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dc.contributor.advisorMcIntyre, Gwynaeth
dc.contributor.authorCalverley, Campbell
dc.identifier.citationCalverley, C. (2017). A Sin Against God: The Rhetoric of Incest in Senecan Tragedy and Tacitean History (Thesis, Master of Arts). University of Otago. Retrieved from
dc.description.abstractTacitus’ depiction of Agrippina the Younger in his Annales is controversial, as certain elements of this depiction bear a striking resemblance to the incestuous women depicted by Seneca the Younger in his Oedipus, Phoenissae and Phaedra plays, as well as to the depiction of Agrippina in the pseudo-Senecan Octavia. I argue that these similarities exist because both Seneca and Tacitus were part of a tradition of incest rhetoric in Latin literature that encouraged the utilization of stereotypical character types. The proliferation of this tradition, and the habit of mimicking the themes and sententiae of earlier authors, was enabled by the standards of Roman education in the 1st centuries BCE and CE. Declamation was a particular area of focus in this education system, and the exercises therein utilized declamatory stereotypes which reflected the values of the Roman paterfamilias. As for the system of incest rhetoric itself, the most outstanding features of this system are concerned with Seneca’s and Tacitus’ utilization of the value system of the paterfamilias in their writing. Both authors utilize the same family member stereotypes in their works, as well as the standard of assigning specific crimes to specific family members. Mothers are typically depicted either committing either incest or adultery, and stepmothers are universally manipulative and morally despicable characters. Their crimes are naturally interfamilial, and are linked to the disruption of the symbolic marriage bed, indicating an immoral subversion of the paterfamilias. While Seneca depicted these character types separately, Tacitus took influence from Seneca’s depictions in order to combine them for his depiction of Agrippina. Both authors also depict their incestuous female characters abusing a position of power in relation to their incest, either to enable their incest, to maintain their power, or to make amends for having committed incest. Finally, the very similar manner of their incestuous characters’ deaths – typically by stabbing in the womb with their sons’ sword – indicates Seneca’s and Tacitus’ reliance on the notion of an appropriate punishment for committing incest. These rhetorical features compound each other to indicate that Seneca and Tacitus wrote their incestuous characters to pass the same value judgment on the act of incest and on the women committing it. As such, not only were both authors familiar with an ingrained system of incest rhetoric that informed their depictions of incestuous characters, but their works had a progressive line of influence: Seneca the Younger was influenced by the stereotypes of declamatory education, and Seneca’s works influenced Tacitus.
dc.publisherUniversity of Otago
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dc.titleA Sin Against God: The Rhetoric of Incest in Senecan Tragedy and Tacitean History
dc.language.rfc3066en of Arts of Otago
otago.openaccessAbstract Only
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