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Seneca and the Idea of Tragedy$
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Gregory A. Staley

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195387438

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195387438.001.0001

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The Soul of Tragedy

The Soul of Tragedy

(p.66) 4 The Soul of Tragedy
Seneca and the Idea of Tragedy

Gregory A. Staley (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

The Stoics regularly turned to the words of tragic characters to elucidate psychology, for it was thought that poetry was a vivid source of evidence about the unseen soul: Tragedy was the plot of the soul, an illustration of the process of cognition that produced emotion. Seneca’s plays regularly depict characters who are angry, frightened, or even in love, for passion was the Stoic explanation for the events traditionally considered tragic, and tragedy was the genre best suited to the world of mad emperors in which Seneca lived. Yet within both his plays and his philosophical essays, Seneca suggests that these vivid portraits of passionate souls serve not to make us passionate but instead help us to understand and to reject similar feelings. Aristotle’s notion of catharsis as a process of “clarification” shaped Seneca’s approach to tragic response.

Keywords:   Stoics, psychology, cognition, catharsis, clarification, Seneca, tragedy

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