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Phaedra has been recognized as one of the most elegiac of Seneca’s tragic characters (Armstrong, 2006; Mocanu 2013). By inverting the traditional gender roles of love elegy, Seneca characterizes her as the elegiac amator, hunting her erotic prey, Hippolytus, in a desperate attempt to obtain his love. In this paper, I want to show how Seneca uses references to Phaedra’s body and bodily parts to stress the elegiac connotation of her character and get in direct conversation with Roman elegiac poets.

In the first part, I investigate Phaedra’s arming of her body in preparation for her erotic hunting; I argue that this scene (387-403) is built in response to Ovid’s introduction to Ars Amatoria 3, addressed to women: as stated in the first couplet, the poet intends to arm Penthesilea and the Amazons for their erotic battle. Seneca too arms his Phaedra just like Hippolytus’ mother (398), thus like a proper Amazon, although in doing so, he takes Ovid’s instruction one step further, and removes all signs of cultus from his tragic puella: Phaedra’s purple and gold clothes are to be removed (387-8) to leave her body barely covered by a flaunting tunic, only restricted by a short sash (388-390), her throat will be freed from jewels, her ears from white stones from the Indian Sea (391-392), her hair, loose, will be devoid of Assyrian perfume (393). In Seneca’s tragedy, Phaedra’s body becomes a fragmented assemblage of elegiac features, by which, I argue, Seneca establishes his tragic reversal of the traditional elegiac roles. The deconstruction of the queen’s cultus closely follows Propertius’ rebuke to Cynthia in 1.2.1-6, and simultaneously rejects Ovid’s precepts at Medicamina 17-26.

In the second part of my paper, I explore Phaedra’s lovesickness as described at 360-82. I argue that Phaedra’s symptomatology closely recalls that of the lovesick elegiac amator, and in particular, Propertius 1.5. Phaedra is said to burn in the grip of madness (362-3), collapse with unstable legs (367; 374-5), and lose her sleep (369-370); her complexion turns pale (376) and her eyes are flooded with tears (381-3), with symptoms that follow those which Gallus will, and Propertius himself does, experience in 1.5.1-30, namely: insanity (3), burning (5), insomnia (11), as well as tears (14-15), trembling (15) and disorientation (18), and paleness (21) (Wyke, 2002; Caston, 2006).

By focusing on Phaedra’s body in Seneca’s play, I aim to show the playwright’s debt to Latin love elegy in the characterization of the tragic queen, which evokes by opposition, and deconstruction, the elegiac puella, and by association the lovesick elegiac amator.