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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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Reading Monsters

Reading Monsters

(p.96) 5 Reading Monsters
Seneca and the Idea of Tragedy

Gregory A. Staley (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

The Roman poet Martial (ad 40–102), writing in the generation after Seneca, identified the key to Seneca’s plays: He said that to read tragedy was to “read monsters.” Monstra, shocking, unnatural events that offered warnings from the gods, were a central element in Roman religion and a defining feature of Seneca’s plays. They were on the one hand “just and lively images” of the sort the Stoics identified with tragedy; on the other hand they regularly “represented the passions,” emerging from the underworld as the Erinyes or Furies. To read these monsters means to read Vergil as Seneca and later Freud did, for both read Vergil as psychologists, seeking in the signs of the body evidence for the nature of the soul. Whereas Alessandro Schiesaro sees Seneca’s plays as the mad poet’s dreams, this chapter argues instead that they should be read as the analyst’s interpretations.

Keywords:   monsters, Monstra, furies, Vergil, Seneca, Freud, Schiesaro

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