Read Four Tragedies and Octavia (Thyestes, Phaedra, Troades, Oedipus, Octavia) by Seneca E.F. Watling Online


Based on the legends used in Greek drama, Seneca's plays are notable for the exuberant ruthlessness with which disastrous events are foretold and then pursued to their tragic and often bloodthirsty ends. Thyestes depicts the menace of an ancestral curse hanging over two feuding brothers, while Phaedra portrays a woman tormented by fatal passion for her stepson. In The TrojBased on the legends used in Greek drama, Seneca's plays are notable for the exuberant ruthlessness with which disastrous events are foretold and then pursued to their tragic and often bloodthirsty ends. Thyestes depicts the menace of an ancestral curse hanging over two feuding brothers, while Phaedra portrays a woman tormented by fatal passion for her stepson. In The Trojan Women, the widowed Hecuba and Andromache await their fates at the hands of the conquering Greeks, and Oedipus follows the downfall of the royal House of Thebes. Octavia is a grim commentary on Nero's tyrannical rule and the execution of his wife, with Seneca himself appearing as an ineffective counsellor attempting to curb the atrocities of the emperor....

Title : Four Tragedies and Octavia (Thyestes, Phaedra, Troades, Oedipus, Octavia)
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ISBN : 9780140441741
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Number of Pages : 319 Pages
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Four Tragedies and Octavia (Thyestes, Phaedra, Troades, Oedipus, Octavia) Reviews

  • BillKerwin
    2019-04-28 14:12

    Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a tutor and advisor to the Emperor Nero, the foremost Stoic philosopher of his age, and the author of highly rhetorical tragedies, filled with horror and revenge, which would later profoundly influence the playwrights of the Elizabethan era. Many who have studied both his consolatory essays and his plays have had difficulty reconciling the philosopher with the dramatist. How could the serene man of these wise essays also be the writer of those overwrought verses decorated with dubious embellishments, stained with dismemberment and blood? Some, indeed, have refused to believe it, insisting that tradition has confounded two Senecas into one.For my part, I don't see that great of a distance between the philosopher and the poet. The plays are blood-soaked, true, but they are also filled with high-minded moral advice, much of it about what it takes to be a good king. I can see how Nero's clever old teacher, aware of the young emperor's sanguinary appetites and yet determined to keep him in line, might have written just this sort of play to satisfy his pupil's degraded tastes while at the same time stimulating his noble instincts. (Besides, the advisor of Nero—the philosopher--did not himself possess a philosopher's reputation. He was called a flatterer, a hypocrite, a seducer of wives, a lover of money, and the driver of a hard bargain. At the very least, then, he was a complicated sort of man, capable of both the essays and the plays.)The plays themselves vary in quality, and you may wish to read only two or three instead of reading all four or five. (Octavia is a contemporary tragedy which features both Nero and Seneca as characters. It is written in Seneca's style but is almost certainly not by Seneca). If your principal reason for reading Seneca is the same as mine—to trace his influence on Elizabethan drama—you should read Thyestes (the best play and the bloodiest) and The Trojan Women (a good rhetorical exercise in lamentation), and compare them with Titus Andronicus and Richard III respectively. If, on the other hand, you are more interested in the decadence of Roman tragedy compared to the classic Greek, you should read Oedipus and then compare it with Sophocles. If I were you, I'd do both.This E.F. Watling translation is ideal for anyone who cares about the Elizabethan connection. He often writes in a blank verse which helps you feel the influence strongly, and his notes make helpful references to Elizabethan plays which quote passages from Seneca, often verbatim, in Latin.I will conclude with a characteristically decadent and bloody passage, the Messenger's description of the self-blinding of Oedipus:The fingers bentAnd groped in haste to find the seeing eyes,Then wrenched them from their roots and tore them out,And still the fingers probed the open holes,The nails scratched in the empty cavitiesWhich now gaped hollow where they eyes had been.Still in his impotent despair the man Raged on and on, and would not be content.He tests his vision, holding up his headAgainst the light, scanning the breadth of skyWith eyeless holes, to see if all is dark,Then tears away the last remaining shredsLeft of the raggedly uprooted eyes.

  • Eadweard
    2019-05-01 13:24

    I grew my beard out and wore my mourning toga while I read these plays. Seneca doesn't hold back, does he? He seemed to enjoy describing the gory moments more than the greeks did. Here are some parts that I liked a lot:"[Enter Phaedra] THESEUS: What is this madness, woman, crazed with grief, Why come you with a sword and loud lament Over a body which you hate? PHAEDRA: On me, On me let the deep ocean’s angry lord Let fall his wrath! Let all the blue sea’s monsters, All that were ever brought to birth afar In the deep lap of Tethys, all that Ocean Bears in the farthest tides of his wild waters, Come against me. O Theseus, ever cruel! Never a bringer of joy on your return To those that waited for you; first a father,And now a son, have, died for your homecoming. For love of one wife, hatred of another, Guilty in both, you have destroyed your houseCHORUS: You, sir, shall set in order these remains Of your son’s broken body, and restore The mingled fragments to their place. Put here His strong right hand… and here the left, Which used to hold the reins so skilfully.… I recognize the shape of this left side. Alas, how much of him is lost, and lies Far from our weeping! THESEUS:  Trembling hands, be firm For this sad service; cheeks, dry up your tears! Here is a father building, limb by limb, A body for his son.… Here is a piece, Misshapen, horrible, each side of it Injured and torn. What part of you it is I cannot tell, but it is part of you. So… put it there… not where it ought to be, But where there is a place for it. Was this the face that shone as brightly as a star, The face that turned all enemies’ eyes aside? Has so much beauty come to this? O cruelty Of Fate! O kindness, ill-bestowed, of gods! See how a father’s prayer brought back his son!… Receive these last gifts from your father’s hand; These, as each part of you is borne to burial, Shall go into the fire.…"                                     -----"HECUBA: An aged lingering relic, now lament Over the ruins of a fallen city? Troy’s doom is now old history. Remember, Unhappy woman, what you have lately seen: The execrable murder of a king – Achilles’ son (who could believe such sin?) At the king’s altar, sword in hand, his left Clutching the king’s hair – how he savagely Forced the head back and drove the foul blade deep Into the old man’s throat; and when in triumph He drew it out again, it came out dry. What other man would not have stayed his rage, What man would not have spared an aged life Already at the door of death, or feared The witnessing gods and the divine respect Of royalty overthrown? There Priam lies, Father of many kings, and has no tomb; Troy blazes, but there is no fire for himCHORUS: We have loosed our hair, as for many a death before; Tangled it falls from its knot; We have smeared warm ash on our faces. We have bared our shoulders and tied our fallen garments round our loins; Our naked bosoms cry for the beating hand. Work, Grief, with all your might! Let our cries be heard on the Rhoetian shoreLet Echo throw them back from her mountain caves – Not only our last syllables as at other times, But every word of our lament for Troy. Let us be heard on every sea, And in all the sky. Hands, spare not your strength; Heavily beat the breast; What was enough before is not sufficient now. This is for Hector. HECUBA: Yes, Hector, for you I am striking these arms, For you these bleeding shoulders; For you a mother’s hands tear at her breast; For you I beat my head. Here, where I scarred my flesh at your funeral, Let the wound open again and the blood pour down. You were our country’s tower, Her stay against the Fates, Shield of the Trojans when they wearied. You were our wall, On your shoulders for ten years our city stood; With you she fell. Hector’s last day of life Was the end of his country’s life…CHORUS: Is it the truth, or but an idle tale     To give false comfort to our fears, That the soul lives on when the body is laid to rest, When the wife has sealed the husband’s eyes,         When the last sun has set, When the ashes are shut into the solemn urn? Do we in vain give up our life to death? Has the poor mortal still more time to live?         Or do we wholly die?         Does nothing remain of us After the breath has fled and the spirit of life Gone, to be mingled with the air above us, After the fire has been laid to the naked body?"----"NERO: Let him be just who has no need to fear. SENECA: Best antidote to fear is clemency. NERO: A king’s best work is to put enemies down. SENECA: Good fathers of the state preserve their sons. NERO: Soft-hearted greybeards should be teaching children. SENECA: Headstrong young men need to be sent to school. NERO: Young men are old enough to know their minds. SENECA: May yours be ever pleasing to the gods. NERO: I, who make gods, would be a fool to fear them. SENECA: The more your power, greater your fear should be. NERO: I, thanks to Fortune, may do anything. SENECA: Fortune is fickle; never trust her favours. NERO: A man’s a fool who does not know his strength. SENECA: Justice, not strength, is what a good man knows. NERO: Men spurn humility. SENECA: They stamp on tyrants. NERO: Steel is the emperor’s guard. SENECA: Trust is a better. NERO: A Caesar should be feared. SENECA: Rather be loved. NERO: Fear is a subject’s duty."

  • Jesse
    2019-05-20 06:18

    Seneca's tragedies are principally derided for their quality of seeming to consist entirely of monologues. This is a slight exaggeration - there is some excellent repartee on display, and besides, the monologues are finely crafted, not nearly as overwrought or full of rhetorical verbiage as some would have you believe. In fact, the reason why these are probably not highly regarded anymore is because the rhetoric encases Stoic wisdom. Stoicism, with its distrust of the emotions, hardly seems the correct philosophy to be pitching to a theater crowd, but for those who like drama and poetry while understanding that the emotions are the path to mental and moral darkness, these are shining jewels of ancient drama, and European culture before the industrial revolution thought so too! Also, this, along with a reading of Ovid's Metamorphoses, will greatly illuminate your Shakespeare.

  • Andy
    2019-05-20 12:38

    This is not a corner of literature into which people wander by mistake or for a lark; if you're reading this book, you're an aficionado or, more likely, a student. Which is as it should be, because these plays are all irritatingly padded out with really dull, academic-feeling displays of mythological literacy. But the dramas themselves are actually entertainingly over-the-top in their depiction of terrible events - usually gory and involving the murder of children. The heightened (and not always tasteful) quality of the action, in combination with a style that constantly attempts to be both snappy and really really profound, sort of reminded me of "dark" superhero comics. Which made this a more amusing read than I had expected. I could even imagine some of these holding up quite well on stage... if carefully edited.

  • Anthony Bello
    2019-05-23 14:30

    I bought this book mainly because it had a play about people that Seneca would have known, "Octavia." Unfortunately, as the introduction explains, Seneca could not have written it.Also, I was sorely disappointed that, as the introduction also explains, these tragedies would not have been performed before Roman audiences. Rather, they would have been read and recited at small gatherings of the leisured classes.Having said all that, this collection contains tragedies that very effectively observe passionate characters from the perspective of one of Rome's greatest philosophers. Furthermore, in my humble opinion, they are all expertly translated with great care and attention.

  • Simon Mcleish
    2019-05-13 06:22

    Originally published on my blog here in July 1999.ThyestesSeneca's tragedies had a similar influence on sixteenth century tragedy to that of Plautus on the comedy of the same period. Yet Seneca's reputation has suffered a comparative eclipse since then, and is now (as Watling observes) the first century Latin writer least likely to be known to modern readers.Thyestes illustrates some of the reasons for this quite clearly (as do other plays in this volume). It differs from the other tragedies translated here, in that there is no extant Greek tragedy on the same theme for direct comparison (Octavia, also included here, being something of a special case). Nevertheless, the same issues that have led critics to dismiss Seneca's writing are still apparent. Thyestes is very static, despite the violent actions at its centre. This is partly due to the lack of stage directions, expected by a modern reader, but the lengthy speeches also have something to do with it. Several of the speeches read as though they are exercises in rhetoric, with the result that they could be transferred from one character to another without really affecting the play at all. (It goes without saying, then, that characterisation is weak.) The dialogue is virtually non-existent, as the play consists almost entirely of these long oratorical speeches; most acts only have two speakers. The role of the chorus is passive and ill defined. In short, it is difficult to see, on the evidence of Thyestes, why these plays had the influence that they did.Thyestes retells part of the long story of the internal wrangling of the house of Pelops (of which the best known event is the murder of Agamemnon and Orestes' revenge, as retold in the Oresteia). Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus, is established as king of Mycenae, banishing his brother Thyestes. For a reason not fully established in the play, Atreus decides to destroy his brother, inviting him to return and join him in ruling Mycenae. This is a cover for his true intentions; Atreus desecrates the temple which is part of the palace by murdering Thyestes' two young sons there (a third, Aegisthus, survives) as though they were sacrifices despite the extremely ominous omens sent by the gods. (This melodramatic scene is made to have virtually no impact by being placed off stage; act three is entirely taken up by a messenger retelling the events to the chorus.) The two boys are then cooked, Atreus revelling in the sounds made by the roasting meat - an unpleasant touch reminiscent of the more sensational Elizabethan tragedies. This meal is served to the boys' father, who is only told at the end what he has been eating.The plot could have been developed in a much more interesting way, particularly given the recurring breakdown of family relationships among Pelops' descendants. (Examples include Pelops' own relationship with his father, Tantalus, providing the prototype for Thyestes' gruesome meal by attempting to serve up his own children as a banquet for the gods; Agamemnon and Aegisthus; Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; Orestes and Clytemnestra.) Seneca fails completely to do this; he seems insufficiently interested in the reality of his characters, in the psychological effects that such a background would have. This failure is the biggest problem that is specific to this one of Seneca's plays.PhaedraSeneca's Phaedra is interesting to read soon after Racine's treatment of the same storyy (both, of course, looking back to Euripides' Hippolytus). Racine's play is immensely superior, with its concentration on Phaedra's psychology. Seneca's version misses out on this interest, which can be so immensely telling in the performance of a play. His reliance on description of melodramatic action is one of his most serious weaknesses as a playwright, and it lends considerable support to the idea that Seneca intended his plays to be read rather than acted.In contrast to Racine's version, for instance, the final denouement (when Phaedra, rejected by her stepson, accuses him to his father Theseus of rape) is weak: Hippolytus is not present, and he and Theseus do not confront each other. All we have is a messenger coming in to inform Theseus that his son has been killed in an accident, prompting Phaedra to confess the truth and Theseus to forgive him posthumously.The Trojan WomenWhy were the sixteenth century dramatists so taken with Seneca? The reasons cannot be because of dramatic merit, but they must have been strong. Of the tragedies in this volume, The Trojan Woman most strongly exemplifies what I think the reasons were. The extent of Seneca's importance to the tragic drama of the time is obvious from even the single fact that plays of the period, including ones by Jonson and Marlowe, contain quotations from Seneca in Latin, as well as long speeches which are more or less adaptations of ones in Seneca's works. (E.F. Watling notes lines quoted in Latin by Elizabethan dramatists and in an appendix gives examples of English passages closely modelled on speeches from these plays.)The clue to what was perhaps the most important way in which this influence occurred lies in the fact of such obvious plundering. (The way that playwrights felt able to quote the original Latin is additional evidence for this suggestion, because they would need to be pretty confident that a large proportion of the audience would understand and recognise the quotation.) The Elizabethan writer took from Seneca a highly poetic form of dialogue, with complex and developed metaphors, and reference to classical myth other than the main subject of the play - something Seneca copied from Homer rather than Greek playwrights. In the hands of a great master - Shakespeare is the obvious example - this could be combined with a sense of drama that not only made the play exciting to watch but which also made the poetry seem perfectly at home; it was after all supposed to be the dialogue of real people. Seneca is not the only writer to have written plays in which the poetry is of a higher standard than the drama. Among more recent writers, both Byron and Shelley come to mind, though the model they were trying to emulate was that of the German romantics rather than Seneca.A second inheritance from Seneca seems to me (and I am no expert) to be a license to use the most extreme subject matter. As far as I know, most recorded pre-Elizabethan drama was strongly influenced by the church, as is particularly apparent in the medieval mystery and morality plays. After the reformation, authors must have been looking for other sources of material, and these they found in Seneca and the classics and secular history. (Protestantism tends to be rather stricter than Catholicism as far as the portrayal of Biblical characters I concerned; notice there complete absence from Shakespeare, for example.) The unpleasant goings on in some of Seneca's plays paved the way for the depictions of the worst of human nature in plays like 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and The White Devil.The Trojan Women follows the setting of its Euripidean prototype closely. It is set at the fall of Troy, and centres on a group of women from the city as they await allocation as spoils of war to the victorious Greeks. This inspires the women, particularly Hecuba, formerly queen of Troy, to some great poetry mourning not only what they had lost - the death of husbands, sons - but what they still had to endure as playthings of the conquerors. The standard of the speeches makes it easier to see what the Elizabethans saw in Seneca, and the sedentary setting makes his deficiencies in plotting less obvious. (He does fall down in one detail, thoughtfully pointed out in a footnote by Watling: at one point he states that Hector's tomb is accessible nearby, but later it is so far across the plain that it is impossible to see events going on there.)OedipusSeneca's play based on the Oedipus legend faces probably the most difficult competition of all his works. This is because it is based on one of the greatest masterpieces of the Greek tragic theatre, Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, also one of the best known of all Western plays.The temptation, then, is to compare the two plays in a way which continually disparages Seneca's work. This is perhaps a little unfair, because we don't know what Seneca's purpose was in writing his plays: it is conjectured that they were intended to be read aloud by a group of friends, not performed in any conventional sense. But this is inferred from the non-dramatic nature of the plays and is not known by direct testimony. (Of course, too, the idea of what is "dramatic" and what is not has changed drastically as twentieth century playwrights have challenged the boundaries of the form.)If we accept that Seneca wrote for a group of his friends (and it is a hypothesis which seems reasonably convincing to me), then we need to look at his plays remembering how people tend to write to their friends. A letter to a friend is full of private jokes, obscure references to shared experiences, assumed knowledge about common friends and interests. To apply this to Seneca's writing style may explain some of the ways in which he adapted his Greek sources.The most obvious difference between Seneca's Oedipus and Sophocles' Oedipus the King is that the prophet Tiresias (and his guide) have, in the former, a very long scene in which a sacrifice is made and the augury taken. The guide describes the behaviour of the animals as they are killed and the appearance of the corpses as they are dismembered (since Teresias was of course blind). This scene would be impossible to recreate convincingly on stage - killing animals each performance would probably be considered ethically unacceptable, and even if it happened, you cannot guarantee that they will match the descriptions of their behaviour and organs given in the text. The scene would also be unconvincing if the sacrifices are made to take place off stage.This long scene drastically reduces the dramatic impact of Oedipus' discovery of his true identity, and his (and Jocasta's) horror when the realisation dawns that he has murdered his father and married his mother. This fact must have been clear to Seneca - it is certainly blindingly obvious to any reader of the play. It seems to me that the reason he made this seemingly inexplicable change must be connected to the group of friends for whom the play was originally written. I don't know how accurate Tiresias' words are as a portrayal of the actual way in which seers read the omens. Whether it is or not, it sounds a bit like parody, containing lots of pompous mystical mumbo-jumbo. (Of course, any record of a fortune teller's words would sound like that to someone not convinced of their reliability - read any newspaper horoscope column with a cynical eye to be convinced of this.) If the person reading the part were either a well-known cynic, or a priest themselves, then we would have an excellent example of a private joke. In addition, this kind of joke provides a plausible reason why Seneca might be willing to reduce the dramatic impact of the play.All this is conjecture; we can know very little about how Seneca thought as he wrote Oedipus. However it does provide an explanation of sorts as to why the play is so fatally flawed as a piece of drama.OctaviaThere are several reasons why Octavia stands rather on its own in the canon of Seneca's works. It is not based on Greek myth, or a work by an earlier tragedian, but tells of the events of Seneca's own life. It is not a tragedy, being more akin to Shakespeare's histories: it may contain tragic elements, but the plot is determined by actual events. (Assuming that Seneca really wrote it, it is based on a more accurate knowledge of history than that possessed by Shakespeare - from first hand experience rather than from biased histories.) It is clearly not finished, consisting of a disconnected series of episodes not yet welded together into a conventional five-act framework. It could certainly not have been performed in Seneca's own lifetime, for his suicide came before Nero's death, and Nero was hardly an Emperor to take strong criticism calmly.There is a question over the authorship of Octavia, which partly flows from the features which distinguish it from Seneca's definitely authentic works, but which also stems from other causes. There are two main manuscript groups for the plays, but Octavia only exists in one of them. The portrayal of Seneca is not very complimentary and doesn't fit with the traditional picture of the virtuous philosopher tutor to the depraved Nero. (Mind you, this picture of Seneca also doesn't fit in with the relish for the macabre shown in the tragedies, nor with some of the language of the speeches, in which the philosophy expressed is usually banal. This has been used as an argument against identifying the Seneca to whom the plays are attributed with Nero's tutor.)The play itself is concerned with the plotting surrounding Nero's divorce of his first wife Octavia, in a similar vein to Racine's Britannicus (with which it shares many characters). It is not sufficiently near completion to judge what its quality would have been if it had been finished, but it certainly contains some fine speeches.

  • Tony
    2019-05-24 11:15

    27. FOUR TRAGEDIES AND OCTAVIA. (c. 30A.D.) Seneca. ****.These tragedies of Seneca (4B.C. – 65 A.D.) are like none others that have come down to us from the Roman theater. E. F. Watling, the translator and writer of the introduction, believes that these plays were never performed on stage. Although their lines were a good source of quotations – especially for Elizabethan playwrights – they were almost too difficult to actually stage. It seems that Seneca dwelt closely with the macabre and the gory related to Roman and Greek mythology. I don’t really know how to review these plays, but I will take the liberty of quoting from the individual introductions provided by the translator in his effort to provide more of a background for the average reader. I found it helpful, however, to have my classical dictionary beside me as I read these. I was thankful that we never had to translate these works for our Latin classes in high school.THYESTES: “The crime which doomed the House of Pelops to a series of feuds and violent acts from generation to generation was that of Tantalus, a son of Zeus, who served his son Pelops as food at a banquet of the gods. Restored to life by Zeus, Pelops obtained a wife and a kingdom by treachery, and on his death after many other ruthless acts of conquest his throne became a bone of contention between his sons Atreus and Thyestes. Agreements to share the kingdom, or to rule it alternatively, were broken more than once; each brother enjoyed periods of prosperity and suffered periods of banishment. At the time of the play’s action, Atreus is in possession and is plotting to entrap his brother by a false show of reconciliation. Thyestes, with his three sons, returns from exile, to be the victim of an atrocity recalling, but surpassing, the crime of their first ancestor. The curse on the house was to live on, the feuds to be repeated in the persons of Agamemnon, son of Atreus, and Aegisthus, son of Thyestes and in the murder of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes.” Be prepared for this one. It is like the Romanized equivalent of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” PHAEDRA (OR HIPPOLYTUS): “By his marriage with Antiope (Hippolyta), the Queen of the Amazons, Theseus had one son, Hippolytus. Preferring the goddess Diana to Venus, this young man devoted himself to athletic and rural exercises, and despised the love of women. Having murdered his wife Antiope and married Phaedra, daughter of the Cretan king Minos, Theseus absented himself on an expedition to the underworld to help his friend Peirithous abduct Persephone. Phaedra became enamored of her handsome stepson and resolved to tempt him, though much tormented by her consciousness of sin and by the taint of evil tradition in her family. Her mother, Pasiphae, was also the mother, by a bestial union, of the bull-man Minotaur; this monster had been confined in the labyrinth of Knossos until sought out and killed by Theseus – whom Phaedra’s sister Ariadne aided with her clue of thread.”THE TROJAN WOMEN: “Troy has fallen. Outside the ruined and mouldering city, a group of Trojan women are waiting to be carried away on the Greek ships to the homes of their casptors. Two acts of vengeance remain to be consummated: the destruction of Hector’s son Astyanax, the last heir to Troy’s defeated royal house; and the sacrifice of Polyxena, daughter of Priam, as an expiation due to the ghost of Achilles. Prominent among the captive women are Hecuba, the widow of Priam, and Andromache, the widow of Hector, the two mothers on whom the shock of these sbrutal blows most heavily falls.”OEDIPUS: “When Oedipus, supposedly the son of King Polybus of Corinth, came as a voluntary fugitive from his own country to Thebes, he found that her King Laius had just died in an unpremeditated fight with a traveler on a lonely road. The city was also under the dominatioin of the half-human half-bestial creature, the Sphinx, whose threats were couched in the form of a riddle. Oedipus answered the riddle, destroyed the Sphinx, and was made king in the place of Laius and, as custom required, husband to the widowed queen Jocasta.”OCTAVIA: Not read, but the only drama focused on Roman themes – primarily the deeds of Nero.The tragedies read well, but do dwell on murder and mayhem almost exclusively. Then again, that seems to be what most Greek myths are all about. They don’t succeed as plays in the traditional sense, but do serve as commentaries on the incidents or people involved. Apparently, Seneca is better known for his other writings, but these are certainly worth reading. Recommended.

  • J.W. Dionysius Nicolello
    2019-05-01 13:20

    Seneca does for theatre what Leopardi does for me with poetry. Perhaps I should seriously consider staging these plays should I come upon some recognition.

  • Emily
    2019-05-14 07:09

    It's so hard for me to judge these plays on their own merit. I think I enjoyed "Thyestes" the most because its Greek counterparts haven't survived thus it's easier to appreciate its strengths. The play succeeds in horrifying the reader/audience (learn from my mistake and avoid snacking while reading). Euripides' "Hippolytus" is underrated in my opinion; Seneca's "Phaedra" on the other hand... its divergence from the plot of Euripides' tragedy leads to a much less sympathetic Phaedra hence less effective tragedy. As I continued reading the rest of the plays I found inferior character development a frequent occurrence. The mishmash of Euripides' "Trojan Women" and "Hecuba" in Seneca's "Trojan Women" produces a diluted version of both stories. The character Hecuba in particular does not inspire any of the pity and disgust that can be found in Euripides' depiction. "Oedipus" may be the worst of the bunch. The editor or the translator, I'm not sure who, refers to Sophocles' "Oedipus Tyrannus" as a "far superior prototype" in the explanatory foreword to the play. Yep. The most well known and, arguably, best Greek tragedy greatly overshadows this rendition. From the prologue Seneca establishes Oedipus' impending dilemma and by doing so takes away the power of Oedipus' anagnorisis (recognition). Tiresias' conversion into a priest detracts from the blindness motif and the effect of Oedipus' final self punishment. The last play, the pseudo-Senecan tragedy "Octavia", is a decent historical tragedy. There are some nice dialogue scenes between Octavia and the Nurse and Nero and Seneca. The playwright uses stichomythic lines to his advantage, coining pithy one liners. In light of those critiques I do think this collection of plays is worth reading for people with an interest in Greco-Roman or Shakepearean tragedy. Seneca has written some beautifully phrased speeches and metaphors within the speeches. "Thyestes" is the only play I've read in the original Latin and, unsurprisingly, English cannot convey Seneca's masterful diction.

  • James Miller
    2019-04-28 07:31

    Listening to the In Our Time on Agrippina reminded me that I hadn't read Seneca's Octavia for years and had forgotten much of it. Seneca is not admired as a dramatist any more (he was in the Elizabethan period), but this is a short play and by picking up the horrors of Octavia's life it does pick out the considerable pathos. It is one of the few texts in which the obvious questions around the parentage of Messalina's children are raised as surely they must have been:l.532ff Ner.Incesta genetrix detrahit generi fidem,animusque numquam coniugis iunctus mihi.A lascivious mother takes trust from the family, and my wife's mind was never joined to mine.even Juvenal doesn't seem to question Britannicus' parentage whilst abusing Messalina. It also contains a memorable depiction of the violence of Augustus during the proscriptions. Not a literary classic, but good fun on an April morning and well worth mining as a source of attitudes and knowledge which may have been Seneca's.The Loeb Translation is better for comparing what is actually said, but Watling is good value.

  • Edward
    2019-04-29 10:27

    For the uninitiated reader, these are curious plays. There should be no surprise that there is misfortune in self-styled tragedies, but the extravagance of the gore and breast-beating is such that it seems as though Seneca revels in the diasters taking place. This may fit with the underlying themes that inevitable tragedy befalls the mighty, and that lower people should enjoy the freedoms and the lack of responsibility and fear that come with power (see the ruminations of Atreus and Hippolytus). Exuberant horror might enhance the didactic element, but it also greatly weakens the emotional impact of the work, which is so occasionally overwrought as to be comical.

  • Tara Calaby
    2019-05-23 06:17

    Seneca's tragedies are often overlooked in favour of the great Greek tragedies upon which his own work is based. While this is understandable, there is much merit to be found in Seneca's dramas - melodramatic, over-the-top merit, but merit nonetheless. He really captures the horror and the gleeful violence of these well-known stories.The Octavia, actually by pseudo-Seneca, sits uneasily with the other plays in this selection. It is a story that could easily be portrayed as high tragedy, but here it fails to hold the appeal of the other works.

  • Alanna
    2019-05-19 06:13

    The main reason I have read Seneca was for a class that I am taking in university. The first play, Thyestes, has been my favorite so far. Seneca has a talent of being illusive and yet bold at the same time. There is also alot of classical imagery which he uses that, unless you know your greek myth, takes a little background information. However even without the greek myth information the plays are still captivating and easy to follow.

  • Keith
    2019-05-13 13:38

    You can see my thoughts on Seneca in these reviews of other translations:, I think this is a good working translation with an informative preface. I like the examples of Elizabethan translations at the end.

  • Kurt
    2019-05-01 11:25

    stylistically different to the playwirghts I've been reading. A touch violent for violence's sake but excellent adaptions of the older Greek stuff and philosophically well worth reading (trying to read in his Stoicism is kinda hard)

  • Howard
    2019-05-09 11:09

    Somebody has to read this stuff.

  • David
    2019-04-27 08:27

    Seneca took from the Greek plays and interjected something more Roman. I still prefer the Greek plays but I am cutting hairs.

  • Alex
    2019-04-26 12:33

    Seneca takes on Euripides' Hippolytos, and then later on Racine does it too. Neato.

  • Trevor Kroger
    2019-05-02 08:15

    Philosophical essays masquerading as raw splatterpunk.

  • Laura
    2019-04-27 11:18

    So creepy and yet so amazing. If you're looking for plot, stick with the Greek versions, but if you want the emotional shock, horror, and awe, go with Seneca.

  • Jennifer
    2019-05-13 13:17

    This was another book I bought for class to only have a switch of teachers. On my list of "to reads"

  • Tom Sutton
    2019-05-08 10:27

    What I like about Seneca is the deep influence you can see in Elizabethan drama.

  • Charles Cavazos
    2019-05-02 09:23

    I was disappointed by Seneca's dramas. I don't feel that he contributed anything to the stories.

  • Malvika
    2019-05-07 06:16

    Not a bad book, but not as fine as other classical works either. Many ideas have been repeated in the tragedies: The chorus in Thyestes and Phaedra speak a lot of things that have been already spoken. A lot of references have been drawn too, so you might feel a bit uncomfortable if you don't know your classical mythology well and also if you don't remember the map of Ancient Greece. Ah! And the references haven't been explained in the book itself, so you might have to googe every now and then if you know less about Greek mythology. There's no plot structure as such; the characters have summed up the background in just a couple of lines and the events progress very quickly. I feel that only The Trojan Women and Oedipus are set within a properly calculated time frame.Having said that, I'd definitely suggest this book. The tragedies are short, and you can easily complete two on a busy day. However, you might want to lower your hopes a bit and if you are looking for a good work from that age, I'd suggest against it.

  • Roman Clodia
    2019-05-01 11:38

    Seneca was tutor to Nero and we can see in these sometimes bizarre, but always compelling, tragedies an attempt to educate the young emperor in the lessons of good rulership: the fragility of power, the importance of clemency, the concern with the ethics of a good life (and death) reappear again and again.But Seneca is also writing himself belatedly into an essentially Greek tradition, and the intertextual readings of epic and tragedy are crucial to an understanding of these plays. Negotiating the literary and cultural past, and the political (contemporary) present, Seneca creates something unique: frequently bloodthirsty, not very subtle, but always compelling.This is the version of tragedy that had such a huge impact on the English Renaissance, not least Shakespeare. But these are still fascinating in their own right, and are the main extant examples of Roman tragedy.This edition dropped a star from me because it hasn't been updated since 1966, and while the translation is readable and flowing (if not as accurate as the Loebs), the introduction and notes are very out-of-date. It's also rather odd that the 'Octavia' is included, which wasn't written by Seneca, when his other plays aren't available in Penguin translations.But that's a small quibble, and these are fascinating little gems of literary history, gory, frequently over-blown, and all the more engaging for that very reason.

  • Holly Angus
    2019-05-19 09:33

    i actually only read the play Octavia but couldn't find it on here but this is the book i read it out of, so it'll have to do!!! i really loved this actually, after getting all the historical pre context from my prof and having him analyze it with us in class it was such a great read that was full of murder and betrayal... i feel so awful saying i loved it... oopsies hahahah

  • Iván Leija
    2019-05-04 07:23

    Dos cosas le gustan a Séneca: los aforismos y despedazar gente; a los romanos, casarse y matarse entre familia.