Seneca and the Idea of Tragedy

Seneca and the Idea of Tragedy

Seneca and the Idea of Tragedy

Seneca and the Idea of Tragedy

Synopsis

The question of why Seneca wrote tragedy has been debated since at least the 13th century. Since Seneca was a Stoic, critics assumed he wrote with the standard Stoic theory of literature as education in philosophy in mind. This book argues that Seneca was influenced by Aristotle's famous defense of tragedy against Plato's critique.

Excerpt

I have been thinking about Seneca’s idea of tragedy ever since I was an undergraduate at Dickinson College, where Robert Sider guided me in writing my honor’s thesis on the topic. I turned to Seneca to help me construct a rationale for my own interest, which was then just emerging, in a life dedicated to ideas and literature, and I assumed that, as philosopher and poet both, Seneca would provide answers to my questions about the value of the humanities. As it turns out, Seneca did not make the task easy, which is partly why it has taken me so long to write this book. At Princeton University I made Seneca the topic of my dissertation, under the direction of Bernard Fenik and D. J. Furley, who shaped in ways that are still visible in this book my approaches to literature and philosophy. As a fellow at the American Academy in Rome in 1983—1984 I drafted most of what is now chapter 2 of this book. I am grateful to the academy, to its library, and to its staff for creating a marvelous setting for the life of the mind and to the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding my year of research in Rome.

My sense that Seneca wrote tragedy as a Stoic, however, became less secure as I read the work of R. J. Tarrant, Elaine Fantham, A. J. Boyle, and Gordon Braden, among others. After setting Seneca aside for many years, I returned to him afresh in 2000—2002, when I enjoyed an extended period of leave, funded by the University of Maryland and by the Helen Clay Frick Foundation. The chair of my department at that time, Judith Hallett, was instrumental in making this all possible. I conducted most of the research for this book in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins University, where the staff has always . . .

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