Empire as ‘Una Persona’: Politicizing the Unity of the Person in Seneca’s De Clementia

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Kaicheng Fang, Faculty of Classics, Cambridge University, UK


    Since Michel Foucault’s investigation of ‘the care of the self’ in the Hellenistic-Roman age, whether there is a modern conception of ‘self’ and ‘personhood’ in ancient philosophy, especially in Seneca, has become one of the most popular topics in the classical studies. In his influential work The Structured Self in Hellenistic and Roman Thought, Christopher Gill proposes that the ancient philosophers understand ‘personality’ as a ‘structured psychological unity’ (Gill 2006). Meanwhile, the intellectual historians have increasingly noticed that Seneca’s De Clementia has great influence on the Early Modern theory of the state, for example, the Hobbesian claim that the state is an ‘artificial person’ (Bustamante Kuschel 2008). Seneca’s De Clementia is an important text for us to explore how the two sense of identity—’the unity of the person’ and ‘the unity of the state’—interacted in the ancient thought. By comparing the Roman Empire to the una persona (‘One Person’) and the prince to its soul (representing its identity), Seneca argues that the unity of the state relies on the unity of the prince, while the unity of the prince means that the prince has a coherent and unified psychological state. The conflicted internal identities of a single person will result in the separation of the whole state. De Clementia is one of the earliest attempts in the European intellectual history to politicize the personal identity for the sake of the unity of the whole Europe. By examining how Seneca intertwines the two senses of identity in the body metaphor in De Clementia, this paper aims to provide the modern readers a historical perspective to understand the relationship between personal identity and political unity.