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Rome, The Cosmos, And the Emperor in Seneca's Natural Questions

Rome, The Cosmos, And the Emperor in Seneca's Natural Questions

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Rome, the Cosmos, and the Emperor in Seneca's "Natural Questions"Author(s): Harry M. HineSource:
The Journal of Roman Studies,
Vol. 96 (2006), pp. 42-72Published by:
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This content downloaded from 89.180.171.15 on Sun, 21 Apr 2013 15:10:30 PMAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and Conditions
 
Rome,theCosmos, and theEmperor inSeneca'sNaturalQuestions*
HARRYM. HINE
IINTRODUCTION
This paperexaminesthepoliticalcontentandcontextof Seneca'sNaturalQuestions, andargues that thework movesintwoapparentlycontradictorydirections.Ontheonehand
thereis agrandvisionofthe cosmos anditssplendour,incomparisontowhichempires
andimperial power,includingRome's,recedeintoinsignificance; similarlythe pursuit ofphilosophy,particularlythe branch ofphilosophythat studiesthecosmos,iselevatedabove otherpursuits,includingpoliticallifeand historicalwriting,towhichmembers oftheRomaneliteweretypicallydevoted.But atthesame timetheworkisfirmly anchoredintheRomanworld, drawing widelyoninformation about thenaturalworld thatwas
garneredfromallcornersof theEmpireand frombeyond;Senecasituateshimselfinalongandcontinuingtradition ofinvestigationofthe naturalworld,atraditioninwhichRoman
writershold theirownalongside Greeks, Egyptians,andChaldaeans;andthereareseveralbrief referencestothecurrentemperor Nero,whichpresenthimnotjustasprinceps andpoet,but alsoassponsorofgeographicalandscientificinvestigationof theNile.Thepaperisstructuredso astooscillate between thesetwoperspectives:SectionIIanalyses various
waysinwhich Rome ismarginalizedinthework;SectionIIIshows how atthe same timetheworkisfirmlyanchoredinthecontemporaryRomanworld;Sectionivarguesthat
Senecaineffectconstructsanideal intellectualcommunitythatincludesRome,butalso
transcendsitintimeandspace;Sectionv startswith therepresentationofNero inthe
work,andgoesontoexplorewhatweknow ofthecontemporary intellectualcontext;finallySectionviofferssomeconcludingremarksonhow thetwoperspectivescoexist.
At severalpointsinthepaperthe elderPlinyand his NaturalHistorywill becontrastedwith Senecaandthe NaturalQuestions.Bothworkswere writteninthe finalyearsofthe
author'slife.Seneca wrote hisintheearly 6os,beforehisenforcedsuicideinA.D.65.Pliny
wrote hisinthe70s,beforehisdeathintheeruptionofVesuviusinA.D.79.1The
superficiallysimilar titles of theirtwoworksconcealsignificantdifferences.Onemightsay
that Seneca's title(whichwouldbebetter translated'questionsaboutnature',or'investigationsintonature',or'physical investigations') promisesmorethan itdelivers.Fornaturais averybroadterm, yetSenecadoesnotdeal withastronomy,norwithplant,animal and humannature,all of whichareincluded,with muchelsebesides,inPliny'sNaturalHistory.Seneca coverswhatwasknowninthe Greekworld asmeteorology.Thisterm,whichwasfirstusedinthiswaybyAristotle,covered thestudyofphysical phenomenaoccurringintheair,andcertainphenomena occurringon orwithinthe earth that
*Earlierversionsof thispaperwerereadtoaudiencesatMannheim andStAndrews,andIamgratefultothose whooffered criticismsorsuggestionsoneach occasion. Thepaperhas also benefited fromthehelpfulsuggestionsoftheJournal'sEditor andanonymousreaders. Professor Gareth Williamskindlyallowedmeto seethetypescriptof thepaperpublishedinthisvolume, pp.124-46,andIhave addedsomecross-referencestohisarguments.Ofcourseallremainingdeficienciesaremyownresponsibility.Thepaperwascompleted duringaperiodofresearch leavefundedbytheArtsandHumanitiesResearchCouncil,for whichIamgrateful.1SeetheAppendixfor further discussionofthe dateofcompositionofSeneca'swork.Briefly,Books6and7canbe datedoninternal evidence betweena.D.62(or63)and64,and Book3maywellpostdateSeneca'swithdrawalfromNero'scourtinA.D.62.The date ofPliny'sworkisbroadlyestablishedbytheprefaceaddressedtoTitus,andtheregularhostile referencestoNerowithin thetext,whichclearlypostdatehis death.JRS96 (zoo6),pp.42-72.(?World Copyright Reserved.Exclusive Licence to Publish: The Society for the Promotion ofRomanStudies2006
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ROME, THECOSMOS, AND THEEMPERORINSENECA'SNATURALQUESTIONS43
werebelieved to beconnected withthe air(as Seneca explainsinNat.z.IIo).2Theprincipaltopics of each ofSeneca's books, here listedinwhatinthispaper will beacceptedastheoriginal bookorder,3are:Book3rivers;4atheriverNile; 4b <clouds, rain,>4hail,snow;5winds; 6earthquakes; 7 comets;Imeteors,rainbows, halos, and otheropticalmeteorologicalphenomena;zthunderandlightning. Plinyhadcoveredthese topics rathermorebrieflyin one section of hissecond book(2.89-I53).Inthemodern literatureon theNaturalQuestions there hasbeen more writtenaboutSeneca'sdebttoGreekwriters,and about theinterplaybetweenscientificthemes andethicalthemeswithin thework,thanabout thepoliticalcontextandcontent.5Thatisnotso surprising,sincetheworkcontainslittle thatisdirectly connected withcontemporarypolitics,asidefrom afew briefreferencestoNero,and an accountofthe politicalcareerof the dedicatee,Lucilius, which have receivedconsiderableattention.Somescholars havealsoarguedthat,besides theexplicit,flatteringreferencestoNero,the work containsoblique andcriticalallusionstotheemperor.Arecentmajorstudy by Gaulyhasgonemuchfurtherinseekingtocontextualize theNaturalQuestions,arguing that theworkbyvariousmeans, including theuseofscientific themesasmetaphorsfor therelationship ofhumanbeings to thecosmos, reflects theanxieties of the lateryears of Nero'sreign.6Thepresent papertakes a differentapproach toGauly's,though there areareas of overlap andconvergence thatwill besignalledbelow.
IIMARGINALIZINGROME
oquamridiculisuntmortaliumtermini!7
ThenameRoma occursonlyonceintheNaturalQuestions,andtheadjective Romanusjustsixtimes.8Contrastabouttwohundred occurrencesofeach wordinPliny'sNaturalHistory.Hisworkismorethaneighttimes aslongasSeneca's, butevenwhen thatistakenintoaccount, the difference remainsstriking.ThoughRomeitselfisnotprominent,Senecamakessomeinterestingassertions aboutempires.Attheend of Book3,inthecourse ofalongand lavishdescriptionof thegreatfloodthatwilloneday wipeoutthewholeearth,Senecasays:3.z9.9unus humanumgenusdies condet.quidquidtamlongafortunaeindulgentiaexcoluit, quidquid supraceterosextulit,nobiliapariter atqueadornata,magnarumque
2SeeL.Taub,AncientMeteorology (2003),1-2;OCD3s.v.'meteorology';NeuePaulys.v.'Meteorologie'.3Theargumentsfor this order havemostrecentlybeenrestatedbyB. M.Gauly,S?necasNaturalesQuaestiones.Naturphilosophief?rdier?mischeKaiserzeit,Zetemata122(2004),53-67,with referencestoearlier literature.TheorderwasfirstproposedindependentlybyC. Codo?erMerino,Naturalesquaestiones,textorev.y trad.,I:Lib.I?III(1979),xii-xxi,andH. M.Hine,AnEditionwithCommentaryofSeneca,NaturalQuestions,BookTwo(1981),4-2.34The end of Book4aandthebeginningof4barelost,but4b certainlycovered thesetopicsoriginally.5Recentdiscussions ofSeneca'ssources:A.Setaioli,SenecaeiGreci.Citazionietraduzioninelleoperefilosofiche(1988),375-452;N.Gross,S?necasNaturalesQuaestiones. Komposition,naturphilosophische Aussagenund ihreQuellen,Palingenesia27(1989).Ontherelevance of theethicalsections,seerecently:F. R.Berno,Lospecchio,ilvizioelavirtu.StudiosulleNaturalesQuaestionesdi Seneca(2003);G.Williams,'Interactions:physics, morality,andnarrative inSeneca NaturalQuestions1',CPh100(2005a),142-65;idem,'Senecaonwinds:theartofanemologyinNaturalQuestions5', AJP126(2005b),417-50;andWilliams'articleinthisvolume, pp.124-46.Discussions ofpoliticalthemes andcontextwillbementionedbelow.6Gauly,op.cit.(n.3);seethesometimesscepticalreviewofF.Limburg,BMCR2005.01.16.7i.praef.9;'Howridiculousaremortals' boundaries!' AllreferencesaretotheNaturalQuestionsunlessanotherworkisindicated,andLatinquotationsaretaken fromtheTeubneredition ofH. M.Hine(1996).8Fourof thepassagesconcerned mentioneventsinvolvingRomanarmies(1.1.14,3.praef.6,4a.praef.21,5.16.4),oneisabout theboundariesof theempire(i.praef.9,quotedbelow,p.45);inonlyoneisRomanususednotjustdescriptivelybut withpositive,evaluativeconnotations,and thatinconnectionwithphilosophy:7.32.2'SextiorumnouaetRomaniroborissectainter initiasua,cummagno?mpetucoepisset,extinctaest','thenewsectof theSextii,with its Romanvigour,diedoutwhileitwasbeginning,thoughithad started withagreatimpact'.
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