Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

The satire of Seneca on the Apotheosis of Claudius commonly called the Apocolocyntosis; online

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his high station and the pleasure of being able to
perform the duties which he owed to Caesar. But
then, at about chapter 12, the writer breaks out in
an effusion of admiration upon that luminary and
of devoted prayers for his long continuance in the
world, which would be astonishing from any Stoic
philosopher whatever, not to specify one who
was in exile by decree of the very prince he was
describing, and who was known to have disliked
him, even if we forget the satire which affords so
visibly ludicrous a contrast. The incongruity is
so glaring that Ruhkopf even denied the authen-
ticity of the Consolatio ad Polybium. But there
are more plausible suppositions to make, and since
the work is generally accepted as his, we must take
it as a difficulty to be explained if Seneca is also
to be left with the authorship of the Ludiis.

There are a few unobtrusive remarks in this
Consolatio which reveal its intention. In chapter
xiii, after praying for Claudius's triumphs in the
North, he adds, quonim me quoqtte spectatorem
futurum^ quae ex virtutibtis eius primum obtinet
locuniy promittit dementia. Presently, congratulat-
ing even the exiles of Claudius's reign, he addresses
him with the words : per te habent tit forttmae
saevientis modiim. ita spem quoqtie ^nelioris eitisdent
ac praesentis qiiietem. At the very end, Seneca
apologizes for the possible poverty of his consola-
tions to Polybius with the plea : Cogita qtiam nan
possit is alienae vacare consolationi, quern sua mala


occupattim tenent^ et quam non facile Latina ei
homini verba siicciirrant quefn barbarorum incon-
dittos et barbaris qiioque humanioribus gravis
fremitus circumsonat.

This is evidently the vital point of the whole
piece. It is a touching hint which there was
reason to hope might be repeated where it would
do the most good. That the touch apparently-
missed its effect has nothing to do with the ques-
tion of inconsistency between this bit of literary
work and the Ludus.

This particular contrast suggests the others be-
tween Seneca^s life and philosophy, which have
been often and amply enough dealt with. The
spectacle of the witty preacher of the beauties of
philosophic detachment rolling in a material opu-
lence so enormous as to stir the envy of distant
provinces, the professed teacher of virtue lend-
ing his artistic aid to some of the monumental
hypocrisies of Nero's meretricious reign, though it
all gives picturesqueness to Seneca's character,
has been a good deal blamed. He has even been
charged with dishonor for remaining at all at a
court and in a capital whose morals we may sup-
pose to have been so distasteful to him. But it
seems evident that he loved Rome and life in the
great capital with all the ardor of an adopted
provincial of the first generation. Here lies the
cause of much of his bitterness against the man
who had sent him into exile. There is no real


need of undertaking to defend his inconsistencies.
Evidently to call the emperor a star of blessing to
the world, while he is alive, a paragon of every
excellence amply filling a place of almost super-
human responsibility, and then to heap mockery
upon the memory of his notorious defects as soon
as he is dead, is a performance open to criticism.
But we must admit that there was a good deal of
temptation. Havet's judgment is more just than
that of many of Seneca's critics : Je ne crois pas
que rien soil phis fait que ces deux lectures ^ ainsi
rapprochees Vune de V autre, pour inspirer le d^goM
du despotism. It was a time when tactful flattery
was one of the few means for getting on in the
world. Honorable modes of dealing were at a

And it may be that Seneca cared less for the
realization of high ideals in life than for the formu-
lation of the ideals themselves as such. He had
the strong man's controlling tendency toward self-
realization, arriving at something. He satisfied
this ideally by the artistic expression of his
thoughts. Practically he secured influence and
afifluence by the only means possible. Sincerity
and hypocrisy are terms much less worth con-
troversy in the minds of some men than others,
and the philosophy of subtle distinctions or even
of showy paradoxes is perhaps not specially apt
to breed heroes. The Stoic doctrine of "living
according to nature" would indeed scarcely bear


the interpretation that one should always take
whatever means are naturally adapted to produce
the desired results, though Seneca himself remarks
{De Const, Sap, xiv. 2) of the wise man dealing with
adversity, ilium . . . tamquam canem acrem obiecto
cibo leniet^ nee indignabiticr aliqniel impendere, tit
limen transeat, eogitans et in p07itibiis qidbusdam
pro transitu dart. But still he may have con-
sidered that the man who lets his ideals interfere
with his getting on makes rather a sorry figure in
the world.

Perhaps there really is a certain moral bookish-
ness in a good deal of the reprobation that has
been addressed to his rather unheroic methods of
smoothing his path to an end desired. Unfortu-
nately for his standing with posterity, Seneca com-
posed his flattery so artistically that as literature
it survived the occasion which called for such a
lubricant. Then when, after Claudius's death, the
practical man of letters was tempted both pru-
dently to relieve his mind and amuse himself at
the expense of the new occasion, that also he did
so entertainingly as to leave material for an un-
fortunate parallel.

There is another way of explaining the Consola-
tio ad Polybium. Diderot has maintained, in the
Essay already cited, that the adulations in the
piece are all ironical. He argues from the char-
acter of it that Seneca could not have written it
with the serious intention to be inferred from its


face. Dio Cassius says, apparently of this work,
that in later life he was ashamed of it and destroyed
it.^ What we have, then, says Diderot, either was
written later by some one to injure him, or was,
supposing the genuine one to have survived in
spite of Seneca's efforts, entirely satiric. Sum-
ming up the discrepancies between this and the
Apocolocyntosis, he adds : Si la reponse que fai
faite a ces reproches n'est pas solide, il ny en a

This is simple, but hardly convincing. At the
same time, the unprejudiced reader who is familiar
with Seneca elsewhere will be likely to have a
series of easily graded impressions in regard to its
references to Caesar. First he meets merely polite
allusions to the emperor, in whose service Polybius
was an important functionary. There are shades
of the irony of the man out of court favor, the
philosopher's sour grapes, and a hint perhaps for
an afterthought in the persistent tendency to iden-
tify Claudius with fortune, a notoriously capricious
divinity; till presently the writer's own repeated
allusions carry him over into a burst of sarcasti-
cally fulsome enthusiasm for the emperor to whom
Seneca himself owed so little gratitude. It is
restrained with sufficient finesse within the bounds

1 Dio, Ixi. lO: . . . toiJs re Ko\(kKe{)ovT6.<i Tiva dLa^dWujv ovtcj
TT]v MeaaaXivav Kal roifs KXavdiov i^eXevOipovs iOdoirevaev ware Kal
^L^Xiov <7<f)i<TL iK TTJs vrf}crov w^fixpaif iwatvovs avrwp ^x^^> ^ Aterd
raOra vtt alax^^V^ dinfjXeLxpe.


of external plausibility, and the motive for it all
appears in the writer's modest hope to "be there
to see" the glories he has in mind.

But that Seneca later tried in shame to destroy
the Consolatio is a contradiction of its claim to be
an absolutely academic satire. This is a character
which it seems best to assume for it in a modified
way, admitting the practical motive that Seneca
had to serve. The piece may easily have been
finely ironic for the satisfaction of his own inner
consciousness, while cynically unscrupulous to the
half -discerning public. The apology must simply
pass for what it is worth, in accounting for the
incongruities between what Seneca had to say
about Claudius in the Consolatio and in the Apocolo-
cyntosis. And it is quite possible that Seneca may
have been inclined to even greater bitterness against
Claudius in the latter, through the shame that he
felt for the vain flatteries of the former.

Next comes the objection that such a satire as
this was a reflection upon the whole Roman admin-
istration, and inconceivable from a man in so
intimate a relation to the government as Seneca,
who was understood to have written the very eulogy
which the young Nero pronounced at the funeral
of the late emperor. On the face of the situation
there might seem to be, indeed, as Stahr suggests,^
danger of affront to the surviving authorities, in
thus satirizing the solemn governmental act of

1 Agrippinay p. 335. II. Abth. ii. 2, Der Verfasser,^


Claudius's deification. But we must take into
account both the temper of the public mind and
the particular propensities of the powers that hap-
pened at the moment to be. To such legalists
as the Romans, so long as the proper thing was
formally and officially done, the underlying feel-
ings involved in it were of less account; this is
evident enough in the common attitude of the
upper classes toward the national religion at this
period. Caligula's crazy performances as a divinity
obviously brought the whole idea of the imperial
deification into a degree of disrepute, undermining
whatever dignity attached to its first august sub-
jects. Of this change of sentiment the government
did not of course take cognizance. That the habit
of the apotheosis, however, was being carried to
excess, we need not go so far ahead as Lucian's
satires ^ or Julian's humorous display of the defects
of his deified predecessors, for expressions of the
opinion. It was only twenty-five years after Clau-
dius that the dying Vespasian cynically observed,^
VaCyputOy deusjio. If a sober, bourgeois old cam-
paigner of an emperor could feel disposed to this
kind of a joke on his death-bed, the idea must have
been common enough to acquit a free-thinking
philosopher of any especial irreverence, even
toward the government, in dealing frivolously with
the formal solemnity of a consecratio so unen-
thusiastic as this of Claudius.

1 See p. 74 seq, ^ Suet. Vesp. 23.


And who were the government that should take
umbrage? Nero's half -real, half-affected dislike
for the weariness of officialdom went along with
his passion for art as his sphere of interest. Set
speeches on government business he got somebody
else to write for him, while he was busy with music
and poetry, or amused himself with nocturnal es-
capades of a quite irresponsible character. He was
no man to scruple at the enjoyment of a privately
circulated skit Hke the Apocolocyntosis, — indeed, we
have the well-known joke of his own making on the
subject, not to mention his insulting pun on the
word morariy Agrippina, as we have seen, too, had
ample reason to appreciate a bit of literature that
would tend to weaken the prestige of Claudiuses
son Britannicus, and so strengthen Nero*s question-
able position upon the throne. There has been
ambiguity in the views of the critics upon this point.
It is cited in argument against Seneca's authorship
of the satire;^ and yet we know that he was counted
upon by Agrippina to render service to her ambition
for Nero, even from the time of his recall from
Corsica. The fact is certainly pertinent that the
crimes with which, in the course of the satire, the
unhappy Claudius is charged, both in Heaven and
in Hades, are those which he owed to Messalina
and the freedmen. Those in which Agrippina had
a hand were either ignored or left to the vaguest

^ Suet. Neroy 33.

2 Stahr, Agrippina, pp. 335-337.


allusion. There seems to be one exception, — the
death of Claudius's prospective son-in-law, L. Si-
lanus, which we know was intended to secure the
marriage of the emperor's daughter Octavia to
Nero. The motive is, of course, unmentioned here ;
and the fact of Silanus's downfall on a trumped-up
charge is ingeniously adapted to the needs of the
writer's situation, Claudius's part in the case being
criticised in the heavenly senate house, not, for-
sooth, because the charge was untrue, — in fact its
truth is taken for granted ; Vitellius, who made it,
was still living, — but because its punishment in-
volved a reflectioi^ upon the code of ethics prevail-
ing in heaven. This was a joke which Agrippina
had abundant cause to appreciate.

We do not have to maintain, however, that our
author made no mistakes. We must not be betrayed
by our defence of the thesis that Seneca wrote the
Ludtis into an attempt to explain away everything
that looks like imprudence or bad judgment. There
was another side to the matter we have been dis-
cussing. Amusing and acceptable as the Apocolo-
cyntosis might be to the ruling powers for the
moment, it involved in many ways a real affront
to the dignity of the Caesars. Such a jest as the
allusion to Crassus, tarn fatuum ut etiam regnare
posset, would be apt to leave an after-taste in any
imperial mouth. And as to Agrippina, if the phrase
quid in suo cubiculo faciaty in chapter 8, really
prefers to the irregularity of Claudius's marriage to


her, as it is commonly taken to do, it seems to mark
a strange perversity of imprudence on the part of
the author. The reasons urged comically in heaven
in defence of Silanus (c. 8) were those really offered
in the Senate by VitelHus in favor of the marriage
of Agrippina. I think that this particular reference
can be otherwise plausibly explained ; but a remark
of Havet is so true of Seneca in general, and so
useful to keep as an hypothesis in reserve, that it
is worth quoting here : Ces gens d' esprit ont beau
itre souple jtcsqiC a compromettre leur dignity : il y a
dans V esprit mime des hommes de lettres je 7ie sais
quoi d' indocile et de frondeiir qni les condamne d
bless er tout en Jlattant. lis ont besoin d'etre ap-
platidiSy et lafotde n'applaudit qicautant que V^cri-
vain trouve le mot vif qui satisfait la conscience du
public et la siefine mime.

The alleged discrepancies between particulars in
the Apocolocyntosis and the character of Seneca's
writings elsewhere, for the most part do not need
to be taken very seriously. The gibe, for instance,
at Claudius's desire to make toga-clad citizens out
of Gauls, Britons, Spaniards, and Germans — not to
mention the outlandish nations of the frozen North
— is cited as one of the things that could not have
come from the cosmopolitan-minded Seneca, who
with such a modern point of view considered man
as man above the distinctions of citizenship. Here,
however, we have our author voicing the traditions
of the Roman aristocracy. Above every serious


consideration we have the artist making fun, not
elaborating political philosophy, and he is present-
ing to imagination chiefly the superficial absurdity
of a lot of barbarians posing in a strange and diffi-
cult attire, quite as modern humorists have seen a
ridiculous side to the sometimes maladroit adoption
of civilized garb by inexperienced Polynesians
under the leading of the progressive missionary.
Seneca was broad enough in his political sym-
pathies, but that is quite a different matter from
desiring to Romanize all the rest of the world,
even with the franchise; for this was largely a
question of taste.

Then there is the taunt of Claudius's provincial
birth, apparently so inconsiderate from the Cor-
dovan Seneca. But in Claudius's case there was
special provocation, in the species of apostolic suc-
cession which it seems to have been one of his
hobbies to establish for the history of his house,
and which is alluded to here in his Homeric verse
of introduction. And as to the general ineptitude
of a Spaniard's ridiculing Claudius's liberality to
provincials and his birth in Gaul, if such a plane
of human nature is involved at all, this kind of
jealousy is quite as likely to appear in a notiveaii
venu as in one to the manor born. As M. Boissier
has remarked,^ in speaking of the Spanish predom-
inance in the Roman literature of the Silver Age,
Les Espagnols ont resiste les Remains pcndartt detix

1 Lecture, 5 Dec, 1898.


sihles et denii^ et puis Us sont deveniis les plus
romains de tons.

Mockery of Claudius's bodily defects was another
matter perhaps unworthy of Seneca, but hardly a
proper basis for deduction. When the philosopher
set out to make game of the very unheroic applicant
for admission among the gods, he could scarcely
be expected to neglect such an obvious opportunity
as the limp and stammer which supplemented
Claudius's stupidity. This is simply swallowed
up in the larger question, according to Coleridge's
second canon of criticism, whether the whole thing
was worth doing at all.

Such particular bits of misrepresentation as the
gaudium publicum (c. 12) at Claudius's death, and
the alleged manner of the death itself, are certainly
no evidence at all against Seneca's authorship of
the Ludus. The malice involved in the first has
been already admitted for him. Both inaccuracies,
especially the choice of the official account of
Claudius's death instead of the true one, would suit
Agrippina and her circle, and point to rather than
away from Seneca as the writer.

If we look for references to Claudius elsewhere
in Seneca's works, other than those in the Consola-
tio ad Polybium, we find only two, both of them
quite consistent with the aspect of which the Apo-
colocyntosis shows a caricature. In De Beneficiis, i.
15, 5, Seneca quotes with approval a remark of
Crispus Passienus, Malo divi Attgtisti itidiciunty


malo Claiidii beneficium^ evidently referring to the
caprices of Claudius's administration. In the first
book De dementia (c. 23) we have an enlightened
criticism upon Claudius's stupid legality. Pater
tuus, Seneca says to Nero, p lures intra qtiinqiten-
nium ctileo insuit, quant omnibus seculis insutos
accepimuSy and goes on to show that instead of re-
pressing parricide Claudius simply made it familiar.
This is the very character that in exaggerated lines
appears in the Ludus,

One of the curious allusions here is that to the
Osiris cult, with the words evprjKafiev avy')(^aLpco/jL€v.^
In St. Augustine's De Civ. Deiy vi. 10, already re-
ferred to, the quotation from Seneca's lost work
On Superstitions contains a reference to the same
subject, which is interesting as another indication
of Seneca's temperament. He speaks of the mad
rejoicing which followed the feigned discovery of
Osiris, and adds : Huic tamen . . . furori certum
tempus est, Tolerabile est semel anno insanire.
Apparently when he wrote of Claudius's entry
into Hades he thought such a time had come for
the wan souls of the late emperor's victims.

Reference already made to Seneca's modern
point of view brings up another outcropping in
the Apocolocyntosis which indicates something
nearly related, — in his impHed general criticisms
upon the government of his country, his high-bred
cynical assumption that the ruling powers will
1 See note, c. 13.


naturally be rather inferior anyway, considering
the essential might of brutality. It is that attitude
of mild irony which does not take the trouble to
protest. Itaque, he says (c. 6), quod Galhi^n facere
oportebaty Romam cepit, a most adaptable allusion.
Compare also (c. 14) Claudio magis iniqiium vide-
batur qiiam novum, (c. 10) in caelo 7ton fit, and the
gentle intimation (c. i) of the functions of the
superintendent of the Appian road. These things
bring to mind the " silk-stocking '* element in poli-
tics, or out of it, which is at least as modern as it
is ancient.

On the question of the relation of the style
of the Lndus to that of Seneca's acknowledged
writings, the critics differ among themselves.
Lindemann, who lays as much stress as any one
upon this point against the tradition, repeats the
usual description of Seneca's ordinary style, as
artificial, antitheticis fontinlis concisa, sententio-
lanint luminibiis interstincta, etc., while the style
of the Ludus is quite simple and natural : 7tihil
artificiosnm, nihil quaesitunty nihil antitheticum,
Hanc differentianty he asks, qtiis est qui soli scrip-
tionis generi aut argume^iti rationi tribuat? The
question we can balance with the remark of Haase,
who in the preface to his edition of Seneca ^ finds
even in the Ludus sufificiently characteristic evi-
dences of Seneca's style, quamquam in eo \i.e.
Ltido'] res ipsa sifigularem orationis formam desi-

1 Teubner ed., Vol. I. p. vi.


derabat, in qua manifesta est Petronianae sattcrae
imitatio. This last clause, which is based upon
the theory of an earlier date than is now generally
accepted for Petronius's Satiricon, refers to a
matter that may be passed by for the moment.
We have, however, a sufficiently broad and reason-
able explanation of the simple colloquialism which
goes along with the humorous tone of the Apoco-
locyntosis, as distinguished from the careful
elaboration of Seneca's serious works. Heinsius
went much farther, and considered the style
quite the same. As for the verse of the satire,
it is generally acknowledged to be in Seneca's

The inference against the tradition of Seneca's
authorship from the fact that no other Latin
author makes any mention of the Ludus among
his works may seem to have more weight than
belongs to it ; for neither is the satire mentioned as
among the works of any one else. But, of course,
it is objected^ that Tacitus, who seems to have
given so much attention to Seneca and expressed
very distinct judgments upon him, regarding him
apparently with a certain distrust, would have had
something to say about a work so open to moral
criticism as this. So would Suetonius, full of
court gossip and eager to seek out entertaining
sidelights upon history. And as for Juvenal and
the epistolatory Pliny and the rest, it seems hard
1 Stahr, A^ip. 338-339-


to suppose that none of them would have referred
to an article of this kind from Seneca.

But while it has a certain plausibility, the argu-
ment is based upon an artificial condition. " Latin
literature " is that part of it which has come down
to us, of which criticism has made a complicated
system, more or less self-sufficient, except for loose
threads like the present one. Every surviving
work is a scholium to every other. The whole
mass has become a great interlacing maze, threaded
with the clews traced and joined by mediaeval and
modern scholarship. This is in many respects a
highly useful condition of things, but it is not to
be forgotten that the extent of the material out of
which it is constructed is in great part accidental.
In the great quantities of literary matter which
have not survived, not the least likely to be engulfed
was the literature of allusion and criticism. The
less, therefore, is there a presumption to be created
by the mere fact that we find no reference to this
satire of Seneca in that part of the Latin literary
output that we have left. We do not know,
besides, how it was published nor whether it could
have gained any notoriety. Add, then, the fact
that in the greater variety of the whole supply, the
Apocolocyfttosis would have had relatively so much
less importance than as a unique specimen it holds
in the present residuum. Even an objector like
Stahr hints at the hundreds of similar pamphlets
of the time, — a possible exaggeration. But we


would like to know more of the Mw/jwz/ iTravdcTa'
(TL^y in regard to which Suetonius merely excites
our curiosity.^ And how much of a satire was
that of Aelius Saturninus, referred to in Dio, Ivii.
22 ? That we know anything at all of even a re-
spectable fraction of the number of such pamphlets,
which were necessarily limited to a more or less
private circulation, is not to be supposed.

The one existing ancient reference to Seneca's
satire, however, in the Greek, as it has come to us
from Dio Cassius (Ix. 35), increases rather than
diminishes whatever difficulty there was.

After Claudius's murder, says Dio,^ Agrippina
and Nero pretended to mourn, and sent up to

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Online LibraryLucius Annaeus SenecaThe satire of Seneca on the Apotheosis of Claudius commonly called the Apocolocyntosis; → online text (page 3 of 18)