Seneca on Saturday — dangerous dinner party

Bust of Gaius Caesar, aka “Caligula,” from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket, Copenhagen.

Lord Macaulay once said that Seneca the Younger was easily quotable, but reading him straight through would be like “dining on nothing but anchovy sauce.”

I agree! Thus I present some of the condensed wit and wisdom of Seneca, every Saturday.

Here is a curious story of survival at Court. Seneca tells this story as an example of the hospitality one could expect from Gaius Caesar, aka “Caligula,” the third Emperor of Rome.


On Anger

Gaius Caesar, offended with the son of Pastor, a distinguished Roman knight, because of his foppishness and his too elaborately dressed hair, sent him to prison; when the father begged that his son’s life might be spared, Caesar, just as if he had been reminded to punish him, ordered him to be executed forthwith; yet in order not to be wholly brutal to the father, he invited him to dine with him that day. Pastor actually came and showed no reproach in his countenance. Caesar, taking a cup, proposed his health and set some one to watch him; the poor wretch went through with it, although he seemed to be drinking the blood of his Son. Caesar then sent him perfume and garlands of flowers and gave orders to watch whether he used them: he used them. On the very day on which he had buried – no, before he had yet buried – his son, he took his place among a hundred dinner-guests, and, old and gouty as he was, drained a draught of wine that would scarce have been a seemly potion even on the birthday of one of his children, all the while shedding not a single tear nor by any sign suffering his grief to be revealed; at the dinner he acted as if he had obtained the pardon he had sought for his son. Do you ask why? He had a second son.

From Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younnger, Moral Essays, Volume I, translated by John W. Basore. Loeb Classical Library.

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