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Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero [Rauer Buchschnitt] [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

James Romm

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11. März 2014
From acclaimed classical historian, author of Ghost on the Throne (“Gripping . . . the narrative verve of a born writer and the erudition of a scholar” —Daniel  Mendelsohn) and editor of The Landmark Arrian:The Campaign of Alexander (“Thrilling” —The New York Times Book Review), 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.

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Praise for James Romm’s
“Romm adeptly expounds the puzzle of Seneca’s life.”
                                                            -The New Yorker
“James Romm stitches this tapestry of evil together with a practiced hand.”
                                                            -Michael D. Langan, Buffalo News
“A splendid and incisive historical page-turner... This is how history should be written: vivid storytelling springing to life at a master’s touch... Romm’s narrative proves so compelling precisely because he concentrates on character, combining erudite scholarship with a novelist’s flair for telling detail. The result becomes an exception to the rule: When exercised with wisdom, dexterity and fervor, literary power shines as incorruptible.”
                                                            -Arlice Davenport, Wichita Eagle
“Thoroughly engaging and fascinating...A high-stakes drama, laced with murders, madness, and despotism...The highlight of the spring season.”
                                                            -Anne La Farge, Hudson Valley News
“Romm's compulsively readable account of imperial intrigues (incest, murder, suicide) brings contradictory visions of Seneca into three-dimensional focus.”
“Romm's approach combines the commonly known with the fascinating, but more obscure. He makes a sustained point of showing Seneca as neither black nor white, neither totally deserving of his fate, nor so noble that all charges should drip off his well-oiled back. He shows different sides to the emperors as well and puts the women of the Caesars into their well-deserved positions of prominence…The fact that Romm presents the Stoic philosopher in this novel complex light and that he shows sides of the more famous that aren't common knowledge leaves me feeling [like] I got an awful lot out of reading it.  Have I mentioned, I really, really liked this book?”
                                                            -N. S. Gill, About.com
“Historians from Seneca’s contemporaries through the present day have puzzled over his true character. Ascetic Stoic moralist or conniving courtier?  Romm doesn't claim to settle the centuries-old mystery, but sheds light using ancient sources and occasional references to modern critics, joining his readers in marveling at a regime remembered by history for its shocking excesses.”
                                                            -Julia Jenkins, Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)
“Extensively researched.  A book that will be welcomed by both scholars and those with a more casual interest in history. In addition and most important to our time is the detailed study of power politics and the inevitable consequences of weakness and corruption allowing power to be concentrated into few hands… An engrossing account of a time when rational thought was set aside in favor of passion and when good men cowed in the face of tyranny and did nothing to stem it.”
                                                            -Jeremy McGuire, New York Journal of Books
“A compelling, and terrifying, vision of a bloodthirsty, ruthlessly ambitious emperor and his court.”
                                                            -Jenny Yabroff, Biographile

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

James Romm is the James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Classics at Bard College. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. His books on the ancient world include Ghost on the Throne, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought, Herodotus and, as editor, The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander.

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Amazon.com: 4.7 von 5 Sternen  23 Rezensionen
28 von 33 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Brilliant History of Seneca and his Complicated Relationship with Nero 19. März 2014
Von restaurantofthemind - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
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 are some of the most exciting reading I've come across in a history book in recent years.

I also enjoyed the time devoted to Nero's predecessor Claudius and his marriage to Agrippina, Nero's mother. Agrippina is an important side character in this history as well, and she is fleshed out just as well as Seneca and Nero are.

I highly recommend this book for all fans of Roman history. Even if you think you've read about Nero's fall this is an original window into Nero's reign from the view of the man who did his best (debatable) to live a minimalist lifestyle as a Stoic philosopher while at the same time hold immense power and influence, if only through Nero.
11 von 12 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Well-written popular history 24. Mai 2014
Von Montana Skyline - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
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 combines well-done popular history and good marketing, and likely will arouse further interest in Seneca, as well as a bit of thinking about the complications of combining political/ethical theory and high risk politics.
9 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Great history that is as gripping as a novel 30. April 2014
Von Ronald H. Clark - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
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 involvement with Nero is how could a Stoic seemingly dedicated to the moral life, eschewing great wealth, and denouncing tyranny, end up becoming wealthy, holding high office (consul) in a corrupt tyrannical government, and perhaps be an accessory to corruption and murder? This has been quite a hot topic apparently for students of Roman history for many generations. In approaching his examination of Seneca's conduct and activities, versus the image he tried to project, we learn a number of interesting things about how these Roman emperors and the ruling class operated. For example, the use of poison was a frequent recourse to move things along; the imperial Praetorian Guard--influenced by generous bribes--played the key role in picking new princeps; allegations of adultery, merited or not, were frequent devices to get rid of opponents; and extravagance ran wild.

An interesting custom of the times was what might be termed the "political suicide." Rulers could request an opponent or enemy to kill themselves--usually by cutting open veins so the blood could run abundantly and quickly. In exchange, the victim knew that his property would pass to his heirs without the princeps grabbing it for himself. This practice reminded me of the scene in the "Godfather" when attorney Tom Hagen visits a government witness under protective custody and they discuss this custom, whereby an agreement is made that the witness' family will be taken care of after he is gone, and in good Roman fashion he does the deed in the bathtub. Suicide is important to Seneca who wrote about it because he saw it as a way to defy rulers by "escaping" into death. Many Romans chose this route, including Seneca.

The author does not try to reconcile the two dimensions of Seneca--many argue simply he was a pure hypocrite. Probably the best assessment is found on p. 206: there is much good to say about Seneca; one should be selective in winnowing out good prose from bad; "If only he had taken that care." Seneca tried to retire from Nero's administration, but as a Stoic could he appropriately have walked away from such tyranny? A period of terror ensues when Nero discovers a plot to kill him; could Seneca as a Stoic engage in such a plot?--Nero sure thought he had.

The book is so skillfully written that it is easy to follow--viewers of "I Claudius" are already familiar with most of the characters. One of the virtues of the book is that the author discusses Seneca's writings as he develops the story so that they are placed in context. Seneca is still respected as a Stoic philosopher, so this is helpful indeed. Many illustrations drawn from Roman coins and statues support the narrative. The book is beautifully printed by Berryville Graphics in Virginia. The issue of the role of morality in politics, and whether the two can or ought to be separated, is still with us. Reading this fine book sharpens our perspectives on this vital issue.
16 von 21 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A thoughtful look at Seneca 25. März 2014
Von Harry - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
James Romm, who has published several good books on Greek historiography, the Greek geographers, and the world of Alexander the Great, now turns his attention to one of the more complicated figures in Latin literature, and the results are thoughtful and perceptive. What are we to make of this philosopher who became a mouthpiece for the principate of Nero? Was he simply an opportunistic hypocrite, or was he working within the system in an attempt to do some good? The evidence is not at all clear, but Romm is in full control of it, and he does a particularly good job linking ideas in Seneca's philosophical works to events during Nero's reign. I would like to think that I know the period and the evidence, but I learned much from this book.
3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen LIMITS OF ADVISORS 13. Mai 2014
Von Yehezkel Dror - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Avant-Garde Politician: Leaders for a New Epoch

This highly recommended book can be read in two ways: Rapidly, as a real life power-and-crime drama, more fascinating than the "House of Cards" TV series. Or as a serious study posing one of the most fundamental problems of politics, namely the relations between a ruler and his advisors - in this case the Roman percepts Nero, as increasingly becoming deranged, and his stoic philosopher advisor Seneca.

Every ruler depends on advisors, both formal and informal ones. Therefore providing senior political leaders with morally and cognitively high-quality advisors serves as a main way to try and improve governance. Such advisors can be prepared by systematic study, such as at modern public policy schools, while the quality of politicians is largely a chance matter, depending on dynastic inheritance, elections, or party cliques. But this book demonstrates that this is very inadequate: The quality of politicians is critical and no advisor can serve as a substitute for it.

Nero was an immoral and in part evil ruler. Efforts by Seneca, while serving as teacher of young Nero, to shape his character failed, as was to be expected. But he continued as a main advisor of Nero, whose behavior contradicted the moral percepts of Stoicism. This created a harsh dilemma for Seneca, faced in real life by most of the few (because of tensions brought out in this book) highly moral advisors of rulers. As put by the author: "Seneca had made the bargain that many good men have made when agreeing to aid bad regimes. On the one hand, their presence strengthens and helps it endure. But their moral influence may also improve the regime's behavior" (p. 122).

Seneca has been subjected to harsh criticism for serving an evil ruler while betraying the stoic ideals which he himself developed in outstanding philosophic writings (and also enriching himself and enjoying a good life). He has been diagnosed as having a "compartmentalized mind." As well put in the book: "He had attained both the wisdom of a sage and the power of a palace insider - but could the two selves coexist?" (p. 88).

The author, as did Tacitus (himself involved in Roman politics) in his writers on Seneca, leaves the issue open. But I think a crucial point should be emphasized: The very nature of politics involves "dirty hands," and in Imperial Rome (and many other historic situations) also quite some cruel force. Thus, Nero's murder of his mother Agrippina, who clearly was characterized by a lot of what was called "impotentia -an inability to master lust, restrain envy, or tamp down the need for control and power" (p. 78), may well be justified in terms of raison d'etat, however horrible (though not the murder of Octavia). Therefore Seneca should not be accused of having "colluded in the murder of Agrippina" (p. 152).He did his duty.

The realities of power are fully brought out by the later stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose meditations are outstanding, but who engaged in bitter wars and whose reign was marked by prosecution of Christians. This shows that even philosopher-rulers have to dirty and also bloody their hands - and their advisors have to help them do so wisely and effectively.

This reality is not faced in the final sections of the book praising Aurelius as a stoic ruler, despite its importance as offering an explanation of Seneca as trying to engage in what I call in my recent book "public interest Machiavellianism." He must have recognized that, in the world as it is a ruler cannot follow the public morality percepts of Stoicism (as distinct from personal ones) without causing statecraft disasters and acted accordingly, while writing for non-rulers and for rulers in a better future. No "split personality" explanation is necessary or appropriate.

This important book has an additional critical lesson to offer, which meets the test of history: Even the best of advisors cannot repair basic inadequacies of their politician clients or compensate for them. Therefore, upgrading morally and professionally the quality of advisors is no substitute for systematic efforts to improve politicians. But this increasingly urgent requirement is seldom seriously considered, being still largely a "taboo" subject.

Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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