Posted by: "Robin Turner" Tue Oct 31, 2006 6:11 am (PST)
ROBIN: I didn't realise that Seneca was such a strong influence on the Elizabethan
and Jacobean tragedists (something I should have known, since I studied them
at university!) . I have yet to read any of Seneca's plays, though Nussbaum's
analysis of his Medea whetted my appetite, and if they're anything like The
Spanish Tragedy or the Revenger's Tragedy (arguably a satire on this genre)
then it looks like I'm in for a fun time!
GCM:The E. F. Watling translation is very good and readable. He also includes a good selection of the Elizabethan translations, Jasper Heywood et al. Watling says they were far too academically oriented to be acceptablt performed on stage for a normal audience and, in general, gives a good analysis of the situation, theorizing as several other critics did - T.S.Eliot? - that they were meant merely to be read, not acted.
ROBIN: However, I don't think there is any contradiction between the lurid nature
of Seneca's plays and his philosophy. Firstly, Seneca makes it clear (in On
Anger) that the feelings aroused by drama are not gnuine passions (we could
perhaps call them pseudopatheia) because they do not involve real assent to
impressions. (There was a discussion about this here some time ago, when I
mentioned Noel Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror, which goes into this
question in some detail in terms
of horror films.) The second point is that
Seneca, if Nussbaum's interpretation is correct, intended his tragedies as
moral lessons: the idea was to show the destructive effects of the passions.
GCM: That is what Watling seems to say also. I have read little of Seneca, but just going through the selections at the end of Watling's book, I can see his sense of style in his philosophical writings is extremely sophisticated, though nothing like the plays. Could you tell me which book of Nussbaum's you read where she discussed Seneca's plays? Also, the time the correspondence occured about Noel Carroll's book and if THE PHILOSOPHY OF HORROR is worth reading? The reason I got interested in Stoicism was in trying to figure out why Thomas Harris and Hannibal Lecter were so deeply knowledgeable about Marcus Aureelius - and then I stumbled purely by accident on what had to be a reference
to Epictetus in HANNIBAL, though Harris at that particular point did not mention neither Epictetus [ever] or Stoicism in general [relatively often in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, especially Aurewlius specifically]. So the Noel Carroll book may be of great interest to me. and I loved Martha Nussbaums's book on Aristotle and tragedy which deeply influenced me a number of years ago.
The pseudopatheia you mention also is of great interest. In Seneca's plays the passion is overdone, obviously deliberately. Just the opposite is the Marquis de Sade's apathy that Simon de Beauvoir noted in her brilliant essay on de Sade which seems like a reverse mirror reflection of Seneca's pseudopatheia, that is, the control and cessation of every passion and feeling in order to be able to commit any possible act, something the existentialists were fascinated with and, in this
context, one can see as a reversed mirror reflection of the Stoic control and cessation of feeling and passion.
I will eagerly await your reply. And the Epicurus is very apt also, as well as turned on its head.
Overall, the attitude seems to be similar to that of Epicurus when he said
"War and storms are good to read about, but peace is better to live in."
Gary C Moore
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