The eldest was Junius Annaeus Gallio, who as governor of Achaea declined to exercise jurisdiction over Paul (Acts 18:11–17). Marcus Annaeus’s third son Annaeus Mela was an important financier and the father of Lucan (Marcus Annaeus Lucanus) the poet.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger) was born the middle son at Corduba, Iberia (modern Córdoba, Spain). He became the leading Roman intellectual of his day and a successful orator, lawyer, tragedian, Stoic philosopher, statesman, and wealthy financier.
Seneca the Younger studied the Greek poets and playwrights and law in his youth. He was also attracted to the mysticism associated with Pythagorean philosophy. Later in life he adopted Stoicism. As a young man, Seneca served in the Roman administration of Egypt under Tiberius (16–31 c.e.) where he gained experience as an administrator and financier.
He also acquired a taste for natural philosophy, studying geology, marine life, and meteorology. After 31 c.e. Seneca went to Rome to train as a Roman lawyer. There he distinguished himself with brilliant legal oratory, causing the emperor Caligula to threaten his life.
He was accused of having illicit relations with Julia Livilla, sister of Caligula. The reason for the accusation is not clear but the notorious Valeria Messalina (c. 22–48 c.e.) may have been involved as an opponent of the potential wealth and power of Seneca.
Seneca went into exile on Corsica, and while there he wrote numerous works, including tragedies, poems, and essays. In 49 c.e. Seneca was appointed a praetor by the Senate and recalled to Rome by the empress Agrippina to serve as the tutor of her son, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus.
Then aged 12, he would become emperor Nero after the poisoning death of the emperor Claudius in 54 c.e. During the first five years of the reign of Nero both Seneca and Burrus, a Roman army officer, aided the management of the public affairs of Rome.
They were able to restrain Nero and Agrippina. Neither one actually held office but were able to influence public affairs to the benefit of the empire. Nero eventually listened to the more demagogic of his courtiers who encouraged his murderous impulses. They also sowed suspicion in Nero’s mind about Seneca and Burrus.
In 58 c.e. Seneca was the target of political attacks by a number of people, including Publius Suillius Rufus, on an array of charges from sleeping with the emperor’s mother to introducing Nero to pederasty to abuse of power.
However, the most serious charge was the contrast between Seneca’s philosophical teachings and his political practice. Using his position with Nero, Seneca was able to gain fame and wealth. During the early years of Nero’s reign Seneca and Burrus were almost as powerful as Nero.
Eventually, Marcus Suillius Nerullinus charged Seneca with hypocrisy for denouncing tyranny while tutoring a tyrant. He also charged that there was no philosophy in the world that showed how to gain the immense wealth held by Seneca or that justified Seneca’s opulent spending.
In 62 c.e. Burrus died under suspicious circumstances, which broke Seneca’s power. To escape Nero he retired with the emperor’s permission, and in the three remaining years of his life he wrote on philosophy, including Epistuale Morales to Lucilius the Younger.
He traveled a good deal with his second wife, Paulina, and rarely visited Rome. In 65 c.e. the conspiracy against Nero conducted by Caius Calpurnius Piso, and others, implicated Seneca. Nero ordered Seneca to commit suicide, which he did.
Seneca’s death is described in the works of Tacitus, and his surviving literary works include 12 philosophic essays. His essay Consolationes (On Consolation) expressed his grief at the loss of sons. His essay De Clementia, addressed to Nero, commends mercy in a ruler. His De vita beata and De Otio discuss living as a Stoic sage.
Seneca’s surviving meteorological essay was, as was his work on scientific questions in Naturales Quaestiones, inspired by the Stoic philosophy of Poseidonius. Nine of Seneca’s plays have survived. They are tragedies that express the Stoic belief that disaster comes when passion destroys reason.
They were greatly influenced by the plays of Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles. Of Seneca’s letters 124 have survived. His surviving satire, Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii (The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius) ridicules the deification of the emperor Claudius.