figuring out seneca

13HUGHES-master495-v2Bettany Hughes at The New York Times:

The name Seneca brings a particular image to mind: a gaunt, half-naked old man, glaring wildly, his veins open, his lifeblood seeping into the small bath beneath him after he was forced to commit suicide. Painted by Rubens, memorialized by Dante in his first circle of hell, gilded into medieval manuscripts alongside Plato and Aristotle, Seneca has come to represent the perils of proximity to absolute power. The central question of James Romm’s “Dying Every Day” is this: When we confront this tragic Roman wordsmith, tutor to the emperor Nero (and, some argue, the power behind that terrible throne), who stares back at us? Is it a tyrannodidaskalos, a tyrant-teacher? Is he the ultimate exemplar of Stoicism, a would-be philosopher king? Or is Seneca simply an accretion of history, a phantom constructed to fit our ravening for heroes, for antiheroes and for the sensational in the stories of antiquity?

Teasing out these conundrums, Romm, the James H. Ottaway Jr. professor of classics at Bard College, gives us a fresh and empathetic exploration of a man who, tantalizingly, seems destined to stay just out of reach.

more here.