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Should the Aspiring Wise Man Travel?

A Conflict in Seneca's Thought


Author(s): Silvia Montiglio
Source: The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 127, No. 4 (Winter, 2006), pp. 553-586
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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SHOULD THE ASPIRING WISE MAN TRAVEL?


A CONFLICT IN SENECA'S THOUGHT
SILVIA MONTIGLIO

Abstract.This article examines the connection between traveling and wisdom


in Seneca's writings.It argues that Seneca is ambivalentvis-a-vis traveling:on
the one hand, he deems the activityunnecessaryor even dangerous,insofar as
it is at odds with mental focus and challenges the ideal of happinessas "home"
(domesticafelicitas);on the other, he admiresthose who travel for the sake of
knowledgeand connectsthe mobilityof the body with the "cosmicflight"of the
mind. In line with a long-establishedtradition,Seneca views travel as the first
step towardsphilosophicalinquiry.The ambivalenceextendsto the assessmentof
imperialisticuse of travel.ThoughSeneca loudly condemnsit as a manifestation
of greed,he also shows admirationfor several Roman conquerors.
INTRODUCTION
WHENSENECAWRITES,traveling and philosophy are an established pair.
Several philosophers are credited with far-reaching travels. In Herodotus'
account, Croesus praises Solon for having wandered across many lands
for observation's sake and out of love for knowledge (1.30: theories
heneka). Theophrastus admires Democritus because he gathered much
greater booty in his travels than Odysseus and Menelaus, not wealth but
knowledge (68 A 16 DK), and Cicero celebrates Pythagoras, Democritus,
and Plato for having traveled to the furthermost lands "on account of
their desire to learn" (Fin. 5.19).1 The Roman empire saw a proliferation
of itinerant philosophers, especially, but not exclusively, of Cynic orientation. The Neopythagorean sage Apollonius of Tyana (according to his
biographer Philostratus) spent almost all his life traveling, both to instruct
himself and to teach others. Even exile could be turned into extensive
and exploratory travel, as in Dio Chrysostom's case: instead of settling
down somewhere, he chose to wander the world to its edges and to study
a liminal people, the Getae, about whom he wrote a scholarly account. In

1Translations are mine unless otherwise noted.


American Journal of Philology 127 (2006) 553-586 ? 2006 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

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SILVIA MONTIGLIO

554

short, traveling had long been the norm among aspiring wise men. The
one exception, according to Diogenes Laertius (2.22), was Socrates.
At the same time, the relationship between traveling and philosophy
was a complex and controversial one: is the kind of knowledge that one
earns through traveling conducive to wisdom? Much learning (polymathia)
was systematically contrasted with wisdom by philosophers before Aristotle,2 and traveling provided precisely the abundance of scattered and
erudite information that several philosophers regarded as mindless or
even immoral. In addition, going about the world could be perceived
as incompatible with the goal of mental focus, which called rather for a
relatively stationary lifestyle and even for physical immobility.3 Where
does Seneca stand in this debate? What is his position on the relationship
between traveling and wisdom?
Seneca explicitly connects traveling and philosophy (Ot. 5). In
defense of contemplation, he says that nature has provided us with a
curious mind (curiosum ingenium). It is enough for each of us to observe
how eager we are to know unknown things (quantam cupidinem habeat
ignota noscendi). This eagerness urges some to travel far, whatever the
risk, just for the sake of learning something secret and remote: "Navigant
quidam et labores peregrinationis longissimae una mercede perpetiuntur
cognoscendi aliquid abditum remotumque."4 As the motives for exploratory travels, cupido and curiositas are positive forces. Traveling for the
sake of knowledge is one of the activities that do justice to nature because
her beauty and greatness need spectators. The "spectatores of so many
great spectacles" (5.3) eventually turn their heads upwards and concentrate their movement in their eyes and heads (5.4). The eye becomes the
traveler: it "opens a road of investigation for itself" (5.5). Traveling is thus
the first step towards philosophical inquiry.5
Are we then to imagine that Seneca's aspiring wise man will travel to
faraway lands in order to learn remote things? Giovanna Garbarino, in a
comprehensive study of the theme of traveling in Seneca (1996), has argued
the opposite: Seneca dismisses traveling as frivolous and unnecessary even
when its goal is to acquire knowledge. She identifies three types of travel in
Seneca's writings-as risk and transgression, as evasion, and as a means of
broadening our horizons-but does not see any real contradiction between
2Cf. I. Hadot 1984, passim.

these issues in Montiglio 2005, esp. chaps. 5 to 9.


4The choice of quidam may suggest that Seneca is cautious not to overstate the case:
few people travel just to discover the world. Cf. Williams 2003, 87 (on Ot. 5.2).
5 Cf. Williams 2003, 87.
31I discuss

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A CONFLICT IN SENECA'S THOUGHT

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a positive and a negative evaluation of the activity and concludes that the
only philosophical use that Seneca makes of traveling is by drawing a moral
lesson from its incidents and nuisances. In her reading, the passage from the
De otio that celebrates "philosophical traveling" does not develop the motif
as fully as one would expect. She points out that the activity is mentioned
together with antiquarian erudition and the interest in fabulous tales, both
of which Seneca is far from associating with the quest for wisdom.
Paul Veyne's judgment is even more extreme. In his view the Stoic
wise man (Veyne makes no distinction between Seneca and other Stoics
in this regard) would hardly travel at all, except to serve his country.6 It is
beyond doubt that the ideal Stoic will embrace traveling (like any other
activity) if he is required to do so. In Epictetus' words (2.5.25), "to set sail
and take risks" might befall one as a cosmic necessity: one might have to
leave a place for the sake of the whole just as one might have to die early,
and everyone will have to leave the scene of life at some point to make
room for others. But Veyne assumes that our obedient citizen of the world
would not choose to leave home in order to satisfy his natural inclination
to increase his knowledge, his curiosum ingenium. A reconsideration of
the evidence will lead us to less clear-cut conclusions.
JOURNEYING IN THE WORLD
AND THE JOURNEY TO WISDOM
The early Stoics do not extol travel as a means of acquiring knowledge.
On the contrary, Cleanthes gathers men's ruinous ambitions, the pursuit
of fame, wealth, or pleasure, under the heading of traveling, to which he
opposes the knowledge of Zeus' law (SVF 1, 537.24-30). Traveling is not
even praised for promoting a cosmopolitan disposition. This may seem
surprising in light of Aristotle's statement: "one can see also in one's
wanderings that every man is near and dear to another" (EN 8.1.1155a
21-22). But Stoic cosmopolitanism is based on the recognition of reason
as the common denominator of humans, not on empirical observation.
There is no need to meet people from distant places in order to discover
one's kinship with them as rational beings.
For the early Stoics traveling is at best a neutral action. Chrysippus
(SVF 3, 501) lists traveling (apodemein) among the mesa, actions that reason
neither endorses nor condemns in themselves, together with speaking, asking,
6Veyne 2003, 93: "The sage might be the best navigator but he would not, I imagine,
navigate unless the well-being of his country demanded it."

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answering, and walking. If traveling as such is morally indifferent, the sage


is a sage whether he travels or not. If he travels, he does not travel as a sage.
Most likely, however, he will not be interested in traveling because he does
not even wonder at sights that seem extraordinary to others, such as the
caverns of Charon, springs of hot water, and eruptions of fire (Diogenes
Laertius 7.123). His being above marveling makes him a bad candidate
for traveling. In addition, he does not aspire to a life of pure study and to
encyclopedic knowledge but subordinates knowledge to ethics.Whether the
early Stoics traveled or not, the ancient sources do not attribute educational
travels to them, as they do to Democritus, Pythagoras, or Plato.
In contrast, the middle-Stoic Posidonius traveled widely.7 His
penchant for traveling goes together with his unorthodox idealization
of the theoretical life, which, in his view, includes the observation of the
phenomenal world: one must live contemplating (theorounta) the truth
of the world and its order.8 Posidonius, the polymath, defends the choice
of a life devoted to virtually any field of study, including those areas, such
as geography or natural wonders, that require extensive traveling.9To go
about studying the world is to pay allegiance to its perfection. Posidonius
would argue that traveling is not in the least at odds with Stoic doctrine.
On the contrary, it can "show that all the facts are worth ascertaining in
a universe rationally determined by immanent providence."10
Does Seneca agree with Posidonius on the virtue of traveling or
does he embrace the position of the early Stoics? His admiration for
exploratory travels seems to suggest that he thinks them worthy of the
wise man.'1 He actually mentions the navigator studii causa as an exemplary pursuer of virtue (Ep. 87.28).12 But at the same time, it is unlikely
7Cf. Strabo 3.1.5, C. 138; 18.3.4, C. 827.
8F 186, 13-15, Edelstein-Kidd. Panaetius had already identified virtue with "theory":
cf. Long 1986 (1974), 213-14.
9 On Posidonius' polymathy, cf. Strabo 16.2.10 and I. Hadot 1984, 41. Posidonius was
also interested in anthropology and specifically with the values of the people he visited,
in accordance with his concerns as a moral philosopher: cf. Athenaeus 4.151 and Bevan
1913, 88-90. His travels, however, were largely prompted by his desire to make scientific
observations of tides and other natural phenomena.
10Long 1986 (1974), 221.
11Seneca'sown fascination with natural phenomena qualifies Diogenes Laertius' claim
(above) concerning the Stoic's indifference to the wonders of nature. Seneca's sage has a
naive gaze; he marvels each time at the beauty of things: cf. P.Hadot 2002, 230. This attitude
is shared by Cicero, who maintains that one of the Stoic arguments for the existence of the
gods is "our wonderment at celestial and terrestrial things" (Nat. deor. 2.75-76).
12Theexample is not necessarily Seneca's invention because he cites it within the
Peripatetic response to the Stoic syllogism: "That which involves us in evils while we pursue

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that he himself traveled for the sake of knowledge in Posidonius' style.


Although he alludes to phenomena he has seen while traveling (N. Q.
3.25.8 and 6.21.1), he does not indicate that he was traveling to observe
those phenomena. His journey to Egypt as a young man is not the traditional journey of the aspiring philosopher because he apparently went
there for health reasons. In addition, we do not know how extensively
he traveled. His excursus on the Nile, for instance, is not based on much
personal observation,13 though he studied Egyptian geography and religion
and wrote on those subjects.14 Seneca did not even go to Greece, perhaps
because the center of philosophy, his main interest, had shifted to Rome.
Whatever the reason, the absence of the traditional educational journey
to Greece from Seneca's curriculum seems to have been perceived as
peculiar already in antiquity. The scholiast on Juvenal 5.109 reports that
Seneca did want to go to Greece when recalled from exile. As Miriam
Griffin points out, this may be the scholiast's speculation, an attempt to
explain why Seneca, erudite as he was, never went to Athens.15
More important, Seneca does not recommend traveling to the
aspiring wise man. Although he admires our curious mind, he neither
encourages us to obey its dictates by leaving home to study the world
nor says that the model-sage engages in this activity (Ep. 109 shows the
sage occupied in pure speculation). On the contrary, against Posidonius,
he maintains that navigation is one of the arts discovered by sagacitas,
not by sapientia (Ep. 90.24), because the sage would not have invented
anything unworthy of perennial use (ibid. 30). Seneca's argument implies
that traveling is irrelevant to wisdom (to say the least). In another letter,
he explicitly denies any link between traveling and wisdom: "Traveling
does not make doctors or speakers; no art is learnt from being in a place.
What then? Can wisdom, the greatest art of all, be gathered on a journey?"
(104.19). It is true that the kind of traveling that Seneca stigmatizes here
is the restless going places of the unsettled man. But the phrase "no art
it cannot be a good." It is however quite possible that Seneca, in his fondness for concrete
illustrations, added it to the original response, all the more so because he begins this letter
by describing one of his journeys and by drawing a moral lesson from it: his own metaphorical naufragium (1) resonates with the literal naufragium (28) of the studious traveler, and,
like the Stoic syllogism, Seneca's experiment to travel with a meager equipment is meant
to show that wealth is not a good.
13Cf. Griffin 1992 (1976), 43.
14Cf. Grimal 1978, 43-52.
'5Cf. Griffin 1992 (1976), 37. Seneca's predisposition to sea-sickness (Ep. 53)
might have discouraged him from extensive traveling (cf. also Ep. 57.1 on his loathing of
navigation).

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is learnt from being in a place" has a broader resonance, which cannot


pass unnoticed: it polemically addresses the tradition of the educational
journey, according to which the arts, including medicine, oratory, and
wisdom, were indeed "gathered on a journey."
Seneca's reluctance to include traveling among the activities that
promote wisdom comes to the fore in his interpretation of Odysseus,
whom he admires on account of his endurance and contempt for pleasures
(Const. sap. 2.1), not his knowledge. By Seneca's time, interpretations of
Odysseus as the ideal student of the world were not uncommon among
Stoic or Stoicizing writers. Though Horace, like Seneca, primarily extols
Odysseus for his endurance and resistance to temptations (Ep. 1.2.17-26),
he also sees in the wandering hero the student of the world who "with
forethought scrutinized (inspexit) the cities and the customs of many men"
(ibid. 19-20).16 Epictetus (3.24.12-13) turns Odysseus into a contemplative hero, the exemplar of those who move around "for the sake of the
spectacle (theds heneka)." Conversely, Seneca's Odysseus is one-sided: he
submits to destiny but does not possess any curiosum ingenium. Seneca
does not even offer Odysseus as a model of behavior because he listened
to the voice of the Sirens and yet sailed forth. He offers his companions
whose ears were plugged (Ep. 31.2). In addition, he identifies the Sirens
with the temptations of fashion or common opinion, not with the voice of
knowledge. Seneca does not see any cognitive content in the Sirens' song
and has no word of praise for Odysseus because he listened to it.17
16Horace is not a Stoic, but his treatment of Odysseus in this poem conjures up
Stoic readings of the hero: cf. Mayer 1994, 114. It is true that the phrase "with forethought
scrutinized the cities and the customs of many men" is the translation of the beginning
of the Odyssey. Nonetheless, Horace puts greater emphasis on Odysseus' inquisitiveness
by choosing the verb inspexit, which conveys Odysseus' intellectual activity more strongly
than its Greek equivalent iden ("he saw"). Cf., by contrast, AP 141-42, where Horace
translates Homer more literally: "dic mihi, Musa, virum, captae post tempora Troiae / qui
mores hominum multorum vidit et urbis."
17In Ep. 87.7 Seneca again identifies the Sirens (unnamed, but clearly detectable in
the phrase insidiosa blandimenta aurium) with the temptation of pleasures, and in Ep. 123.
12 with the invitations to follow common opinion, which Odysseus did not want to sail by
except bound to the mast: quas Ulixes nisi alligatus praetervehi noluit. The double negative
(nisi, noluit) emphasizes Odysseus' reluctance to sail by the Sirens at all. In Ep. 56 Seneca
likewise casts himself as one of Odysseus' deaf companions. He has been listening to the
most unpleasant noises with imperturbable detachment, yet he ends up plugging his ears,
that is, leaving the place. The treatment of the Sirens episode is comic: Seneca plays the
anti-hero and the Sirens' song is retrospectively identified with din. Cf. Motto and Clark
1993, 182. Seneca's repeated self-presentation as one of Odysseus' unheroic companions
bears out his refusal to read a cognitive content into the Sirens' song. His interpretation
contrasts not only with middle-Platonic and Pythagorean readings of the Sirens' song as

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The aspiring sage, then, will learn from Odysseus how to endure
the blows of fortune, not how to look around and explore new avenues
of knowledge. Traveling, even for the sake of discovery, would clash with
the imperative of caution, one of the "good affections" (eupatheiai) in
early Stoicism and a main characteristic of the sage, including Seneca's.'8
To be sure, Seneca's good man will have an energetic mind (cf., e.g., Vit.
3.3). He will act promptly, daringly, and even aggressively to carry out
whatever is required (cf., e.g., Ep. 74.32; 76.18; 82.18-19). He will be like
a soldier marching against so-called evils (Ep. 82.19: invadendum), at
times enduring a siege, at times courageously launching an attack on the
enemy's walls (Ep. 66.13) or embarking on the most dangerous expeditions (Ep. 96.5).19 But his courage is no adventurous rushing forward. It
is being able to meet dangers defiantly when they arise: "I disagree with
those who plunge into the midst of waves and fight every day against
difficulties with a great spirit because they value a stormy life. The wise
man will bear these things, not choose them; he will prefer to be at peace
than in a battle" (Ep. 28.7).20 Stoic fortitude is self-protective, "most
diligent to preserve itself" (Ep. 85.28: diligentissima in tutela sui fortitudo
est). It is not love of dangers (Ep. 85.28) or audacia (Ira 1.20.2). Rather,
it builds an unassailable fortress around us (Ep. 113.27). If we wrongly
use the term fortis for a gladiator, that is because of the limitations of
our language. Seneca does not agree that we should call fortis both
"the one who reasonably scorns accidental events" and "the one who

the soul's guide to its unearthly dwelling or as the music of the spheres (cf. Buffibre 1956,
473-81; Pepin 1991, 229), but also with Cicero's glamorization of the Sirens as the allurement of scientia and of Odysseus as the sapiens who preferred their call to his fatherland
(Fin. 5.49: "they promise knowledge, which unsurprisingly to a lover of wisdom was dearer
than his fatherland").
18Cf. SVF 3, 175; Seneca Ep. 22.7 ([The Stoics] cautiores quam fortiores sunt); 85.26
(cautio illum decet). On caution, cf. Long 1986 (1974), 244; Long and Sedley 1997 (1987),
vol. 1, 65 (with the sources). On the eupatheiai in the context of the Stoic ideal of apatheia,
cf. Frede 1986.
19On military images in Seneca, cf. Lavery 1980, 147-51. For a catalog, cf. ArmisenMarchetti 1989, 76-78; 94-97.
20As the parallel with Ep. 14.7-8 suggests, Seneca is recommending prudence in a
dangerous society. The sage "will never arouse the wrath of the powerful, on the contrary,
he will try to avoid it just like a storm during a navigation." The imagery is similar: the
temerariusgubernator despises threats (here represented by Scylla and Charybdis), whereas
the one who is cautior studies currents and winds and stays clear of whirling areas (for the
imagery, cf. also ibid. 15: "some ships are destroyed in the harbor; but what do you think
happens on the high seas?"). The passage from Ep. 28, however, has a broader area of application, for it is meant to illustrate the desirability of quiet places over crowded ones.

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unreasonably rushes out into dangers" (Ben. 2.34.4).21 The sage will be
as watchful as a scrupulous man who takes care of that which has been
confided to him (Tranq. 11.2).
The De tranquillitate animi employs metaphors of travel to describe
life-choices. When the state is unruly, you should devote more time to
leisure and study, "seek a harbor from time to time just as in a dangerous
navigation, and not wait until the affairs dismiss you but release yourself
from them first" (5.5). Drawing on a familiar image (cf., e.g., Lucretius
5.11-12), Seneca recommends the secure and straight course of philosophy
over the dangerous navigation that represents public life in unmanageable times (in ... tempus minus tractabile). The specification implies that
in better times one should not avoid the high seas of public life. But the
navigation would not be dangerous because the state would be manageable. Seneca's ideal lifestyle is then signified by a journey with little or no
risk. As he says elsewhere in the essay (9.3), those who spread their sails
wide are assailed by storms; one should restrict one's activities (cogendae
in artum res sunt) to protect oneself from fortune's weapons.
Accordingly, Seneca's trainee will refrain from actions altogether or
at least contain their scope. He will avoid the ones that are not necessary
("where no imperative duty summons us, actions should be prevented"
[Tranq. 13.1]); he will set limited goals for himself and stop before being
stopped by fortune: "you must put your hands to things that you can, or at
least hope to, bring to an end. You must leave aside things that continue
further than your action and do not stop where you intended" (Tranq.
6.4); "Nothing will free us as much from these mental fluctuations as
always setting a limit to a development. We ought not let fortune decide
where we stop, but to stop ourselves much earlier" (Tranq. 10.6). Seneca
even denies meaning to any action: "Let us abandon the pursuits that
are either impossible or difficult to accomplish and follow what is near
and goes along with our hope, but let us know that all these things are
equally superficial: they have different appearances from outside, but
from inside they are all vain" (Tranq. 10.5).22 Such a guarded person, all
intent as he is on staying within limits, is unlikely to venture on long and
dangerous journeys, whatever their goal. Indeed, elsewhere (Ep. 101.6)
21On this passage in the context of Seneca's discussion of the inopia sermonis, cf.
Setaioli 1988, chap. 1, esp. 17-18.
22
Such passages validate Rist's observation (1969, 248) that "Seneca seems to regard
freedom not so much as the opportunity to act as a state in which one cannot be forced
to act." Rist calls this ideal one of negative freedom. This negative concept of freedom as
non-acting is already Zeno's (cf. SVF 1, 218).

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Seneca mentions navigationes longas among the activities that men foolishly plan without considering their impending death.
Seneca deems the avoidance of activity much more important to
achieving peace of mind than Plutarch does in his treatise On Tranquillity.
The difference comes to the fore in their respective interpretations of a
phrase from Democritus' own essay on the same topic (peri euthymies).
Plutarch criticizes Democritus for arguing that the man who seeks tranquillity should not engage in many things, either private or public (465c),
whereas Seneca endorses Democritus' phrase and wants to limit activity
to instances of imperative duty (13.1, cited above).
As the comparison with Plutarch suggests, Seneca's emphasis on the
avoidance of activity is not a stock theme. Rather, it could be related to
his own implication in politics (the essay was probably written before 62).
In the De tranquillitate animi, Seneca does not advocate withdrawal from
the public arena on principle, but only as a last resort, and he identifies
even the occupations of a private citizen as a form of public service. His
advocacy of cautious action or of inaction altogether could reflect his
own "dangerous navigation," his experience of political participation with
the arduous maneuvers that it involves. But at the same time, Seneca's
recommendations have a larger spectrum of reference (his addressee's
malaise has many facets, and ambivalence vis-a-vis engaging in politics
is only one of them), as is clearly illustrated by the broadening in the
application of the travel metaphor from the specific antithesis negotium/
otium to a general rule of life ("don't spread the sails wide if you don't
want to be hit by the winds!").
Traveling for the sake of knowledge clashes even more patently
with another mainstay of Seneca's moral ideal, that of domestica felicitas (Ep. 72.4; cf. also 9.15; 23.3; 94.53 and 64).23 "The Stoic sage," Veyne
writes, "puts into serious practice an ironic aphorism by Pascal: 'All of
mankind's unhappiness comes from a single thing-not knowing enough
to rest quietly in a room."'24 Though Seneca insists that one should be
able to stay "at home" inside under any circumstances, he also claims
that one cannot withdraw into otium if one keeps looking and moving
around (Ep. 69.1-2). In order to contain your soul (animum continere),
23Thedomestic image is more common in the letters (I have found only two instances
of it in the dialogues: Const. 15.5 [the wise man has a domus through the doors of which
fortune does not enter] and Vit. 4.4 [against desiring maiora domesticis]), perhaps in connection with Seneca's voluntary seclusion. Throughout the writing of them, he rarely left
Rome and eventually took to his room: cf. Griffin 1992 (1976), 93 and 358, n. 1. The ideal,
however, pervades Seneca's work (cf. also, e.g., Prov. 6.5; Const. 5.4 and 6; Tranq. 14.2).
24Veyne 2003, 79.

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you have to avoid exposure to voices and sights that would jeopardize
your tranquility, and in order to avoid such exposure, you had better stay
put if you can. For any movement in the world-not just a disorderly
one (errare)-rekindles your past desires: "each time that you move forward, during that very movement something will happen that will renew
your desires" (ibid. 2: "quotiens processeris, in ipso transitu aliqua quae
renovent cupiditates tuas tibi occurrent"). Moreover, each time that you
travel abroad you risk being taken farther than expected. It would have
been better for Lucilius not to leave his native Naples for Sicily (Ep.
19.5-6): "If only it had befallen you to grow old within the bounds of
your birth! If only fortune had not sent you on the deep! Rapid fortune,
a province, its administration, and whatever such things promise carried
you far from the sight of a healthy life. Then more tasks will take you
in, and from those even more: what will be the result?" Lucilius' social
promotion has caused him to travel and perhaps will cause him to travel
again and again. He may be taken on an endless journey.
The journey of discovery also risks being endless. In the passage
from the De otio in which Seneca expresses his admiration for those
who travel for knowledge's sake, he also presents the journey that aims
to find "something hidden and remote" as a longissima peregrinatio, the
end of which cannot be fixed with certainty: aliquid abditum remotumque
is no settled destination. And there may be another goal beyond, another
journey.25
The movement of the one who is progressing towards wisdom is the
opposite: he keeps going,26but the destination of his journey will not push
him beyond itself because wisdom "knows the confines of things" (Ep.
94.16). Of course, wisdom is no easy goal; few, if any, will reach it, and even
they only "late" (cf., e.g., Ep. 94.50). The journey to it, however, no matter
how arduous, is not an open search but the pursuit of a well-defined ideal
by means of well-defined exercises. Sapientia itself will show the way to the
one who is progressing (ibid.). Its goal is communicable (Ep. 6.4) and can
be pointed at with a finger (Ep. 71.4). Far from resembling the unpredictable and dangerous journeys out in the world, the philosophical journey
is a tutum iter (Ep. 31.9) along one road, the opposite of the crossing of
25The word-order in the phrase navigant ... remotumque emphasizes the length of
the journey. As Williams 2003, 87, on 5.2, perceptively notes, the "separation of the verbs
with extended polysyllables intervening suggests the arduous length of such voyages, the
final positioning of remotum their ultimate goal."
26On the proficiens as "a perfect philosophical counterpart to the active traveller,"
cf. Lavery 1980, 153. A list of passages containing the image of "the road to wisdom" is in
Armisen-Marchetti 1989, 88-89.

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deserts, mountains, and straits:"One is the road that leads to wisdom, and
straight indeed. You will not go astray. Move on with firm steps ... You
will learn from reason towards which objects and in which way to go;
you will not fall upon things" (Ep. 37.4).27 The imperative destination of
the journey (quo eundum est: Vit. 1.3) shapes its course. It is true that the
traveler needs a guide because the road to wisdom is unknown to most
(ibid.).28But once he finds it, nothing on it is governed by chance. Just as
wisdom will not fall upon you (in te non incidet: Ep. 76.6), the traveler to
it will not fall upon things (non incidet rebus) as it happens to any other
traveler, including the one through life (Ep. 107.2: "The condition of life is
the same as that ... of a journey: some things will be thrown at you, some
will fall upon you [incident]"). To quote Veyne again, "moral progress is
not an adventure: we know where we are going."29
In addition, because wisdom is at home, the Stoic traveler can only
be homebound. He will learn to behave like Odysseus, to love family and
fatherland even in the midst of storms (Ep. 88.7). He will acquire the
same centripetal determination. The journey of life inevitably exposes us
to many happenings that shift the intended directions of our movements.
What shall we do? We shall rely on philosophy as on a star (Ep. 95.46) or
a helmsman (Ep.16.3; cf. 108.37) that will guide us to our internal home,
where we will stay whatever direction we will be forced to take.30
The centripetal nature of the journey to wisdom demands a highly
concentrated mental effort, a relentless vigilance (intentio) that will allow
the soul to become one and the learnt arts and precepts to fuse in it (Ep.
84.11). As Pierre Hadot puts it, "philosophy was a unique act which had
to be practiced at each instant, with constantly renewed attention, which
means constant tension and consciousness, as well as vigilance exercised
at every moment."31Traveling is a threat to intentio because it prevents
the mind from taking hold of itself. While Seneca, probably also based
on his own experience, acknowledges that moving around and changing
On the directness of the road to virtue, cf. also Ira 2.13.1-2.
1980, 154.
29Veyne 2003, 78. A similar description of the journey to wisdom is in ArmisenMarchetti 1989, 271: [the navigation of the proficiens] "s'est fix6e une direction dont elle ne
se laisse pas distraire." Garbarino 1996, 264, n. 2, cites Armisen-Marchetti, but she herself
does not discuss how Seneca's conception of the journey to wisdom affects his assessment
of traveling in the world.
30Lavery 1980, 154, beautifully summarizes a paradox in the Stoic metaphor of life
as a journey: "If all of life is a journey, the Stoic is always on the road; but, at the same
time, he is at home everywhere. The Stoic is a resident pilgrim."
31Hadot 2002, 138. Cf. also Foucault 1986, 51; Nussbaum 1994, 328, 340.
27

28Cf. Lavery

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places can have healing and reinvigorating powers,32he repeatedly warns


us that it does not free us from our internal burden; quite the contrary
(cf., e.g., Ep. 28 and 104; Tranq. 2.13-15). The motif was well known
when Seneca was writing, as he himself points out by citing Lucretius
(in Tranq. 2.14-15).33 It has a tangible sociological relevance in light of
the spread of traveling, including vacationing, in the late republican and
early imperial periods.34Indeed, Tranq.2.13-15 can be read as a satire of
the impatient tourist, always looking for new landscapes and experiences.
Seneca is ready to admit that a longa peregrinatio can be a pleasant distraction (Helv. 17.2) and satisfy our thirst for novelty (Ep. 104.13-14).35
But this pleasant distraction is at odds with the steady work of the mind
that Stoic training requires. The one who spends his life traveling touches
only upon the surface of things: he has many temporary lodgings but no
friendships (Ep. 2.2: "vitam in peregrinatione exigentibus hoc evenit, ut
multa hospitia habeant, nullas amicitias").
SENECA'S FASCINATION WITH TRAVELING
In sum, the nature and the destination of Seneca's journey to wisdom
are incompatible with the boundless and unpredictable movement of the
curious traveler. But why then does Seneca celebrate those who embark
on long journeys to increase their knowledge? There is no doubt that
traveling to study the world draws his admiration. The passage from the
De otio is not isolated. Seneca once again shows admiration for those
who travel in search for unknown lands in his description of the setting
of life (Marc. 18). He compares entering life (or any important life-event,
such as having children) to a trip to Syracuse and compares himself to
the guide who describes the good and bad things that the traveler will
find if she goes.36Among the good things that the city of life has to offer,
32Cf., e.g., Tranq. 17.8; Pol. 6.4; Ep. 55, 1-2 (the treatment of the motif perhaps is
ironical here: cf. Motto and Clark 1993, 115-24); 78.5. More sources in Garbarino 1996,
272, n. 31.
33More sources in Garbarino 1996, 268-69. La Penna (Saggi e studi su Orazio,
Florence, 344-50), as cited by Garbarino (270, n. 26), suggests that the motif goes as far
back as Democritus' peri euthymies (which Seneca knew indirectly through Panaetius: cf.
Setaioli 1988, 97-110). This is born out by Plutarch's essay on the same topic, which also
contains the motif (466c).
34Cf.Casson 1994 (1974), chap. 7.
35 On people's taste for novelty, cf. also N. Q. 7.1.1 and Helv. 6.6, cited below.
361 say "she" because Seneca's immediate addressee is a woman. Manning 1981,
95 (at 17), points to the influence of the suasoria on Seneca's choice of image because in

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he mentions the communion of men and gods, grandiose celestial and


terrestrial phenomena, animals, and, even prior to the arts, ships seeking
unknown lands (navigia quas non novere terras quaerentia).
Seneca is also full of praise for Nero because, amantissimus veritatis, he sent a mission to investigate the sources of the Nile (N. Q. 6.8.3).
Seneca himself follows along the explorers' journey by reporting their
findings in detail (ibid. 6.8.4-5). In the same work, he claims that the
winds are there to make us discover ulteriora, for man would have been
an inexperienced animal if he had been confined within his native land
(N. Q. 5.18.14).37 Nature has given us unfettered bodies along with the
mental power to break even the limits of humanity: "Consider how much
nature has allowed us; how human power (humani imperii) is not required
to stay within human limits (intra homines); consider how far our bodies
can wander. Nature did not even constrain men within the limits of the
earth but sent them to each of its parts. Consider how daring their minds
are, how they alone know the gods or try to know them, and follow divine
beings sending their minds high above" (Ben. 6.23.6).
Seneca builds a climax between the power of our bodies to move all
over the earth and, perhaps, to conquer it,38 and the power of our minds
to move beyond it. He is playing on the theme of urbs et orbis in order
to celebrate the "exorbitance" of our minds: the Romanum imperium is
one with the world, but the humanum imperium reaches further out.39
The passage conjures up Plato's description of the philosopher's mind in
the Theaetetus (173e-74a). Plato opposes the philosopher's body, which is
constrained to dwell in the city, and his mind, which is borne everywhere,
above the sky and below the earth, to study the nature of that which
truly exists. The body is stuck within the city and its prejudices (though
the philosopher soars above them because he pays no attention to the
body), while the soul is a cosmic traveler. The opposition reflects Plato's
dualistic vision. Seneca, on the other hand, builds a strong connection
that genre, landscapes, sites, and people were considered "topics particularly suitable for
excursive description." The image, however, also fits within the Stoic conception of human
life as a journey.
37 On this passage, cf. Morgante 1974, 22-24.
38Seneca repeatedly calls expansionistic traveling "wandering"; cf. also Ben. 7.2.5;
Ep. 59.12; N. Q. 3 praef 10.
39I borrow "exorbitance" from Gillies 1994, passim. Seneca's own scientific project
is a journey all around the world (N. Q. 3.1: mundum circumire constitui). On our minds'
intolerance of limits, cf. Bellincioni 1978, 49 (with reference to Ep. 102.21). Seneca is drawing on the widespread theme of the journey of the mind through the cosmos, on which cf.
Setaioli 1999, 498-504.

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between the behavior of the body and that of the mind. He sees a continuity rather than a contrast between the power of our bodies to travel
far (they are not stuck in the city) and the power of our minds to travel
even farther. The movement of the body prepares the movement of the
mind. In the passage from the De otio on traveling and contemplation,
Seneca does not fully exploit the motif. But in this passage (Ben. 6.23.6),
he develops it with elan.
The conflict between Seneca's conception of the journey to wisdom
and his admiration for extensive traveling can be detected even within
the same text. A large part of letter 104 is devoted to the condemnation
of traveling. As we have seen, Seneca dissociates wisdom from traveling
by mockingly alluding to the tradition of the educational journey (Ep.
104.19). He repeats that going places does not heal our soul; it only
provides us with new sights that retain our attention for a while (14).
But then he lists, and at some length, the discoveries that one can make:
"Traveling will inform you of other nations, it will show you new shapes
of mountains, unknown stretches of plains and valleys watered by perennial rivers; it will put under your observation the peculiar nature of some
rivers, whether it is the Nile that swells with its summer growth or the
Tigris that is snatched away from the eyes and after running through
invisible places returns in all its magnitude, or the Meander, a subject of
exercise and divertissement (exercitatio et ludus) for all the poets, entwined
with its many turnings and often running its course close to its own bed
and again bending away from it before it flows into itself. But otherwise,
traveling will make you neither better nor healthier" (15).
A sudden shift of voice occurs in this passage, similar to the one that
Catharine Edwards (1997, 33) has observed for letter 63. In that letter,
after chastising Lucilius for lamenting the death of a friend immoderately,
Seneca confesses: "I, who write this, am the one who has immoderately
lamented my dearest friend Annaeus Serenus" (14). The epistolary Seneca, Edwards argues, has multiple voices. He himself admits that except
for the sage, "no one plays the role of one man, but we are all multiple"
(Ep. 120.22). In letter 104, Seneca's voice shifts from stigmatizing the
ineffectiveness of traveling to embarking on an alluring journey. He is
himself transported by the distracting activity that he censures. Even
while he is claiming that traveling is unhealthy for the mind, he travels
in his own mind and closely follows the contours of the places he sees in
his imaginary journey, and it is not by chance that his fancy is captured
especially by rivers, with their surges, twists and turns, and in particular
by the Meander, whose serpentine shape visibly challenges the Stoic's
plea for a life governed by centripetal effort and treading upon one

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567

unbending road. The Meander carries the traveling Seneca along its
sinuous banks and drives him farther away from his previous focus by
conjuring up poetry as sheer entertainment, a playful diversion (ludus)
that replicates the playfulness of the river itself (cf. H. f. 683-84: vagus /
Maeander undis ludit), a "meandering of the mind" away from the straight
path to wisdom.40 After this enraptured detour the traveler shifts voice
again to resume the role of an enemy of traveling and curtly repeats his
initial message, as if startled out of a reverie.
This text also represents literary practice as a form of travel. The
Meander is both a locus communis of poetic composition and a thread
that guides Seneca's own writing. Likewise, the comparison of the journey
in life with a trip to Syracuse (in Marc. 17) allows Seneca to travel in his
mind to the famed city and to put the many spectacles he sees before
his addressee's eyes in the same order as they would appear on a real
journey from the mainland: first (primum) the island separated from the
continent by a narrow strait, then Charybdis, then the spring Arethusa,
then the harbor, where Seneca's mind disembarks to venture into the city.
Seneca's eagerness to show each sight as he travels on (videbis, "you will
see," recurs five times between 17.2 and 17.4) sets the narrative tempo.
Traveling, reading, and writing are indeed intertwined in Seneca's
prose. At the beginning of letter 2, Seneca treats the same motif as in letter
104: "traveling does not heal your soul." He praises Lucilius because he
does not go about or restlessly change places (non discurris nec locorum
mutationibus inquietaris), for a self-possessed mind is stable and dwells at
ease with itself. Lucilius' reading habits, however, apparently are marked
by the same unrest that Seneca reproaches to the unfocused traveler. He
reads many books and from every literary genre, a practice that Seneca
describes with an image of travel: vagum. Unstructured travel is both a
behavioral equivalent to and a metaphor for dispersive reading.41This
40The Stoics, Seneca included, do not condemn poetry, provided that it has moral
relevance: cf. Mazzoli 1970, chap. 3; Nussbaum 1993. In a passage from Plutarch's Aud. poet.
(15D), discussed by Nussbaum (131), the correct way to approach poetry is described by
an image of straightness: one should behave like Odysseus tied to the mast of reason and
not be borne off course by pleasure. The poetic exercises on the Meander would hardly
lend themselves to this kind of "straight reasoning." They are mostly similes in which the
river is compared to winding courses of things or actions: for instance, Silius Italicus (7.139)
compares it to Hannibal's multiple and undecided planning, and Ovid (Met. 8.162-68) to
the labyrinth. Seneca himself compares the Meander to the Lethe (in H. f 683-84, cited
above). On the playfulness of the Meander, cf. also Ovid Met. 2.246 (Quique recurvatis
ludit Maeandros in undis).
41Cf. also Ep. 45.1, which employs the same metaphors.

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development can be interpreted as a counterpart to the Meander digression


in letter 104. In that excursus, Seneca is doing what he condemns here: he
is centrifugally "reading" the Meander by following his vagi contours.
Movement (if not extensive traveling) and reading are again associated at the beginning of letter 84. Seneca tells Lucilius that he has
benefited from being carried about on a litter because he did not stop
reading. He suggests that this passive exercise (aliena opera exerceor)
is congenial to the more passive facet of literary practice, reading. The
intertwining of movement and reading is further developed with the
paradigm of the bee flying from flower to flower: writers should be like
bees, which wander (vagantur) to pick the suitable flowers, then transform
them into honey.42Wandering is a positive image for gathering information through reading.
Letter 79 establishes a philosophically more complex relationship
between traveling and literary practice. Seneca hopes to receive an account
of Lucilius' circumnavigation of Sicily. If he is satisfied, he will additionally
ask Lucilius to climb Mount Aetna in his honor in order to see whether
it is being consumed by its flames, as some argue. Surely Lucilius will do
so and will not blame his trip on Seneca because he himself is "ill" (4:
morbo tuo) with the desire to climb the mountain. The reason Lucilius
cannot be stopped is that he "salivates" (the image is in the Latin: cf. 7)
at the prospect of writing a grand poem on Mount Aetna, following in
the footsteps of illustrious predecessors. Lucilius, however, modestly only
hopes to equal those great poets, not to surpass them.43This observation
builds the transition from the discussion of poetry, with its competitive
nature, to the description of wisdom, which, in contrast, cannot be surpassed once it is reached. Wisdom always stays the same. Perhaps Mount
Aetna is being consumed and will disappear; virtue never will.
This letter links travel, poetic composition, and the pursuit of wisdom
in succession, and in so doing, it combines the two kinds of journey-to
wisdom and out into the world-that Seneca deems incompatible on
principle. Mount Aetna will take Lucilius first to the variable heights of
poetry, then to the absolute summit of wisdom.44The relevance of the
42Ep. 84.3. In combining the two moments of literary activity, reading and writing,
Seneca is more original than Cicero insofar as he puts a premium on personal elaboration.
See Setaioli 2000, 206-15.
43Lucilius' alleged modesty suggests that Seneca shared in the widespread sentiment that Roman literature had reached its peak in the Augustan period: cf. Setaioli 2000,
201-5.
44Littlewood 2004, 6, rightly observes that in this letter Seneca blends nature, art,
and ethics, but he is not concerned with the theme of traveling.

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journey for the acquisition of wisdom is highlighted by a verbal echo: the


verb ascendere describes both Lucilius' climbing (2: ascendas) and the
climbing to wisdom (8: ascenditur). By ascending the mountain, Lucilius
will be urged to ascend the road of moral improvement, and by imagining Lucilius ascending the mountain, Seneca's mind also travels upward
along that road: when you reach the top (8: cum ad summum perveneris)
refers to wisdom and the "you" is impersonal, but the image is immediately prompted by Seneca's fancy about his friend ascending Mount
Aetna. Finally, the landscape of Lucilius' trip offers Seneca material for
a meditation on the nature of virtue. In sharp contrast with letter 104, in
which the discoveries made by traveling provide nothing more than an
alluring diversion, here travel is integrated into the very quest for moral
perfection.45 As we shall see in the next section, Seneca's ambivalence
vis-a-vis traveling affects even his treatment of imperialistic expansion.
SENECA ON THE IMPERIALISTIC USE OF TRAVELING
As is well known, Seneca loudly condemns expansion. The most infamous
avatar of the expansionistic traveler is Alexander the Great, whom Seneca presents as a violator of the natural order. Alexander breaks "the
fences of the world" (Ep. 119.7:mundi claustra perrumpit), removes every
boundary, and reaches beyond "nature's limits" (Ben. 7.2.6; cf. also Ep.
94.63: ipsi naturae vim parat). He sends his thought across the Ocean (Ep.
91.17) and cannot bear the existence of territories uncharted by him: "He
will seek what lies beyond the big sea and will be resentful that there
is something beyond himself" (N. Q. 5.18.10). His movement is endless
and compulsive. It is as if he were driven on by an unconscious internal
motor: "He does not want to go, but he cannot stay, like a weight thrown
headlong, the course of which ends only when it lies motionless" (Ep.
94.63). His compulsive traveling is like those movements of the mind that
happen not nostro arbitrio, but suo arbitrio (Ira 2.35.2).46
45Garbarino 1996, 280, undermines the meaningfulness of travel in this letter by
emphasizing that the journey is attributed not to Seneca himself but to his friend. This
argument does not seem compelling to me because the distinction between teacher and
pupil in the Letters is far from clear-cut: both are imperfecti.
46 Seneca's interpretation of Alexander as the violator of nature is not idiosyncratic. In
Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae 1,Alexander stands at the mouth of the Indus and contemplates
a voyage into the ocean to discover new worlds. The student was asked to persuade him
not to challenge the "bond of the whole world" (Suas. 1.2). In Lucan, Alexander is the mad
conqueror whom only death can stop. His action confounds and defiles rivers (10.32-33).
On Seneca the Elder's Suasoria, cf. Gillies 1994,20. On the Alexander legend in this period,

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This portrait of Alexander as a compulsive traveler can be compared


with a later interpretation of his restless moving on as an existential search.
The Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli (late nineteenth, early twentieth century)
imagines Alexander at the end of the world, longing for the beginnings
of a movement that he then thought unlimited: "oh! Piti felice, quanto
piui cammino / m'era d'innanzi; quanto piti cimenti, / quanto piui dubbi,
quanto pii destino! ... Figlio d'Amynta! Io non sapea di meta / allor
che mossi" (Alexandros, II and IV).47 Pascoli's Alexander is propelled by
the excitement of facing more and more challenges. Likewise, Seneca's
Alexander is urged to reach farther and farther. But Seneca, contrary to
Pascoli, shows no sympathy for the unhappy hero. He sees Alexander's
urge to travel as the very translation of passion, which the Stoics conceived
as an excessive drive: hormi pleonazousa (SVF 1, 206). Like Alexander's
movement, that of passion is headlong and cannot be stopped: "When
people's bodies are thrown headlong, they have no control over themselves and cannot choose either to hold back or to delay. Their irrevocable
fall cuts off every power of decision and repentance, and they inevitably
reach the place which it would have been in their power not to reach.
In just the same way our soul, if it hurls itself into anger, love, and the
other passions, is not allowed to check its impetus: its own weight and the
downhill nature of its vices must carry it and take it to the bottom" (Ira
1.7.4). Alexander's movement not only resembles the impetus of anger, a
passion with which he was richly endowed; it is also caused by it, by mad
cruelty (Ep. 94.62: "agebat infelicem Alexandrum furor aliena vastandi
et ad ignota mittebat").
The violation of the natural order brought about by greedy traveling
assumes cosmic proportions in the second choral ode of Medea (301-79),
which recounts the navigation of the Argo and its consequences. An act
of excessive daring (301: audax nimium), that journey put an end to
moral purity and initiated cosmic destruction by forcing its way through
boundaries perceived as natural.48The Argo broke, cut, and whipped the
cf. also ibid. 195, n. 61; Romm 1992, 137-40. Fears 1974 argues that Stoic interpretations of
Alexander are not consistently negative. Cf. also Rudich 1997, 69-70.
47In a literal translation: "How much happier I was the longer the way before me,
the more the trials, the more the doubts, the more the destiny! ... Son of Amyntas! I knew
of no goal as I set out."
48For a persuasive interpretation of this ode as a vision of cosmic destruction, cf.
Biondi 1981 and 1988 (1984), followed by Romm 1992, 168-71; Schmitz 1993, 146. I have
said "moral purity" following Nussbaum 1994, 421,466-67, who notes that Seneca's Golden
Age differs from the traditional one in a significant respect: it is not an age of abundance
but of frugality and self-contentment.

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sea (302, 305,337); it removed "the covenants of a well-separated world"


(335). The sea had to suffer the blows (337). The immediate reward for
that violation was another violator of the natural order, Medea.49
Two episodes in particular announce the apocalyptic effects of that
expedition: the failure of the Argonauts to immobilize the Symplegades
and the sudden silence of Orpheus. In Greek myth, the fixing of floating islands marks a progression from disorder to order, from chaos to
cosmos. Geological stabilization characterizes even the consolidation of
the Olympian family-the ultimate establishment of the cosmic order-in
the myth of the birth of Apollo, which coincides with the fixing of both
a wandering island, Delos, and a wandering goddess, Leto.50 Apollonius
of Rhodes had already undermined the power of the Argonauts to tame
nature. In his version, the Argo does succeed in fixing the rocks by its
passage (2.604-6) but only thanks to divine help.51Seneca, however, does
not even mention the stilling of the Symplegades (along with any divine
help). Quite the contrary, he presents the passage of the Argo as an
unsettling act. The rocks are significantly called the "fences of the deep
sea" (342: claustra profundi). They used to contain the water's expanse
and prevent its flooding, like dikes.52 At the ship's approach, the sea can
no longer be contained and even touches the stars (344-45). This detail,
absent from Apollonius' narrative, "emphasizes the catastrophic mixing
of the elements."53
Seneca does not even take the Argo to the other side of the strait
but leaves it hanging at the passage, as it were, by creating an uncanny
suspension of action and sound: daring Tiphys becomes pale (the oxymoron palluit audax at 346 drastically modifies audax nimium in the
49Like the Argo, Medea aims to remove boundaries: "let Corinth which delays
[sailors] by its double shore be burnt, and join its two seas!" (35-36). She, too, knows no
limits (397). Her crime is new (794) like the laws imposed by the Argo on the winds (319)
and like the worlds that will replace the current one (377). A mythic link between Medea
and the Argo is Phaethon who broke the "sacred covenants of the world" (605-6). Medea
sees herself as a successful Phaethon (32-34). Later in the play (1012-13), her violation of
her own body builds another parallel with the Argo's violation of geographical boundaries: cf. Segal 1983, 178.
50Cf.Montiglio 2005, 14-15. The main source is the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. Callimachus' treatment of the myth in his Hymn to Delos is less reassuring: the rooted island
retains its feet. Cf. Nishimura-Jensen 2000, 291.
51Cf.Nishimura-Jensen 2000, 307.
52Biondi 1988 (1984), 118 translates claustra as "dikes." He also notes that Seneca
normally uses claustra for the underworld. The flood caused by the Argo is as deadly as
an imaginary flood of Hell.
53 Biondi 1988
(1984), 117.

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opening line of the ode) and lets the reins fall from his failing hand; the
ship loses its divine voice; and Orpheus stops singing while his lyre sleeps
(348). Orpheus' exceptional silence conveys his equally exceptional failure to control the cosmos and to elicit universal sympathy by his art.54
Orpheus is uncharacteristically unable to charm the rocks just as the Argo
is unable to fix them. The paralysis of his voice signifies the threat that
looms over the cosmos as the Argo is crossing through the Symplegades.
The loss of harmony between man and nature initiated by this passage
soon silences Orpheus forever: his severed head has no voice as it runs
down the Hebrus (631), again, contrary to mainstream tradition."55
Subsequent to the Argo's passage, traveling becomes the "natural"
mode of existence in a shifting landscape. Any number of insignificant
boats now wander the deep (368: altum . . . pererrat). Their pervasive
movement (per-errat) completes the dissolution of the cosmos by erasing
all the dividing lines (369: terminus omnis motus). The world is permeable,
less resisting, everywhere open to travel (372: pervius). It removes and
displaces its own components (371-74). This loss of unity results in the
relaxation of the very bonds that keep things together (375-76: Oceanus /
vincula rerum laxet), that is, in Stoic terms, in the undoing of the cosmos.56
With Ocean losing his tension, the earth spreads everywhere, immense
(376-77). The final disappearance of the sea marks the end of the world
in Stoic theory.57
54In Seneca's drama, Orpheus symbolizes the power of art to create a perfect accord
between man and nature: cf. Segal 1989. Orpheus' silence at the passage of the Symplegades
is all the more remarkable because in the Orphic Argonautica (680-711), it is Orpheus'
music that fixes the rocks: cf. Nishimura-Jensen 2000, 307.
55Cf., e.g., Ovid Met. 11.51-53; Silius Italicus 11.478-80; Virgil Georg. 4.525-27. More
references in Bomer 1980, 239, 250; Nagy 1990, 210-12. The episode of the singing head,
to be sure, is directly related to Orpheus' love for Eurydice, which Seneca does not mention. Nonetheless, the singing head is also a symbol of the eternal power of poetry over
physical death, a power that the voyage of the Argo has defeated. Orpheus is the second
of the Argonauts to die (after the pilot, Tiphys), and he dies entirely (cf. the emphatic non
rediturus at 633).
56On the metaphor of cosmic bonding, cf. Lapidge 1980 (though Seneca is not
discussed).
57Cf. Biondi 1988 (1984), 139. The end of the world consists in the prevailing of
the dry element, fire. Cf., e.g., Cicero Nat. deor. 2.118. More sources in SVF, s.v. ekpyrosis.
Nonetheless, Seneca is unsystematic: flood and conflagration are alternative ways of ending the cosmos (cf., e.g., N. Q. 3.28.6-7). Medea as a whole privileges fire in the process of
cosmic destruction because Medea is the daughter of the Sun, that is, a creature of fire. But
even in this play Seneca takes pains to balance the two elements by connecting Medea to
the sea (362-63) and by imagining that the fire that her poisons cause is fed, rather than
quenched, by water (889-90), an unrealistic detail absent from Euripides' and Ovid's accounts of her crime.

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The incompatibility between navigation and the ideal of self-contentment comes to the fore in the so-called Dawn Song of Hercules furens in
which sailing brings disturbanceinto the picture of tranquillaquies (160) that
characterizes rural existence: "the sailor, uncertain of his life, entrusts the
sails to the winds, which fill their loose folds with their breath" (152-54). It
is true that sailing is not condemned in these lines. Far from putting an end
to pristine innocence and tranquility, as in the Argo ode, it counts among
the peaceful and carefree activities of country-life as opposed to the anxious pursuits of city-dwellers. Seneca has been inspired to mention sailing
by his model, the parodos of Euripides' Phaethon,58 which lists navigation
among the activities that the new day awakens along with tending cattle
and hunting. Seneca expands on Euripides: besides building a contrast
between peaceful and worrisome occupations, he develops the description
of the pastoral setting and adds fishing. But, curiously, while he expands on
Euripides he reduces the mention of sailing to less than three lines from the
entire strophe that it occupies in his model (Diggle 1970, 79-86).59 Seneca
minimizes the presence of sailing in his depiction of rural existence, and,
possibly, he even conflates or replaces this activity with fishing (which he
describes in much more detail).60 At the same time, his portrayal of the
sailor introduces a strong element of uncertainty suitable to prefiguring the
disruption that Hercules--whom this play casts as impatient of quiet-will
bring into the cosmos: the sailor is dubius vitae.61There is no equivalent of
dubius vitae in Euripides. Seneca, while minimizing the presence of sailing,
adds this anxious note. Ultimately, then, the function of traveling in this ode
matches its condemnation in Medea: it foreshadows cosmic upheaval.
Seneca's treatment of the Argonauts' expedition, however, is not
unambiguously negative. Columbus' son saw the reference to Ultima
Thule at the end as a prophecy of his father's discovery of the New
World.62 Several modern readers have followed in his footsteps: Seneca,
58Thissource was already identified by Wilamowitz: cf. Diggle 1970, 96-97, followed
by Rose 1985, 107, and by Billerbeck 1999, 242-44.
59Cf. Billerbeck 1999, 254 (on 152-58).
60Rose 1985, 111, maintains that the sailor and the fisherman are the same person,
based on the hic (rather than ille) at 154. But hic can be used to mark a transition. Moreover,
the fisherman is leaning from rocks on the shore (153-54); he is not at sea like the sailor.
The association of the two figures is however undeniable. As Billerbeck has pointed out
(1999, 254, at 152-58), the passage is reminiscent of Ovid Met. 13.920-23, a description of
various activities related to fishing.
61Cf.Rose 1985, 112. On Hercules' obsessive restlessness, cf. Galinsky 1972, chap. 8.
Nonetheless, the character is not at odds with the Stoic picture of the hero: cf. Billerbeck
1999, 29.
62Cf.Costa 1980 (1973), 379. Cf. also Motto and Clark 1993, 22.

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they argue, is envisioning not the end of the world but its expansion, not
the destruction of order but the prospect of new discoveries. Far from
watching a catastrophe, he is celebrating the unlimited freedom of human
power and the taming of nature.63
A progressive reading of the Argo ode is not sustainable. Both context and vocabulary leave no doubt that Seneca is retracing the inevitable
course towards the destruction of our cosmic order. But an undercurrent of
admiration for world discoveries can be detected in the text. A comparison
with Horace's treatment of the nefas Argonauticum in Carmina 1.3, which
Seneca doubtlessly had in mind,64highlights the latter's more ambivalent
interpretation of the theme. While Horace extends his condemnation of
seafaring to other manifestations of human inventiveness and ends his
ode with the gloomy vision of a giant-like attack on the sky,65 Seneca
ends his own with the captivating image of Ultima Thule. Charles Segal
(1989, 107) rightly perceives a dissonance between the beginning of the
song, the condemnation of Tiphys' daring, and its end, in which he even
reads "the optimism of limitless exploration." Martha Nussbaum (1994,
464-75) analyzes the dissonance in greater detail. It is curious, she notes,
that in an ode allegedly meant to denounce the voyage of the Argo and
the consequent spread of navigation, and to celebrate our forefathers
for living an innocent life at home, Seneca finds little inspiration to sing
about the latter. He even chooses a pejorative word, "lazy" (piger, 331),
to "praise" it. By contrast, the final strophe has an excited, vibrant pace.
Seneca seems to be carried away by the loathed prospect of discoveries
and removal of boundaries. Maria Grazia Bajoni (1996) likewise remarks
that the initial recognition of the nefas Argonauticum is not followed
by a total condemnation of it and takes the phrase laxare vincula (376)
positively to refer to the disclosure of a boundless universe. While this
reading does not fit the Stoic conception of the universe (there is no
boundless universe in Stoic thought), it captures the ode's ambivalence:
as we read about the revelation of new worlds, we are prone to forget
63Thestrongest advocates for a progressive reading of the ode are Lawall 1979, who
regards it as an expression of "happy optimism" (420 and passim) and Bajoni 1996, who
sees in its end the granting of unconditional freedom to human action (75). Morgante 1974,
21, also speaks of Seneca's "unshaken faith in future progress."
64The parallels between the two poems are numerous and specific: both identify
cosmic order with a separation of the elements (cf. in Horace, abscidit [21], Oceano dissociabili [22], non tangenda [24], semoti ... leti [32-33]; cf. also perrupit [36, of Hercules],
and audax [25, 27]). For more parallels, cf. Costa 1980 (1973).
65 Cf. Nisbet and Hubbard 1970, 40-45. Nisbet and Hubbard
provide a useful list of
Greek and Latin poems developing the topical theme of the folly of navigation.

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that in Stoic terms the novi orbes can only exist after the disappearance
of this one, and instead our imagination is drawn to see new worlds
opening up within our own. We are left with the exalted vision of future
discoveries, beyond Ultima Thule.
One can read a specific reference to Roman imperialism into
this ode. As Cedric Littlewood argues (2004, 167-68), at the end "the
boundaries of the world are magnified to a Roman imperial scale." He
contrasts Seneca's prophecy of an unbounded world with Virgil's vision of
a bounded empire (Aeneid 1.287: imperium Oceano, famam qui terminet
astris) and concludes that the ode celebrates "the flawed sublimity of an
empire which refuses to observe Virgilian and Augustan boundaries."
Seneca's ambivalence vis-a-vis imperialistic expansion affects the
of
a long passage in the Consolatio ad Helviam (6.6-7.8) that juxlogic
taposes opposite representations of mobility and migration. Seneca has a
compelling argument against the fear of exile: "I find people who say that
in our spirit there is a natural impulse to change places and to transfer
residence. For man is endowed with a mind which is mobile and restless; it never stays within limits but spreads itself and sends its thoughts
everywhere, to known and unknown places, wandering, impatient of quiet
and most happy with novelty" (6.6). The theme of the mind's unlimited
journeying provides Seneca with a justification for our inborn need to
change places (though Seneca is not speaking in his own voice but reporting what others say: invenio qui dicant). Nevertheless, the recognition of
our soul's mobile disposition is immediately illustrated, not by a celebration of traveling but by a gloomy and vertiginous account of migratory
movements. Seneca's censure surfaces from a sweeping phrase: "through
inaccessible, unknown places, human inconstancy has tossed itself" (per
invia, per incognita versavit se humana levitas) (7.2).66 A list of displacements follows: "They have dragged sons, wives, and parents heavy with
old age. Some, driven about in long wandering, have not chosen a place
with judgment but occupied the closest one out of exhaustion; others
have established their rights in someone else's land with weapons; some
people, while seeking unknown places, have been swallowed by the sea,
some have settled down where they were left by a lack of means. And
not all have had the same reason for leaving their homeland and seeking another one: some have escaped the destruction of their land by the
enemy's forces and, deprived of their goods, have been thrust into the
66For a parallel, cf. Ep. 13.16 ("quam foeda sit hominum levitas cotidie nova vitae
fundamenta ponentium"). In this letter also, one manifestation of levitas is the preparation
for travels even in old age.

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SILVIA MONTIGLIO

goods of others; some have been expelled by civil war; others have left
to ease the pressure of overpopulation; others have been thrown out by
a plague or by repeated earthquakes or by some unbearable defect of a
barren soil; yet others have been tempted by the fame of a fertile land,
too highly praised." Our soul's intolerance of quiet suggests to Seneca
this dismal assessment of our movements in the world, marked by impiety (in the dragging of defenseless family members), violation (in the
appropriation of others' lands), destruction. The narrative's last word,
corrupit, spells out its mood.
The following development, however, culminates in an unqualified
celebration of the Roman empire. Seneca lists Antenor, Evander, and
Diomedes as examples of fugitives who founded new settlements, and he
remarks: "The Roman empire itself looks back to an exile as its founder,
a fugitive whose fatherland had been captured. With a few survivors, he
was seeking faraway lands, driven to Italy by necessity and fear of the
enemy. But then how many colonies these people have sent out to every
province! Wherever the Romans conquer, they dwell. They were willing to
put their names down for this change of place, and even old men, leaving
their altars, followed the settlers across the sea" (7.7). This appraisal of
the origin of Roman power reverses the negative judgment on migrations
that precedes it. The initial displacement, exile, is turned into the motor
(if not the precondition) for imperial expansion. Passivity and helplessness give way to a collective initiative in which even old men willingly
participate, in sharp contrast with the previous account of migrations in
which "parents heavy with old age" were dragged along.67 Seneca thus
suggests that the Roman empire, far from being hybristic, originates in
the predicament of exile and is the legitimate outgrowth of it.
Seneca's positive assessment of Roman imperialism is borne out by
his undisguised admiration for several Roman conquests and conquerors.
In the Consolatio ad Polybium, he wishes that Claudius may "open up
Britain" (13.2) and commends Tiberius' brother Drusus for his expedition
into the heart of Germany and for submitting "those most savage peoples"
to Roman rule (15.5). He evokes Drusus' conquest also in the Consolatio
ad Marciam (3.1) and with no polemical intent. Drusus "penetrated deeply
into Germany and fixed Roman standards where it was hardly known that
there were Romans at all." Caesar, too, was "wandering all over Britain

67 In the phrase "They were willing to put their names down for this change of place,
and even old men, leaving their altars, followed the settlers across the sea," "old men"
(singular in the Latin) occupies the emphatic final position.

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A CONFLICT IN SENECA'S THOUGHT

577

and could not even contain his happiness within the ocean" (ibid. 14.3).
Why does Seneca approve of these expansionistic missions?
His expressions of sympathy for Claudius' project in the Consolatio ad Polybium (and, possibly, his praise of Drusus in the Consolatio
ad Marciam) sound like flattery.68Nonetheless, his overall treatment of
expansionistic traveling shows that political opportunism cannot be the
main motive behind his admiration for those expeditions. As we have
seen, his flattering account of Nero's mission to the sources of the Nile
in the Naturales Quaestiones emphasizes only its intellectual goal: Nero
is amantissimus veritatis. Seneca knows how to please an emperor for
his commitment to explorations while at the same time ignoring his
imperialistic aims.
Seneca's treatment of this particular mission could rather suggest
that he saw a strong interconnection between conquests and knowledge.
Even in the Argo ode from Medea, the condemnation of greedy traveling
is coupled with the vision of worlds beyond. Seneca seems to be grappling
with the question: "is it possible to advance our knowledge of the world
without advancing our claims over it?" He holds scientific progress, in
the sense of an ever increasing knowledge of nature's mysteries, as the
only good kind of progress, provided that no manipulation of nature
follows.69 But he also sees how difficult it is to protect that desirable
and never-ending acquisition of knowledge from utilitarian motives and
applications.
68The Consolatio ad Marciam contains the most appreciative picture of Tiberius,
perhaps in line with. Caligula's reversed tolerance towards the senate and his parallel
rehabilitation of the former emperor in 39: cf. Griffin 1992 (1976), 23. In this climate, a
praise of Tiberius' brother could please Caligula. On the other hand, Seneca's admiration
for Caesar's conquests may have been sincere and durable. Rudich 1997, 56-57, argues
that Seneca is not utterly unsympathetic to Caesar. Griffin (184) notes that in Ep. 94.65,
Caesar's negative ambition is illustrated only by the civil wars, which may indicate that
Seneca's position vis-a-vis the conquests remained positive. This is not certain, however,
because the appreciative statements all come from the Consolationes. Indeed, in the passage from the Naturales Quaestiones that condemns those who make use of the winds to
seek enemies across the sea, the main target could be Caesar for his expedition to Britain
(cf. Canfora 2000, 176-77), the same expedition mentioned in a positive light in the Consolatio ad Marciam.
69Cf., e.g., N. Q. 7.25.5: "veniet tempus quo posteri nostri tam aperta nescisse mirentur." On the relationship between science and ethics in the Naturales Quaestiones, cf.
De Vivo 1992; Parroni 2000. On progress in Seneca, cf. Morgante 1974, 19-33, with further
bibliography; De Vivo 1992, passim, esp. 88-89; Motto and Clark 1993, 21-39; Fedeli 2000.
Fedeli (44) maintains that Seneca does not systematically condemn human intervention
on nature. Although Marc. 18 suggests as much, the passage is isolated and its content
very general.

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The difficulty surfaces from his discussion of the function of the


winds (N. Q. 5.18.14). His claim that the winds are there for us to travel
begs the question: why should we travel at all? We have seen that Seneca
advocates knowledge as the correct, natural goal: ad ulteriora noscenda.
But he also mentions convenience: "[god] gave the winds in order that the
advantages (commoda) of each region could be shared, not that people
should lead legions and cavalry." Seneca is suggesting that contact with
foreign people is desirable not only because it broadens our mental horizon but also because it brings us "advantages," namely, it increases our
options and improves our lives. We can even read an endorsement of trade
in this passage, for commoda embrace all the preferable things, including
material goods.70Seneca shifts from the acquisition of knowledge to the
practical benefits of traveling. Nonetheless, since his Stoic self maintains
that commoda are not real goods, he does not go into more detail but
reverts to the condemnation of military aggressions.
Likewise, the climax that he builds between our power (imperium)
to move all over the earth and our mind's power to move even beyond it
(Ben. 6.23.6, cited above) is an indication that he could hardly envisage a
disinterested kind of traveling completely disjointed from its appropriative
and manipulative counterparts, including expansion. The distinction was
especially difficult in ancient times because only some people (as Seneca
himself says in Ot. 5.2) traveled with the sole purpose of increasing their
knowledge. Explorers cleared the way for colonization and conquest.
Seneca's mention of traveling in his description of the city of life
(Marc. 18) further complicates the issue. We recall that this symbolic city
counts among its attractions "ships that seek unknown lands." Seneca
does not specify the motives for their travels. This vagueness, while it
bears out the intertwinement of intellectual and acquisitive traveling in
Seneca's mind, also suggests that he admires expansion even regardless
of the progress of knowledge that it brings. He concludes: "You will see
that there is nothing left untried for human daring and you will be both
a spectator and yourself a great participant in those attempts." Traveling far, whatever the purpose, does not violate nature but harmonizes
with it. Seneca mentions the ships right after the aquatic animals, as
their "natural" descendants. The ocean, vinculum terrarum,this time has
remained intact (18.6).
It is true that Seneca's model for the praiseworthy conqueror is
70 Seneca stigmatizes commerce and the traveling that it requires in, e.g., Vit.2.1; Helv.
10.5-6; Phaedr. 530. He seems to approve of it in Ep. 87.21, where he also distinguishes
between commodum and bonum (36).

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A CONFLICT IN SENECA'S THOUGHT

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Hercules, the selfless pacifier of the world, the antithesis of Alexander


(Ben. 1.13.3), and a major Stoic hero. Hercules' travels do not clash with
the Stoic ideal of detachment from externals because they are imposed
on him as a service to mankind. But, as Miriam Griffin has pointed out,
Seneca's application of the "Herculean standards" to Roman conquerors
is complicated by occasional acknowledgments of the traditional military
conception of virtus.71Among our passages, at least the image of Caesar's
unrestrained happiness as he roams all over Britain barely fits the StoicHerculean standards. Seneca's ambivalent treatment of the imperialistic
use of traveling shows him addressing a difficulty shared by the politics
and literature of the period, namely, how to balance containment and
expansion.72

CONCLUSIONS
We can now go back to Garbarino's and Veyne's interpretations. We shall
agree that Seneca's sage, and aspiring sage, will only feel compelled to
travel in order to serve his country (as Hercules also did, his country being
the entire world). Otherwise, traveling, even for the sake of knowledge, is
not a way towards wisdom and can even prevent its acquisition.73Seneca,
to be sure, exploits travel for moral reflection, but he puts any other lifeexperience (such as renting an apartment above noisy baths) to the same
use.74 His focus on the inner self clashes with the endorsement of travel as
a means of acquiring knowledge of the world because such knowledge is
(at best) inessential for self-improvement. But at the same time, on several
occasions Seneca shows admiration for exploratory traveling, so much
so that he even approves of imperialistic missions. More generally, he is
inconsistent in his assessment of human mobility: he stigmatizes restlessness, yet he praises our inborn urge to move about by connecting it with
the power of our mind to travel across the cosmos. In letter 79, the ascent
of a fabled mountain merges with the very vision of wisdom.
Griffin 1992 (1976), 223.
Pagin 1999, esp. 315. Further bibliography on the subject can be found in this
article. Cf. also Littlewood's reading of the end of the Argo ode in Medea (167-68).
73Mazzoli 1989, 1832, summarizing Ep. 28, says that in that text traveling neither
harms nor favors virtue. I think that this is true for the hypothetical sage (because virtue
can neither be lost nor increased) but not for the one making progress, whom traveling
distracts from his "centripetal journey."
74 Cf. Bellincioni 1978,114. On Seneca's habit of looking for morally profitable things
wherever he is, cf. Ep. 55.3.
71

72 Cf.

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SILVIA MONTIGLIO

580

One could play down the inconsistencies by invoking context as a


decisive factor. Seneca's arguments are not always statements of principle
but are strongly influenced by rhetorical factors. Vasily Rudich has stated
the problem clearly in his study of Seneca's inconsistent political views:
"meticulous listing and discussing of all the passages relevant to a particular set of political connotations in order to determine Seneca's 'true'
views or attitudes methodologically misleads: his thought and sympathies
continue to remain elusive. It is more promising to concentrate on a few
motifs which recur throughout the corpus without much variance, especially when their presence is not urged by the text's immediate subject
matter. Where a serious contradiction on a major theme is discovered,
a judicious inquiry is needed to determine whether it arises from specifically rhetorical, or rather from political and psychological factors."75
Nevertheless, the celebration of traveling for the sake of knowledge is
precisely one of the motifs that occur repeatedly and in different contexts: at one time Seneca is discussing the function of the winds (in the
Naturales Quaestiones), at another the value of contemplation (in the De
otio), at another the setting of life (in the Consolatio ad Marciam), at
another a Stoic syllogism according to which a thing cannot be good if
its pursuit may cause evils (in Ep. 87.28), at yet another the care that god
devoted to the making of man as a rational being (in the De beneficiis).
Furthermore, the positive mentions of travel in these passages cannot be
explained simply by rhetorical considerations. Possibly the reader will
expect an encomium of travel in a defense of philosophical contemplation (the motif was topical) or in a discussion about the function of the
winds, but not necessarily as the exemplary virtuous action, as a good
thing to find in the city of life, or as evidence for our god-given rationality.
More important, we have seen that Seneca's mind itself enjoys taking off
to marvelous sites (the Nile, the Meander, Scylla and Charybdis, Mount
Aetna). For these reasons, I take his inconsistencies concerning traveling
as indicators of a real ambivalence.
Martha Nussbaum's reading of the Argo ode in Medea provides a
good point of departure to explain the ambivalence. She interprets the
tension in that ode between the intended praise of the immobile life
and an unavowed fascination with its opposite as betraying a conflict in
Seneca's own mind. Seneca seems to be at odds with his own philosophical
convictions, implicitly questioning Stoic morality because, if rigorously
interpreted, it entails inactivity. Tragedy, Nussbaum argues, is the ideal
medium for Seneca's critical dialogue with himself insofar as the genre
75Rudich

1997, 52.

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A CONFLICT IN SENECA'S THOUGHT

581

endorses the values that Stoicism rejects, namely, attachment to externals


(though the tension, as we have seen, surfaces in his prose writings as well).
Nussbaum's insight challenges Veyne's somewhat blunt statement (2003,
79) that "the thought that living like this [= unadventurously] would lead
to death from boredom never even crossed the Stoics' mind." According
to her, it did cross Seneca's, and uncomfortably so.
This interpretation does justice to Seneca's exacting thinking, but it
runs the risk of opposing the philosopher to his own school (a position
that is generally refuted)76 and of disregarding important differences of
opinion concerning traveling within Stoicism itself. Rather than reflecting a conflict between his adherence to Stoic dogma and his criticism of
it, Seneca's contradictory statements about travel could reflect a conflict
between his Posidonian sympathies and his fundamental agreement with
the older Stoics. Seneca's treatment of travel in the De otio indeed shows
both his undermining of the Posidonian position and his attraction for it.
Seneca is likely to have in mind Posidonius' encomium of the theoretical
life.77 At the same time, his failure to exploit the connection of traveling
with contemplation (as noted by Garbarino) can be read as a refusal to
espouse the Posidonian model wholeheartedly. As far as travel is concerned, Seneca expresses his attraction to that model indirectly, even
deviously, in contexts that do not deal with travel per se.
Seneca's unresolved relation to Posidonius is apparent in his complex position on erudition, more open than the older Stoics' position but
not as open as Posidonius'-and travel, in Seneca's own interpretation, is
bound together with erudition.78As is well known, Seneca's inward-looking conception of wisdom undermines the importance of any specialized
field, including the artes liberales (most famously in Ep. 88). One should
study to know better, not more (Ep. 89.23). Too much is always a vice:
Vitiosum est ubique quod nimium est.79 His dismissal of encyclopedic
education is mirrored in the positive image of the progress to wisdom
as a straight and unadventurous journey and in the negative one of the
omnivorous reader as a restless traveler (as in Ep. 2). But Seneca allows
e.g., Mazzoli 1993 (1991), 177.
77Williams2003,72, cites the Posidonian fragment on the theoretical life in connection
with Ot. 5. On Seneca's overall position on the theoretical life, cf. Mazzoli 1970, 35-43.
78Theissue of erudition in Seneca can only be treated very briefly here. For excellent
discussion, cf. Mazzoli 1970, chap. 1.
79Tranq. 9.6. Seneca's target here is those who buy many books for display, whereas
he would readily forgive people if "they erred because of an excessive desire to study"
(studiorum nimia cupidine erraretur,9.7). But we have just heard him (9.4-5) condemn the
distracting readings of many books.
76 Cf.,

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SILVIA MONTIGLIO

for more inclusiveness than this schematic distinction between erudition and wisdom could suggest.As GiancarloMazzoli has pointed out,
he praises the study of beneficial subjects even if it does not have an
immediate practicaleffect: "pursuingsalutarystudies is laudable,even
if they do not have practicalresults"(studiorumsalutariumetiamcitra
effectumlaudandatractatioest, Vit.20.1).80Seneca criticizesPosidonius
in letters 88 and 90, but at the end of letter 78, largely devoted to the
healingpower of study againstbad health,he endorsesPosidonius'claim
that "one day of an educatedman lasts longer than the longest life of the
ignorant"("unus dies hominum eruditorumplus patet quam imperitis
longissimaaetas":Ep. 78.28-29).
However, resortingto a doctrinaldebate is perhaps not the most
satisfactory way to explain Seneca's contradictory pronouncements
about travel because Seneca does not always speak as a Stoic. Catharine Edwards'concept of Seneca'spolyphonicself may be more helpful.
Seneca is playing different roles when he says different things about
travel, and none of those roles is more authoritativeor authenticthan
another.The voice that praises travel belongs to the Seneca involved in
worldly projects and particularlyfond of naturalwonders,whereas the
one whichstigmatizesthe activitybelongsto the inward-lookingsearcher
for happiness.This does not mean that there is no conflict,whichwould
be tantamountto privilegingone voice over the others as more truthful.81Rather,Seneca'smanifoldviews of travel are one expressionof his
tormentedversatility.82
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN

e-mail: smontigl@wisc.edu

80Cf.Mazzoli 1970, 14.


81Habinek 2000, 286, n. 55, criticizes the notion of "dissimulation" in Rudich's discussion of Neronian culture because it assumes an "authentic" personality independent of
its manifestations.
821 wish to thank Jim McKeown, Carole Newlands, and Victoria Pagain for
reading
previous drafts of this article as well as Barbara Gold and two anonymous readers for their
generous and helpful comments.

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