Love, hate, pain, and revenge in Seneca’s tragedies
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The perennial problem of reconciling the character of Seneca the philosopher and Seneca the playwright is both my concern in this thesis, and not my concern at all. While Seneca the Stoic preaches a strict control of emotion, Seneca the tragedian revels in all the gory and devastating consequences of passions run amok. Scholars have debated whether Seneca uses the plays to provide moral instruction through positive or negative models, or whether there is no meaningful connection between the philosophy that pervades his letters and the plays. I would like to propose a middle ground – another way of looking at the relationship between the plays and Stoic philosophy that can exist side by side with any of these theories. Seneca uses the plays to explore a world according to Stoic principles, whether there is a moral component or not. I will show this through an examination of the Thyestes and the Phaedra. Seneca writes the plays as a Stoic, and therefore the “world” of his plays works according to Stoic theory. This means that the characters and their emotions function in accordance with Stoic theory, whatever the lessons Seneca intends to impart. Therefore we as readers can learn something about Stoic emotional theory from examining the actions of the characters in the plays even if we cannot divine Seneca’s educational program explicitly from those plays. This frees us from questioning whether Phaedra is a negative exemplum of abandoned passion or whether Thyestes, with all his flaws, is actually a Stoic sage, without ignoring the depth of Stoic influence on the characters all the same.