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HomePoems > Kubla Khan > Sources > Seneca                           



1. Alph

2. Sunless sea, lifeless ocean


Lowes argues that Coleridge probably read Lucius Annaeus Seneca's book on natural science sometime before 1798. If so, Coleridge would have heard of a river Alpheus, that sank into the earth, going into a vast subterranean sea, so far underground that the sun might never shine on its waves, and came up again, elsewhere, in a fountain.

As a philosopher, Seneca took a Stoic point of view, which was probably necessary in his other occupation, serving as an official under Emperor Nero. 

But he was also a playwright, even though the results are a bit stiff.

And all his writing suggest an imaginative, if a bit repressed, artist.

This particular book, the Quaestiones naturales, is a series of explorations, or investigations, following various speculations to see where they will take him;.

The mood probably appealed to Coleridge, if he read the book, so Seneca may have been another voice suggesting Alph, the sacred river that plunges into caverns measureless to man, into a sunless sea.


Seneca, Quaestiones naturales. Translation: John Clarke, Physical Science in the Time of Nero, London, 1910, p. 142)

Other sources

William Bartram
William Beckford
F. Bernier
James Bruce
Thomas Burnet
William Collins
Athanasius Kircher
Jerome Lobo
Thomas Maurice
John Milton
Samuel Purchas
Major James Rennell

Mary Wollstonecraft


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