Fear and Healing: Seneca, Caecilius Iucundus and the Campanian Earthquake of 62/63 ce
The earthquake of 62/63 ce was a catastrophic event for Pompeii and Campania. The destruction and death toll were extensive and it is clear that the city of Pompeii was still recovering and rebuilding when the eruption of Vesuvius happened. This article takes into consideration the mental and emotional damage that the earthquake caused and the way in which Seneca and the archaeological record help us to perceive strategies of consolation and therapy. Seneca discusses this earthquake in Book 6 of his Naturales quaestiones and hopes to lead his reader from the shock of the earthquake to a more comprehensive understanding of the physical causes of the tremor. The cultural memory of events not witnessed directly (such as Seneca's write-up of the Pompeii earthquake) makes us all survivors and ‘turn[s] history into a memory in which we can all participate’. If trauma ‘spreads via language and representation’, Seneca wants to limit what exactly is traumatic about this event and employs his creative rhetoric to do so. His account demonstrates how Stoic physics and ethics are connected and moves the reader from his or her fear of earthquakes to the fear of death at the root of the anxiety. Seneca carefully alters the valence of certain terms as well as selected memories of the earthquake to encourage his reader to transcend his or her fear and view earthquakes as natural occurrences, not anomalies to be dreaded. He does this through strategies identified in modern trauma theory as useful for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and this article investigates how contemporary trauma theory can help us understand aspects of Seneca's remedy. Seneca's repetitions of certain events and terminology works to reassess and renovate them from a philosophical angle – in essence it turns potential ‘flashbacks’ and ‘triggers’ into beneficial sites of memory and the means of recovery. Survivors often relive the trauma again and again – Seneca's work alludes to this, but now makes the victim actively revise how to make such iterations part of the recovery.
Trinacty, Christopher. 2019. "Fear and Healing: Seneca, Caecilius Iucundus and the Campanian Earthquake of 62/63 ce." Greece and Rome 66(1): 93-112.
Cambridge University Press
Greece and Rome