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The Death of Seneca

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The Death of Seneca, by Peter Paul Rubens, c.1614, Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman truth seeker, orator, flesh presser and tutor to the Emperor Nero, stands in a bowl of warmth water, making ready for demise. Although retired from public life, the Spanish-born ‘Roman Socrates’ had been implicated in the Pisonian Conspiracy of AD 65 in opposition to his former pupil. As befits a senior Roman figure, he had been ‘invited’ to steal his possess life. The veins of his palms, wrists and legs had been opened and he stepped into the warmth water to lengthen the waft of blood, in the end bleeding to demise. 

It is miles a dramatic episode, recounted by Tacitus in his Annals. There is, on the alternative hand, far extra to Rubens’ broadly imitated masterpiece of 1614 than meets the note: the origins of this visible characterize of Seneca’s suicide hint a tortuous direction.

In the 16th century a classical marble statue was as soon as unearthed in Rome, which is now on present in the Louvre. Carved from shining unlit stone, it regarded as if it would possibly most likely maybe present an aged man, grimacing with distress, the veins of his limbs bulging. It was as soon as claimed correct now that this was as soon as a characterize of the demise Seneca, the title at some level of which the work came to be known. Rubens was as soon as amongst the many who had been dazzled by it and it impressed him to paint his possess version of the scene.

Seneca was as soon as a figure who transcended the shift from pagan to Christian Europe. He regarded, continually severely heroically, in the works of the colossal writers of medieval Europe – Dante, Chaucer, Petrarch – and later influenced the college of neostoic philosophers, amongst whom Justius Lipsus was as soon as an influential figure. This Flemish philologist and humanist, who was as soon as a chum of Rubens, sought to plot the historic teachings of the Stoics, of whom Seneca was as soon as basically the most notorious, effectively appropriate with Christian teachings. De Constantia (On Constancy), published in 1583, would perchance even be his most influential and effectively-known work.

The influence of Lipsus on Rubens’ composition turns into obvious. On Seneca’s left, a doctor severs the Stoic’s arteries with a scalpel. Here isn’t any longer how Tacitus described the scene. In the Annals, the Roman historian claims that a doctor had willing poison for Seneca. However, equipped that in a Christian society in the 17th century suicide was as soon as a mortal sin, Seneca’s destiny is massaged. It is miles any other hand that takes his life – and so this proto-Christian hero also can yet be saved from eternal damnation. The younger man to Seneca’s factual info his last phrases, as two soldiers in the background plot obvious the deed is executed. 

The identification of the classical sculpture that impressed The Loss of life of Seneca was as soon as soon known as into keep a query to. Doubts had been raised in the 1760s by the German J.J. Winckelmann, a key figure in the event of paintings historic previous, who notion the sculpture could maybe depict a comedian e-book figure of the Roman theatre. For the time being, it is miles on the total steadily known because the Susceptible Fisherman, a figure believed to be wading by water, therefore the absence of legs below the calves: the ‘bowl’ was as soon as merely a Renaissance addition. Such is the convoluted route of creative inspiration and the contingency of historic reality.

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