Octavia: A Play Attributed to Seneca

By Seneca; Rolando Ferri | Go to book overview

COMMENTARY

1 Numerous Greek and Latin tragedies begin at dawn, a phenomenon whose most likely explanation seems to be that performances at the festivals began very early in the morning (Pickard-Cambridge, DF, 68–9). This convention is consistently reproduced by Senecan tragedy, where only Phoe. and H. O. contain no indication of the supposed time of the action at the start. In Octavia, whose action spans three successive days, this sunrise has even less significance than usual and only maintains a long-established literary convention, besides signposting the tragic character of the piece. The playwright also wishedto reproduce Electra's song in Soph. El. 86–120, where the heroine pours out her grievances to the elements after yet another sleepless night spent in mourning (cf. 86–91 =)

see infra). The parallel was investigatedin full by Ladek (1909), but attention had lready been drawn to Electra by Delrius (Syntagma, iii. 521–4, ad 8, 30, 58, 77 in his line numbering). The parallel carries the implication that Octavia, like her Greek counterpart, can findno comfort in the quiet of the night, so great is the bereavement consequent upon the destruction of her whole family.

The two first speeches of the play, delivered respectively by Octavia and by the Nutrix, were censuredas repetitious by Peiper (1863, and again in his 1867 edition); he transposed the monody of Octavia after the Nurse's speech (34–56), also in order to eliminate an initial canticum. There are no cogent reasons for this alteration of the transmitted order, even if dislocations involving anapaestic sections are fairly common in the Senecan corpus: something of this kindappears to have occurredin K, where 34–56 follow 71, and the same handwhich penned the body of the text annotates in the margin of 34 hic deficit actus. Shorter lines – anapaestic, and half-lines in antilab¯e - were copiedin multiple columns to save space, which often generated transpositions: cf. Zwierlein, KK ad Hf. 146; (1979), 176 n. 3; a similar corruption has occurredin Oct., at 669 ff. (in GT).

The song of the distraught Octavia creates an emotionally charged, typically tragic atmosphere, in which tension is at its peak from the very start, while the subsequent iambic passage supplements the background information in the plainer style suitedto the expository prologue. There is, however, a great amount of thematic overlapping between this song and the following iambics of the Nutrix. A comparable impression of repetition is sometimes aroused by the succession of sung and spoken parts in Greek tragedy (cf. ad 100), a feature which is probably enhanced by the loss of the music and, in Oct., by the lack of the distinctive linguistic and stylistic features characteristic of sung parts in Greek drama.

-119-

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Octavia: A Play Attributed to Seneca
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Text 83
  • Commentary 119
  • Appendixes 407
  • Appendix A - Imitations of Senecan Traged Y 408
  • Appendix B - Imitations of Augustan Poets 411
  • Appendix C - D Isjunctions of Demonstratives in Augustan Poetry 413
  • Bibliography and Abbreviations 417
  • Indexes 436
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