Latin 41: Advanced Latin Poetry

Seneca’s Tragedies

MW 2:00-3:20 PM

Chapin 103


Professor: Christopher Trinacty


Office Hours: MTWTh 10:00-11:00 AM, by appointment

Grosvenor House 12


Weekly information about the course will appear online.

Required Texts

Coffey, Michael and Roland Mayer Eds. (1990) Seneca: Phaedra. Cambridge.

Tarrant, R.J. (1985) Seneca’s Thyestes. A.P.A.


A good Latin grammar (Allen and Greenough’s) and Latin dictionary are imperative.


Reserve Texts

Davis, P.J. (2003) Seneca: Thyestes. Duckworth.

Littlewood, C.A.J. (2004) Self-Representation and Illusion in Senecan Tragedy. Oxford.

Mayer, Roland (2002) Seneca: Phaedra. Duckworth.

Schiesaro, Alessanro (2003) The Passions in Play: Thyestes and the Dynamics of

Senecan Drama. Cambridge.


Course Description

This semester we will translate two of Seneca’s tragedies and comment on their linguistic, philosophical, poetic, and theatrical grandeur. These plays have been an important locus for philological and aesthetic debate. Some have found them unbearable (his style is “like living on nothing by anchovy sauce” – Macaulay; “His characters all seem to speak with the same voice, and at the top of it; they recite in turn.” – T.S. Eliot), while they were a clear influence on Shakespeare (“Seneca can not be too heavy, nor Plautus too light”) and Artaud. These rich plays seem to delight or offend just about everyone and, even in the ancient world, Seneca was a controversial figure (just look at Quintilian’s judgement 10.1.125). I believe that an investigation of Seneca’s works in their poetic and rhetorical context will help us to understand and enjoy his dramatic technique. With this in mind, we will dip into his poetic predecessors (Ovid, Virgil, Horace), and look at the history of rhetoric as well (esp. his father’s work). Most days will involve translation of 100-150 lines as well as discussion of relevant issues (read your commentaries!). There will also be additional recommended readings each week.



Tests (3) 30%            Paper (6-8 pages) 10%

Attendance, Quizzes, and Participation 50%           Presentations 10%