good (71), which should be pursued in old age too (76).16 Letters 85 and 87 (group III) show a remarkable dialectical argument with the Peripatetics, on topics such as the relationship between virtue and happiness, the nature of goods and passions. Then follows a group (IV) focused on the connection between Stoic metaphysics and ethics: “106 addresses the question ‘Is the good a body?’ 113 asks whether virtues are animals. 117 tackles a subtle problem about the relationship between wisdom and ‘being wise'” (p. 261). The last group (V, epist. 118-124) has not been selected on the basis of thematic coherence, but—as we have seen—as an example of an entire book, Book XX. As observed by Inwood, in this case as well, it is possible to verify that certain topics recur: for instance the theme of the nature of good recurs in epistles 117 and 118, “which … anticipates themes in 120, 121 and 124” (p. 306).
For each group Inwood illustrates the basic bibliography, and presents in a synthetic and effective way the status quaestionis : thus, for instance, introducing the Platonic epistles 58 and 65, the A. mentions the various hypotheses according to which the Platonic material in Seneca does not depend on a direct reading, but from an intermediate source, such as Posidonius, Antiochus of Ascalon, Eudorus of Alexandria, or in general from Middle Platonism.17 However Inwood, with a prudence that can be shared, prefers to underline the specificities of the Senecan text (and also its incoherences),18 and to suggest the evident connection of the author with contemporary Middle Platonism, rather than to go into the details of a complex and probably not resolvable Quellenforschung.
A synthetic schema of the “thematic division” is followed by the actual commentary to each letter. Likewise in the commentary Inwood’s main interest is in the links within the philosophical arguments, and the relationships with the different schools, but the reader can also find some textual and linguistic observations.
The text adopted is generally Reynolds’s OCT (1965), from which Inwood moves away—as indicated in the commentary—sometimes, in order to avoid the cruces, and to provide a fully readable text.19 This is the case in epist. 65,15 ego quidem + peiora + illa ago ac tracto, quibus pacatur animus, et me prius scrutor, deinde hunc mundum, where Inwood adopts (p. 149)—with the majority of translators, including Scarpat—Hense’s correction potiora; or of epist. 123,12 (p. 359) abducunt a patria, a parentibus, ab amicis, a virtutibus, et + inter spem vitam misera nisi turpis inludunt +, where Inwood follows Shackleton Bailey’s conjecture in turpem vitam miseramque si turpis illiciunt. We should certainly take Inwood’s advice to correct the text of epist. 58,10 Sed quaedam [quae] animum habent nec sunt animalia, by reintroducing animam transmitted by all the manuscripts, which is required by the argument, and by the context (which follows placet enim satis et arbustis animam inesse) instead of animum, perhaps only a misprint in Reynolds’ edition (in fact he doesn’t add any explanation in the critical apparatus).
The interest in Seneca’s philosophical language, and in its relationships with the Greek one—even if it doesn’t correspond to the focus of the commentary—is evident also in the selection of letter 58, which deals with the verborum paupertas, immo egestas of the Latin language: in addition to the parallel passages mentioned by Inwood (p. 112), one could recall also Cic. nat. deor. 1,8, where the author refutes those who fear not being able to express in Latin what they have learned in Greek ( quae a Graecis accepissent Latine dici posse diffiderent): he says that nowadays, also as far as the copia verborum is concerned, the Greeks do not seem to him to be superior any more; it could be also useful to refer to the copious material collected by Pease ad loc.20
Of some interest could be also a deeper examination of the dispute on archaism: Seneca—following his master Stoics21—recognises the natural origin of the language, and therefore a larger proprietas to the archaic language, which however sometimes contrasts with the consuetudo (cf. epist. 114,13 oratio certam regulam non habet: consuetudo illam civitatis, quae numquam in eodem diu stetit, versat). Hence the anti-archaism prevailing in epist. 125 (= Gell. 12,2-13), while in epist. 78,5 we find a more reconciliatory position, since archaism at times could be more suited to render the Greek philosophical terminology.22
The lexical notes, often restricted to brief hints, are valuable in any case: for instance, commenting on fastidium of 58,1 (p. 112), rightly Inwood observes that the word implies “a strong overtone of aesthetic contempt”. One could also recall passages as Cic. opt. gen. 18 quid … est eorum in orationibus e Graeco conversis fastidium, nullum quom sit in versibus?; fin. 1,10 ego autem mirari
The notes to epist. 121 contain a few interesting hints on the Latin terminology for the
In the lexical notes as well Inwood’s interest is focused on interpretation: let us recall the note to lucifuga of epist. 122,19: Inwood observes that here “the connotation is ‘secretive, anti-social’. See Cicero Fin. 1.61″; then he adds that “Clearly there is a double entendre here”, such as the first significance, of ‘night-owl’ and the pejorative one (“qui lucem (diei) fugit, tenebras amat, fere contumeliose dictum”, as explained by ThlL VII/2,1712,8) are coexistent here. The other two English commentaries that we have at our disposal for this text, Costa’s and Summers’, also insist on the form, attested for the first time here, and then in Apul. Met. 5,19, and on the occurences and significances of the parallel one, lucifugus.25As for the difficult graecism lychnobius of epist. 122,16—not attested in Greek, which seem to indicate here the person who “lives on lamp oil”—Inwood turns out to be the most exhaustive and perceptive of the three commentators: after recalling Summers’ hypothesis that the term implies a word play on
In conclusion, the reader will find in Inwood’s book an elucidation of all the philosophical problems of the epistles examined, a careful discussion of Seneca’s interpretation of the doctrines of the various schools (from Aristotle and Plato, to Epicurus and the Stoics), an introduction to the main historical events or people mentioned in Seneca, and a first access to the characteristics of philosophical language. Even if specifically designed “to encourage philosophers and students of philosophy to explore the fertile terrain of later ancient philosophy” (in accordance to the aim of the series), this volume will be of precious assistance to all people who—also being philologists—intend to tackle reading Seneca’s Epistles.
1. Reviewed by M. Graver, BMCR 2007.06.45; P. L. Donini, RSF 61 (2006) 371-377; A. Setaioli, Gnomon 79 (2007) 686-697; C. Edwards, CR 57 (2007) 118-120.
2. Cf. G. M. Ross, Seneca’s Philosophical Influence, in C. D. N. Costa (ed.) Seneca, London-Boston 1974, pp. 116-165: quotation from p. 151.
3. I should at least mention P. Cugusi, Evoluzione e forme dell’epistolografia latina nella tarda Repubblica e nei primi due secoli dell’Impero con cenni sull’epistolografia preciceroniana, Roma 1983, 195-206.
4. Cf. e.g. Chrysipp. eth. 117 SVF III 28, 17 f. “to be of help [
5. In addition to the bibliography mentioned by Inwood, see I. Hadot, Préface a Sénèque. Consolations. A Helvia, ma mère. A Marcia, traduit du latin par C. Laza, Paris 1979; P. Hadot, Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique, Paris 1981. Similar positions also in C. Edwards, Self-Scrutiny and Self-Transformation in Seneca’s Letters, G&R 44 (1997) 23-38.
6. This comparison is now offered by the same Inwood—following Foucault and Maurach—in The Importance of Form in Seneca’s Philosophical Letters, in Ancient Letters. Classical and Late Antique Epistolography, ed. by R. Moriello—A.D. Morrison, Oxford 2007, 133-148: a paper much better documented and convincing than the Introduction to the volume reviewed here. The A. is right to deny that “this intensely dialogical style is typical of any of Seneca’s literary models for writings epistolary philosophy”: it was typical neither of Epicurus, nor of Plato and Cicero, but it constitutes “a personally distinctive feature of Seneca’s own writing style” (p. 147). One could perhaps suspect an influence of the diatribe: cf. in addition to the bibliography mentioned by A. Traina, Lo stile “drammatico” del filosofo Seneca, Bologna 1995 (1974 1st ed.), 78, the paper of R. Coleman, The Artful Moralist. A Study of Seneca’s Epistolary Style, CQ 24 (1974) 276-289.
7. J. M. Cooper, Moral Theory and Moral Improvement: Seneca (ch. 12), in J.M.C., Knowledge, Nature, and the Good. Essays on Ancient Philosophy, Princeton 2004, 309-334: quotation from p. 333.
8. Cf. A. Setaioli’s observation, in his review of Reading Seneca, 687 f.: the bibliography on the language and style is lacking: in addition to Traina’s and P. Grimal’s works (e. g.: Le vocabulaire de l’interiorité dans l’oeuvre philosophique de Sénèque, in La langue latine, langue de la philosophie, Paris-Rome 1992, 141-160), he could at least have mentioned M. Armisen-Marchetti, Sapientiae facies: étude sur les images de Sénèque, Paris 1989 (a book, devoted to the imaginary, and therefore intended not only for classical philologists, but also useful to students and historians of philosophy), or, in the English-speaking ambit, the recent paper of H. Hine, Poetic Influence on Prose: The Case of the Younger Seneca, in Aspects of the Language of Latin Prose, ed by T. Reinhardt, M. Lapidge, et all., Oxford 2005, 211-237. As for the numerous poetic quotations, one should have been referred to G. Mazzoli, Seneca e la poesia, Milano 1970.
9. Cf. A. Traina, Lo stile “drammatico”, 39 f.; L. Anneo Seneca, Le Consolazioni. A Marcia. Alla madre Elvia. A Polibio, introduzione, traduzione e note di A. Traina, Milano 2004 (1987 1st ed.), 24-28.
10. Due to their large size, letters 94 and 95 (book XV)—a diptych on moral rules and principles—are omitted; for these letters we dispose of the thorough commentary by Maria Bellincioni (Brescia 1979), which could have been usefully mentioned in the bibliography. Inwood has broadly discussed the two letters in chapter 4 of his Reading Seneca, 115 ff.
11. Select Letters of Seneca, edited with introductions and explanatory notes by W. C. Summers, London 1910; Seneca, 17 Letters, with translation and commentary by C. D. N. Costa, Warminster 1988.
12. G. Allegri, Progresso verso la virtus. Il programma della Lettera 87 di Seneca, Cesena 2004; Lucio Anneo Seneca. Ad Lucilium epistula 85, a cura di R. Marino, Palermo 2005.
13. Inwood translates this whole letter, the most famous of Seneca’s epistolography, in the Introduction (pp. xx-xxi). Let us compare Inwood’s version, with Gummere’s almost classic one ( Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, with an English translation by R. M. G., voll.
14. Gummere’s translation (II, 299) is more involved: “Satiety, I think, is the limit to our eating or drinking. A eats more and B eats less; what difference does it make. Each is now sated. Or A drinks more and B drinks less; what difference does it make? Each is no longer thirsty. Again, A lives for many years and B for fewer”. On this text, see A. Traina, Lo stile “drammatico”, 107.
15. The translation of “disuse” for the Latin situs seems a little thin: following OLD ( situs 2.b, p. 1775 f.), rather than the bare sense of “neglect”, it seems to focus on its effects, the “physical deterioration, or the signs of it, resulting from disuse, … (associated w. old age, or antiquity; transf., as affecting wds, usages, etc.)” the “decay”.
16. With reference to this epistle, see S. Maso, Lo sguardo della verità. Cinque studi su Seneca, Venezia 1999 (also in French transl: Le regard de la verité. Cinq études sur Sénèque, Paris 2006), 144 f.
17. The bibliography could be integrated with the observations of A. Setaioli in his monograph Seneca e i Greci. Citazioni e traduzioni nelle opere filosofiche, Bologna 1988, both for the general discussion about the two epistles (cf. part. pp. 126-140, 158-164, 505-510), and for the analysis of individual passages, like the quotation from Heraclitus B 492 DK in epist. 58,23 (pp. 91-94), or the references to Posidonius and Antipater of Tarsus in epist. 87, 38-40 (pp. 300-303).
18. For instance the classification of six modes of being does not precisely correspond with the actual Platonic doctrine (cf. A. Setaioli, Seneca e i Greci, 138), and this permits Inwood (in Sedley’ footseps: cf. D. S., Stoic Metaphysics at Rome, in R. Salles [ed.], Metaphysics, Soul, and Ethics in Ancient Thought, Oxford 2005, 117-142) to underline the way Seneca deals with Plato and the “reinvigorated Platonism of his days” (p. 108, and cf. p. 124).
19. Withoutthe Latin text, a list of divergencies from the OCT text would have been useful.
20. M. Tulli Ciceronis De Natura Deorum libri III, ed. by A.S. Pease, Cambridge 1955, vol. I, 143-145.
21. Cf. Chrysipp. eth. 146 SVF II 44
22. On this topic, see A. Setaioli, Seneca e i Greci, 33-43; Seneca e gli arcaici, in A. S. (ed.), Seneca e la cultura, Napoli 1991, 33-45, reprinted in A. S., Facundus Seneca. Aspetti della lingua e dell’ideologia senecana, Bologna 2000, 220-231.
23. As regards the correspondence between
24. See C. Moreschini, Osservazioni sul lessico filosofico di Cicerone, ASNP s. III, 9 (1979) 99-178, in part. pp. 126-30, M. Armisen-Marchetti, Sapientiae facies, 213 f., as well as R. Fischer, De usu vocabulorum apud Ciceronem et Senecam Graecae philosophiae interpretes, Freiburg im Breisgau 1914, 93 f. For the synonymous cura sui, see also my Aspetti della cura sui in Seneca morale, in Cultura e Promozione Umana. La cura del corpo e dello spirito nell’antichità classica e nei primi secoli cristiani, a c. di E. Dal Covolo—I. Giannetto, Troina 1998, 115-122.
25. See M. Zimmermann—S. Panayotakis—et all., Apuleius Madaurensis, Metamorphoses. Books IV 28-35, V-VI 1-24. The Tale of Cupid and Psyche, Groningen 2004, 249, and the two papers of L. Alfonsi, Lucifugi viri. Nota a Rutilio Namaziano, A&R 36 (1961) 98 f. and Su ‘Luctifuga’, Aevum 41 (1967) 157.
26. Cf. B. Axelson, Neue Senecastudien. Textkritische Beiträge zu Senecas Epistulae morales, Lund-Leipzig 1939, n. 49 p. 219, and Thesaurus linguae Latinae VII/2,1712,8 ff.