Episode 67: Jaws Dripping Blood

Seneca’s Thyestes, probably written around the 50s CE, is one of the most horrifying and influential plays ever written.

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Seneca’s Thyestes Hello and welcome to Literature and History. Episode 67: Jaws Dripping Blood. This episode is about the Roman playwright Seneca’s tragedy Thyeses, probably written some time after 54 CE, following the reigns of the emperors Caligula and Claudius, and during the rule of Nero.1 The plays of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, generally speaking, have never enjoyed a great literary reputation. Even at the height of their popularity – say, the turn from the 1500s to the 1600s, when Seneca was acknowledged as the greatest Latin tragedian – he was elsewhere disparaged for other faults.2 The eight tragedies generally attributed to Seneca share things in common – they are unremittingly bleak, and intensely violent, their characters compelled by a double bind of predestination and their own uncontrollable passions to commit and suffer from often grisly atrocities.

Tieste-e-Atreo (De casibus)

Even before the resurgence of Seneca’s popularity onstage in the sixteenth century, scenes from his plays were alive in manuscripts like 1410 one.

Yet there is more to Senecan tragedy than grinding and gory determinism. Seneca was instrumental to the beginning of Early Modern drama, his works exploding in popularity over the course of the 1500s in a series of printings and translations that brought his unique brand of blood and thunder tragedy widely to European stages by the time Shakespeare was born. In 1581, when Shakespeare was about 17, a collected edition of Seneca’s plays was published in English, bundling together a diverse catalog of English translations that had been floating around two decades beforehand. And whether European dramatists like Shakespeare read Seneca in Latin or their own vernacular languages, Seneca’s plays were everywhere in Europe by the time Elizabeth I died in 1603.

Seneca’s reputation has had two distinct apexes over the course of literary history. The first, which occurred during the early centuries of Christianity, was due to the ideological parallels between Seneca’s philosophy and New Testament books like Acts and the Pauline Epistles, something we talked about extensively last time. The second rise of Seneca’s popularity was due to an entirely different set of works. Senecan tragedy, perhaps precisely due to its gruesome excessiveness and its austere fatalism, had a certain attraction to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. It was not, perhaps, so much that Seneca was a dour pagan whose historical climate barred him from the comforts of the Christian afterlife. It was that Seneca wrote about the darkest depths of human experience with all the resplendence and bombast and hyperbole available to him in the mature, post-Augustan-Age literary culture in which he received his own rhetorical education. Seneca encouraged Renaissance dramatists toward more extreme metaphors, toward greater flamboyance and ostentation in the dialogues that they wrote. He encouraged them to create more malevolent villains, and spice up their plots with more miscreant lusts and gruesome misdeeds. He inspired them to pen diabolical villainous asides, and fierce, confrontational line-by-line exchanges. Much of what is bloodiest and most sensational in Early Modern theater – particularly the plays of Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and the revenge tragedies of John Webster, Thomas Kyd, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Macbeth and Titus is all heavily influenced by Seneca.

So in this show, we’re going to cover what is perhaps Seneca’s most famous, most horrific play. While Thyestes doesn’t have any sex or nudity, for its sheer brutality it gets an “R” rating by my standards, so if you’re listening with little ones, be forewarned. We’ll hear the story of the play first, and then, afterward, what we know about Roman theater and the performance context of Senecan tragedy under the Julio-Claudians.

Before anything else, though, we need to go back to an old story – one we’ve heard part of before, way back in Episodes 27-29 – shows on the Athenian playwright Aeschylus’ Oresteian trilogy, produced in the spring of 458 BCE. Aeschylus, to summarize things rather quickly, wrote a trilogy of plays about King Agamemnon and his family. King Agamemnon, the overlord of the Greeks during the Trojan War, sacked Troy and came home with a ship full of spoils. When Agamemnon returned home, however, his wife and his cousin, who had become lovers, murdered him. Thereafter, Agamemnon’s son Orestes killed Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra. And in the third play, Orestes, fleeing the wrath of the divine furies, is rescued in the nick of time by the goddess Athena, who tames the furies and says, more or less, that the long and nasty history of Agamemnon’s family must stop, for good.

Seneca’s play Thyestes is also about Agamemnon’s family, but it’s a play about Agamemnon’s dad, and uncle, and grandfather, rather than his wife and children – a prequel to the Trojan War, in other words, instead of a sequel. Long before Agamemnon’s son killed his wife, and before Agamemnon’s wife killed him, his family history was already fraught with murder and incest. Thyestes, the titular character of Seneca’s play, is King Agamemnon’s uncle. And Agamemnon’s father, whose name is Atreus, is the play’s central villain. Agamemnon’s family, cursed to suffer a long history of murdering one another, is usually called the House of Atreus. Because while hardly anyone is innocent in Agamemnon’s lineage – neither his progenitors nor his successors, the crime that his father Atreus committed was so awful, and so loathsome, that it defined their family forever after. [music]

The Background of Thyestes

Thyestes is a play about a pair of brothers – princes – and their struggle to take sole control over their kingdom’s throne after their father’s death. Their kingdom is Argos, an ancient settlement in the Eastern Peloponnese. The two brothers are the titular figure, Thyestes, and Atreus, again the father of Agamemnon. Their father’s name was Pelops.

To put it mildly, Pelops had not had a very good childhood. Thyestes and Atreus’ grandfather Tantalus killed their father Pelops and tried to serve Pelops’ remains to the gods. The gods were displeased. Pelops was brought back to life, and Tantalus thrown into the murkiest pits of Hades, punished by having food and water just out of reach for all eternity.

Nosadella Tiestes y Aérope

The Italian painter Nosadella, who lived from about 1530-71, was alive to see an explosion in staging Seneca’s plays, and did this scene of Thyestes seducing Atreus’ wife Aerope.

The resurrected Pelops – again Thyestes and Atreus’ father, fell in love with a princess called Hippodamia. After managing to defeat and kill Hippodamia’s father Oenomaus in a chariot race, Pelops married her. The couple’s most famous sons were Thyestes and Atreus. And while many Ancient Greek plays tell the stories of the descendants of Thyestes and Atreus – descendants who started, fought in, and suffered from events of the Trojan War, a few plays focus specifically on the two princes and the feud between them. Euripides wrote a play on the two that has now been lost, and in 29 BCE, Virgil’s friend Lucius Varius Rufus produced a version of the play, which has also been lost. Seneca’s version of Thyestes is the earliest surviving play about the warring princes, and as such it has inspired a great many imitations over the course of later literary history.

Seneca’s version of the story begins in the middle of things. Pelops has already passed away some time ago. Thyestes and Atreus, in a succession dispute which has followed, have each taken measures to seize power. The brothers had an initial agreement that whichever prince owned a golden ram from their father’s flock would reign unchallenged. Atreus held the golden ram first. But Thyestes, after seducing Atreus’ wife, was able to get control of the ram, thus throwing Atreus into exile. Somehow thereafter, after an indeterminate period of time, Atreus secured control of the kingdom’s throne again for himself, and Thyestes was exiled, reversing the situation. As the play opens, Thyestes has returned to the kingdom after being exiled, and some sort of meeting between the estranged brothers is anticipated. Whether this meeting will involve a reconciliation, or something far worse, we don’t know. But the first figure onstage in Seneca’s play Thyestes is neither the reigning king Atreus nor his banished brother, but instead the ghost of their departed grandfather Tantalus – Tantalus, whose awful crime had set in motion the curse on the House of Atreus.

Now that we’ve heard a little background on Seneca’s Thyestes, let’s hear the story of the play. The play is divided into five acts. And this tragedy, like many Ancient Greek dramas, has a chorus, a chorus which reacts to the play’s actions with meditative songs. I’ll use a few different translations as I quote from the play, but unless otherwise noted, I’m quoting from Emily Wilson’s translation, published by Oxford University Press in 2010. [music]

Thyestes, Act 1

There are no set descriptions or stage directions on the works of Seneca, and so Thyestes begins with these words, spoken by the Thyestes and Atreus’ dead grandfather, or the Ghost of Tantalus. Tantalus, as the curtain opens, asks,
Who draws me from the cursed realm of Hell
where I must gape my greedy mouth for food
that flees my grasp?. . .
Now from my family line a swarm of children
creeps out, who will surpass their ancestors[’ crimes].
They will make me look innocent. None has dared such deeds.
If any space lies empty in the world of sin,
I claim it. [The judge of the underworld] has work to do
as long as [my] house still stands. (1-3,18-23)3

It was a bleak speech – this monologue voiced by a dead and damned and unrepentant sinner, in which Tantalus emphasized that the curse placed on his house as a result of his actions had no end in sight. And the speech’s audience was a fury – one of those ancient Greek deities of bloody retribution who haunt those who commit abominable crimes. And the fury said, in the Penguin E.F. Watling translation,
On with your task, abominable ghost:
Let loose the Furies on your impious house.
Let evil vie with evil, sword with sword;
Let anger be unchecked, repentance dumb.
Spurred by insensate rage, let fathers’ hate
Live on, and the long heritage of sin
Descend to their posterity. Leave none
The respite for remorse; let crimes be born
Ever anew and, in their punishment,
Each single sin give birth to more than one.
Let those proud brothers each forfeit his throne,
And be recalled to it again from exile –
In this strife-riven house. (24-33)4

Le festin donné aux dieux par Tantale Hugues Taraval thyestes

Tantalus’ crime had been a wicked one. In this piece by the 18th century French painter Hugues Taraval, Zeus, has just rejected the meal served to him by Tantalus, a meal which included Tantalus’ son Pelops, whom Zeus has brought back to life.

And foreshadowing later events the Atreus cycle and the Trojan War, the fury said, “Let brother fear brother, / parent child, child parent; let children’s deaths be terrible, / but even worse their births; let wife be enemy / to husband, plotting against him; let war cross the sea, / let blood drench every land, and let Desire / conquer the mighty leaders of the people” (39-45). Even heaven, the fury said, would be smirched by human evil, and as the pillars and gates of the house of Atreus were festooned with greenery, a sickening feast would ensue therein.

At these words, however, Tantalus, who had initially appeared wholly impenitent, began to edge away from the raw hated of the fuming fury. Tantalus turned, and the fury asked him where he was going. He said he was going back to the underworld to suffer – that the only way to bear the pains of hell was to embrace one’s tortures there. The fury demanded that Tantalus cause even more bloodshed and chaos, but old Tantalus faltered, seeming to realize the full brunt of what his crime was going to cause. He asked if indeed, after all, even his grandsons would suffer for his crimes – if he himself would be a punishment to posterity, even though he was already being punished. The ghost of Tantalus began the first lines of a stirring speech – he said it was best not to murder – not to attract the feeding frenzy of the furies – but upon these words, the Fury present began cracking her whip, and the snakes that encircled he head writhed. There would be no peace, she said, and no abatement to the killing. Just as Tantalus himself had to watch the water at his waist recede every time he reached down to drink in the underworld, the kingdom of Argos – in other words the kingdom of Atreus – would see its rivers, and its snows, and even its oceans pull back and thereafter suffer from parching thirst.

With the fury’s malediction voiced, the play’s chorus, no doubt shocked by the opening speeches, began its song. They prayed that if any god at all cared for Argos and its environs, wouldn’t that god step in and stop the generational violence that was beginning to seem so ineluctable? The chorus recollected how Thyetes and Atreus’ father Pelops had betrayed his father-in-law in a chariot race, and then betrayed the charioteer who’d helped him do so. They remembered Pelops being stabbed with a sword when Pelops was a small boy. They described Tantalus dismembering his son, and vividly described Tantalus’ punishment – to have lush fruits weigh down boughs just above his head but forever out of reach – to stand amidst a cool flow of water while perpetually dying of thirst, but to reach down and only be able to grab dust. [music]

Thyestes, Act Two

The second act of Seneca’s Thyestes introduces the play’s central character, Atreus. Reeling from the knowledge that his brother Thyestes had returned to Argos, Atreus, perhaps stalking back and forth across the stage, berated himself for not acting more harshly or decisively against his rival to the throne. Atreus’ first lines in the play are, in the Loeb Frank Miller translation:
O undaring, unskilled, unnerved, and (what in high matters I deem a king’s worst reproach) yet unavenged, after so many crimes, after a brother’s treacheries, and all right broken down, in idle complaints. . .By now should the whole world be resounding with [my] arms, on either side [my] fleets be harrying both seas; by now should fields and cities be aglow with flames and the drawn sword be gleaming everywhere. Let the whole land of Argolis resound with our horses’ tread; let no forests shelter my enemy, nor citadels, built on high mountain tops; let the whole nation. . .sound the trump of war; and whoso hides and protects that hateful head [of Thyestes], let him die a grievous death. This mighty palace itself, illustrious Pelops’ house, may it [even] fall on me, if only on my brother too, it fall. (174-91)5

And following this soliloquy, Atreus, incredulous that Thyestes had returned, asked himself, “Can any brutality outdo / the crimes of Thyestes? Does he ever give up?” (196-7). Following this initial condemnation of his brother Thyestes, Atreus said he had to strike, and strike preemptively.

A palace servant, listening to his king’s furious plotting, asked if Atreus were worried that fratricide might not go over well with his subjects. Atreus offered an immediate reply – certainly the response of a villainous monarch. “The best thing about being king,” Atreus said, “is making folks accept whatever you do, / and even praise it” (206-8). His servant said that such praise was commingled with dangerous resentment – resentment that might prove dangerous to a king. And Atreus, undaunted, voiced some of my favorite lines in Seneca. Atreus retorted, “Even a low-born peasant / can get true praise. But only the powerful / can get false praise” (210-12). Morally reprehensible, but certainly clever. Atreus’ servant attempted to forestall his actions against Thyestes, and Atreus detailed why he was so set on murdering his brother.

Thyestes, said Atreus, had seduced his wife, and thereafter done something equally perfidious. Pelops had a magical ram that grew a golden fleece. Whoever owned the ram, whose wool sparkled on the scepter of the kingdom of Argos – whoever owned the magic ram controlled the kingdom. Atreus had been the owner of this remarkable quadraped – at least, he growled, up until his wife stole the creature. Although Thyestes had been exiled most recently, he – Atreus – had been exiled first – exiled with the suspicion that perhaps even his two sons Agamemnon and Menelaus were the sons of his brother. He had returned, however, and usurped the throne from his usurper brother, and now he had no intention of tolerating a third usurpation. The servant asked what he would do.

Now, I want to read a section of the play to you. Seneca’s plays often involve long, rather verbose monologues. Sometimes these monologues give way to rapid interchanges – ones called stichomythia by classicists. Stichomythia essentially means that characters alternate in reading single lines in a rapid interchange – Character A reads one line, then Character B one line, and then Character A, and so on. What you’re about to hear, which comes from the older Frank Miller translation, isn’t quite neat stichomythia, but it gets pretty close. The Servant is going to be in your left ear, and then Atreus in your right – and again the Servant is wondering what action his ruthless king will take against the returned Thyestes.
SERVANT: What strange design does [your] mad soul intend?
ATREUS: [Nothing] that the measure of accustomed rage can hold; no crime will I leave undone, and no crime is enough.
SERVANT: The sword?
ATREUS: [It’s] not enough.
SERVANT: Fire, then?
ATREUS: Still not enough.
SERVANT: What weapon, pray, will [your] great anguish use?
ATREUS: Thyestes’ self.
SERVANT This plague is worse than passion.
ATREUS: I do confess it. A frantic tumult shakes and heaves deep my heart. I am hurried I know not wither, but I am hurried on. . .
SERVANT: What, pray, [will you] do?
ATREUS: Some greater thing, larger than the common and beyond the bounds of human use is swelling in my soul, and it urges on my sluggish hands – I know not what it is, but [it is] some mighty thing. So let it be. (255-270)6

Atreus thought about it extensively. He thought of Thrace, the kingdom of Tereus, and of the sisters Procne and Philomela, and something that they had done to punish the rapist who had sliced out one sister’s tongue and meanwhile lied to the other.

Atreus’ servant had more practical questions. Thyestes, said the servant, had no trust for Atreus. How would Atreus even get close to his brother? And Atreus, his mind working quickly, had a plan for this, too. He’d tell his brother Thyestes that it was time to share rule of their kingdom. He’d send his sons Agamemnon and Menelaus to Thyestes as emissaries. Thyestes was weak and soft – he’d missed the comforts of the court. He’d come right back with the correct approach.

The servant had other questions. Shouldn’t Atreus send other emissaries than young Agamemnon and Menelaus? Wouldn’t betraying their uncle cause an erosion in their morality? At this question Atreus laughed. They were already rotten to the core, he said. They were scions of the house of Atreus, weren’t they? They’d be told exactly what they were doing, said Atreus, and if they hesitated in betraying Thyestes, it would be evidence that they were Thyestes’ sons, and not his, and he’d deal with them accordingly. Atreus’ servant said that he understood, and would carry out the plan. And thereafter the chorus began its song.

The second choral song was, quite to the contrary of how Atreus had come across in his first appearance in the play, about good kings. While Atreus suffered from violent and uncontrollable passion, a good king, as the chorus described him, was a sort of stoic sage. The chorus sang,
A king is one who can set fear aside,
who has no wickedness inside his heart.
Neither the rashness of ambition, nor
the fickle favour of the populace
can ever sway him. . .
The zigzag of the lightning’s path
will never touch him, nor the wind. . .
From a place of safety,
he looks down on everything,
and willingly meets his fate.
He does not complain at dying. (348-52,57-8,65-8)

Confident, fearless, and at a remove from the masses, the king described here might have come from Seneca’s books On Anger or On Clemency, written in reaction to the reigns of Caligula and Nero, respectively.

In contrast to the egomaniacal fury of Atreus, the chorus then abandoned the theme of kingship altogether and sung rather movingly on staying away from pinnacles of power altogether. The chorus sings, in the Frank Miller prose translation,
Let him stand who will, in pride of power, on empire’s slippery height; let me be filled with sweet repose; in humble station fixed, let me enjoy untroubled ease, and, to my fellow citizens unknown, let my life’s stream flow in silence. So when my days have passed noiselessly away, lowly may I die and full of years. (391-400)7

And with this melancholy song voiced, the play moves on to its third act, and the first appearance of Thyestes himself. [music]

Thyestes, Act 3

Thyestes had returned from exile and was looking around his homeland of Argos. He saw sights from his boyhood and the walls of his home city, but at the same time he felt apprehensive. In his exile, at least, he had been safe. Now, suddenly, stakes were high once more. He considered turning back and banishing himself for the sake of his safety and the safety of his children. But Thyestes’ son thought differently. Thyestes’ son told his father that Atreus was welcoming them back into the kingdom – Atreus was no longer angry, and there was nothing to fear.

Now, a quick word about Thyestes’ family. Thyestes, in the literary record, ultimately has four sons. The fourth, Aegisthus, later emerges as Clytemnestra’s lover, and is part of the plot to kill Agamemnon once Agamemnon returns from the Trojan War. Aegisthus is not yet born during the events of Seneca’s play Thyestes. Thyestes’ other three sons are onstage in Seneca’s play. The first is, confusingly, called Tantalus, or sometimes Tantalus Junior, as he’s named after his grandfather. He has speaking parts, and I will just refer to him as Tantalus Junior henceforth, as awkward as that sounds. Thyestes’ second son is called Plisthenes, and he never says anything in the play, and nor does Thyestes’ third and unnamed son, although Tantalus Junior and Plisthenes and their nameless brother all end up being central to the climax of the play. So, bottom line, Thyestes has three boys with him when he comes back to Argos, but only one of them talks.

So, Thyestes’ son Tantalus Junior told his father that Thyestes could flourish and prosper again – that he could rise up from his exile and join Atreus at the helm of power. But Thyestes was doubtful. Returning to some themes expressed in the choral ode that closed the previous act, in the Penguin Watling translation, Thyestes said,
Take it from me, my son, great prizes tempt us
By their false aspects, and our fear of hardship
Is likewise a delusion. While I stood
Among the great, I stood in daily terror;
The very sword I wore at my own side
I feared. It is the height of happiness
To stand in no man’s way, to eat at ease
Reclining on the ground. At humble tables
Food can be eaten without fear; assassins
Will not be found in poor men’s cottages;
The poisoned drink is served in cups of gold. . .
I speak as one who knows, and make my choice
The life of hardship, not prosperity.
Mine is no lofty dwelling-place built high
Upon a mountain top to overawe
The common folk below. . .
I own no fishing fleet, no piers of mine
Intrude their massive blocks upon the sea. . .
No man burns incense at a shrine for me;
I am no god with altars to my name
More richly served than those of Jupiter.
Roof-gardens of luxurious foliage
Are not for me; for me no steamy baths
Stoked by the labour of a hundred hands. . .
My house is undefended, but secure.
Great is my peace, as my estate is small:
Kingdom unlimited, without a kingdom. (446-53,55-60,63-7,68-70)

Seneca thus presents Thyestes as a dual figure – a sort of stoic sage and exemplary model ruler, his modest desires a sharp counterpoint to the recent reign of the extravagant and self-deifying Caligula, not to mention his brother Atreus in the play. Generations of readers believed that there were literally two different Senecas – the Seneca philosophicus and the Seneca tragicus, but in passages like this one, we can very clearly see Seneca the philosopher, and Seneca the imperial counselor thinking through themes he’d explored elsewhere in his writings.8

Anyway, following Thyestes’ speech about his humble desires, Tantalus Junior nonetheless told his father it was time to shirk modesty and return to executive leadership of Argos. Atreus, after all, had invited it. Thyestes said he was skeptical. In a passage that sparkles with wonderful hyperboles, Thyestes said, “Could my brother love me? Before that happens, / the sea will rise to drench the stars, the raging waves / of the stormy Sicilian strait will stand stock still, / ripe corn will grow on the Ionian waters, / and black night will light the earth” (476-80). Thyestes, then, had absolutely no confidence that his brother would suddenly prove affectionate and trustworthy. He had come back to Argos, he reminded his son, at the request of his son.

At this point, though there are no stage directions, it seems Atreus appears onstage, and seeing Thyestes and Thyestes’ family, turns toward the audience and delivers a wicked soliloquy. Atreus said Thyestes was his, now – Thyestes was tangled in his nets. Atreus compared himself to a hunting hound, straining against his collar for blood, and reminded himself to maintain a veneer of civility for just a little while longer. With his aside to the audience finished, Atreus turned and greeted his brother.

Atreus’ opening remarks to his brother were full of warmth and affection. Atreus said their quarrels were over – that they would be a family and put aside the past. Thyestes was stunned. His brother’s unexpected amity led him to a sudden disclosure. Thyestes said he had indeed slept with his brother’s wife – he had done so to gain control of the kingdom, and that he hated himself for it. He sunk to his knees in front of Atreus and asked his brother if they might both set aside their rage, and Thyestes pledged his children to his brother as proof of his loyalty. Atreus smiled beneficently and said that all would be forgiven, and sacrifices would be made to formalize Thyestes’ return.

With Act 3 having drawn to its end, the chorus sang an astonished hymn. Perhaps, they sang, familial love could endure even the cruelest betrayals. The kingdom of Argos had been steeling itself for a civil war – rust was scraped from swords and broken turrets were being rebuilt. But suddenly, the awful fear of war could subside. It was like a coastal town, seeing a massive storm brewing out at sea and fearing gales and tidal waves, suddenly realizing that the storm had subsided on its own and the ocean was clear and tranquil again. And in a closing speech that could have come from a great many Classical Greek tragedies, the chorus nonetheless said that even this unexpected tranquility should be embraced with some reservation. The chorus sang, in the Frank Miller prose translation,
No lot [endures] long; pain and pleasure, each in turn, give place; more quickly, pleasure. Lowest with highest the fickle hour exchanges. He who wears crown on brow, before whom trembling nations bend the knee. . .he with anxious hand holds the sceptre. . .and both foresees and fears fickle chance and shifting time that change all things.

O you, to whom the ruler of sea and land has given unbounded right [over] life and death, abate your inflated, swelling pride; all that a lesser subject fears from you [against] you a greater lord shall threaten; all power is subject to a weightier power. Whom the rising sun [has] seen high in pride, him the setting sun [has] seen laid low. Let none be over-confident when fortune smiles; let none despair of better things when fortune fails. . .No one has found the gods so kind that he may promise to-morrow to himself. God keeps all mortal things in swift whirl turning. (596-600,604-16,19-22)9

And with this promise, the chorus finished its song, and the third act of Thyestes closes. [music]

Thyestes, Act 4

Some time has elapsed between Acts 3 and 4 of Seneca’s play Thyestes – time enough for the central atrocity of the play to have been committed. As is most often the case in theatrical tragedy, this atrocity has taken place offstage, and a minor character – in this case a messenger – reports what has happened with vivid detail. Act 4 unfolds as a long, and unforgettable conversation between this messenger, and the play’s Chorus.

It was an abomination, said the messenger. He had seen an abomination so twisted that he could barely speak – his heart was still pounding. Once he caught his breath, at the Chorus’ bidding, he proceeded. In the southern side of old Pelops’ castle, said the messenger, there was a great hall – a hall with gilded woodwork and colorful columns. Beyond the hall there was a complex of structures and rooms, but further south there was an ancient copse of barren trees – black oaks and yews and cypresses. In this grove, said the messenger, the leaders of the kingdom had long prayed for divine help. At the grove’s center was a black fountain full of noisome waters, and at night, the trees there were filled with ghostly cries and the clank of chains. The messenger, in the Penguin Watling translation, in a passage that could have come from Poe, said that in this grove south of Argos,
The sights are seen that mortals quake to hear of.
The ghosts of men of ancient time emerge
From their old tombs and wander in the wood;
Spectres more strange than any known elsewhere
Invade the place; flames flicker on the trees,
And neighboring roofs appear to be on fire,
Though no fire burns within. Sometimes the grove
Is filled with sounds of barking, thrice repeated;
Sometimes gigantic phantoms haunt the place;
Daylight brings no relief from these alarms;
The grove’s own darkness is the dark of night,
And even at high noon the ghostly powers
Retain their sway. (670-82)

What had happened? the Chorus asked. What had the barren trees of this lightless grove witnessed? The messenger told them.

Atreus had brought the children of Thyestes there, their hands tied behind their backs. He had lit incense, and anointed them with wine and salted grains. The bare trees shuddered, and a falling star left a black trail in its wake. Atreus stood over the boys like a tiger, deciding which to kill first, a perverse patience and order governing his savagery.

The Chorus wanted every gory detail. Atreus had killed Tantalus Junior first, and the boy had neither cried nor prayed as his uncle ran him through with a sword. Atreus hardly waited for Tantalus’ body to sag dead against him before going over to Thyestes’ other son Plisthenes and slicing his head off. And the third son, the Chorus asked – Atreus at least spared this little boy? No, said the messenger. Atreus ran him through, and there was so much blood that it put out the sacrificial fires lit for the killings. The Chorus gasped, and gawked, but the Messenger said that the children’s murders had been quite tame compared to what unfolded next. Atreus had worse plans still. In the Oxford Emily Wilson translation, the messenger said,
Incredible evil! Historians will deny it.
The entrails ripped from the living children’s bellies
quiver, their veins throb, the heart still beats in fear;
but he sorts through the innards, checks the omens,
and scans the still-hot markings of the veins.
Once he was happy with the victims, he devoted himself
to his brother’s dinner. He himself carved up
the body into segments, chopped the broad shoulders
down to the trunk, sawed through the biceps, laid bare
the limbs and chopped the bones — the cruel monster!
He only left the heads and hands — hands given in good faith.
He sticks the organs to the spits, and over the furnace
they slowly burn and drip; the boiling water
tosses them as the pot glows hot. The fire jumps over
the meat he gives it, and repeatedly
throws it back to the trembling hearth, resisting
its orders to stay still; it burns against its will.
The liver hisses on the spit; I can hardly say
whether the bodies or the flame groaned louder. The fire turned
to pitch-black smoke, and the smoke itself, heavy with smog,
could not drift upwards, could not move up high;
the malformed cloud covered even the household gods.
O all-enduring Sun, though you retreated
and drowned the broken day in the middle sky,
you set too late! (754-77)

As you can see there, for a stoic philosopher who counsels moderation and restraint, Seneca doesn’t exhibit these qualities very consistently in his dramatic works.

What happened next, the messenger said, was worse still. Atreus took the meat of Thyestes’ children, and Thyestes, washed and cleaned from his long exile, intoxicated with wine, devoured the flesh of his own sons.

The Chorus reeled, taking over with a song to close the act. It was dark at noon, they said. Had the titans ripped open Hades and come back for them? Had Typhoeus broken out of his volcanic prison to ravage the earth anew? Would rosy dawn keep her horses safely in the sea? Would the gods all be dumped in a mass to the bottom of an abyss? The constellations, said the Chorus, would fall and scatter, and the seasons would stop. At the end of their long lament, the members of the Chorus concluded, “Enough complains, enough of fear; / one would have to be greedy for life not to want / to die when the world is dying” (882-4). [music]

Thyestes, Act 5

Atreus, having killed his brother’s sons and fed them to him, was in an exultant mood. He needed no gods. He’d answered his own prayers. He told his slaves to throw open the palace doors. He had, evidently at this point, not yet revealed his betrayal to Thyestes, who was simultaneously stuffed with his meal and unaware of what had happened. Atreus, though, intended to tell him. And in a soliloquy addressed to the audience, Atreus said, in the Frank Miller translation,
[It will be] sweet to note, when he sees his children’s heads, what hue his cheeks display, what words his first grief pours forth, how his body, breathless with the shock, grows stiff. This is the fruit of all my toil. To see him wretched I care not, but to see the wretchedness come upon him. The open hall with many a torch is gleaming. There he himself reclines at full length on gold and purple, propping his wine-heavy head on his left hand. He belches with contentment. Oh, most exalted of the gods am I, and king of kings! I have [overtopped] my hopes. His meal is done; from the great silver cup he quaffs the wine – spare not thy drinking; there still remains the blood of all the victims. . .His sons’ mingled blood let the father drink; he would have drunk my own. (903-18)10

There was only one thing left for Atreus to do, following this self-congratulatory speech. Thyestes had to be told what had happened.

Rubens saturn thyestes

Pedophagy had deep roots in Greco-Roman literature. Here in Peter Paul Rubens’ grotesque Saturn (1636-8), the titan Saturn (or Greek Kronos) eats one of his children.

Thyestes, we can gather, still had no idea. He said he was happy. Poverty was behind him. He had, in the end, remembered that he had royal blood, and he’d come back to his roots. He’d been foolish to doubt that he could be happy again. It was a day for garlanding his hair with flowers. He was filled with a strange intensity of emotion, as though is newfound security and prosperity were bringing him as much fear and trepidation as they were joy. Atreus drew out the moment a bit longer. He said they would celebrate – as brothers, and that the throne was made stronger by the two of them. Thyestes said he was well fed, and had had his fill of wine – he was with his brother – if only his three sons were there with him. Atreus smiled. Thyestes’ sons were there, Atreus said – they would always be with their father, now. He urged his brother to have another drink, and Thyestes raised his goblet to toast to their brotherhood.

But upon attempting the libation, Thyestes couldn’t raise the cup. The table rattled and the ground shook, and the air was filled with strange light – light that was neither night, nor day. And then it was night – a starless night, night’s own nighttime. Suddenly nauseated and uneasy, Thyestes demanded that his sons be brought to him. He called for them. And Atreus, finally, began to reveal his machinations to his brother. He showed Thyestes the severed hands of Thyestes’ sons.

In a brilliant pair of lines, Atreus showed the hands to Thyestes. Atreus asked, “Do you not recognize them?” (1005). Thyestes, understanding fully what he was being shown, said, “I recognize my brother” (1006). In other words, Thyestes said that Atreus was revealing what he had been all along, and would always be. Thyestes was nonetheless stunned. He said that the two of them belonged in a place lower than the lowest depths of the underworld, the churning lakes and rivers of fire far over their heads.

Atreus remained gleeful. He said Thyestes could now kiss his children, couldn’t he? Thyestes remained surprisingly calm. He said he only wished to cremate his children – Atreus would give him the rest of the bodies, at least, wouldn’t he? He wouldn’t leave them to be devoured by wild animals, would he? And Atreus, finally, told Thyestes that Thyestes had just eaten his own children. Thyestes quavered. He saw the severed heads and hands and feet of his sons and began to fully comprehend what had happened. He would kill himself – but he couldn’t. What place and time, Thyestes asked, had ever seen such a perverse crime?

Atreus’ ruthlessness and pitilessness only increased. He said he wished he could have made Thyestes eat his children alive. He tortured Thyestes by describing how he’d chopped the boys to pieces and put them into boiling pots while they were still living – the better revenge would have been if he could have somehow made Thyestes do so. Thyestes, rather than bursting out with rage against his brother, was terse, and broken. Only a starless night, he said, knew how he felt now. He begged Jupiter to crush him with a thunderbolt such as had been used during the war with the titans – to cremate him and Atreus both – and if this were not possible, for unending night to cover up his sins for eternity.

What had they done? Thyestes asked – what had his sons done to deserve such excruciating and disgusting deaths? Atreus told his brother not to be so indignant. “You are not hurt,” Atreus said, “because you gulped that ghastly meal, / but because you did not serve it” (1107-8). And Thyestes replied, “The gods will take revenge; / I give you to their care for punishment.” Atreus, undaunted, said, “And for your punishment, I give you to your children.” And that’s the end. [music]

Stagecraft and Performance Culture Under the Later Julio-Claudians

So that was Seneca’s play Thyestes, possibly the most famous surviving work of Roman tragedy. There is no epilogue, and no peroration. There is no scene, as we see so often in Shakespearian tragedy, in which a secondary character stands amidst the corpses littering the stage and makes sense of the dire events that have unfolded, suggesting that a new era of prosperity may well follow what seems to have been mere bedlam and calamity. The depraved Atreus chops his nephews to pieces, gloats, and gets away with it, and the play closes with his final, unrepentant taunt. I used multiple translations and quite a few quotes in this show, because I wanted you to have an idea of what Seneca’s dramas sound like. There is, with few exceptions, little humor in them, little moral ambiguity, and little down time. They are requiems played constantly in forte, the orchestra booming and the conductor’s baton keeping a dogged and inexorable beat. As such, they can be incredibly entertaining. While Seneca’s critics deride him for a lack of subtlety, as we’ll learn momentarily, the chaotic performance context of the late Julio-Claudian dynasty was probably no place for nuance or carefully structured suspense.

There has been a long and scholarly discussion over whether Seneca’s plays were ever performed at all, or whether they were closet dramas – plays intended to be read instead of acted. The answer might be somewhere in between the two – that portions of the plays were recited for entertainment at private gatherings, or amidst variety shows, but that they were never staged in all their five acts with full casts. Early modern playwrights assumed Seneca’s productions were indeed performed on stage in their entirety, while later, as naturalism overtook European theatrical culture in the late nineteenth century, Seneca’s language appeared too magniloquent and overblown to ever actually work on the stage. At the current moment, classicists continue to have different opinions on this important subject, though recently a growing number of scholars have been persuaded that Seneca’s tragedies were written for performance.11

Thus, we lack publication and performance dates for Seneca’s tragedies, and aren’t certain whether they were performed at all. But we do have some information – especially from the years of Nero’s reign, about the culture of public spectacle that flourished in Rome during the 50s and 60s. And this culture of public spectacle makes the play that you just heard sound rather tame by comparison. Suetonious’ Life of Nero depicts the entertainments of the Neronian court as a sort of chaotic and violent circus. Nero, who famously scandalized the Roman aristocracy with his lust for appearing onstage, scandalized them further by compelling Roman patricians and equestrians to appear in productions that often turned deadly. Here’s a fairly long quote from Suetonius about the violent and expensive carnival of entertainments that Nero put on on a regular basis. Suetonius, born around the same year Nero died, wrote that
[Nero] gave many entertainments of different kinds: the Juvenales, chariot races in the Circus, stage-plays, and a gladiatorial show. At first he mentioned he had even old men of consular rank and aged matrons take part. For the games in the Circus he assigned places to [equestrians] apart from the rest, and even matched chariots drawn by four camels. At the plays which he gave for the ‘Eternity of the Empire,’ which by his order were called the Ludi Maximi, parts were taken by several men and women of both the orders; a well known Roman [equestrian] mounted an elephant and rode down a rope; a Roman play of Afranius, too, was staged, entitled ‘The Fire,’ and the actors were allowed to carry off the furniture of the burning house to keep it. Every day all kinds of presents were thrown to the people; these included a thousand birds of every kind each day, various kinds of food, tickets for grain, clothing, gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, paintings, slaves, beasts of burden, and even trained wild animals; finally, ships, blocks of houses, and farms.

These plays [Nero] viewed from the top of the proscenium. At the gladiatorial show, which he gave in a wooden amphitheater, erected in the district of the Campus Martius within the space of a single year, he had no one put to death, not even criminals. But he compelled four hundred senators and six hundred Roman [equestrians], some of whom were well to do and of unblemished reputation, to fight in the arena. Even those who fought with the wild beasts and performed the various services in the arena were of the same orders. He also exhibited a naval battle in salt water with sea monsters swimming about in it; besides. . .dances by some Greek youths, handing each of them certificates of Roman citizenship at the close of his performance. The. . .dances represented various scenes. In one a bull mounted Pasiphae, who was concealed in a wooden image of a heifer; at least many of the spectators thought so. Icarus at his very first attempt fell close by the imperial couch and bespattered the emperor with his blood; for Nero very seldom presided at the games, but used to view them while reclining on a couch, at first through small openings, and then with the entire balcony uncovered.12

There is something nightmarish about the way these Neronian jamborees sound. Nobles were compelled to fight one another, slaves played strange roles in which they mimicked bestiality and died bloody deaths, commoners lapped up a constant deluge of baubles, and some form of dramatic production was part of the violent revelry. When such an extravaganza reached its climax, Suetonius tells us, Nero himself would perform, taking up his lyre or singing for his subjects, or competing in some sort of an athletic competition, inevitably taking the laurels of victory afterward.

Seneca himself seems to have disdained such ensemble productions. One imagines the stoic philosopher sitting high on the stands, rich enough to look down on commoners scraping for coins and knickknacks and not want any part of the whole thing. Especially, like Cicero before him, Seneca had no love for gladiatorial games. He wrote in his late moral epistles, “nothing is so damaging to good character as the habit of lounging at the games. . .The outcome of every fight is death, and the means are fire and sword. . .You may retort: ‘But he was a highway robber; he killed a man!’ And what of it? Granted that, as a murderer, he deserved this punishment, what crime have you committed, poor fellow, that you should deserve to sit and see this show?”13 Thus, while Seneca had no qualms with capital punishment, he believed that capital punishment as public theater was morally disgusting. In the same letter he describes how bloody executions continued to be carried out even when no one was in the stands, and how between gladiatorial events, spectators clamored for some throats to be slashed down on the sand, just to tide them over. Such a culture, Seneca writes, is corrosive to public morality.

Banquet in Nero's palace - Ulpiano Checa y Sanz thyestes background

Ulpiano Checa y Sanz’s A Banquet in Nero’s Palace – an illustration from Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis (1895-6).

In some ways, it’s easy to imagine Seneca wanting to stay out of such a performance culture altogether. Elitist, generally misanthropic, and indisposed to witnessing actual bloodshed, Seneca was cold water to Nero’s hot oil. But Seneca was nothing if not ambitious, both literarily and politically, and we can also see Seneca’s plays as efforts to be a part of Rome’s extravagant performance culture – possibly even subversive efforts. Biographer Emily Wilson writes, “In writing plays, Seneca was providing Nero with his favorite art form, catering to his cultural needs, and showing himself as a kindred spirit to the great man. He was simultaneously rivaling the emperor’s art with his own and holding up an unflattering mirror to Nero’s Rome as a world of violence, naked ambition, and excess.”14

In the play that we just read together, there is a scene that has from time to time been read as possible commentary on Seneca’s part on what it was like to advise the Emperor Nero. The scene takes place in Act 2, and it’s the scene in which Atreus and his servant are discussing Atreus’ plans for Thyestes. Hearing Atreus’ increasingly bloody designs on his brother, the Servant remonstrates with some reasonable, but rather gutsy questions. The Servant asks Atreus whether Atreus is afraid of the people rising up against him if Thyestes is murdered. The Servant asks Atreus whether he wants his people’s genuine respect, or merely their fear and obedience. The Servant says that hurting one’s brother is wrong, and adds that “If there is no honour, / no reverence for law, no trust, no faith, no goodness, / the kingdom cannot stand” (216-17). He later asks if Atreus is, in any way, moved by doing what is right, and later still asks if Atreus is mad. His questions, however, seem only to spur Areus into further realms of sadistic fantasy, and thus as a counselor, he is ineffectual. The Servant’s experience in Act 2 is the same one that Seneca himself had under Nero – Seneca had hoped to be a mentor, and then an advisor, and then merely to perform damage control, and then, finally to just survive, and in all cases, failed, slipping rung after rung as he saw that the emperor was nearly as volatile and uncontrollable as the murderous Atreus.

Seneca, like his Servant in Thyestes, found himself the impotent agent of a murderous king. And there are other facets of Seneca’s biography that might have drawn him to the story of Thyestes and the child-murdering Atreus. Two decades before serving under Nero, Seneca had served in the court of Caligula, where awful things could unfold at dinner parties. In his treatise On Constancy (18), Seneca records how Caligula disparaged his friend Asciaticus Valerius over an evening meal, because Valerius’ wife hadn’t been as satisfying in bed as Caligula had hoped. More tellingly, in Seneca’s book On Anger (2.33), Seneca recollects how Caligula killed a man’s son and then forced the man to have dinner with him, and that over the course of the dinner, Seneca observed the man predatorily for any signs of grief. More generally, child murder, by Nero’s time, had become a staple of the Julio-Claudian succession process. Caligula had had his rival Tiberius Gemellus, the biological grandson of the Emperor Tiberius, killed as a teenager. Nero had killed Brittanicus, the biological son of the Emperor Claudius, right around the time of Brittanicus’ fourteenth birthday. And while Orestes’ murder of his mother Clytemnestra is not directly part of the plot of Thyestes, it is one of the most awful moments of the House of Atreus saga, and Seneca, who had been involved in the plot to kill Nero’s mother and then justify it, might have been drawn to the story cycle because of the increasing parallels between the Julio Claudians and the descendants of Tantalus.

These biographical parallels are common sense, but nonetheless they help us understand why the nominally stoic philosopher was drawn to write such a savage revenge drama. And further, understanding the carnivalesque performance culture of Julio-Claudian Rome helps explain the high octane bombast of Senecan tragedy. If Seneca’s plays were indeed staged, or even performed piecemeal in private court sessions, Seneca was not writing for a staid and genteel group of educated people sitting in a darkened theater and waiting to follow the nuances of naturalist acting. If his plays were staged before the public, he would have been, like Plautus and Terence before him, peddling his plays before a huge, cosmopolitan, polyglot flow of spectators. Subtlety, before such an audience, might have been a tactical risk. Even if his plays were performed in smaller court settings, what we know about Nero’s court suggests a chaotic and capricious reception environment.15 Scholar E.F. Watling writes that Seneca “does not delay or complicate the issue by any moral dilemma exhibiting the conflict of justifiable but mutually incompatible ambitions; his tragedy is simply a disastrous event foretold and anticipated from the start, and pursued ruthlessly to its end.”16 To a modern audience, the mechanistic, morally unambiguous fire hose of a Senecan tragedy can seem tedious. But to a Julio-Claudian audience, the very amplitude of his rhetoric, the grim inevitability of his plots, and the stark moral clarity with which each act unfolds may have been precisely what kept his audience’s attention. [music]

Moving on to Seneca’s Phaedra

We’ve had only a little to say in this particular show about the stoic elements of Seneca’s play Thyestes. As I said before, centuries of readers believed that two different Senecas existed – the Seneca philosophicus and the Seneca tragicus, because at first glance Seneca the philosopher and Seneca the tragedian have such palpably different styles and aims. But unsurprisingly, when we look a little bit more closely at Seneca’s tragedy, we can see frequent attempts to explore questions central to stoicism – most prominently, what happens when we give way to our passions and emotions – questions that Seneca explored deftly throughout his career as a philosophy.

Senecan tragedies can indeed be read as cautionary tales against passion and emotional self indulgence. But I’d like to hold off until the end of the next episode – a show on what’s maybe Seneca’s second most famous play, Phaedra, before exploring the stoic elements of Senecan tragedy in detail. If Atreus’ sin is wrath, then the sin of the titular character of Phaedra is lust. The wife of the great Athenian hero Theseus, Phaedra falls in love with her stepson Hippolytus, pursuing him with the same reckless abandon with which Atreus goes after Thyestes. Phaedra’s passion, errant as it may be, is a different sort of transgression than Atreus’ bloodthirsty vengeance, and a far more human one. While she is in some ways just another one of Roman literary culture’s many wicked stepmothers, Seneca’s Phaedra is, like a small handful of Greco-Roman heroines before her, a full-fledged character with an interior life and an ample capacity for self-analysis. Thyestes is a play about a murderous psychopath, towering in its horrific blasphemy but so over the top that it hardly seems relevant to the everyday culture of any period of history. Phaedra, however, while hardly literary realism, is still a little closer to the genre, its very human heroine a victim of the sorts of forbidden passions that can overtake anyone in any society where careful rules govern sexual relations, and one gender is subordinate to another. So next time, in Episode 68: Love Is Sin, we’ll have one last outing with Seneca, and see why Seneca philosophicus found Seneca tragicus to be such a fruitful alter-ego. Thanks for listening to Literature and History. As always I have a quiz on this episode if you want to test your mastery of the House of Atreus freakshow. For you Patreon supporters, I’ve recorded four of the most famous poems from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which include “The Lamb,” “The Chimney Sweeper,” “The Tyger,” and “London,” a sort of tour of the whole collection, and introduction to the first phase of English romanticism. While Blake seems far afield from Seneca’s Thyestes, each leaves us with haunting images of lost childhood, images which are counterbalanced by other, more optimistic ones in Blake’s poetry. Got a song coming up if you want to check it out. If not, thanks for listening, and this has been Episode 67: Jaws Dripping Blood.

Still here? Well, for episode 67’s comedy song, you know, I got to thinking. I’ve already done a lot of stuff on the House of Atreus – a tune about Agamemnon, a bluegrass song sung by Orestes and Electra, a rock song sung by the furies. And I even did a number about eating human flesh – the song “Nothing Says I Love You Like Cannibalism” from our second program on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the story of Philomela and Procne. Anyway, this time I got to thinking about what Seneca’s daily calendar might have looked like. I mean the guy must have had a packed schedule, with all sorts of daily obligations, which would have ranged from overseeing his business investments, to writing philosophy and drama, to being a social diva, to performing services for Nero and trying not to get crucified. I got to thinking about Seneca’s calendar, and I wrote this tune, which is called “A Day in the Life of Seneca.” This one I did live in the studio on my favorite guitar – it has some fingerstyle hijinks and I hope it’s amusing to listen to. I can’t wait bring you some more ancient Roman tragedy soon, and in the mean time here’s “A Day in the Life of Seneca.”

[“A Day in the Life of Seneca” Song]


1.^ Emily Wilson proposes that Seneca composed some of his tragedies during his exile in Corsica in the 40s, while admitting that we have no real concrete timeframe for the plays’ compositions. See Wilson, Emily. The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca. Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 157.

2.^ E.F. Watling quotes Francis Meres’ Palladis Tamia (1598) as putting Seneca at the summit of Latin tragedy, and Pietro in John Marston’s Malcontent (c. 1603) as a voice of disgust against Seneca himself. See Watling, E.F. “Introduction.” Printed in Seneca. Four Tragedies and Octavia. Penguin Books, 1966, pp. 7, 10.

3.^ Seneca. Six Tragedies. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Emily Wilson. Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 180. Further references noted parenthetically with line numbers from this edition unless otherwise specified.

4.^ Seneca. Four Tragedies and Octavia. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by E.F. Watling. Penguin Classics, 1966, p. 46.

5.^ Seneca. Seneca’s Tragedies. Volume II. Translated by Frank Justus Miller. William Heinemann, 1907, p. 105.

6.^ Seneca. Seneca’s Tragedies. Volume II. Translated by Frank Justus Miller. William Heinemann, 1907, p. 113, 115.

7.^ Ibid, p. 121, 123.

8.^ See Wilson, Emily. The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca. Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 223.

9.^ Miller (1907), pp. 141,143.

10.^ Miller (1907), pp. 163, 166.

11.^ See Wilson (2011) p. 98.

12.^ Suetonius. Life of Nero. 11-12 Printed in Delphi Complete Works of Suetonius. Delphi Classics, Location 2016. Kindle Edition, Locations 11024-11045.

13.^ Moral Epistles VII. Printed in Delphi Complete Works of Seneca the Younger. Delphi Classics, 2014. Kindle Edition, Locations 7292-7303.

14.^ See Wilson (2011), 157.

15.^ Emily Wilson notes of Seneca’s plays that “most scholars agree that they were probably written for some kind of dramatic performance, though fairly certainly not for the public theatre; they may well have been used for private performances, for the enjoyment of the emperor and his court.” Wilson, Emily. “Introduction.” In Seneca. Six Tragedies. Oxford World’s Classics, 2010, p. xxiv.

16.^ Watling, E.F. “Introduction.” Printed in Seneca. Four Tragedies and Octavia. Penguin Books, 1966, p. 25.