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Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  841 ratings  ·  107 reviews
From acclaimed classical historian, author of Ghost on the Throne (Gripping . . . the narrative verve of a born writer and the erudition of a scholar Daniel  Mendelsohn) and editor of The Landmark Arrian:The Campaign of Alexander (Thrilling The New York Times Book Review), a  high-stakes drama full of murder, madness, tyranny, perversion, with the sweep of history on the ...more
Hardcover, 1st Edition, 290 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Borzoi-Knopf (first published January 1st 2014)
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Jim Coughenour
A caustic reader of this darkly-entertaining biography might call it Lying Every Day. To call Seneca a "man of contradictions" is kind. He is the preeminent example in antiquity of someone who wanted to have his philosophical cake and eat it too preaching the ascetic virtues of Stoicism and abnegation while living a luxurious life as a Roman multimillionaire. His essays harp on the dignity of death and the heroic freedom of suicide, while his day job as Nero's court philosopher required him to ...more
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The basic thesis is this: Senecas philosophical convictions were sincere but he believed them to be ideals to be aimed at over an entire life rather than achieved. His relationship with Nero was, similar to Aristotles with Alexander the Great, designed to moderate the young prince and teach him virtues. Or so Seneca justified it to himself. Once in power he found his position a trap. Since Nero made much political capital out of Senecas moral stature, it meant that Seneca could never resign his ...more
B. Rule
Mar 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was good but I was surprised that I did not like it as much as Romm's earlier book, "Ghost on the Throne." The topic here is fascinating and Romm writes with great vividness. It's very easy to become immersed in the Neronian milieu through his writing and the human motives of most of the major players shine through. However, and surprisingly, I found that the personality of Seneca himself was somewhat lost in the telling. It could be due to lacunae in the primary sources, but I often felt ...more
Carl Safina
Nov 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
This kind of history usually isn't my thing as a reader, but I'd met the author and as a courtesy he sent it to me. I was absolutely astonished! If you think we have leaders who are out-of-control spoiled brats floated by a compliant senate, it is nothing--nothing--compared with Rome with Nero at the helm. Murder, matricide, siblicide, infanticide, and more induced suicides than you can count; it's a wonder Rome could both have been great and then could have allowed this havoc spree that lasted ...more
Oct 09, 2016 rated it liked it
I'm a big fan of James Romm, professor of classical studies at Bard College. I loved his book "The Ghost on the Throne," which tells the story of the minutes, hours, days and years following Alexander the Great's death. I also really loved his small book on Herodotus. But this one was a struggle. Romm says as much himself in interviews about the book. What does one make of the fact that the philosopher, playwright, ethicist, scholar and stoic Seneca served the emperor Nero? Romm would like there ...more
Graychin (D. Dalrymple)
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
A terrific dual biography of Seneca and Nero. Seneca, the Stoic and the statesman. Nero: the child-minded monster. Romms book is well-researched and well-written. Its a popular history, but a smart one. Seneca is the main attraction here and the complexities of his personality and his position are skillfully explored. How is philosophy reconciled with political power, or can it be? How do we judge ourselves when we fail our best ideals in stupendous fashion? When must we set hope aside and ...more
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ancient
Absolutely excellent book on Seneca and his writings compared to his actions in the court of Nero. I loved Ghost on the Throne and loved this book. James Romm has become one of my favorite authors. His work is quality.
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I will start by agreeing with other reviews that found that they were surprised that they enjoyed this slightly less than Romm's last book "Ghost on the Throne." It's certainly just as well written, and the topic is just as well visualized, but the author's own struggle to come to a conclusion on the nature of Seneca infects the impact of the book as a whole.

Which, really, is ultimately everything I can say about it in microcosm.

Romm does such an excellent job of introducing the players in this
Lynn Weber
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Very readable, reasonably sized biography of Seneca.
Dec 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Dying Every Day (a wonderful title) by James Romm is a compact, well-researched and well-written study of the Emperor Nero and his relationship to the philosopher Seneca, who served as Nero's tutor and counselor. The book focuses more on Nero than on Seneca for various reasons, chief among them that more is known about Nero, despite the fact that Seneca wrote a half million words of literary philosophy that reflected his personal Stoic values.

The crises of this history, then, move from Nero's
Nickson Kaigi
Oct 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-collection
Excellent book! Goes through the intrigues at Nero's court. The book argues both sides of the argument for absolving Seneca of the crimes of Nero, or implicating him as a "tyrant teacher"

As a student of stoicism, Seneca's letters have been my introduction to Stoic philosophy.
I've been reading Seneca's moral letters, not once had I imagined how powerful and rich he was when he wrote those letters.

Was this the same man who wrote "On Festivals and Fasting?" Where he advocates that you take a few
Ann Olszewski
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Erudite but absolutely accessible, Dying Every Day reads like a thriller at some points. Romm is both a great historian and a terrific storyteller.

We will never know, as this book points out, whether the Stoic philosopher Seneca, also the tutor and adviser of the psychopathic Emperor Nero, was a good man trying to keep Nero's worst impulses at bay, or an opportunist, in league with the princeps as long as it brought him wealth, power and security. Personally, I think the case for Seneca's
Nichole Smith
Jan 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Romm explores the contradictory nature of Seneca's role during Nero's reign. As an acknowledged and extensively published Stoic philosopher, Seneca played a pre-eminent role in Nero's court; not only did he serve as teacher, to an extent, he also provided various layers of legitimacy for the young ruler. Surely if a wizened philosopher sanctioned Nero's actions, there was nothing to be concerned about? Romm relies heavily on the historian Tacitus to draw her conclusions and provide context for ...more
Janis Williams
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
What would summer be without a brief visit to the most salacious and sensational years of the Roman Empire? See Nero! Hear Seneca! Reel as your read about an era you are grateful not to live in. Serious scholarship written for anyone to enjoy and ponder.
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found Dying Every Day very readable for a general audience, despite its author being an academic historian. Seneca and Nero are both fascinating figures and Romm draws on a variety of sources to paint vivid pictures of them both. He quotes extensively from Seneca's work, offering a good introduction for those readers like me who have never read any. Romm gives a balanced interpretation of this controversial ethicist and poses questions that remain relevant in today's social and political ...more
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting read into the history of Rome and Nero's reign, with focus on Seneca. Recommended for anyone interested in the real life soap opera of Rome.
Oct 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant. Exceeded my expectations. I have limited reading time and focus with 2 boys under 2 years old and I couldn't put this down.
James (JD) Dittes
What makes someone a great teacher?

A great student.

That's the reason why Annie Sullivan is among the first great teachers who come to mind--not because of the remarkable teaching methods immortalized in The Miracle Worker, but because of the remarkable public intellectual that Helen Keller became.

That's the reason why Socrates is immortal--not only because he was such a brilliant thinker, but also because his student, Plato, turned out to be a pretty renowned philosopher in his own right.

Todd N
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Princeps, and the Stoics who love them too much
Bought at City Lights on a trip to San Francisco and read on a week-long trip to visit family in Ohio.

My kids called this book "Dad's Suicide Book" for some reason, and I must admit that this quote by Seneca from the New York Times book review charmed me enough to make me want to read it:

You ask what is the path to freedom?
Any vein in your body.

Also Mr. Romm edited the excellent Landmark Edition of Arrian's Campaigns Of Alexander, one of the best and most accessible ancient history books I have
Brian Carlin
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
Described on the back cover as the "first book to tell the...story of Seneca". However it won't be the best if there is ever a second. The history itself is flatly laid out in deathless prose. There are several repetitions throughout the book, of great help to the demented reader. I found the annotations particularly annoying, having no sign in the main body of the work.
The author has an unfortunate habit of metaphorically shrugging his shoulders when he is at a loss to theorise. In fact there
Bernard Norcott-mahany
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I think that Romm did a good job of examining the complex figure of Seneca, a person who was deeply attached to Stoic philosophy, but was also very much drawn to material wealth (he was, outside of the imperial family, the richest man in Rome -- something tough to reconcile with being a Stoic), and he was equally drawn to the being part of the in-crowd in Rome, as tutor to Nero, who became emperor at 17, and who, early on, depended quite a bit on Seneca himself. Of course, Seneca was maybe too ...more
Jul 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Do as I write, not as I do. This apparent hypocrisy has tarnished Seneca's legacy throughout the ages. Seneca's treatises on stoicism and the epigrammatic style of his letters have been greatly admired by the likes of Marcus Aurelius and Montaigne. But Seneca's participation in the tyrannical, paranoid court of Nero, his accumulation of massive wealth, and his efforts to defend the petulant boy-emperor's heinous crimes seem to contradict much of his philosophy. Romm does an excellent job culling ...more
Bayliss Camp
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Bayliss by: John Sutton
Although the focus is on the moral dilemmas of an early ethicist, the real strength of the book lies in its depiction of life within a totalitarian regime. It is clear why Romm framed the puzzle of Seneca's life as he did -- one of the foremost exponents of Stoicism, yet at the same time a profiteer during one of the ugliest periods in Roman history. Certainly such a frame allows for some fascinating back-and-forth between Seneca's works, and what is known (or reasonably inferred) about his life ...more
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful biography and survey of Seneca and his works and philosophy. Reading Romm's work after having just completed Marcus Aurelius' Meditations gave me some perspective on Stoic thought and the intersection between public governance and the moral high-ground. Romm has no bias, no opinion on how Seneca should be viewed, only saying that there was both bad and good. Was Seneca implicit in Nero's matricide or fratricide? Did Seneca achieve his life goals of a Stoic end and a simple life? Did ...more
Sarah Finch
Jan 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Romm writes with a confident, intelligent, and accessible style, taking the story of Seneca and his relationship with Nero out of the rarefied air of classicists and allowing even those readers with only glancing familiarity of ancient Rome to keep turning the pages with anticipation and dread. A real treat, packed so full of tragedy and intrigue that it is hard to find a dull passage on any of the 208 pages.
Sacramento Public Library
Romms biography of Seneca is an excellent complement to Zealot by Reza Aslan: both books are more about the first century than any specific individual, and Senecas Rome is the same that occupied Jerusalem. It was an extraordinary era for politics and moral philosophy, and continues to impact us to this day. Read this book and see. --Antonio ...more
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Romm's story of the successors of Alexander, so I was happy to get to assign this book in a class on Seneca that I taught this year. We have read his Apocolocyntosis ("Pumkpinification") in Latin, but we begin every week discussing a chapter of this biography. Romm covers a lot of the bases that you'd expect. He introduces and summarizes much of Seneca's oeuvre, as well as offering a snappy and generally solid summary of the historical events surrounding Seneca's life, career, ...more
Jun 17, 2018 rated it liked it
How did the Roman empire last so long with leaders like this?

Seneca is complex, if by complex you mean "among the most contradictory people in history". He was a vocal ascetic and one of the richest men in the world. He was a beautiful exponent of liberty and prudence, and a shill for an insane rapist for a decade - but it would have worse to abandon Rome to Nero and his rapey mates. Thrasea Paetus is the respective true stoic, the noble abstainer.

Classic historian move: when dealing with
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Old man philosopher sacrifices every principle he purports to hold dear as the madman ruler he helped raise to power ignores the responsibilities of rule, and descends into a cycle of paranoia and madness. Old man philosopher holds on, believing his brilliance can save the state from madman ruler who would rather be a celebrity entertainer than govern. Old man philosopher, doubting, asks for and is denied ability to leave court with his reputation intact. Old man philosopher watches in dismay as ...more
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Having taught in the public schools for eight years, this resonated with me a lot. I think a concern for many teachers (at least in modern America) is that one of the students in your classroom will turn out to be a school shooter. Seneca was dealing with the same fears with his student Nero - but he had to watch the shooting and then sell the lie to the public on the TV news afterwards that it wasn't that bad.
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30 likes · 20 comments
“No matter how many men you kill, you can't kill your successor.” 8 likes
“But is life really worth so much? Let us examine this; it's a different inquiry. We will offer no solace for so desolate a prison house; we will encourage no one to endure the overlordship of butchers. We shall rather show that in every kind of slavery, the road of freedom lies open. I will say to the man to whom it befell to have a king shoot arrows at his dear ones [Prexaspes], and to him whose master makes fathers banquet on their sons' guts [Harpagus]: 'What are you groaning for, fool?... Everywhere you look you find an end to your sufferings. You see that steep drop-off? It leads down to freedom. You see that ocean, that river, that well? Freedom lies at its bottom. You see that short, shriveled, bare tree? Freedom hangs from it.... You ask, what is the path to freedom? Any vein in your body.” 6 likes
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