In letters from a stoic 47, we get a glimpse of how slaves were maltreated in Ancient Rome and how Seneca strongly opposed this kind of practice. “I shall pass over other cruel and inhuman conduct towards them; for we maltreat them, not as if they were men, but as if they were beasts of burden. “
Unbeknownst to us in the free modern world, slaves in the ancient world have zero rights. They don’t possess anything and are not even considered citizens in their place. In this particular letter, Seneca saw a lot of malpractices on the slaves which the ancient society viewed as customary. For example at a dinner, a slave cannot eat together with his master for doing so is deemed to be disgusting and out of the ordinary. So a slave must “stand about, hungry and dumb.” all night long. He cannot speak, not even move his lips. “The slightest murmur is repressed by the rod; even a chance sound—a cough, a sneeze, or a hiccup—is visited with the lash. There is a grievous penalty for the slightest breach of silence”
Seneca told Lucilius to treat his slaves in the right way because they are the same human beings that live, breathe, and die. In his own words, “Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters. “ Seneca said to value them based on their character not on their status or duties. He argued that although they may be slaves by profession, their souls may be that of a freeman. There are people, on the other hand, who are powerful and hold public offices but are slaves to their own desires. Seneca said slaves ought to respect their masters not fear them
On the final note, I think one of the great benefits of reading classic texts like this work of Seneca is that we get to appreciate how much we have progressed in the modern world. We no longer have slavery these days. We can travel borders without having to worry some criminals might capture us and sell us as slaves like in the ancient world. Indeed, one way to be grateful is to reflect on the difficulty of the past.
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