In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Seneca's Tragedies

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographical Surveys
  • Text
  • Translations
  • Collections of Essays
  • Dating and Authenticity
  • Sources and Models
  • Stoicism
  • Performance
  • The Self and Self-Consciousness
  • The Emotions
  • Language

Classics Seneca's Tragedies
Susanna Braund
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0062


Lucius Annaeus Seneca (b. c. 4 BCE–d. 65 CE), also known as Seneca the Younger to distinguish him from his father, the rhetorician, was born into an elite Spanish family and educated at Rome. He was renowned for his oratory and writings and as a senator gained enormous power, influence, and wealth. In 39 CE he narrowly escaped being executed by the emperor Gaius, and in 41 he was exiled by Claudius. Claudius’s wife, Agrippina, had him recalled in 49 to be tutor to her son, the future emperor Nero. Seneca was one of Nero’s closest political advisers when the young man came to power in 54. After a few years Seneca’s influence waned, and in 62 he in effect retired from public life to devote himself to philosophy. He was implicated in the unsuccessful conspiracy against Nero in 65 and took his own life. His prose works were voluminous. Those that survive include a number of essays on important aspects of Stoic philosophy and Roman life as well as twenty books of letters from the last years of his life, which also deal with life and death from a Stoic perspective. Of his poetic output there survive eight tragedies as well as a play of doubtful authenticity, Hercules Oetaeus. A further play, Octavia, on a Roman historical theme and including Seneca as one of its characters, is transmitted in one of the two branches of transmission of Senecan tragedies but is rarely regarded as genuine (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies Online article for Latin Drama).

Introductory Works

Sorensen 1984, Conte 1994, and Chiarini 2004 all supply useful introductions, as do Henry 1982 and Herington 1982, which both focus chiefly on the tragedies. The range of Seneca’s output and the reluctance to view his oeuvre holistically is addressed by Ker 2006.

  • Chiarini, Gioachino. 2004. Introduzione al teatro latino. Milan: A. Mondadori.

    Brief overview (pp. 114–131).

  • Conte, Gian Biagio. 1994. Latin literature: A history. Translated by Joseph B. Solodow, revised by Don Fowler and Glenn W. Most. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    This essential literary history discusses drama under the empire on pp. 403–404, Seneca on pp. 408–425.

  • Henry, Elisabeth. 1982. Seneca. In Ancient writers: Greece and Rome. Vol. 2, Lucretius to Ammianus Marcellinus. Edited by T. James Luce, 807–832. New York: Scribner’s.

    Overview of Seneca, giving prominent place to the tragedies; sees self-discovery as the central theme of his entire oeuvre. Brief bibliography.

  • Herington, C. J. 1982. The younger Seneca. In Cambridge history of classical literature. Vol. 2, Latin literature. Edited by E. J. Kenney and W. V. Clausen, 511–532. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Intelligent introduction dominated by discussion of the tragedies (pp. 519–530).

  • Ker, James. 2006. Seneca, man of many genres. In Seeing Seneca whole: Perspectives on philosophy, poetry, and politics. Edited by Katharina Volk and Gareth D. Williams, 19–41. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    On the amazing diversity of Seneca’s literary output and the reluctance to view Seneca holistically, which has at times even led to the view that there were two Senecas.

  • Sorensen, Villy. 1984. Seneca, the humanist at the court of Nero. Translated by W. Glyn Jones. Edinburgh: Canongate.

    General book on Seneca; devotes one chapter to the tragedies (pp. 240–290), providing an overview.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.