Oedipus The King by Sophocles and Seneca – The Cultural, Historical and Individual Aspects of Hermeneutics


  • Brane Senegačnik University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts




ancient literature, ancient drama, ancient tragedy, hermeneutics, Sophocles, Seneca


A comparison between Sophocles’ and Seneca’s Oedipus the King affords large scope for illuminating the similarities and contrasts between their respective cultural milieus. The generic and thematic similarity of the works (which, of course, points to the embeddedness of Roman drama in the Greek genre) helps to set off the enormous cultural differences: the social function of the theatre, the conception of myth, and the religious and spiritual horizons in the early Roman Empire vastly differed from those of the classical Athens. It is only against the background of these general cultural differences that the issue most interesting to literary hermeneutics can be estimated: the irreducibly individual feature of either author, Sophocles or Seneca – his style. 
Seneca’s plays, regardless of their (un)stageability, are strongly rhetorical. The extensions of certain motifs of the traditional myth (description of the plague at Thebes), their inventive reworking, and narrative digressions (divination using entrails, description of the forest, rite of evoking the dead) significantly slow down the dramatic action. The scenes are thus often lengthy and static, yet at the same time meticulously and evocatively elaborated as images of the external and internal worlds. The effects of the characters’ extensive psychological self-illuminations in their monologues sometimes run counter to dramaturgical logic, a feature which sets Seneca’s Oedipus most clearly apart from Sophocles’. Given this striking extensiveness, the reconciliation of Seneca’s tragic hero to his fate seems the more surprising: a likely motive for it is the pedagogical principle of Stoic poetic, according to which the spectator is ‘purified’ of his affects through the catharsis which is experienced by the characters within the dramatic space and time.


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How to Cite

Senegačnik, Brane. 2010. “Oedipus The King by Sophocles and Seneca – The Cultural, Historical and Individual Aspects of Hermeneutics”. Keria: Studia Latina Et Graeca 12 (1):119-32. https://doi.org/10.4312/keria.12.1.119-132.



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