Naturales quaestiones

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Ancient bust of Seneca, part of a double herm (Antikensammlung Berlin)

Naturales quaestiones is a Latin work of natural philosophy written by Seneca around 65 AD. It is not a systematic encyclopedia like the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, though with Pliny's work it represents one of the few Roman works dedicated to investigating the natural world. Seneca's investigation takes place mainly through the consideration of the views of other thinkers, both Greek and Roman, though it is not without original thought. One of the most unusual features of the work is Seneca's articulation of the natural philosophy with moralising episodes that seem to have little to do with the investigation. Much of the recent scholarship on the Naturales Quaestiones has been dedicated to explaining this feature of the work. It is often suggested that the purpose of this combination of ethics and philosophical 'physics' is to demonstrate the close connection between these two parts of philosophy, in line with the thought of Stoicism.


The terminus post quem for writing is 60 AD,[1] generally thought to have been written around 62 to 64 AD.[2]


The Naturales Quaestiones is addressed to Lucilius Junior:[3]

The work originally had eight books, but the book on the Nile (book 4a) is missing the second part, whereas the book concerning Hail and Snow (book 4b) is missing the first half.[2] These two books have been joined by tradition to become book 4.

The contents of these seven books are as follows:[3]

  1. meteors, halos, rainbows, mock suns, etc.
  2. thunder and lightning. (theory of thunderstorms [5])
  3. water; this book also contains the description of the Roman heat exchangers, which were called "dracones", or "miliaria"; and a description of the deluge.
  4. the Nile (4a) ; hail, snow, and ice (4b). (theory of hail [6])
  5. winds.
  6. earthquakes and the sources of the Nile.
  7. comets.

The original order of the books is a matter of scholarly disagreement (cf. Limburg p. 10-11 & M. von Albrecht). Several scholars consider an original order,[7] as used by H.M. Hines (cf. Tracey p. 249), being Book 3 (firstly), then Book 4a, 4b, Books 5-7 then Books 1, and finally Book 2.[8][9][10]


The work, according to J. Sellars, is a study on questions of physics and meteorology.[11] It is one of the few Roman works which deals with scientific matters. It is not a systematic work, but a collection of facts of nature from various writers, Greek and Roman, many of which are curiosities. Moral remarks are scattered through the work; and indeed the design of the whole appears to be to find a foundation for ethics in the knowledge of nature.[3] G.D. Williams (et al) recognises the incontrovertible intertwinement of an ethical concern with the questions of nature (physics) in the work (see also Limburg p. 1 -2).[2][12]

For Seneca, behaving with morality was the ultimate aim of life, so the very possibility of virtue in a human was dependent on a person behaving in a way accordant to nature.[13] The highest good or virtue: secundum naturam suam vivere in Ep 41:9, Ep 121:3 (c.f. - p. 84 for English translation); naturam here refers to both nature in general and one's own innate nature.[13]

In Naturales quaestiones Seneca refers to the name of Nero (on four occasions - cf. - p. 246) in whose reign Seneca belonged. In regards to this, Tracey identifies in his work (p. 251), an example of a moral message within the study, vis-à-vis lightening bolts (Book 2.43), on the subject of the moral conduct of an absolute monarch. Seneca thought an effort of promoting an active interest in science to Nero, would be beneficial to the emperor's morality (p. 249 - here also quoting H. Hine 2006).[10]

What is most important? Not to admit bad intentions into your mind, to raise pure hands to raise your spirits high above chance occurrences .... for these reasons the study of nature will be helpful.....we shall leave behind what is sordid.... separate the mind, which needs to be elevated and great, from the body ... when we have exercised our intellect on hidden obscurities, it will be no less effective on matters in plain view

— - NQ3 Preface (Quote taken from G.D. Williams p. 1-2 [2])

Contemplation of nature for Seneca unchains the mind (quote from Bjornlie of Corcoran translation) enabling a person to transcend evil, and by experiencing the totum [2][14] of nature, develop a consciousness and being more compatible with direct experience of God, by elevating one's moral nature. (p. 3 of Williams and 260 of Bjornlie show different translations of the same passage in relation to this).[15]

God is in all things natural (is intramundane [16]), for Seneca:[17][18]

quisquis formator universi fuit sive ille Deus est portens omnium, sive incorporalis ratio, ingentium operum artifex, sive divinus spiritus, per omnia, maxima, minima, aequali intentione diffusus [19]

To achieve an existence in keeping with the correct manner of living (that is being ethical) depended on a person fulfilling that existence in accordance with the principles of the ius naturae (p. 258 [15]), of the divine universal order lex universi (Seneca - Ep 76.23 as shown at p. 84-5 [13]), inherent in the totum of nature.[2][13][15] To make one in agreement with nature (όμολογουμένως τή φύσει).[20]

Stoics from early in their history considered the telos (goal) of their efforts to be kata physin (according to nature).[21] The participation of the faculty of reason within the divine order stems in part from Platonic thought.[22]

Later history[edit]

The known history of the text begins in the 12th century.[23] Erasmus of Rotterdam once owned a copy of the study, which had previously belonged the 15th century Rodolphus Agricola.[24][25]

The first edition (editio princeps) was published in Venice in 1490, with an English language edition in 1972-3 by Loeb publishers.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ J Tracy cross references Hine (2006) for this on p.104 - footnote 9 [Retrieved 2015-3-18]
  2. ^ a b c d e f GD Williams. The Cosmic Viewpoint: A Study of Seneca's 'Natural Questions'. Oxford University Press, 8 Mar 2012 ISBN 0199742510. Retrieved 2015-03-17. 
  3. ^ a b c George Long (ed.William Smith). Seneca, L. Annaeus. Little, Brown and Company Boston 1867. Retrieved 2011-10-21. 
  4. ^ HM Hine (translator) On Terrestrial Waters Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2010. [Retrieved 2015-3-17] OCLC 642208470
  5. ^ Posidonius, Ian Gray Kidd - Posidonius: The commentary. Vol.2 (p.503) (Cambridge University Press, 1988) ISBN 0521354994 [Retrieved 2015-3-18]
  6. ^ Ian Gray Kidd - p.510 [Retrieved 2015-3-18]
  7. ^ Limburg, F.J.G., 2007, Doctoral thesis, Leiden University
  8. ^ Open Library at The Internet Archive - (shows) Table of Contents of Natural questions translated by Harry M. Hine Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2010 ISBN 0226748383 [Retrieved 2015-3-16]
  9. ^ OCLC WorldCat - for the following reference (i.e. DialABookServlet) choose "preview this item" from this link DialABookServlet [Retrieved 2015-3-16]
  10. ^ a b Jonathan Tracy. Lucan's Egyptian Civil War. Cambridge University Press, 22 Sep 2014 ISBN 1107072077. Retrieved 2015-03-17. 
  11. ^ J Sellars - Stoicism (Routledge, 5 Dec 2014) ISBN 1317493915 [Retrieved 2015-3-16]
  12. ^ Limburg, F.J.G., 2007, Doctoral thesis, Leiden University [Retrieved 2015-3-16]
  13. ^ a b c d Groenendijk, Leendert F. and de Ruyter, Doret J.(2009). 'Learning from Seneca: a Stoic perspective on the art of living and education', Ethics and Education (PDF). pp. 81–92. doi:10.1080/17449640902816277. Retrieved 2015-03-17. 
  14. ^ J Lovelock - Gaia : a new look at life on earth Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2000 [retrieved 2015-3-18] (ed. this work provided relevance of conceptual connection to Gaia (mythology) link within this article,and earlier concept of nature (ed.) as a single unified whole] (c.f. also Gaia hypothesis)
  15. ^ a b c MS Bjornlie. Politics and Tradition Between Rome, Ravenna and Constantinople: A Study of Cassiodorus and the Variae, 527-554. Cambridge University Press, 2013 ISBN 110702840X. Retrieved 2015-03-18. 
  16. ^ M Vassányi - Bayle's identification of Spinozism with the World-Soul theory (3rd paragraph of p.219) in Anima Mundi: The Rise of the World Soul Theory in Modern German Philosophy: The Rise of the World Soul Theory in Modern German Philosophy (Springer Science & Business Media, 16 Nov 2010) ISBN 9048187966 (Volume 202 of International Archives of the History of Ideas) [Retrieved 2015-3-18]
  17. ^ G Reydams-Schils - Seneca's Platonism (in) Ancient Models of Mind: Studies in Human and Divine Rationality (p.205) (edited by A Nightingale - Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Stanford University, D Sedley - Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge) Cambridge University Press, 11 Nov 2010 ISBN 1139489763[Retrieved 2015-3-18]
  18. ^ M. Shane Bjornlie c.f. particularly p.258 passage concerning Aristotle [Retrieved 2015-3-18]
  19. ^ R Lynam - The British Essayists: Lucubrations, or Winter evenings. General index (p.94) J. F. Dove, 1827 (original copy from Harvard University)[Retrieved 2015-3-18] (ed. this reference provides an english language translation)
  20. ^ J Wildberger - Brill's Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist (p.315) Brill's Companions in Classical Studies (edited by Andreas Heil, Gregor Damschen) BRILL, 13 Dec 2013 ISBN 9004217088 [Retrieved 2015-3-18]
  21. ^ D Mehl. The Stoic Paradoxes according to Cicero (in) Vertis in Usum p.40- edited by C Damon, JF Miller, KS Myers. Walter de Gruyter, 2002 ISBN 3598777108. Retrieved 2015-03-19. 
  22. ^ (edited by KR Bartlett) - The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance: A Sourcebook (p.98 left column of text - 2nd paragraph) University of Toronto Press, 2011 ISBN 1442604859 [Retrieved 2015-3-20]
  23. ^ M von Albrecht - A History of Roman Literature: From Livius Andronicus to Boethius : with Special Regard to Its Influence on World Literature (p.1193) Editor GL Schmeling (BRILL, 1997) ISBN 9004107118 [Retrieved 2015-3-17]
  24. ^ J Sperna Weiland, W Th. M. Frijhoff - Erasmus of Rotterdam: The Man and the Scholar : Proceedings of the Symposium Held at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam, 9-11 November 1986, Volumes 9-11 (p.159) (Brill Archive, 1988) ISBN 9004089209[Retrieved 2015-3-17]
  25. ^ edited by Charles Knight - Biography: Or, Third Division of "The English Encyclopedia", Volume 1 (Bradbury, Evans & Company, 1866) (copy originally from the University of Wisconsin - Madison)[Retrieved 2015-3-17]
  26. ^ HM Hine - Studies in the Text of Seneca's "Naturales Quaestiones" - Bibliography (Walter de Gruyter, 1 Jan 1996) ISBN 3110958074 [Retrieved 2015-3-16]
  27. ^ R Hoffmann, I Boyd Whyte - Beyond the Finite: The Sublime in Art and Science (p.122) ISBN 0199792747 (Oxford University Press, 14 Sep 2011) [Retrieved 2015-3-18]

Further reading[edit]

  • Seneca, Naturales Quaestiones: Bks. I-III, v. 1. Loeb Classical Library
  • Seneca, Naturales Quaestiones: Bks. IV-VII, v. 2. Loeb Classical Library
  • Seneca, "Ricerche sulla Natura", a cura di Piergiorgio Parroni, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, a recent (2010) edition with a fine comment.
  • Harry M. Hine (2010), Seneca: Natural questions. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226748545

External links[edit]