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THE LAST HOURS OF A PHILOSOPHER
HAVE called Seneca (for it is of him that I am
writing), a philosopher, but it has often been doubted
whether he is entitled to the name. In his early
manhood he was banished to Sardinia, and he showed a
deplorable want of fortitude in bearing the
deprivations of exile. He contrived somehow to amass
enormous wealth, and he has been accused by one
historian, who, however, is obviously unfair, of
amassing it by exactions which roused a province to
revolt. It is unjust, of course, to judge a tutor by
the crimes which his pupil may commit, especially if
that pupil comes of a race tainted by madness and
crime, and is subjected to the awful temptations of
despotic power. Still we have seen Seneca, as Nero's
accomplice in crime, do what a good man would sooner
have perished than be privy to. On the other hand,
there is much that might be argued, did time and
 space allow, in Seneca's favour. Anyhow, he died with
courage and dignity. It may be said indeed that this
was an occasion to which a Roman, whatever
his character, was seldom unequal. Still there was
something more than mere stolidity or bravado in the
way in which Seneca bore himself.
A formidable conspiracy against Nero, described in the
last chapter, had been detected and crushed. Among the
accused was Seneca. Probably he knew of the conspiracy,
but he had carefully abstained from taking any part in
it. The only thing even alleged against him was the
statement of one of the informers that Piso had sent
him (the informer) to Seneca with a complaint that he
was not allowed to see him, and that Seneca had replied
that frequent interviews would not be for the benefit
of either of them, adding that his own life depended on
the safety of Piso. An officer was sent to interrogate
the accused man, who had that day returned from one of
his seats in Campania to a villa in the suburbs. The
house was surrounded with troops, and the philosopher,
who was dining with his wife and two friends, was
examined. He allowed that the informer's account was
true to a certain extent. Piso had complained of not
being allowed to see him, and he had pleaded in excuse
his feeble health and his love of quiet. The other
remark he did not acknowledge. The officer carried back
this answer to his employers. Asked whether
 Seneca seemed to be thinking of suicide—the common
death of the accused in these days of terror—he replied
that he had seen nothing to make him think so. The
accused was perfectly cheerful and calm. The officer
was sent back with the fatal order: Seneca must either
kill himself or be killed. The man, who was himself one
of the conspirators, made an effort to save the victim.
He went to his general—he was a tribune of the
Praetorians—and asked him whether he should execute the
order. (It should be explained that there was a party
for offering the throne to Seneca.) The general,
another conspirator, hoped to save himself, and told
him to obey. He went, but had the grace to stay outside
and delegate his task to a centurion.
Seneca heard the message without dismay, and called for
his will. The centurion said that he must not have it.
The philosopher turned to his friends and said, "I am
forbidden to recognise your services by a legacy; but I
can at least leave you the example of my life." They
burst into tears. He rebuked them. "Why," he asked,
"have we been studying the maxims of philosophers for
so many years, except to help us in a crisis like this?
Who did not know the savagery of Nero? He has murdered
his mother and his brother. It was only left to him to
murder his tutor."
Then he spoke to his wife, bidding her to be of
 good courage and find consolation in the memory of the
days that they had spent happily and virtuously
together. She declared that she would die with him. "I
have tried," he said, "to reconcile you to life; but if
you prefer death, let it be so. I will not grudge it,
though yours will be the more illustrious end."
With one blow the two cut the veins in their arms.
Seneca was old and feeble, and the blood flowed slowly.
So great were his sufferings that he persuaded his wife
to leave him, lest his own courage should fail. When
she was gone, he called his secretaries and dictated
what we may call his farewell to the world. Tacitus
says that he will not repeat what was so well known to
his readers. Unhappily it is now lost.
His agony was still protracted, and he begged his
physician, who was also a kinsman, to give him a dose
of hemlock, the poison with which Socrates had been put
to death by his countrymen. The dose was administered,
but in vain. He then was placed in a warm bath.
Playfully scattering the water on the slaves who stood
by, "This is a libation," he cried, "to Jupiter the
Deliverer." At last he managed to find release from his
pain in the suffocating heat of the calidarium
(the hot chamber).
 His funeral was conducted with the utmost simplicity.
For this he had provided by a will made at the very
height of his wealth and power. Whatever may be thought
of Seneca's life, his death was the death of a