SENECA IN EXILE.
So, in A.D. 41, in the prime of life and the full vigour of his faculties, with a name stained by a charge of which he may have been innocent, but of which he was condemned as guilty, Seneca bade farewell to his noble-minded mother, to his loving aunt, to his brothers, the beloved Gallio and the literary Mela, to his nephew, the ardent and promising young Lucan, and, above all—which cost him the severest pang—to Marcus, his sweet and prattling boy. It was a calamity which might have shaken the fortitude of the very noblest soul, and it had by no means come upon him single handed. Already he had lost his wife, he had suffered from acute and chronic ill-health, he had been bereaved but three weeks previously of another little son. He had been cut short by the jealousy of one emperor from a career of splendid success; he was now banished by the imbecile subservience of another from all that he held most dear.
We are hardly able to conceive the intensity of anguish with which an ancient Roman generally regarded the thought of banishment. In the long melancholy wail of Ovid’s “Tristia;” in the bitter and heart-rending complaints of Cicero’s “Epistles,” we may see something of that intense absorption in the life of Rome which to most of her eminent citizens made a permanent separation from the city and its interests a thought almost as terrible as death itself. Even the stoical and heroic Thrasea openly confessed that he should prefer death to exile. To a heart so affectionate, to a disposition so social, to a mind so active and ambitious as that of Seneca, it must have been doubly bitter to exchange the happiness of his family circle, the splendour of an imperial court, the luxuries of enormous wealth, the refined society of statesmen, and the ennobling intercourse of philosophers for the savage wastes of a rocky island and the society of boorish illiterate islanders, or at the best, of a few other political exiles, all of whom would be as miserable as himself, and some of whom would probably have deserved their fate.
The Mediteranean rocks selected for political exiles—Gyaros, Seriphos, Scyathos, Patmos, Pontia, Pandataria—were generally rocky, barren, fever-stricken places, chosen by design as the most wretched conceivable spots in which human life could be maintained at all. Yet these islands were crowded with exiles, and in them were to be found not a few princesses of Caesarian origin. We must not draw a parallel to their position from that of an Eleanor, the wife of Duke Humphrey, immured in Peel Castle in the Isle of Man, or of a Mary Stuart in the Isle of Loch Levin—for it was something incomparably worse. No care was taken even to provide for their actual wants. Their very lives were not secure. Agrippa Posthumus and Nero, the brothers of the Emperor Caligula, had been so reduced by starvation that both of the wretched