Seneca: selected dialogues and consolations – ANDERSON (RA)

ANDERSON, Peter J. Seneca: selected dialogues and consolations. Indianapolis: Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2015. Resenha de: DINUCCI, Aldo. Revista Archai, Brasília, n.21, p. 337-340, set., 2017.

This volume presents a selection of Seneca’s dialogues and consolations. It is composed of introduction, the translations of selected Seneca’s dialogues and consolations, biographical information of key individuals, glossary of Latin words, and index of  historical persons. The five parts of the book are  thus briefly described and evaluated below.

The Introduction is divided into eleven sub- sections. In the first subsection, Anderson presents a well-written account of Seneca’s life (p. xi- xiii).  Concerning the philosopher’s exile after his implication in an adulterous affair with Julia Livilla,  Anderson points out that almost all ancient sources consider Seneca not guilty. A weak point in this  argument is that Anderson does not mention the  referred primary historical sources, which would  be useful to the reader.

The next sub-section deals with the literary qualities of Seneca’s philosophical writings. Anderson  correctly points out that literary form and philosophy are, in Seneca, two sides of the same coin, noting  that, through these writings, Seneca is simultaneously aiming at showing literary excellence and at  philosophically persuading the reader. In the third subsection (“A note on the translations”), Anderson discusses the difficulties to render Seneca’s dialogues in English. In order to achieve this, the translator – based on Lindsay’s Oxford classical text – tries to replicate Seneca’s prose, consistently rendering the following six key words:  animus  as  “spirit”, mens as “mind”, virtus as “virtue”, otium  as  “retirement”, bonum as “good”and  malum  as “bad”.

The next sub-section examines the interplay between Seneca and Stoicism. In the historical account of the Stoic school, however, Anderson does not  mention Diogenes of Babylon. Some information  about him should be provided, as he was the first  Stoic philosopher in Rome, being sent to the Eternal City (together with the Academic Carneades and the Peripatetic Critolaus) in 155 BC to appeal a fine,  and to deliver public lectures on Greek philosophy, which much impressed the Romans (cf. Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, vii. 14; Cicero, Academica, ii. 45).

After the historical account, Anderson makes  two important assertions: in the first place, in  Seneca’s time, Stoicism was a “holistic practice of a set of principles and belief “(p. xviii), which is in  marked contrast to the contemporary conception of philosophy; secondly, there are centuries of other  philosophers’ reflections behind Seneca’s arguments.

The next subsections present and clarify the  following Stoic reflections and concepts that underlie Seneca’s philosophical works: the concept of a providential and living god (p. xx), the celebrated  expression “to live according nature”, the idea that each person is responsible for her or his actions  through the rational capacity and the use of impressions (phantasiai), the concept of oikeoisis (p. xxii), and the indifferents (adiaphorap. xxiii).

In this latter sub-section, Anderson correctly notes that, for the Stoics, things as wealth (which was the same of Seneca’s case) and poverty are indifferent  and, therefore, cannot guarantee happiness (p. xxiv), which is an important thing to note, as sometimes Seneca’s wealthy is regarded as inconsistent with  his claims of being a Stoic. In fact, for the Stoics,  wealthy can be used for the good or for the bad, as everything else which is indifferent.

The introduction ends with three informative  sub-sections: the dating and the addresses of the  dialogues and consolations, and a further reading  sub-section.

Anderson translates the following Seneca’s works: “On providence”, “On the resolute nature of the wise man”, “Consolation to Marcia”, “On the happy life”, “On retirement”, “On serenity of the spirit”, “On  the shortness of life”, “Consolation to Polybius”,  “Consolation to his mother Helvia”. The subtitles  of these works are the original and correspondent ones in Latin. My only suggestion with regard to  the translation of the titles is the rendering of  De constantia sapientis  as “On the resolute nature of  the wise man”, which would be better translated as “On the firmness of the wise man”.

Anderson’s translations of Seneca’s selected works are sound. Elucidative footnotes, mainly concerning individuals and historical facts mentioned by Seneca, are supplied. The book ends with biographical information for key individuals, a glossary of Latin words and an index of historical persons.

In summary, the book provides good translations and plenty information concerning Seneca’s  dialogues and consolations. Thus, it is an excellent tool for students and teachers of Latin literature and Stoic philosophy.

Aldo Dinucci – Universidade Federal de Sergipe (Brasil). E-mail: [email protected]

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