Tim Whitmarsh

Nero to Zero

Seneca: A Life

By

Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 253pp £25 order from our bookshop

‘The well-born man must live well or die well,’ says Ajax in Sophocles’s play named after that character. Humiliated by his failed attack on his own leaders, the mythical Greek warrior and scourge of the Trojans decides to end his life at the point of his own sword. The tradition of heroically virtuous suicide spread from the theatre into real life, but never lost its histrionic edge. When Plato wrote up Socrates’s execution by hemlock in 399 BC he recast it as, in effect, a suicide, since the great philosopher had passed up the opportunities both to propose an alternative punishment at his trial and to escape from prison afterwards. Socrates too (according to Plato in Crito) said that he preferred death to living in a less than moral way. For the Greeks, suicide was an art form.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Start your week with a dose of Russian Revolutionary zeal. Donald Rayfield reviews Tobie Mathew's 'Greetings From t… ,
    • A treat from the LR Archive: exactly 20 years ago, Malcolm Bradbury reviewed John Updike's 'Bech at Bay' ,
    • ‘When bullets come close, the noise they make as they go past changes from a zing to a crack’ John Lanchester's dy… ,
    • Man with a Bloody Paintbrush: Robin Simon on Lucian Freud ,
    • Jane Ridley reviews The Diaries of Kenneth Rose (ed. D R Thorpe) ,
    • ‘Look,’ says Trump. ‘The fact is I’m only human.’ On the evidence of this book that point is debatable. From the A… ,
    • From our December/January issue - here's John Banville's review of Colm Tóibín on the fathers of Wilde, Yeats and J… ,