Analysis of Epistle 47 by Seneca

Epistle 47 by Seneca is a powerful statement about slavery and the way his peers were treating the slaves. The letter focuses on the harsh treatment slaves were receiving from their Roman masters. Seneca defends slaves saying that their souls are just like the souls of the free people; and therefore, he urges the Romans to treat slaves based on their personality and individual virtues instead of social standing.

The work is extremely important because Seneca presents a very bold and bright idea which was rather ignored or disliked by the aristocrats of his time. During that period, it was considered normal to mistreat slaves because they were considered inferior human beings. Rich and elite Romans were looking for friends among other aristocrats, and they rarely looked down at their slaves treating them poorly. This is something Seneca opposes in his letter. He shows that the ancestors of his fellow Romans were able to distinguish between the rank and personality, and they were much kinder to their slaves than their offspring is. More importantly, the new generation has to develop the same treatment toward slaves as their ancestors used to have. 

For Seneca, slaves are the same as aristocrats; they are the people with feelings and virtues who have to receive the same treatment. Interestingly, Seneca does not criticize slavery as a concept itself, but rather negative treatment of slaves. To Seneca, slavery is a mere result of luck; in his letter, he speaks about many noblemen who became slaves simply because of some wars and attacks, and therefore, even some of the older noble individuals turned into slaves in a senior age. Therefore, Seneca does not oppose taking and using slaves, but giving them the treatment a free person deserves.


This is what the letter means, and this is an extremely interesting opinion when it comes to analyzing the epistle. Seneca, after all, was a member of his society where slavery was a normal state of things. As a result, it was considered something common and rather typical to have slaves. The morality of slavery was rarely questioned at the time because of the mores which were dominating in the Roman era. However, Seneca’s stance of the problem is very original and unique. He recognizes the flaws of the system, and he decides to battle it in his own way. Instead of fighting the entire system, which, based on his letter he accepts, the author chooses to point out the most obvious things which are negative about. The most convincing part is when he actually speaks about the fact that anybody can have a slave and – be enslaved. When Seneca suggests the reader to respect his master, he shows that in Roman society, no one was secure from becoming a slave as there were constant conflicts, and a person could lose one’s fortune and social standing in an instant. Therefore, the moral of the letter is to treat the slaves as they deserve to be treated not just for the same of human values and qualities, but also as a way to think for oneself and create a healthy treatment of slaves since everyone can become one.

It is difficult to undermine the meaning and the power of Seneca’s work. He is able to convey some very important messages as well present his peers with a new idea defending the righteousness of the idea with the arguments they cannot ignore. However, just as the letter had an extremely valuable meaning for Seneca’s peers due the message it carried, the work is still extremely viable in the modern world. It is true that the people of today had battled slavery and defeated it, but there are still racial and social prejudices. It is the social prejudices which are linked to Seneca’s letter. In the modern world, people also tend to make friends and form relationships with the other individuals who share their social rank. More importantly, the modern culture is extremely materialistic. Therefore, various individuals are seeking friendships with the people who are rich and famous. The individuals seek friendships of those people not based on their personalities, qualities, and virtues, but based on the shallow perceptions which include the amount of money and influence they possess. That is the reason the modern society often overlooks people who make less money, or whose jobs are not as prestigious and so on. The most negative thing in this situation is the fact that the new generation grows up on the same values, so they learn from their parents to pay attention to material characteristics instead of personal ones. As a result, there is a huge splitting line within society, and it is getting bigger. The other horrible consequence of the social prejudice is that a lot of people are deprived of opportunities because of it. For instance, a talented person from a poor family may be trying to launch a start-up and pitch it in front of an audience of possible investors. Although an individual may have a good idea, his low social background may prevent him from having needed acquaintances, and the person may also be considered less important to devote one’s time to listen to him or her. Also, whenever there is a competition between the talented individuals who come from different backgrounds, the high social standing usually helps the people while people from poorer or less influential families have to struggle more. 

Therefore, the social prejudice remains a serious problem in the modern world as the people respond to it in a way that they accept the social stratification. Many members of society have accepted the fact that there are poor and rich, but along with that, they also accepted the fact that rich were more important and needed to receive more attention. One does not question the financial divide; after all, the society cannot prohibit people from making the money especially when they do it in a transparent and legal way. However, what society has to do is to stop the unequal treatment of people based on their financial situation. There is nothing wrong with making less money than somebody else just as there is nothing wrong with being a successful business person; however, both the individual who owns a company and the person who is a janitor in that company need to be equally respected and treated as equal and independent individuals. That is the reason Seneca’s epistle is so viable today as it appeals to human rights and overall sense of humanity. 

Reading the letter has made one compare the society of ancient times and the world today. Although the modern people have reached a huge progress in technological sense, the letter of a great Roman thinker has reminded that there are still many flaws on the social level, and they need to be fixed for the modern society to move forward. It is not enough to battle racism and segregation on the shallow level because what the modern world needs today is the equal treatment of all the human beings despite their appearances, background or social standing. This is a difficult process, but it is something necessary to achieve. 

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