POLITICAL CONDITION OF ROME UNDER TIBERIUS AND CAIUS.
The personal notices of Seneca’s life up to the period of his manhood are slight and fragmentary. From an incidental expression we conjecture that he visited his aunt in Egypt when her husband was Prefect of that country, and that he shared with her the dangers of shipwreck when her husband had died on board ship during the homeward voyage. Possibly the visit may have excited in his mind that deep interest and curiosity about the phenomena of the Nile which appear so strongly in several passages of his Natural Questions; and, indeed nothing is more likely than that he suggested to Nero the earliest recorded expedition to discover the source of the mysterious river. No other allusion to his travels occur in his writings, but we may infer that from very early days he had felt an interest for physical inquiry, since while still a youth he had written a book on earthquakes; which has not come down to us.
Deterred by his father from the pursuit of philosophy, he entered on the duties of a profession. He became an advocate, and distinguished himself by his genius and eloquence in pleading causes. Entering on a political career, he became a successful candidate for the quaestorship, which was an important step towards the highest offices of the state. During this period of his life he married a lady whose name has not been preserved to us, and to whom we have only one allusion, which is a curious one. As in our own history it has been sometimes the fashion for ladies of rank to have dwarves and negroes among their attendants, so it seems to have been the senseless and revolting custom of the Roman ladies of this time to keep idiots among the number of their servants. The first wife of Seneca had followed this fashion, and Seneca in his fiftieth letter to his friend Lucilius makes the following interesting allusion to the fact. “You know,” he says, “that my wife’s idiot girl Harpaste has remained in my house as a burdensome legacy. For personally I feel the profoundest dislike to monstrosities of that kind. If ever I want to amuse myself with an idiot, I have not far to look for one. I laugh at myself. This idiot girl has suddenly become blind. Now, incredible as the story seems, it is really true that she is unconscious of her blindness, and consequently begs her attendant to go elsewhere, because the house is dark. But you may be sure that this, at which we laugh in her, happens to us all; no one understands that he is avaricious or covetous. The blind seek for a guide; we wander about without a guide.”
[Footnote 21: It will be observed that the main biographical facts about the life of Seneca are to be gleaned from his letters to Lucilius, who was his constant friend from youth to old age, and to whom he has dedicated his Natural Questions. Lucilius was a procurator of Sicily, a man of cultivated taste and high principle. He was the author of a poem on Aetna, which in the opinion of many competent judges is the poem which has come down to us, and has been attributed to Varus, Virgil, and others. It has been admirably edited by Mr. Munro. (See Nat. Quaest., iv. ad init. Ep. lxxix.) He also wrote a poem on the fountain Arethusa. (Nat. Quaest. iii, 26.)]