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Epicureans, Lucretius, Cicero, Seneca the Younger

Romans adopted Greek philosophies despite those Roman conservatives, among then Cato the Elder, who opposed the spread of Greek ideas. The conservative general, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who took power as a dictator in 82 BCE, was intellectually aggressive. Affter retiring he took up gardening and became an Epicurean. Julius Caesar was also intellectually aggressive. A generation after Sulla he too became an Epicurean – while still involved in politics.


Another Epicurean was the poet T Lucretius Carus, who died ten years before Caesar, at 45, during a plague. Lucretius denounced conventional morality and the traditional mythology that he believed supported it. He was anti-establishment. The strife in Rome disgusted him and in Epicureanism he found solace. He had the Epicurean's awe for the beauties of nature. He wrote a book titled On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura), which described the ideas of Democritus and Epicurus. The Epicurean view was empirical – basically scientific, at odds with the view of magic by the gods that was a part of establishment beliefs. Lucretius described death as including the dissipation of mind rather than our minds living on in torment in hades (hell). He described neither the mind nor spirit surviving independent of the body.


Stoicism was more widely accepted among the Romans than was Epircureanism. Cicero, a contemporary of Caesar, saw the Greeks as having thought of every philosophical alternative, and he sided with the Stoics against the Epicureans, for whom he had contempt. He believed it necessary to persuade Romans that there were gods who governed all things, that these gods were the benefactors of mankind and that the gods judged the character, acts, intentions and the piety of individuals. Cicero had come to believe in Stoicism's brotherhood of man, and he saw this brotherhood as compatible with Roman imperialism. Rome, he believed, had created safety, Rome was the light of the world, and the Roman Empire was the work of the gods.

Seneca the Younger

style="margin-top:20px">And there was the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger (4 BCE – CE 65. He accepted the position of tutor to the adopted son of an emperor, a boy named Nero. Nero took power at the age of sixteen, and he remained under Seneca's influence for the first five years of his rule. Seneca applied his Stoic sentiments by opposing the use of torture as evidence. And he was opposed to slow death and physical torments involved with execution by crucifixion. During this time, Nero gave slaves the right to file complaints against their masters – a tiny reform. Nero also pardoned people who had written unflattering descriptions of him. He left the charge of treason unused. He gave assistance to cities that had suffered from disasters, and he won the hearts of many of his subjects by lowering taxes. But Seneca retired after Nero, in his eighth year of rule, had his mother murdered. Seneca's replacement was Tigellinus, who amused Nero with his callousness. Tigellinus described Stoics, including Seneca, as hypocrites for proclaiming preference for living simply.

Seneca began to devote himself again to study and writing. Three years later, he was accused of conspiring to kill Nero – most likely a falsehood. Seneca was ordered by Nero to kill himself, and he did so, severing several of his veins and bleeding to death.


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