(circa 4BC-AD65) Spanish-born Latin man of letters and Roman politician, ostensible author of the only 10 surviving Roman tragedies, none dated. Some are preoccupied with tyranny and with Stoic ethics; several offer killings and (in Medea's case) Magic onstage; most are exaggerated in language and action and pointed in style. Some have reasonably coherent plots, but most are unified more by the outlook of Horror, in which Seneca is the first known specialist and, though too little survives from his predecessors to judge properly, an immensely influential one. He taught the Renaissance tragedians of Western Europe much, including the use of Ghosts and Portents, the taste for blood, and the fascination with moral monsters. At his best – most sustainedly in Hercules Furens, Thyestes and Medea – Seneca remains powerfully disturbing to read today.
His compressed style, Shakespeare's shadow and the Classicists' disdain combine to impede translation. Four Tragedies and Octavia (anth 1966) trans E F Watling, Three Tragedies (coll 1986) trans Frederick Ahl and Seneca II (anth 1995) ed David R Slavitt between them include all but Agamemnon, and offer several approaches to the task. [JB]
Other tragedies: Troades ["Trojan Women"]; Phoenician Women; Phaedra; Oedipus; Hercules Oetaeus, possibly spurious; Octavia, possibly spurious.
Other work: Apocolocyntosis (circa 54), an intermittently amusing Posthumous Fantasy.
see also: Greek and Latin Classics.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca