Painting

Chariots, Corpses and Sea Monsters. The Reception of Seneca’s Phaedra in Flavian Epic Poetry.

1:00pm - 2:00pm / Thursday 18th February 2021
Type: Seminar / Category: Department
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Senecan drama is known to be often gloomy, bloody and even gruesome, but in particular the final part of the Phaedra, with Hippolytus’ death (vv. 1000-1114) and the difficult reconstruction of his cadaver (vv. 1247-1280), can be considered as one of the finest pieces of Seneca’s macabre: the purpose of this paper is to analyse its early literary fortune, especially in Flavian epic poetry.

In particular, the description of the sea monster against which Hercules fights in Valerius’ Argonautica (Val. Fl. 2.475-536) seems to be modelled after Seneca’s “sea bull”, but at the same time borrows many details from Seneca’s own models (obviously Euripides, but also Manilius, 5.538-611), which creates a sort of window reference. Moreover, it is possible to detect several allusions both to Hippolytus’ chariot accident (Val. Fl. 6.413-6; Sil. 2.192-202) and to the dismembered body motif (Stat. Theb. 3.129-32; 5.593-8; 5.605-15), mostly in pathetic or especially bloody passages.

The general impression is that the three Flavian epic poets are more than willing to echo even Seneca’s most gruesome scenes, but only in rare and carefully selected contexts.