Conscience in the theater. Presence and insufficiency of ratio in Seneca the poet (and philosopher)

  • Giuseppe Gilberto Biondi University of Parma


This paper deals with a long-standing critical question: how close are Senecan tragedies to the rest of Seneca’s corpus, especially his philosophical prose? The question will be answered with a special focus on the role of logos, or ratio, within the tragic action: are Seneca’s characters rational? Or are they totally controlled by passions? By means of an analysis of some of Seneca’s main characters – Medea, Clytmaestra, Atreus, Phaedra – the paper argues for a dramatic opposition between ratio – and voluntas – and passions, and it aims to demonstrate that this same opposition is central to Seneca’s whole philosophical production. Main quoted passages: Med. 937-44; Ag. 239-43; Thy. 281-86; Tro. 736-39; Phaedr. 112 sg., 592, 604 sg.