The World's Famous Orations/Volume 2/To Nero When in Disfavor

Reported by Tacitus.

4103525The World's Famous Orations (Volume 2: Rome) — To Nero When in DisfavorSeneca the Younger



(62 A.D.)

Born about 4 B.C., died in 65 A.D.; Senator under Caligula; banished by Claudius, and then recalled to undertake the education of Nero at whose accession he virtually obtained direction of the government in cooperation with Burrus; charged with complicity in the conspiracy of Piso, he committed suicide in obedience to the order of Nero.

This is the fourteenth year, Cæsar, since I was summoned to train you for your high destiny; and the eighth since your advancement to the empire. During the intervening period, you have showered such honors and riches upon me, that nothing is wanting to complete my felicity but the capacity to use them with moderation. I shall quote great examples, such as are adapted, not to my station and fortune, but to yours. Augustus, from whom you are the fourth in descent, granted to Marcus Agrippa leave to retreat to Mitylene, and to Caius Mæcenas he allowed, even in Rome itself, a retirement as complete as in any foreign country—the former his companion in the wars, the other long harassed at Rome with manifold occupations and public cares; both received rewards ample indeed, but proportioned to their services.

For myself, what other claims upon your munificence have I been able to advance, except my literary attainments, nursed, so to speak, in the shades of retirement, and which have been rendered famous, because I am believed to have assisted your early years in the acquisition of learning; a glorious reward for such a service! But you encompassed me with boundless favors, unnumbered riches; so that when I ruminate upon my situation, as I often do, I say to myself: Can it be that I, the son of a knight, the native of a province,[2] am ranked among the chief men of Rome? Has my upstart name acquired splendor among the nobles of the land, and men who glory in a long line of honored ancestors? Where then is that philosophic spirit which professed to be satisfied with scanty supplies? Is it employed in adorning such gardens as these? in pacing majestically through these suburban retreats? Does it abound in estates so extensive as these, and in such immense sums put out at interest? One plea only occurs to my thoughts: that it becomes not me to oppose your bounties.

But both of us have now filled up our measure—you, of all that the bounty of a prince could confer upon his friend; I, of all that a friend could accept from the bounty of his prince. Every addition can only furnish fresh materials for envy; which, indeed, like all other earthly things, lies prostrate beneath your towering greatness, but weighs heavily on me. I require assistance. Thus, in the same manner as, were I weary and faint with the toils of a warfare or a journey, I should implore indulgence; so in this journey of life, old as I am, and unequal even to the lightest cares, since I am unable longer to sustain the weight of my own riches, I seek protection. Order your own stewards to undertake the direction of my fortune, and to annex it to your own; nor shall I by this plunge myself into poverty, but having surrendered those things by whose splendor I am exposed to the assaults of envy, all the time which is set apart for the care of gardens and villas, I shall apply once more to the cultivation of my mind. To you vigor remains more than enough, and the possession of imperial power established during so many years. We your friends, who are more advanced in years, may take our turn of repose. This, too, will redound to your glory—that you had elevated to the highest posts those who could put up with a humble condition.

  1. Delivered in Rome. Reported by Tacitus. The Revised Oxford translation.
  2. Seneca's birthplace was Corduba, now Cordova, Spain,