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CLA 65 — Seneca the Stoic: Philosopher, Playwright, Politician

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Mondays
Course Format: On-campus (About Formats)
Duration: 7 weeks
Date(s): Jan 22—Mar 11
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Jan 24
Unit: 1
Tuition: $420
Instructor(s): Barbara Clayton
Class Recording Available: No
Status: Open
Please Note: No class on February 19
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Jan 22—Mar 11
7 weeks
Refund Date
Jan 24
1 Unit
Barbara Clayton
Please Note: No class on February 19
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
“It takes an entire life to learn how to live and—what will perhaps be more astonishing to you—it takes an entire life to learn how to die.” So writes the famed Lucius Annaeus Seneca in his essay On the Shortness of Life. The Roman author provides a captivating gateway into the principles of Stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy that later found relevance in the heart of the Roman Empire. Even today, studying Stoicism can offer invaluable insights into attaining tranquility, wisdom, and virtue when confronting life’s formidable challenges.

In this course, we will examine Seneca’s works, exploring his philosophical legacy and grappling with the complexities of his life. Course readings will encompass a rich selection of Seneca’s writings, including essays like On Mercy (crafted for Emperor Nero) and the contemplative masterpiece On the Shortness of Life. We will delve into Seneca's philosophical letters, uncovering timeless wisdom and practical guidance for modern life, and traverse the dramatic landscape of two tragedies: Medea and Oedipus. Finally, we’ll examine how Seneca’s intricate relationship with Nero, who ultimately compelled Seneca to take his own life in 65 CE, casts a shadow over Seneca’s legacy as a Stoic philosopher, given his substantial wealth and political influence. Was Seneca a hypocrite? Or did he navigate the treacherous waters of ethical compromise when necessary? These probing questions will be integral to our expedition as we unravel the enigma of Seneca’s Stoicism together.

Independent Scholar

Barbara Clayton has taught Classics at Oberlin College, Santa Clara University, and Stanford, where she was a lecturer in a freshman humanities program for many years. Since 2015, she has taught for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She is the author of A Penelopean Poetics: Reweaving the Feminine in Homer’s Odyssey. Clayton received a PhD in Classics from Stanford.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Seneca, Emily Wilson, trans., Six Tragedies (ISBN 978-0192807069)
(Required)Seneca, John Davie, trans., Dialogues and Essays,1st Edition (ISBN 978-0199552405)
(Required) Seneca, Robin Campbell, trans., Letters from a Stoic (ISBN 978-0140442106)