My Research Projects
RESPICE, ADSPICE, PROSPICE
My current research project explores the impact of Egyptian culture on Roman literature and philosophy of the Neronian age, with a specific focus on Seneca's thought and oeuvre.
Seneca's relations with the imperial province of Egypt are well-documented. On more than one occasion, the philosopher himself comments on his visits to the region. Both Griffin (1976) and Grimal (1979) have underscored the importance of these experiences for Seneca. Préchac (1935), Martin (1980), and André (1987, 2003) have explored the extant papyrological evidence attesting to Seneca's vast network of business in Egypt. Additionally, we know of Seneca's almost entirely lost work De Situ et Sacris Aegyptorum, whose influence on Lucan’s Bellum Civile is apparent, and which demonstrates Seneca’s keen interest in both the geography and the religion of Egypt (cf. Manolaraki (2013) and Tracy (2014)).
This scattered yet significant information attests to the relevance of Seneca's relations with Egypt, which, up to date, have nonetheless been accorded relatively short shrift. The lack of research in this specific area of Senecan studies is all the more puzzling in sight of the well-documented interest of Roman elites in Egyptian culture and, starting with Augustus, of its becoming a fundamental element of the imperial propaganda discourse (cf. Hölbl (2005) and Pollini (2018)). Setaioli's (1988) landmark study, arguably the most detailed assessment of the relation between and debt of Seneca's thought to non-Roman sources, is entirely centered on the influence of Greek philosophy. Even his analysis of Hellenistic thinkers, who were active in Alexandria rather than Athens, does not delve into the potential Egyptian components of their doctrine. Further, it would be misleading to think about Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt as a linguistic monolith, isolated from Greek and Roman influences (cultural and linguistic), and therefore inaccessible to anybody who did not acquire a solid literacy in Middle Egyptian (either hieroglyph or hieratic). While we do not know whether Seneca managed to equip himself with these competencies, we can nonetheless be sure that he had the option of accessing Egyptian culture through texts written in Greek and Latin (cf. Prada (2016), (2018)). Therefore, Seneca’s relations with Egyptian culture amount to an additional, missing chapter of his intellectual engagement with Greek sources.
This research project, which will culminate in a new monograph on the subject, is organized around five main foci, provisionally the five chapters of the book. 1) Assessment of biographical evidence; 2) Solar cult and monarchic models; 3) Zoolatry and sacred animals; 4) The Nile and Seneca’s De Nilo; 5) The ethical dilemma of death.