From acclaimed classical historian, author of Ghost on the Throne a high-stakes drama full of murder, madness, tyranny, perversion, with the sweep of history on the grand scale.
At the center, the tumultuous life of Seneca, ancient Rome’s preeminent writer and philosopher, beginning with banishment in his fifties and subsequent appointment as tutor to twelve-year-old Nero, future emperor of Rome. Controlling them both, Nero’s mother, Julia Agrippina the Younger, Roman empress, great-granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus, sister of the Emperor Caligula, niece and fourth wife of Emperor Claudius.
James Romm seamlessly weaves together the life and written words, the moral struggles, political intrigue, and bloody vengeance that enmeshed Seneca the Younger in the twisted imperial family and the perverse, paranoid regime of Emperor Nero, despot and madman.
Romm writes that Seneca watched over Nero as teacher, moral guide, and surrogate father, and, at seventeen, when Nero abruptly ascended to become emperor of Rome, Seneca, a man never avid for political power became, with Nero, the ruler of the Roman Empire. We see how Seneca was able to control his young student, how, under Seneca’s influence, Nero ruled with intelligence and moderation, banned capital punishment, reduced taxes, gave slaves the right to file complaints against their owners, pardoned prisoners arrested for sedition. But with time, as Nero grew vain and disillusioned, Seneca was unable to hold sway over the emperor, and between Nero’s mother, Agrippina—thought to have poisoned her second husband, and her third, who was her uncle (Claudius), and rumored to have entered into an incestuous relationship with her son—and Nero’s father, described by Suetonius as a murderer and cheat charged with treason, adultery, and incest, how long could the young Nero have been contained?
Dying Every Day is a portrait of Seneca’s moral struggle in the midst of madness and excess. In his treatises, Seneca preached a rigorous ethical creed, exalting heroes who defied danger to do what was right or embrace a noble death. As Nero’s adviser, Seneca was presented with a more complex set of choices, as the only man capable of summoning the better aspect of Nero’s nature, yet, remaining at Nero’s side and colluding in the evil regime he created.
Dying Every Day is the first book to tell the compelling and nightmarish story of the philosopher-poet who was almost a king, tied to a tyrant—as Seneca, the paragon of reason, watched his student spiral into madness and whose descent saw five family murders, the Fire of Rome, and a savage purge that destroyed the supreme minds of the Senate’s golden age.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was introduced to James Romm a few years ago with his book, "Ghost on the Throne" which chronicled the war among Alexander the Great's successors for his empire.
Romm's new book is just as brilliant although it has a much narrower focus: the relationship between the Stoic philosopher Seneca and the infamous Roman Emperor Nero. Romm focuses on these two as his main characters with all else that was going on in the empire in the background. Using Seneca's own works and those of early Roman historians (Tacitus, Cassius Dio and Seutonius mostly) Romm paints Seneca as a complicated figure who is trying to live up to his Stoic morals, but usually falls short. Romm also shows how Seneca tried to rein Nero in as a young emperor and how their falling out led to Nero's descent into excess and his ultimate fall from power.
At no point in this book did I feel that a story I already knew was being re-hashed over again. Romm keeps a lively pace and the last few chapters...
When I bought this book, I thought it was a novel--something along the line of Robert Graves' "I Claudius." Instead, I discovered this to be a fascinating work of history written by a first-class classicist teaching at Bard College, with all the suspense of an exciting novel. The central actor is Seneca the Younger (4 BC-65 AD), a leading Stoic philosopher. Exiled by Claudius to Corsica, where he proceeds to write several works on ethics and morality, Seneca is yanked back to Rome by Claudius' widow Agrippina, to tutor her 13 year old son, Nero, whom she is maneuvering to make the successor to Claudius. Beginning as Nero's ghostwriter, Seneca over the next decade becomes his tutor and then ally as Nero assumes the role of "princeps." Interestingly, the Roman ruler during this period is not referred to as "rex" or king, but as a princeps in order to spare those Romans still enamored of the Republic that had died with Caesar.
The central issue presented by Seneca's...
If you are interested in Seneca and his stoic (and otherwise) reflections, or simply are fascinated by this era of Rome, you likely will find Mr. Romm's latest both interesting and enjoyable. I fit both descriptions and liked the book. It reads quickly, although the references are readily available in the notes and well-sourced.
I can't tout the book as unreservedly as some of the comments, as I honestly learned little new about either Seneca or the period. This is not, I think, the best biography of Seneca, elucidation of his philosphy or history of the time. But it is well-written and engaging. Romm knows his stuff and provides a solid, popular narrative of an extraordinary period and figure(s), while puzzling over the complex, almost dueling personal character of Seneca as stoic philosopher and perhaps crass political actor. I would say that he has successfully targeted an audience for a spicy and dramatic real-life tale. No shame in that: Quite the contrary, he...
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