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

    • Lecture on war and peace in 19th-century Europe by Professor Sir Richard Evans, Thurs 25 Oct, 6.30pm Europe House… ,
    • 'Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all p… ,
    • . here on books, Muriel Spark and life's tangled dance ,
    • RT : There aren't enough aggressive subtitles these days: ,
    • Churchill's on the cover of the October edition of the magazine. Piers Brendon reviews two new books about the Brit… ,
    • 'Readers have no more power to predict where the next story is going to take them than the prisoners had to determi… ,
    • 'Ho was no Soviet or Chinese puppet. He was a nationalist first and foremost. Had the Americans just realised this.… ,