Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Seneca before Nero

A story from history

“You will kill yourself,” Emperor Nero uttered majestically staring straight into the eyes of Seneca.  Seneca had been summoned to the Palace.  When he was ushered in, the Emperor was playing a violently cheerful tune on his fiddle.  He made Seneca stand and listen to his recital for a long time.  Every now and then he threw a mocking look at Seneca, his former advisor.

“You have the liberty to choose the means of your death,” the Emperor said with ostensible magnanimity.

“That’s very generous of you,” said Seneca.

Nero glowered at him for a moment, ran the bow on his fiddle to produce a culminating crescendo and then handed over the fiddle to the maid who stood near him holding a chalice of wine. The Emperor took the wine from her hand just as he handed over the fiddle and took a sip.

“Death,” said the Emperor, solemn and mocking at once.  “Death is the wish of some, the relief of many, and the end of all.  Which is it for you, Seneca?”

The Emperor was throwing at him his own words, Seneca knew.

“Man is often more frightened than hurt.  He suffers more from imagination than from reality,” Seneca said.  “I’m more hurt than frightened. But I embrace reality bravely.”

“Good, good,” the Emperor chuckled.  “You brought this upon yourself.  I had forgiven you too much.  I overlooked all the allegations against you: corruption, amassing wealth, your lust to be equal to the Emperor. Yet you dared to conspire against the Emperor.”

“When the Emperor becomes like the captain of a ship which destroys the little boats in the ocean, he has no right to sail on.”

“Ha ha ha, the same old Seneca with wise words.  Words won’t save you now, old man.  You once counselled me that when the captain does not know the port, all the winds are unfavourable to him.  I know the port, old man.  You are the iceberg blocking my way.”

“When disasters are waiting to fall upon a man, he becomes blind.  You don’t see clearly, Nero.  Power has blinded you.  Your power will be useless to you soon.”

Nero gulped down the remaining wine in his chalice and threw the empty chalice at Seneca.  The philosopher ducked and the chalice hit the wall behind him with a clatter.

“Take him away,” Nero commanded.  “Make sure he is dead before tomorrow’s sunrise whatever means he may choose for his end.”

Seneca chooses his death
“I selected my ship when I went on a voyage, I chose the house for my residence, and now I choose my death.”  Seneca cut the veins on his arms one by one.  “Take me to the bathtub if the water is hot enough.”

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” Seneca mumbled as his energy kept draining into the bathtub whose water turned redder and redder.  “A new beginning is awaiting Rome.  New … begin…”


  1. You said a lot in just few words. Amazing!

    1. After giving my first comment, I read it again and saved it for offline reading. It's a masterpiece.

  2. Replies
    1. There's a lot more we could get from Seneca.

  3. A nice read. History always hide jewels of wisdom, only someone search for that.

  4. His bathtub became his sinking ship. But what difference did it make in the end to him who drowned dead under the knowledge of ports and to the other who got blind under the knowledge of ports. Perhaps no-one can know the extent of ports while being on the sea.

    1. Seneca was a bundle of contradictions. I couldn't bring even a fraction of the complexity of his character in the story. I didn't want to make it too boring for a blog.

      What difference does it all make in the end is a question that has bothered me quite a lot.

  5. Absolutely wonderful! A masterpiece indeed!!

    1. That's a big compliment and I'm grateful.


Historical Distortions

18 th century French naturalist the Comte de Buffon wrote that the people of America had small and feeble sex organs so much so the...