June 24, 2022

PASSION IS DISORDER:

HORROR IN THE SERVICE OF STOIC PHILOSOPHY: SENECA'S MEDEA (Dagmar Kiesel, 6/18/22, Antigone)

Medea, the mythical daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis and niece of the famous enchantress Circe (see Books 10 and 12 of Homer's Odyssey), having been rejected by her unfaithful husband Jason, conjures up horrible (horridae, Med. 16) creatures of the underworld to bring death to Creusa, Princess of Corinth and Jason's new bride, as well as her father - spirits of the dead, goddesses of revenge, poisonous and choking snakes. Furthermore, she curses Jason to a peaceless existence as an eternally wandering spirit. In doing so, Medea refers to the traditional dichotomy of the moral worlds of good and evil, metaphorically described as realms of light and darkness.

But our contemporary notions of horror differ from the horror that Seneca wants to provoke.[2] Modern readers and audiences can enjoy fictional horror because they are aware that these characters and situations are safely fictional: this generates an ambivalent mixture of horror, suspense and pleasure in the spectator. In antiquity, however, belief in magical powers and mythical creatures was quite widespread. The fact that Seneca deliberately triggers the fear of his audience is also demonstrated by his decision not to report acts of violence. Instead, he depicts them on stage, contrary to ancient custom. Medea, who kills both of her (and Jason's) sons in an ultimate act of revenge, does so before the spectator's eyes.

At first it seems surprising that Seneca would want to arouse strong painful passions in audience members. According to Stoic doctrine, passions are false value judgements that consider indifferent things to be good or evil as well as relevant for happiness. But for Seneca and the Stoics, only virtue is good, and only vice is evil.

The dominant passion in the tragedy, whose dating is controversial, is Medea's anger. Intent on seriously hurting her unfaithful husband Jason, she poisons his bride, the princess Creusa, and sets fire to the palace in Colchis, which also kills King Creon. In the climax of her revenge, she kills the two sons she has with Jason and flees the scene in a dragon chariot.

Medea's anger, as depicted by Seneca, is based on the false judgement that Jason's infidelity is an evil that affects her happiness. It is Medea's disappointed love, along with her resulting anger, that results in the excessive violence in the tragedy, from the murder of Creon and Creusa to the double filicide. This is precisely what Seneca wants to draw our attention to, and he does this paradoxically by making us afraid of passions with the help of numerous horror motifs. In Stoicism, however, all passions are expressions of false value judgements, including fear.



Posted by at June 24, 2022 7:11 AM

  

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