Mystery solved! A Google search of books rather than the web for our school motto turned up a quote from a modern book on teaching physical education: “ . . . would agree with Seneca that the real duty of any school is to teach the art of living well.” Bingo! Seneca—six letters, beginning with “S,” just as I could see from the photos of our school.
So who was Seneca? He was a Roman advocate, someone who speaks for another, the Roman version of a lawyer. He was in the thick of Roman tabloid politics. While still a young man, Caligula was going to execute him, but thought he was so sickly he would soon die anyway. But he lived on, and a few years later, Caligula’s wife, Messalina, had him banished for adultery with Julia Livilla. (Aren’t you glad you watch Public TV.) Eight years later, Caligula’s second wife and sister, Agrippina, brought him back to tutor her son, Nero. Seneca went on to be the advocate for Nero.
Eventually, he was accused of complicity in a plot to kill Nero and ordered to commit suicide. He cut his wrists, but his veins were too poor to bleed enough. Running around in pain, but nowhere close to dying, a friend fed him poison, but it just made him sick. Now with nausea added to his pain, he jumped into a hot tub to stimulate the blood flow, and finally died, reportedly of suffocation by the steam, but some think he was held under.
Tough life. He should have learned the art of living—or at least dying— well, himself. Although there are many pithy quotes attributed to Seneca, I have not been able to pin down the exact reference, even with all the vast search capabilities available today, which adds even more credit to whoever picked it. Was it picked by the architect who needed something over our school’s doorway, or a selection by the teachers? However it went, we ended up with a unique motto that is the best I’ve ever heard of.
Apparently, Seneca was better known in the 1920’s when our school was constructed and reading the classics was thought to be the best way to learn the art of living well. Where are you, now, Miss Cook, when we need you? Surely you would know. Do I get any extra credit for this? I can use it.