The Price of Power: Kinship, Collapse, and Identity in Senecan Drama


Kinship is privileged as the cornerstone of civilization, the most basic form of human interdependence. However, no matter how simple the ties of kinship seem, the network of relationships of which kinship is comprised is never simple.  The Roman tragedian Seneca (the younger) seems to have been very interested in the complexities of relationships among the closest of kin in a series of plays based on myths of abandonment, incest, exile, treachery, murder, and cannibalism. These stories provide a rich setting in which to cast Seneca's concerns about familial kinship as microcosm and the Roman state as macrocosm during the reign of the Julio-Claudians, the first of Rome's imperial families. 

 In this panel, the three presenters concern themselves with the ways in which the identity of the individual develops within an environment of envy, lust, resentment, or denial. They trace the collapse of the family as it leads to the collapse of the mind, the body, and even a body of literature (the fabula praetexta genre). 

Philip H. Purchase considers the emergence of Hercules as a hero caught between the madness of his divine stepmother Hera and the more stable but less powerful influence of his human stepfather Amphitryon in the Hercules Furens.  This paper weighs the demands of others against the hero's sense of self, examining the internal as well as external effects of insanity and violence. 

Krissy A. Ionta considers Seneca's Oedipus as the product of his two sets of parents, considering the Theban king's disabilities in light of his status as a three-time exile. In a play in which they are repeatedly judged as worse fates than death, are disability and deformity the marks of inherited sin, the warning signs of monstrosities to come, or both?

Siobhan McElduff looks at the historical drama Octavia of Ps.-Seneca. This paper will anchor the panel by directly contextualizing Senecan drama within the declining, indeed crashing, dynasty of the Julio-Claudians, an era throughout which incest and power were much commingled as each ruler strove to secure his throne by marrying a woman also of Rome's imperial bloodline. Moreover, Siobhan will illustrate how inversions within the play signal the dissolution of the genre to which it belongs.

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