The Cosmic Viewpoint: A Study of Senecas Natural Questions

Paperback | March 15, 2016

byGareth D. Williams

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Seneca's Natural Questions is an eight-book disquisition on the nature of meteorological phenomena, ranging inter alia from rainbows to earthquakes, from comets to the winds, from the causes of snow and hail to the reasons why the Nile floods in summer. Much of this material had been treatedin the earlier Greco-Roman meteorological tradition, but what notoriously sets Seneca's writing apart is his insertion of extended moralizing sections within his technical discourse. How, if at all, are these outbursts against the luxury and vice that are apparently rampant in Seneca's first-centuryCE Rome to be reconciled with his main meteorological agenda? In grappling with this familiar question, The Cosmic Viewpoint argues that Seneca is no blinkered or arid meteorological investigator, but a creative explorer into nature's workings who offers a highly idiosyncratic blend of physico-moral investigation across his eight books. At one level, hisinquiry into nature impinges on human conduct and morality in its implicit propagation of the familiar Stoic ideal of living in accordance with nature: the moral deviants whom Seneca condemns in the course of the work offer egregious examples of living contrary to nature's balanced way. At a deeperlevel, however, The Cosmic Viewpoint stresses the literary qualities and complexities that are essential to Seneca's literary art of science: his technical enquiries initiate a form of engagement with nature which distances the reader from the ordinary involvements and fragmentations of everydaylife, instead centering our existence in the cosmic whole. From a figurative standpoint, Seneca's meteorological theme raises our gaze from a terrestrial level of existence to a more intuitive plane where literal vision gives way to "higher" conjecture and intuition: in striving to understandmeteorological phenomena, we progress in an elevating direction - a conceptual climb that renders the Natural Questions no mere store of technical learning, but a work that actively promotes a change of perspective in its readership.

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Seneca's Natural Questions is an eight-book disquisition on the nature of meteorological phenomena, ranging inter alia from rainbows to earthquakes, from comets to the winds, from the causes of snow and hail to the reasons why the Nile floods in summer. Much of this material had been treatedin the earlier Greco-Roman meteorological tra...

Gareth D. Williams is Violin Family Professor of Classics at Columbia University. His most recent book, co-edited with Katharina Volk, is Roman Reflections.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.68 inPublished:March 15, 2016Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190490985

ISBN - 13:9780190490980

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Table of Contents

AbbreviationsIntroduction1. Interiority and Cosmic Consciousness in the Natural Questions2. Seneca's Moralizing Interludes3. The Cataclysm and the Nile4. The Rhetoric of Science5. Seneca on Winds6. Earthquakes, Consolation, and the Senecan Sublime7. Seneca on Comets and Ancient Cometary Theory8. Seneca on Lightning and DivinationEpilogueBibliographyIndex of PassagesGeneral IndexIndex of Latin WordsIndex of Greek Words

Editorial Reviews

"Offers an extremely convincing articulation of [Naturales Quaestiones's] moral prefaces and interludes with the strictly technical sections of the book." --Philosophy in Review