"Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero" by James Romm
A rewarding work of nonfiction, Dying Every Day brings to mind the classical Athenian theme of suffering into truth—notably explored by Aeschylus and Sophocles—as applicable to Seneca in a classical Rome gone awry. This real life protagonist was sufficiently patrician to be in the discussion for political appointments, yet engaged by the teachings of the Stoics. He nevertheless seized the main chance in politics and served as an advisor to Nero. As alliances with autocrats go, this one would never be described as fortunate, as detailed in the following arc:
Nero takes the helm as a mere teenager who, in modern times, would not be touted by a halfway sensible coach to captain a high school football team. But Nero gets the assignment—largely via lineage and the machinations of his mother—to run the most powerful empire in the world. Seneca, meanwhile, succumbs to the temptations of onerous usury, lining his pockets as a result of his exalted standing. He rationalizes the money grab by claiming that, absent his counsel, Nero would be even worse. Nero, however, makes the transition to full-blown adulthood by bringing to fruition all of his worst thuggish tendencies. The emperor’s downward spiral leads to a conspiracy to unseat him, orchestrated by Rome’s best and brightest, but Nero smokes it out and orders a widespread purge in the form of suicide. Seneca, wholly aware of having strayed from the Stoic ideal, takes himself out in just such a fashion.
Epilogue: Nero lasts a couple more years and is ultimately encouraged to wrap things up in the manner utilized by his enemies. Succeeding emperors expel Stoic holdouts, but Epictetus rises from the ash heap of untruth to walk the earth in an eloquent and electrifying search for a higher purpose, whereupon Marcus Aurelius, philosopher king in waiting, takes a listen.
Review by Todd Robins