Philosopher, dramatist, rhetorician, Stoic and pragmatist, Seneca was one of the most contradictory figures in ancient Rome, embracing a stern ascetic morality while amassing a fortune under Nero and eventually committing suicide. This definitive biography reveals a life lived perilously in the gap between ideals and reality.
Emily Wilson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Classical Studies. She has a BA from Oxford in Classics, an MPhil, also from Oxford, in English Literature (1500-1660), and a PhD from Yale in Classics and Comparative Literature. She is the author of Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton and The Death of Sophocles: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint.
Seneca lived in a world where dissimulation was a way of life, and
the confusion between reality and failure woven into the very
fabric of the state. It is the mirror he holds up to it which makes
him such a great and unsettling writer, and which Wilson's fine
biography does so much to explicate -- Tom Holland * Telegraph
Absorbing * Observer *
Morally our author is tough on Seneca, contrasting, for example, his lickspittle approach to Nero with Boudicca's resistance. But she is a persuasive extoller of his writing and the final chapter about his diverse legacy is breathtaking * Spectator *
The most famous and poignant example of a philosopher trying and spectacularly failing to improve a ruler, is that of the Roman Stoic Seneca, whose life is wonderfully retold here by the classicist Emily Wilson * Sunday Times *
This is a riveting and complete picture of Seneca's complex and compromised life. It is impeccably researched, carefully structured, and written with admirable brio. For good or ill, ours is a Senecan age -- Simon Critchley, The New School for Social Research
A fresh, perceptive, and in-depth look at the enigmatic Seneca, giving us a nuanced perspective into the conflicted mind and motives of the philosopher who embraced lofty Stoic ideals while serving Nero and amassing great wealth in the process. I honestly could not put it down, it is so insightful and well written and yes -- suspenseful, even though we know the ending -- Margaret George, author of Elizabeth I: The Novel and Helen of Troy: A Novel