Seneca’s Morals was the first book in our Ancient Classics Library. Given the work’s influence on the thinking of our Founding Fathers, we have also included the volume in our Classics of Liberty Library.
Seneca, who lived from approximately 4 B.C. to 65 B.C., was a participant in the transition of Rome and was a defender of the traditional Roman values. In his life, death and works, Seneca exemplified the model of Roman stoic virtue. He was called to service as a tutor for the future Emperor, Nero. Nero assumed power at the age of seventeen, and Seneca was Nero’s chief adviser for his first five years. In these years, Rome was well-governed. The ancient historians generally credit Seneca’s loss of influence over the young Emperor as the cause of Nero’s reign descending into deposits.
The stoic philosophy advocated by Seneca and other statesmen of the era provided a model for the American founders as they sought to create their new republic founded on civic virtue with a population aware of certain rights and duties to be exercised in accordance with natural law. As Lord Acton explained:
The Stoics attribute the government of the universe less to the uncertain design of gods than to a definite law of nature. By that law, which is superior to religious traditions and national authorities, all are governed alike, all are equal, all are bound in charity to each other, as members of one community and children of the same God. The unity of mankind implied the existence of rights and duties common to all men, which legislation neither gives nor takes away.
Roger L’Estrange’s abstract of Seneca’s moral works entitled, Seneca’s Morals, was first published in 1678 and has stayed in print for over three centuries. It was widely distributed in the American colonies and helped shape the colonists sense of Roman virtue. George Washington read this work at the age of seventeen and modeled his personal conduct in accordance with its teachings. As Samuel Eliot Morison notes, “The mere chapter headings are the moral axioms that Washington followed through his life.” Historian Carl Richard wrote,
As a result of their Stoicism, the founders equated roman virtue with frugality, simplicity, temperance, fortitude, love of liberty, selflessness, and honor.
The founders believed that the republic could be maintained only by a population that could personify these values.
Our volume of the work has been photographically reproduced from the first edition of 1882 and thus preserves the historical authenticity of the original, including typographical errors and printing irregularities.