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Bronze replica believed to possibly represent Seneca at the Getty Villa
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Stoic philosopher and senior Roman statesman during the reign of Nero, whom he attempted to educate to better judgement, whose administration he headed with acumen and devotion, and by whom he was ultimately ordered to die, suspected of conspiring to overthrow the emperor (and, perhaps, even succeed him himself). Seneca's suicide has become nearly legendary, and has inspired numerous works of art of the highest order.

Unlike many Stoics, however, who were openly, harshly, and vociferously hostile to Epicureanism, Seneca was liberally positive towards its basic tenets: Seneca clearly recognized that Epicurus had propagated prudence and moderation, yet had been slandered for love of luxury and debauchery instead; he openly advised that Epicurus' legacy receive careful reconsideration by those who frowned upon hedonism in general, and who saw Epicurus and the Cyrenaics as indistinct from each other.

Seneca's fundamental tolerance and, indeed, warm appreciation of Epicureanism is best expressed in his dictum that wisdom is not exclusive property of any particular philosophical school, and that one would be wisest to be eclectic, not dogmatic in one's pursuit of truth.

Seneca refers to various tenets of Epicureanism in the first thirty of his Epistulae Morales addressed to Lucilius -- written more probably with posterity in mind rather than with that single correspondent. Such references include direct quotation translated verbatim, paraphrase, criticism, and various tangents. Unlike Cicero, who presents symposium-like debates of Epicureanism that heavily favor the opposing side, Seneca generally reveals a profound understanding of and sympathy for its core tenets.

Indeed, one of the greatest accomplishments of specifically Roman philosophy is this eclectic approach, this rapprochment of Stoic and Epicurean ideals; while the two differ significantly, and on numerous issues, the fusion of Stoic richness and Epicurean lucidity yields a remarkable alloy of Greco-Roman thought, with vast ramifications in later, and modern philosophy.

References to Epicurus:

  • Hodiernum hoc est, quod apud Epicurus nanctus sum; soleo enim et in aliena castra transire, non tamquam transfuga, sed tamquam explorator. "Honesta", inquit, "res est laeta paupertas." Illa vero non est paupertas, si laeta est. Non qui parum habet, sed qui plus cupit, pauper est.

(Epistulae II)

Today's [thought-of-the-day] is one I have found in Epicurus; for I habitually cross over to the enemy camp-- not as a deserter, but as a scout. "Contented poverty", he says, "is an honorable state." It really isn't poverty at all, if it is contented. It is not he who has little, but he who craves more than he has who is poor.

  • Et hoc quoque ex alienis hortulis sumptum est. "Magnae divitiae sunt lege naturae composita paupertas." Lex autem illa naturae scis quos nobis terminos statuat? Non esurire, not sitire, non algere... parabile est, quod natura desiderat, et adpositum. Ad supervacua sudatur.

(Epistulae IV)

This, too, has been gathered from someone else's [i.e. Epicurus'] garden. "Poverty, when conformed to the law of nature, is great wealth." Do you know what limits this law of nature imposes on us? Not to be hungry, not to be thirsty, not to be cold... That which nature demands is easily prepared, and easy to reach. It is superfluities that [men] sweat to acquire.

  • Metrodorum et Hermarchum et Polyaenum magnos viros non schola Epicuri sed conturbernium fecit.

(Epistulae VI)

It was not the school of Epicurus [alone], but living under the same roof [with him] that made Metrodorus, Hermarchus, and Polyaenus great men.

  • Haec... ego non multis, sed tibi; satis enim magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus.

(Epistulae VII)

I [say/write] this for you, not for the many because we are large enough an audience for each other.

  • Id non de meo fiet;adhuc Epicurum complicamus, cuius hanc vocem hodierno die legi: "Philosophiae servias oportet, ut tibi contingat vera libertas."

(Epistulae VIII)

This [saying] will not be from among my own. We bring in Epicurus once again, whose following phrase I read today: for you to attain true freedom, you must be a slave to philosophy."

  • Potest fiere, ut me interroges, quare ab Epicuro tam multa bene dicta referam potius quam nostrorum. Quid est tamen, quare tu istas Epicuri voces putes esse, non publicas?

(Epistulae VIII)

You may perhaps ask me why I refer to so many good sayings by Epicurus, rather than (to others) by our own [Stoic school]. Yet why would you consider these phrases to be Epicurus' (own, exclusive) and not in the public domain?

  • An merito reprehendat in quadam epistula Epicurus eos, qui dicunt sapientem se ipso esse contentum et propter hoc amico non indigere, desideras scire. Hoc obicitur Stilboni ab Epicuro et iis quibus summum bonum visum est animus impatiens.

(Epistulae IX)

You wish to know whether Epicurus is right, in one of his letters, to find fault with those who say that that the wise man is self-sufficient, and thus needs no friends. This is Epicurus' objection to Stilbo and to those who see the greatest good in a soul without feeling.

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