Incunabula and the Keio University Library Collection


Seneca, Tragoediae (Venice: Lazarus de Suardis, de Saviliano, 12 Dec. 1492)

Tragoediae. Comm: Gellius Bernardinus Marmita. Prelim: G.B. Marmita: Epistolae Guillelmo de Rupeforti

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Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 BCE to 65 CE) – the renowned Roman dramatist, politician and Stoic philosopher – was born in Cordoba, Spain. He is known as Seneca the Younger, to distinguish him from his father, Seneca the Elder, a famous orator. After the death of Emperor Claudius, Seneca held an important position in the imperial government. He also tutored the young Nero, but in 65 CE he was accused of participating in the Pisonian plot to kill Nero, and was forced to commit suicide.

Seneca seems to have been more interested in ethics than in logic or the natural sciences, and his greatest concern was with human attitudes to imminent death. His prose writings as a Stoic philosopher include Epistulae morales, De vita beata, and De brevitate vitae, many of which were widely read in Europe from the Middle Ages onwards.

This volume is a collection of Seneca's tragedies, all of which deal with Greek subject matter. The works attributed to Seneca are Hercules furens(The Madness of Hercules), Troades (The Trojan Women), Medea, Phaedra, Oedipus, Agamemnon, Thyestes, Hercules Oetaeus (Hercules on Oeta), Phoenissae, and Octavia. Of these works, Hercules Oetaeus and Octavia are thought to have been written by one of his followers. There is no consensus on whether Seneca's tragedies were actually performed in his lifetime, and some scholars believe that his works were written for recitation rather than performance.

Seneca's works place less emphasis on plot and action than on the destructive nature of human emotions that lurk beneath the surface of life. Moreover, his works characteristically contain lines and chorals that reflect Stoicism, dealing with such matters as the existence of Providence, the fragility of fortune, the inevitable truth that all glories must fade, the virtue of moderation, and death as a means of escape from life. Because of these elements, some scholars believe that his tragedies were written to advocate the Stoic philosophy, while others claim that these themes are universal literary topoi.

After a Latin version was printed in 1484, there appeared successive translations into various languages – including Italian, French and English – and these had a considerable influence in the formation of European literature. In Hamlet, for instance, Shakespeare has Polonius opine 'Seneca cannot be too heavy' (II.ii). Seneca had a clear impact on classical French playwrights such as Racine and Corneille, as well as on English dramatists such as the University Wits and Shakespeare, and on various men of letters in the Renaissance period.

The Keio copy is of the edition with commentaries by Gellius Bernardinus Marmita, and was published in Venice in 1498 by Lazarus de Suardis de Savlilanoin. The main text is printed in roman type, and on sig. z6r is a printer's mark. There are various annotations in different hands, one of which seems to be a contemporary English hand; also, the last blank page (sig. z6v) contains many scribbled notes and comments. On sig. a2r is the autograph of 'Maurentius Skinner' – possibly an early owner, although he remains unidentified. The binding of the Keio copy is from the 19th century, and the first page (the title page) is missing.



Seneca, Lucius Annaeus
Place of Publication
Lazarus de Suardis, de Saviliano


Date of Publication

Early 19th-century quarter calf binding and marbled boards.

Bibliographical Notes

139 leaves; wanting a1; printer's device on z6r; some marginalia and inscriptions in a contemporary hand (especially heavily annotated on a2r and z6v).

Goff S436, HC 14666, BMC V 491, IJL 268, IJL2 340
Acquisition Year

Mauzentius Skinner (signature; a2r).