Death of Seneca and Constancy of Paulina. A.R. 814

WAG 7734


This is one of a group of drawings by British artist and book illustrator Edward Francis Burney, depicting scenes from Greek and Roman history and mythology. One of the inscriptions on the margin, May No. 5, seems to refer to the month in a calendar for which Burney created this frontispiece drawing. He executed many headpieces of this kind for pocket calendars and memorandum books between 1796 to 1829. [See correspondence between Patricia Crown and Edward Morris, in the docket file] This scene depicts Seneca (about 4 BCE - 65 CE), a Roman statesman and orator, committing suicide as ordered by Emperor Nero. There had been a conspiracy to murder Nero, and the Emperor suspected that Seneca, his former advisor, had been in on the plot. Paulina, Seneca's wife, elected to commit suicide with her husband in a display of her titular 'constancy'. Seneca ordered Paulina to another room so that she did not have to watch him suffer, but unbeknown to him Nero had ordered that she live and her wounds were tended. They both cut the veins in their arms but Seneca did not lose enough blood to die, so took a hot bath in the hopes of increasing blood flow. He also requested a poison, which also had little effect, but died soon after.