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The Empire of the Self

Self-Command and Political Speech in Seneca and Petronius

Christopher Star

Publication Year: 2012

In The Empire of the Self, Christopher Star studies the question of how political reality affects the concepts of body, soul, and self. Star argues that during the early Roman Empire the establishment of autocracy and the development of a universal ideal of individual autonomy were mutually enhancing phenomena. The Stoic ideal of individual empire or complete self-command is a major theme of Seneca’s philosophical works. The problematic consequences of this ideal are explored in Seneca’s dramatic and satirical works, as well as in the novel of his contemporary, Petronius. Star examines the rhetorical links between these diverse texts and demonstrates how the idea that imperial speech structures and reveals the self represents a significant point of contact between two writers generally thought to be antagonists.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii-viii

Redde quod debes, “pay back what you owe,” write both Seneca and Petronius. I cannot hope to repay the friends, colleagues, and institutions that have aided me in completing this book. This expression of gratitude will have to stand as small recompense for the debts I have incurred. My forays into self-address in Seneca and Petronius...

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pp. 1-19

The narratives of two travelers describing their journeys around the Bay of Naples—Lucius Annaeus Seneca and the fictional rogue Encolpius—have come down to us from the early Roman Empire. The account of Seneca, Stoic philosopher, tragedian, tutor, and adviser to the emperor Nero, can be found in letters...

PART I: Soul-Shaping Speech

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1. Senecan Philosophy and the Psychology of Command

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pp. 23-61

Two themes in Seneca’s philosophy are imperium, conceived of as power, command, and empire, and self-address. Seneca frequently uses self-address in his reevaluation of political and military power.1 Seneca’s subordination of military and political imperium to personal imperium may be explicated by moving from the geographic...

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2. Self-Address in Senecan Tragedy

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pp. 62-83

The characters in Seneca’s tragedies talk to themselves. While this trait is not unique to Seneca, Senecan characters address themselves, their souls, or their passions with a frequency that has often attracted the comments of scholars.1 Analyses of Senecan tragic self-address, however, have been lacking. In this chapter...

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3. Self-Address in the Satyricon

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pp. 84-113

As noted in the introduction, there is a striking interplay of narrative themes as Seneca and Encolpius relate their travels. Just as Seneca writes of himself as the “seasick Ulysses,” so Encolpius bills himself as Polyaenus, hounded by the divine wrath of Priapus. When Seneca has his lodging above a bath house, he hears the bothersome...

PART II. Soul-Revealing Speech

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4. Political Speech in De clementia

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pp. 117-139

In the history of social and political thought, it is doubtful that there are two more opposed texts than the American Declaration of Independence and Seneca’s De clementia. Based on Enlightenment thought, the Declaration was written and signed by earnest citizen-soldiers in order to cast off despotism and establish a sovereign...

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5. Soul, Speech, and Politics in the Apocolocyntosis and the Satyricon

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pp. 140-170

Swift’s startling combination of excessively detailed satire on the “Necessities of Nature” with the elevated concerns of the philosopher demonstrates the trajectory I will draw from Seneca’s political and philosophical thoughts on empire, soul, and language to the satire of the Apocolocyntosis and the Satyricon.2 At first glance...

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6. Writing, Body, and Money

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pp. 171-207

Trimalchio’s surprising usurpation of the name of Maecenas, Augustus’ adviser and fabulously wealthy supporter of the arts, is considered by some scholars to have been influenced by Seneca’s own condemnatory description of the man in letter 114.2 Indeed, Seneca’s portrayal of the dissolute Maecenas may be echoed in...

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pp. 209-213

We must now take leave of our two travelers in the knowledge that because both the Satyricon and Seneca’s Epistles have come down to us in incomplete form, we will never know what conclusions they scripted for themselves. The Satyricon ends with a cliffhanger. Yet given the episodic nature of the surviving fragments...


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pp. 216-276


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pp. 277-294


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pp. 295-302

E-ISBN-13: 9781421407265
E-ISBN-10: 1421407264
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421406749
Print-ISBN-10: 1421406748

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 812570846
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Empire of the Self

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Subject Headings

  • García Márquez, Gabriel, ǂd1928- ǂxCriticism and interpretation.
  • Latin literature -- History and criticism.
  • Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 B.C.-65 A.D. -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Petronius Arbiter. Satyricon.
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