Who is Seneca? The Roman philosopher Liz Truss quoted in her exit speech

The statesman took his own life after being ordered to by Nero

Outgoing British Prime Minister Liz Truss makes her farewell speech. EPA
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For the second time in seven weeks, a British prime minister quoted a Roman statesman during their resignation speech outside Downing Street.

Boris Johnson compared himself to Cincinnatus, a figure who “returned to his plough” after a stint in power, while Liz Truss quoted a senator on the difficulties of daring to do the necessary thing.

Quoting Seneca, Ms Truss said: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare. It is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

Cincinnatus was later called to return to Rome to take power a second time — unlike Mr Johnson, who missed out on his chance to return as prime minister after ruling himself out of the race late on Sunday.

Cincinnatus was no friend of the people. But after maintaining his authority “only long enough to bring Rome through the emergency,” he then resigned and returned to his farm again.

Seneca’s end was more tragic.

According to Britannica, Seneca was “Rome’s leading intellectual figure in the mid-1st century [AD] and was virtual ruler with his friends of the Roman world between 54 and 62, during the first phase of the emperor Nero’s reign”.

Seneca fell out of favour with Nero after that in 62.

“He withdrew from public life, and in his remaining years he wrote some of his best philosophical works,” said Britannica.

“In 65 Seneca’s enemies denounced him as having been a party to a conspiracy to murder Nero, and he was ordered to commit suicide.”

Updated: October 25, 2022, 2:06 PM