Lipsius’s Seneca - With Engravings Designed by Rubens – An EXTREMELY Fine Copy

Seneca, Lucius Annaeus (5 B.C.-65 A.D.); Lipsius, Justus. (1547-1606)

Opera, quae extant omnia: A Iusto Lipsio emendata et Scholiis illustrata. Editio Tertia, atque ab ultima Lipsii manu.

Antwerp: Ex officina Plantiniana apud viduam et filios J. Moreti, 1632


Folio: 38.5 x 25 cm. *6, A-C6, A-Z6; Aa-Zz6; Aaa-Zzz6, Aaaa-Ffff6 (with blank leaf Ffff6 present). Added engraved

THIRD EDITION (the second with the plates after Rubens).

A very fine copy bound in contemporary Dutch vellum, ruled in blind and with a large, blind-stamped arabesque at the center of each board. This edition is illustrated with an elaborate engraved title page by Theodore Galle, re-worked to include a new portrait of Seneca after Peter Paul Rubens. The frontispiece portrait of Lipsius, the full-paged bust of Seneca, and the famous, three-quarter portrait of Seneca in his bath are also engraved after designs by Rubens. The last of these is based on the figure in Rubens’ painting “The Death of Seneca”. Internally, this copy is in excellent condition with just the occasional rust spot. Provenance: Bibliotheque de Mouchy, Lucien d’Ursin.

The third edition of Lipsius’ Seneca and the second to feature the Rubens images.  Lipsius’ Seneca is the second of his two philological masterpieces. This edition was edited by Jan Van de Wouwer (1576-1635), to whom Lipsius entrusted his unpublished works. The book is important on numerous levels. It is a philological tour-du-force and a prime example of the combination of scholarly and typographical excellence that was the hallmark of the Plantin publishing house. It marks an important contribution to philosophy, specifically in the development of Neostoicism; and, with its engravings by Peter Paul Rubens, it is a work of lasting artistic value.

“The humanist and classical scholar Justus Lipsius (Joost Lips) (1547–1606), described by his admiring correspondent Michel de Montaigne as one of the most learned men of his day (Essays II.12), was the founding father of Neostoicism, a key component of European thought in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries...

“Lipsius’s lifelong project was to transform contemporary moral philosophy through a new reading of the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, while also revitalizing contemporary political practice by drawing on the insights provided by the Roman historian Tacitus. Before publishing his major edition of Seneca’s philosophical writings in the year before his death, he wrote two theoretical treatises on Stoicism, which provided the philosophical foundation for a new interpretation of Seneca and a new understanding of Stoic doctrines.”(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

“The reputation of Lipsius rests securely upon his editions of Tacitus and Seneca. The Tacitus was first published in 1574 and is one of his earliest works; the Seneca was published in 1605 and was his last work. They are, so to speak, the two pillars supporting the fabric of his life’s work.

“The title-page, designed by Theodore Galle, shows the title framed by a triumphal arch in front of whose columns stand the founders of the Stoic school, Zeno and Cleanthes. In the attic of the arch, framed by columns that are perhaps symbolic of the Stoa, are three medallions, the central one showing Pallas Athena (wisdom) and the side ones showing the heads of the two great Stoic mythological “exempla virtutis”, Hercules and Ulysses. Below the arch are three other medallions, in the center personifications of the Stoic ideals of Honor and Virtue, and at each corner busts in profile of the chief exponents of Stoicism among the Romans, Epictetus and Seneca.

For this edition, Peter Paul Rubens provided a new portrait of Lipsius and two portraits of Seneca. The title page has also been re-worked to include a third portrait of the philosopher. “It was impressive that Rubens himself should undertake to replace the portraits for the second edition; doubly so when it was remembered that Rubens was the brother of Lipsius’ most esteemed student and the possessor of what was thought to be an authentic portrait of Seneca. In 1615, Lipsius’ Seneca finally had a visual invitation to the reader worthy of the Roman philosopher and his Renaissance interpreter…

“[For Lipsius], Seneca was above all a practical guide to living well. He was the source of ‘sapientia’, whereas Tacitus inspired ‘prudentia’, the proper virtue of rulers. ‘Sapientia’ is the virtue of the Stoic ‘sapiens’, the wise man, and has more specific qualities than those usually associated with the word ‘wisdom’. The sapiens lives by virtue of reason; he lives according to nature, free from the emotions such as anger, fear, and hope. He distinguishes rightly between virtue and those things that are ‘indifferent’ (such as riches, good health, success, and so on), and in the latter group he distinguishes between things that are to be preferred and those that are to be rejected. The Stoic sapiens accepts the will of God, which is the same as fate. The sapiens meets adversity with constancy, and he is ready to undertake public responsibilities because of his concern for human beings, whose sufferings he views with detachment yet also with mercy (misericordia). Finally, the sapiens will use his ‘otium,’[meditative leisure] well, to pursue the ‘negotium animi’ and progress in philosophy.”(Mark Morford, “Stoics and Neostoics”)


“The great Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 1 BCE – CE 65) was born in Corduba (Spain) and educated—in rhetoric and philosophy—in Rome. Seneca had a highly successful, and quite dramatic, political career. Even a brief (and by necessity incomplete) list of events in his life indicates that Seneca had ample occasion for reflection on violent emotions, the dangers of ambition, and the ways in which the life of politics differs from the life of philosophy—among the topics pursued in his writings. He was accused of adultery with the Emperor Caligula’s sister and therefore exiled to Corsica in 41; having been Nero’s “tutor” in his adolescent years, he was among Nero’s advisors after his accession in 54; Seneca continued to be an advisor (in times that became increasingly difficult for anyone in the close proximity of Nero) in spite of requests to be granted permission to retire; he was charged with complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to murder Nero, and compelled to commit suicide in 65.

After several centuries of relative neglect, Seneca’s philosophy has been rediscovered in the last few decades, in what might be called a second revival of Senecan thought. In part, this renewed interest is the result of a general reappraisal of Roman culture. It is also fueled by major progress that has been made in our understanding of Greek Hellenistic philosophy, and by recent developments in contemporary ethics, such as a renewed interest in the theory of emotions, roles and relationships, and the fellowship of all human beings. And finally, some influential scholars have found, in the wake of Foucault’s reading of Seneca, that Seneca speaks to some distinctively modern concerns.”(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Seneca’s Forced Suicide:

Tacitus gave a famous account of Seneca’s suicide in his “Annales” (15.62-64). When Nero’s order that Seneca must take his own life reached the philosopher at his villa, Seneca heard the message with calm composure. He tried to raise the spirits of those friends who were in attendance by reminding them of the philosophical precepts by which they had lived. He then embraced his wife Paulina, who announced in her grief that she wished to die with her husband. Seneca acquiesced, saying, “Since you will have it so, we will die together. We will leave behind us an example of equal constancy; but the glory will be all your own.”

Then they both opened the veins in their arms, but Seneca’s blood only trickled slowly, emaciated as he was. In pain and feeling regret, he ordered his slaves to save his wife’s life, and then turned to dictate his farewell discourse. Seneca, writes Tacitus, “lingered in pain. The approach of death was slow, and he wished for his dissolution.  Fatigued with pain, worn out and exhausted, he requested his friend, Statius Annaeus, whose fidelity and medical skill he had often experienced, to administer a draught of that swift-speeding poison, usually given at Athens to the criminals adjudged to death. He swallowed the potion, but without any immediate effect. His limbs were chilled: the vessels of his body were closed, and the ingredients, though keen and subtle, could not arrest the principles of life. He desired to be placed in a warm bath.  Being conveyed according to his desire, he sprinkled his slaves with the water, and “Thus,” he said, “I make libation to Jupiter the deliverer.” The vapor soon overpowered him, and he was committed to the flames. He had given directions for that purpose in his last will, made at a time when he was in the zenith of power, and even then looked forward to the close of his days.

Rubens, Lipsius, and the Dying Seneca:

“In the other engravings designed by Rubens [for Lipsius’ edition], Lipsius was associated with the dying Seneca. The portrait bust of Seneca, set in a niche, is based closely upon the head in Rubens’ possession. The three-quarter length representation, however, is more complex. It portrays Seneca in the act of speaking his last words as he stands in a bathtub, which is decorated with a lion’s head. He is placed in a niche (probably symbolic of death) and the engraving is remarkable for the intensity of the expression and the prominence of the veins (an allusion to the method of Seneca’s death.) Balthasar Moretus [in his epistle for this edition] has explained in detail the origin and purpose of Rubens’ drawing. Lipsius himself had expressed dissatisfaction with Theodore Galle’s engraving, and Rubens was attempting to honor the views of Lipsius after his death by providing a suitable image of the most dramatic and influential event in Seneca’s life….

“Rubens used two antique sources for his design. The head is derived from the head of Seneca that he owned, which appeared in [his painting] the ‘Four philosophers’ and in the other engraving of Seneca in the 1615 edition. The body, as Balthasar Moretus explicitly says, is copied from the so-called ‘African Fisherman’ now in the Louvre. This statue seems to have been found in or before 1594, and it is described in a poem on the Borghese collection written by Scipione Fannucci in 1613. By 1625 it was in the new Villa Borghese (completed 1616) to which the original Borghese collection had been transferred. Since Pope Paul V, to whom Lipsius had dedicated his Seneca, was a Borghese, it would seem that the insertion of the dying Seneca in the 1615 edition was also a compliment to the pope himself and to his nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, whose patronage was important not only for the arts but also for the rising social status of artists.” (Mark Morford, “Stoics and Neostoics”)

Ebert 20853; Schweiger II, 910; Bibliotheca Belgica V 132-3