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Seneca: A Spaniard in essencE

Oliver Baldwin. King's College London (KCL). England


Seneca: A Spaniard in essence

Oliver Baldwin. King's College London (KCL). England.


After the processes of national independence or reintegration in the 19th century, Europe underwent a surge in nationalism. Nationalism was a means not only of unity, but also of establishing a clear national identity. This would very often mean using European Antiquity to establish national narratives, either by acknowledging or confronting Antiquity, or at times both. This would later evolve into the extreme uses of Antiquity found in Nazi Germany –i.e. the praising of Spartan virtues- or in Fascist Italy- i.e. the “second” March on Rome (1922)-.


Spain lost its remaining overseas colonies in the Disaster of 1898, ceasing to be a major international empire. The glorious past of the mighty Spanish Empire had vanished after five centuries of existence. This thus became the chance for many intellectuals to reflect on the essence and future of the nation. In this national discussion Spain also resorted to the re-appropriation of Antiquity. Among many national narratives of Antiquity in Spain—including its own autochthonous anti-imperialistic myth, the siege of Numantia—, we find a very interesting and stimulating discussion on Seneca as the embodiment of the Spanish Volksgeist. Although such a claim is undoubtedly weak, since Spain as an entity did not exist in Seneca’s times, and Seneca may be called a Spaniard only by birth, such identification was so strong that the leading philologist Menendez Pidal would even state that: "A Spaniard [...] is an innate senequist".

The present paper aims to explore how Seneca was studied, and later re-appropriated and reshaped as the embodiment of Spanishness, in the change of century by intellectual and political circles of a nation in mid-reconfiguration. This way we shall be able to better understand what are the implications and processes that help to explain Angel Ganivet’s statement that: "Seneca is not a Spaniard, a son of Spain, by chance: he is a Spaniard in essence”.

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