- The Cambridge Companion to Seneca ed. by Shadi Bartsch, Alessandro Schiesaro
This Cambridge Companion, carefully edited by Shadi Bartsch and Alessandro Schiesaro, bears witness to the growing interest in Seneca and to the thriving state of Senecan scholarship. After the publication in 2014 of Gregor Damschen and Andreas Heil (eds.), Brill’s Companion to Seneca, it is the second companion entirely devoted to the Roman philosopher and dramatist. Even though Bartsch and Schiesaro’s Companion has roughly 500 pages less than its rather encyclopedic Brill counterpart (and is far more affordable), it nevertheless succeeds in giving an almost complete picture of Seneca’s works, thought, and life. The year 2014 also saw the publication of Jula Wildberger and Marcia L. Colish (eds.), Seneca Philosophus (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter), a volume that may serve as a useful supplement to the Cambridge Companion, allowing the reader [End Page 272] to proceed from fundamental knowledge to more specific aspects of Seneca’s writing and philosophy. Students and scholars alike will benefit greatly from the Bartsch and Schiesaro book, either using it as an introduction, quickly finding out about the history and status quo of the scholarship, or engaging more deeply with specific topics and aspects of Senecan writing.
The articles are divided into four parts. In the first part, “The Senecan Corpus,” the reader familiarizes himself with Seneca’s life (Braund) and writings, which include dramatic works (Trinacty), philosophical prose (Edwards; Roller; Schofield), scientific works (Berno), and the satiric Apocolocyntosis (Freudenburg). Part 2, “Texts and Contexts,” addresses more general topics, such as Seneca’s relationship with and influence on Nero (Ker; Rimell; Little-wood), his dedication to and the function of form and metaphor (Williams; Armisen-Marchetti), and his depiction of emotions (Konstan). Part 3, “Senecan Tensions,” focuses on seemingly incompatible features and contradictions in Seneca’s work: the confrontation between Seneca’s idealized and normal self (Bartsch), the differences between Stoic orthodoxy and Seneca’s originality (Wray on shame; Asmis on volition), practice and theory (Seal), and the integration of Epicurean thought into Stoicism (Schiesaro). The final part, “The Senecan Tradition,” deals with matters of reception, thus spanning Seneca’s Nachleben from antiquity (Setaioli) through the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Mayer) and down to modernity (Citti). Seneca’s afterlife in Christian writers (Torre) and the influence of Seneca’s political thought on early modern writers (Stacey) are discussed separately.
Three contributions best represent the strength and great accomplishment of the Companion, that is, the combination of readability/accessibility and innovative research. Edwards’ essay, entitled “Absent Presence in Seneca’s Epistles: Philosophy and Friendship,” makes a convincing case that the seeming disadvantage of indirect teaching through writing is actually an advantage. Edwards demonstrates how Seneca turns absence, a prerequisite of any epistolary exchange, into something positive. Seneca teaches his student and friend Lucilius to overcome any kind of spatial and temporal distance with the right use of cogitatio: the would-be philosopher can make his absent friend present in his thoughts and converse through books with philosophers long dead. Thus, the right mental technique enables any reader of the Epistles to bridge the distance between present and past, and even to engage with Seneca himself.
Roller analyses “The Dialogue in Seneca’s Dialogues (and Other Moral Essays)” and argues that we should regard the so-called dialogi and other, not generically defined prose works such as De Clementia, De Beneficiis and the Naturales Quaestiones as one group. He shows that it makes sense to subsume them under the genre dialogus because they all share important structural features (addressee, interest in the moral development of the addressee, protreptic intention, universal theme) and because the appearance of different voices (author, addressee, and general interlocutor) marks the works as distinctly dialogical. These elements can be found in the Epistles as well, and Roller brings the dialogues and letters closer together, claiming that they can be differentiated “only with care” (66).
Seneca’s preoccupation with time both influenced and was influenced by his relationship...