Earthquakes, Consolation and the Senecan Sublime

Gareth Williams

in The Cosmic Viewpoint

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199731589
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933112 | DOI:
Earthquakes, Consolation and the Senecan Sublime

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Book 6 of the Natural Questions is allegedly precipitated by Seneca's learning of the devastation wrought by the earthquake which struck Campania in early 62 CE. Rhetorical consolation is here combined with scientific rationalization in Seneca's systematic treatment of earthquakes and theories of their causation (whether by fire, earth, water or air, the latter his favoured cause). This chapter argues that, in his rationalizing process, Seneca applies a technique of intellectual control over nature that fortifies us against the sublime awe induced by the spectacle of natural disaster. The passive sublimity of submission to nature's majesty is thus offset by a positive sublimity (with Kantian overtones), thereby allowing us to see the effects of the Campanian earthquake in an alleviating perspective.

Keywords: earthquake; sublime; consolation; Pompeii

Chapter.  20878 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature

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