You are here

51.3.Harrison

This paper examines the enormous artistic, practical, and intellectual problems of moving Sophocles’ Trachiniae to the Roman stage. It considers how the triangulation of the characterization of Heracles posed special problems for the author who had to take into consideration the positioning of the hero in both Euripides’ Herakles and Seneca’s Hercules furens. There is also a need to try to calculate what might have been the possible influence of popular culture and the ways in which non-tragic genres complicated, yet enriched, the source material. Scholarly literature on the Hercules Oetaeus in performance is almost non-existent; it is, for example, entirely absent in Erasmo’s 2004 book and not even considered by Rozelaar (1985) in his entry on the Hercules Oetaeus for ANRW.

 Although the author and date of the Hercules Oetaeus cannot be known, there is now general agreement (Littlewood in Brill Companion to Seneca, in press) that it is the last of the plays composed in Latin which survive, and that it belongs to the end of the Flavian period, or slightly later (Zwierlein 1986). It is thus possible to suggest different possible stagings of the Hercules Oetaeus in order to explore the question of whether the play was performable on a formal stage, as opposed to private recitation. As a recitation drama (Kugelmeier 2007, 9-24), the Hercules Oetaeus is interesting in light of passages in Tacitus’ Dialogue on Oratory which open a further line of inquiry trying to assess what could be the effect of potential political content (Manuwald 2010, 26), associated with a perceived ‘Stoic opposition’ to the late Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors, on the practical mechanics of gesture and intonation in private performance. If staging is assumed, computer models for performance can help indicate whether the play is better suited to a large outdoor theatre or might have been performed more successfully in smaller, enclosed spaces.

While increasingly accepting performance, Senecan scholarship is generally taking a step backwards, for example, reviving attempts to assert the authenticity of the correspondence between Seneca and St. Paul and assuming some stoic content and a didactic purpose to Seneca’s plays (Wilson 2010 following Griffin 1976). This paper ends by trying to show ways in which the Hercules Oetaeus is as emotionally distant from Seneca as he was chronologically from Sophocles (Billerbeck in Brill Companion to Seneca, in press, pace Tietze Larson 1991). Contemporary artistic and archaeological remains are decisive in this regard (Harrison 2011, forthcoming), but the paper concludes with a comparison of performance values of the final scenes of Seneca’s Hercules furens and the Hercules Oetaeus to suggest that they belong to different realities. To put Heracles on stage did not render him a Stoic sage.

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy