Still preoccupied with that bold claim of Badiou’s
Theatre is the most truth-producing of the arts, and it was born with philosophy – that can’t be a coincidence.
I began with my typical pet favorite, Greek tragedy, and I’m going to jump to the Romans for a change instead. The only surviving tragedies are from Seneca, the well-known Stoic, and the lesser-known playwright. This is another ancient who was prominent during the Renaissance.
You’ll notice he directly adapted from the Greeks by the titles of his plays alone- Hercules, Troades, Phoenissae, Medea, Phaedra, Oedipus, Agamemnon, Thyestes. He’s better known for his essays which are on the subjects of death, happiness, anger, tranquility, providence, among others. So we can expect these themes to be present in his plays.
Nice pun to describe what we’re doing here
Ironically, the “idea” of tragedy developed in the Western tradition as a response to Plato’s assertion that tragedians had no “idea” what they were doing.
Seneca, like Machiavelli, was a man of ideas himself, so he differs from the Greek playwrights in this regard.
If you think of Beowulf as being situated between the pagan and christian worlds at around the year 1000, it wasn’t until about 300 years later that Seneca was rediscovered. And this was about the same time the esotericist Dante was writing his masterpiece. It wasn’t “anything goes” back then, there was a strong hostility to pagans which we can see today in a secular form. Bringing back Seneca to facilitate a Renaissance would be somewhat equivalent to bringing back Choinski today. See, we’re not just talking about old books, there are direct parallels to be made to the present reality. “You can’t possibly say Choinski’s name in the same breath as Seneca’s!” No I’d say Choinski is even more important than Seneca for present concerns by virtue of the fact that he’s a death bomb to the current order. The old “pagans” don’t really mean the same thing as they did to the Christian world – there is a new type of “pagan” now. People who wrote within the century or so prior to the 1945 Revelation in particular. And when I talk about slaves I mean people who are slaves to that Revelation. Choinski and only a few others represent Emancipation.
I digress- let’s stick with this old type of “pagan”
Seneca’s characterization of poetry as a form of madness in which writers can step outside of themselves. On this reading Senecan tragedy is something apart from Senecan Stoicism
Another total human being like Machiavelli. These rare souls inspire one to have hope in humanity. Do you see the irony with this multidimensional self? Stoicism is about quelling emotions. Tragedy depicts highly emotionally-charged characters. I’m sure this calm Stoic never never identified with some of the passionate characters he created, right?
Interesting- his plays are regularly interpreted as an epilogue to Virgil’s writings. How all the arts fit together. And for more context, if you want to understand the Roman world, we’re speaking here of the only surviving tragedies- the only surviving novel, by Apuleius, was written about a century after Seneca wrote. Apuleius, the contemporary of Lucian the satirist from the other day. None of this stuff they go out of their way to familiarize us with. It was another world, and there were geniuses in that world. And if you want to get political, the Nazis drew from the old Germanics, and the fascists drew from the old Romans. “Oh you just had to bring that up, huh?” What do you think I’m doing here, anon? Old books only matter for what they can say about the present, and the future.
Kind of neat isn’t it- the only surviving tragedies from Rome. People tend to think only of coliseums, the Gladiator movie(!), or like this kind of helmet
Lame, there were brains and art from that time (and not just statues). I’m surprised the ladies don’t take more of an interest in the writings given that the goddess Juno tends to play such a prominent role (i.e. the Roman equivalent of Hera). I don’t even want to get into this! That’s for another post, if you’re lucky.
Ah, to clarify that initial snapshot from the Badiou book above
For the Stoics, however, tragedy was not a form antithetical to philosophy; it was the perfect vehicle for imaging lives that are antithetical to philosophy. Tragedy portrays life as it is normally lived and offers case studies in the ways in which human misjudgments (this is what the passions are for the Stoics) produce misfortune.
Theatre and philosophy didn’t have a “conjoined birth” precisely. Plato responded to theatre. And Seneca responds to his response, and also Aristotle’s who famously believed contra Plato that it was healthy for its cathartic effects. The beginning of the Life of the Mind of the west we are witnessing in this dialectic.
Everyone knows the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, when Seneca was so much more multifaceted
Even if Seneca began his tragedies with an idea in mind, the ecstasy of the artistic process, several critics have suggested, led him to create in his plays a vision that challenges his Stoicism.
A theme you’ll often find with me is that I’m trying to escape the thought-prison of modern times and help others do the same. Cicero is too rationalistic for most. That’s part of what makes Seneca so uniquely special, that he was both a philosopher and artist. He’s another obscure ancient today who Montaigne referenced frequently, though his favorite writings were the Letters. I just did a ctrl+f of his Essays actually and he cites Seneca more than anyone else of the couple dozen ancients I type in. Forgotten greats.