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Politics of Friendship in Seneca’s Epistulae Morales

Jula Wildberger

In the Epistulae morales, Seneca translates the early Stoic concept of eros into a form of amicitia more palatable to a readership of Roman knights and senators. On the basis of this modified eros-amicitia, he also develops a new conception of progressor friendship that is no longer just a deficient emulation of the true philia of Stoic sages, but a practice of its own kind and purpose. After summarizing these theses, which I have substantiated in more detail in a forthcoming paper, I will explore how Seneca’s innovation within the Stoic system may be read not only as an attempt to reconcile Stoic ideals with the practical realities of Roman social life, but also as a political enterprise. Insofar as Senecan progressor friendship maintains essential forms and policies that are constitutive of the forms amicitia in which the Roman elite organized itself also as a political factor, the idea that the famous “care of self” may have been conceived as a communal practice shared with other men of social authority may be read as an attempt to design a model for a new aristocracy of men seeking honesta, whose withdrawal from public office or the imperial court would have had no minor political impact than their eventual participation.

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Politics by Other Means? Ethics and Aesthetics in Roman Stoicism

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