The Nature and Nurture of Kingship in Virgil's Georgics and Seneca's De Clementia
Knight, J, The Nature and Nurture of Kingship in Virgil's Georgics and Seneca's De Clementia, Latin Poetry and Its Reception, Routledge, CW Marshall (ed), New York, pp. 43-55. ISBN 9781003092698 (2021) [Research Book Chapter]
As Susanna Braund observes in her commentary on De Clementia, Seneca frequently employs organic imagery in order to illustrate a symbiotic, natural relationship between a ruler and his subjects (Oxford 2009, 55; 58). Images and vocabulary drawn from the natural world (animal, agricultural, and meteorological) instruct Nero on the nature of his absolute power as princeps and suggest to him how it should be exercised. At Clem. 1.4.1, Seneca famously quotes Georgics 4.212–13 about the beehive’s devotion to its ‘king’ (rege incolumi mens omnibus una, | amisso rupere fidem) to bolster his argument that the safety of ruler and ruled are intertwined. Seneca’s direct quotation of the Georgics in his philosophical works has been noticed, but the subtler ways in which he engages with the poem’s ideas and imagery in the De Clementia have not been fully appreciated. As Christopher Nappa persuasively argues in his book Reading After Actium: Vergil’s Georgics, Octavian, and Rome, the Georgics deploys complex agricultural and cosmological themes to instruct Octavian on the nature of his recently acquired power and provide guidance on how he might navigate the responsibilities of his new role. The poem, then, is an important predecessor for Seneca’s treatise addressed to Nero upon his accession. This chapter highlights significant contributions of the Georgics to the development of Roman imperial ideology by analyzing aspects of Seneca’s reception of Virgil’s poem that have been neglected in previous scholarship.