Seneca the Younger was a Roman poet, dramatist, statesman, and philosopher. In 4 BCE, he was born in Cordoba (in present-day Spain), but moved to Rome with his father, Seneca the Elder, who was a renowned rhetorician. The family was prominent, which provided Seneca with a rigorous and advanced education.
Because of his family's connections and his reputation as a skilled rhetorician and orator, Seneca sat in the Roman Senate. However, these political connections also embroiled him in several scandals. In 41 CE, Seneca was accused of adultery with the sister of Caligula--an accusation which led to exile, rather than execution, as originally demanded. In 49 CE, he returned to Rome, and in 54 he famously became tutor and advisor to the emperor Nero.
In 65 AD, Seneca met his last scandal: He was accused of participating in a plot to kill Nero (although historians today generally agree that Seneca was innocent). Nero sentenced his former advisor to death by suicide. Following tradition, Seneca was surrounded by friends as he died. The accounts of his death have been largely romanticized, but tradition holds that his wife attempted to kill herself as well, but Nero ordered that she be saved.
Seneca's influence on drama and theatre cannot be overstated. The Roman Empire built large and impressive amphitheatres throughout the Mediterranean, yet Seneca's plays (the only extant texts of the period) were most likely closet dramas, intended to be read rather than performed. While Seneca was a Stoic philosopher--advocating reason and emotional restraint over unbridled passions--his characters are violent and vengeful. The grotesque and bloody imagery of the tragedies speaks to the violent appetites of Ancient Rome, also evidenced in the games of the Coliseum.
The exact number of plays Seneca wrote is uncertain; there are ten extant plays attributed to him, but two of them are most likely not his. All of them are based on Greek subjects: Hercules Furens, Medea, Troades, Phaedra, Agamemnon, Oedipus, Phoenissae, Thyestes. During the Renaissance, Seneca's plays were rediscovered, and provided inspiration for many dramatists, especially those in Elizabethan England. His style and subject created the framework for the revenge tragedy, notably Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy.
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