Bust of Seneca, ca. 3rd cent. (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)
In recent decades, ancient Stoicism has served as the basis of therapeutic movements, especially cognitive behavior therapy, and as a guide to the good life for thinkers like Michel Foucault and Martha Nussbaum. Classicist James Romm explores the version of Stoicism transmitted to the modern world by Seneca the Younger, a Roman moralist who lived in the time of Nero and served that emperor as chief advisor and spokesperson.
Seneca's writings focus on the need to moderate emotional responses and to trust the rational mind to make correct moral choices, which in the eyes of the Stoics imparted the truest happiness. Ironically, Seneca himself often failed to make those choices during his 10 years with Nero, raising the question of how well his precepts hold up in an era of roiled emotions.
The problem of anger, which Seneca addressed in his masterwork De Ira, serves as a case in point for Romm to examine both the promise and the limitations of Stoic thought when applied to real-world scenarios.
Romm is the James H. Ottaway Jr. professor of classics at Bard College. He is the author of several books, including Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero and How to Keep Your Cool.