Thursday, January 23, 2020


Pietro Li Causi (ed.), Seneca. Epistula ad Lucilium 124. Palermo: la Bibliotheca di Classico Contemporaneo, 2019. Pp. 77. ISBN 9788868895105.

Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

Full Text

This little ebook is essentially a cutting-edge pedagogical exercise, exercise in pedagogy, and exercise on pedagogy, though the 'editor' is a scholar exercising his specialist expertise. Our as-it-happens last piece in EM, like its antecedents in Book XX, made another splendid, splendidly apt, and splendidly manageable text for 'cooperative' study nella classe V L del Liceo Scientifico 'S. Cannizzaro' di Palermo. (Forerunners were NQ1 and EM121). A collective Italian translation twins with individually assigned sections of commentary that were marked, then reviewed by the group, and given the ultima manus by the 'editor' (pp.19-22).

In a brisk Introduction (pp.7-18), Li Causi provides an informative applied synthesis of his 2018 Gli animali nel mondo antico (Il Mulino, Bologna) esp. chaps 2-3, 'Zoology before zoology' and 'Zoopsychology and human-animal relations' from the Pre-Socratics to the C2nd Roman empire', esp. pp.119-20, 'The (momentary) victory of anti-animalism'. He also takes for himself the top-and-tail sections in the Commentary...and co-initials all the rest, alongside the student assignee. The latter must come away with intimate knowledge of a snappy Latin text and the experience of joining in with the routines expected in Latin filologia (where, for example, every crux in the paradosis must individually acknowledge reproduction of Reynolds' O.C.T. along with its reasoning); with experience of a specific model of teamwork melded with individual input, organized within an educational régime of tight top-down control (shades of I. A. Richards' version of 'Practical Criticism', where Professor holds all the cards, then deals them...?); and with the lesson, so I presume, that the classical scholar labours long and minutely to put h**self at service of the text, as we say, in its own terms.

By contrast, the Introduction jazzes up the pertinence to us (student proficientes) of the topics involved in this latest Senecan meta-lecture on learning to practise rigorous reasoning — on one side weird (so compulsive?) logocentrism and scala naturae, zoopsychology and zoomimesis, disjunctive anthropopoesis and theomimesis... , on the other a compact rousting of the sorts of commonnonsensical guff about animals and minds that saturates quotidian discourse, — class doesn't get to formulate limits to their openness to Stoic dogmatics or objections to Senecan intellectual jingoism — although Seneca's provocatively pressurizing cosmic dirigism is bound to antagonize ecowarrior commitment to today's (tomorrow's?) Western armature of biological organicism, cognitive neuroscience, cultural antitheism...

Instead, students get to write piecemeal-patchwork commentary conscientiously amassing the forbidding technical lexikon of Greek Stoicism (why? learning the raw power in power-terms? weird, so compulsive?) but eliding their own stake and take, submitted like Lucilius to drilling in the master lesson of rhetorical drilling as 'educative reading': class documents the maestro's every (frequent: x7) ergo, and learns that they must be confirming, as they are confirmed by, Seneca's thesis in their collaboration in his mandatory reasoning about reasoning (the message in the massage); but EM124's headline citation from Virgil that tendentiously aligns (-que) resistance to ancient commandments with sloth shrinking from critical close reading is not launched into resistant reading (and/or/=) into unpacking the Georgics' gospel of love-as-moil, which tells us to get in the ring and take the classics on. (What Seneca embroils in the reading/argument as appetitionis et fugae arbitrium, §3 ?). The commentary on §1 goes the other way on the rhetoric: 'if you don't...' => 'don't'). So, what professor/e could duck wearing this badge?

Possum multa tibi ueterum praecepta referre,
ni refugis tenuisque piget cognoscere curas.

The bright idea of immersing a Latin class in Seneca's letters has always had legs in Italy; and Brad Inwood's selection of Book 20 (= EM118-24) for his 2007 bloc of ancient philosophy-in-translation (BMCR 2009.04.32) already proves just how high-yield and high-immersion these riveting disquisitions can be: perfectissimo! (Classe V L is, naturally, hugely in his debt throughout.) Especially if dissent and critique can bring reasoning readers into the reckoning, engaging with the logic for real.

Meantime, what Li Causi brings to the pedagogic table is the utile in, and of, the e-future tools for the spiritual agriculture of the Classico Contemporaneo. And we all better muck in, if and as we can.


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