In recent excerpts, we have looked at passages relating to what is meant by the language about form, first from Plato, then Aristotle on Plato, and then Cicero on the path from Socrates through Aristotle, have been cited. There is nothing exhaustive about this inventory of excerpts, though they are helpful. Here, we look at Seneca.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. — A.D. 65, usually simply known as “Seneca”, or else “Seneca the Younger” to distinguish him from his father, Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Elder) usually follows after Cicero (106 B.C. — 43 B.C.) in modern histories of Roman Stoic philosophy. Stoicism is, of course, Greek in its origins, but became a Latin inheritance, and was, perhaps, better suited to the temperament of Latin culture than was Platonism. The chronological priority Cicero enjoys in the Latin Stoic tradition, however, is overshadowed by the priority of influence that Seneca enjoys as a source for our knowledge of Stoic ethics , if not Stoicism itself. (Sadly, some significant sections of Cicero have been lost.) Stoicism is often touted as more practical, more pragmatic, than Platonism; perhaps accordingly, it may not come as a surprise to learn that the Stoic Seneca was, as is often noted, a senior advisor to the emperor Nero. He was forced to commit suicide in A.D. 65 because of his suspected involvement in plotting against the emperor; his Letters were likely written during retirement after A.D. 62.
Seneca was a rather eclectic Stoic, however. Arguments have been made to include him in the history of the Platonic tradition.  Certainly both his familiarity and engagement with the larger Greco-Roman philosophical tradition makes him fit to be included in this series of excerpts, which largely focus on Plato, and which are largely preparatory for other work here.
I am packing my library for a move, but dawdling in some of the books I should be carefully Tetris-ing into boxes. As I do, I am running across passages that are worth putting up here. Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual is one of several works with such passages.
We have examined the Homeric idea of the good and goodness here before on Into the Clarities, and it is worth noting that the Platonic idea of the philosopher is set against the background of the ideal of the Homeric hero. We have also looked at the kind of cosmos in which the stars were thought to hold sway, such as in the opinion voiced by Seneca the Younger, below. Here below, the difference introduced by reason (λογος) in the ancient Homeric world stands out as remarkable; the post-Platonic and Late Antique model of reason is also contrasted with developments in the later Middle Ages. After Aquinas, the will played a more and more prominent role in anthropological models and in the way that individual virtue was understood. (On this note, see Bonnie Kent’s Virtues of the Will, which I also began dipping into.) Continue reading
The following is a fairly accurate transcript of a talk I gave at a conference organized by the Pappas Patristics Institute at Hellenic College/Holy Cross in early March of this year (2017). I was flattered that nearly all of the attendees at my session skipped the following session to extend the Q&A time by nearly an hour. I am grateful to my respondent for his helpful feedback, and to those who attended my presentation for their stimulating questions.
I am still reading through the primary and secondary literature to evaluate responsibly the assertions I made in that talk. Some of my work to dig into the primary and secondary literature shall appear here on Into the Clarities, as four of them are nearing completion (although “approaching completion” is a condition that can, in my excessive caution, fall prey to Zeno’s paradox).
Hurriedly preparing for this conference paper, and especially reading voraciously in the wake of delivering this paper (to weigh its merits), has likely been the primary reason for my relative silence here at Into the Clarities for many months now (and the reason I had to halt work on the second Ullmann post).
During the conference, I frequently went off-page on a tear to clarify points when I’d made marginal notes to myself that I should do so — I had a stack of books by Augustine and Weber and Midgley with me, and read from several excerpts and discussed these relative to the points I was making. Here below, I have made a small attempt at inserting sentences to give at least some stubs for those mini-digressions and clarifications.
Here is something close to the talk I delivered.
Two important features of all modern polities are (1) an emphasis on proper procedure and (2) a systematic ensurance of popular consent. Contrary to common expectation, these do not come directly from ancient Greece, leapfrogging into the present, nor do they spring ex nihilo from later Enlightenment conceptions of political life. Rather, they first take on their later forms by way of Late Antique and Medieval monastic and ecclesiastical environments. While we should not wish to make history tidier than it is –the lines of influence are messy ones– this particular line is significant enough that, even if it is later joined by other tributaries, it deserves to be singled out.
In this set of posts we shall look at a trajectory from roughly Benedict of Nursia to Marsilius of Padua, looking over our shoulder, later on, at Aristotle and Cicero. At the end, we shall ask some questions about the meaning of the secular, secularism, and secularity, as illuminated by this history.
In the previous entry, we looked at the Rule of Benedict. Here, we look at the lead-up to a crucial stage in the secularization (i.e., an exportation into the saeculum) of features of the Rule in the writings and life of Gregory I, Roman Pope, also known as Gregory the Great, or (less fortunately) as Gregory the Dialogist.