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Octavia: Attributed to Seneca - USC News
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Octavia: Attributed to Seneca
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Summary "Octavia is a work of exceptional historical and dramatic interest. It is the only surviving complete example of the Roman historical drama known as the fabula praetexta. Written shortly after Nero's death by an unknown author, the play deals with events at the court of Nero in the decisive year 62 CE, for which it is the earliest extant almost contemporary literary source: Nero's divorce from his stepsister Octavia and marriage to his mistress Poppaea Sabina; the quelling of the popular riots which followed; Octavia's deportation to exile and death.
The play's overt themes of sex, murder, politics, and power inform an action which is no simple indictment of Nero, rather a dramatization of imperial autocracy, political causation, and the perceptions and constructions of history.
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The play appealed to the Renaissance and influenced Renaissance drama and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century historical opera. This new edition of Octavia attempts to present this important play to as wide a readership as possible. It offers a new Latin text, an English verse translation designed for both performance and serious study, and a detailed commentary on the play which is not only exegetic but analytic and interpretative.
A substantial introduction discusses the play dramatically, locates it in its historical and theatrical context, and traces its influence on European drama and opera. The Historical Context II. The Fabula Praetexta IV. The Divorce and Death of Octavia V. Notes Translated from the Latin. Includes bibliographical references p. View online Borrow Buy Freely available Show 0 more links Related resource Table of contents only at http: Set up My libraries How do I set up "My libraries"? The issue of genre has become an area of active debate among specialists in the last few years; Ferri is doubtless wise not to engage in the intricacies.
The Historical Background lists the three main historical sources Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio for the divorce and death of Octavia in the briefest summary. Ferri points out the fallacy in the plot: He sees, as has nearly every other scholar, dynastic politics driving a decision to eliminate Octavia, for which the divorce is a necessary prelude. This places an entirely different construction on the play.
The bias of the historical sources against Nero is noted; it should also have been added that all of the sources are after the Octavia and so if there is any borrowing it is by the historians for which a credible case has been made for Tacitus. The Date of the Play is the section in which Ferri has made his greatest original contribution. Senecan authorship, once universally assumed, is dismissed appropriately in three sentences.
Much more complex is a possible date in the reign of Galba, either at his triumph so Kragelund or at the Plebeian Games Wiseman in AD The arguments for a date so soon after the death of Nero are repeated in detail. Ferri is not satisfied for two reasons: Here, I must admit an interest. I think that Ferri is absolutely correct to place the play after the reign of Vespasian.
Ferri's instinct that later is better is, I think, correct and the reasons he gives for the play making Domitian the new Nero are as cogent in response to the public relations fiasco of his attempt to divorce Domitia as they are after the first serious assassination attempt 1 Jan Ferri's scholarship will make it hard to maintain an early date of composition.
The relationship of this play to the recitation dramas of Curiatus Maternus is problematic, given the difference between the dramatic date of Tacitus' Dialogus de oratoribus , in which Maternus' Cato and Thyestes are mentioned, and the probable date of composition of Tacitus' essay; in between the two is the likely date of composition of the Octavia. After dismissing Maternus as author, Ferri has a brief flirtation with Annaeus Cornutus, freedman of Seneca and author of a surviving work in Greek on Stoic allegory.
Cornutus was dead by AD 68, as was Annaeus Mela, brother of Seneca and another proposed candidate for author, as also Seneca's other brother, governor of Achaea mentioned in Acts of the Apostles. The way in which a play not by Seneca can be seen as part of an attempt to rehabilitate the flagging reputation of his dramas is fascinating and deserves more argumentation.
This would remove the Octavia from the list of plays written by impotent senators to fill in their pointless days, a thought that often underlies criticism by those who deride the Octavia as an amateur theatrical by a litterateur. The Senecan Corpus is the appropriate place to have put Appendix A which lists imitations of Senecan tragedy.
It treats with considerable skill language and style, relative position of adjectives and nouns, metre, and features of composition, in all of which the author is found to follow Senecan practice but to have simplified considerably. This makes it harder to maintain the Octavia as an apologia to Seneca. Of much more interest is Ferri's investigation of the relationship of the Octavia to the Hercules Oetaeus.
Who imitates whom is the intriguing question.
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