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The Strangeness of Tragedy$
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Paul Hammond

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199572601

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199572601.001.0001

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(p.106) 6 Seneca
The Strangeness of Tragedy

Paul Hammond

Oxford University Press

In reading Seneca's Thyestes, the Aristotelian or Hegelian models of tragedy seem not to fit: there is no error, no trajectory which brings the protagonist from a height to a depth, nor is there any conflict between opposing principles. Aristotelian pity for undeserved misfortune and fear for a man like ourselves do not suffice as the appropriate terms for our response to the vengeance which Atreus wreaks upon his brother Thyestes by killing his children and making him eat them unawares: rather, horror, and a form of terror at the capacities of the human which are revealed to us. But the play is tragic in pushing human nature to the brink, and perhaps beyond: we are forced to attend to the bending of the human beyond what we normally prefer to think of as its limits, beyond its definition: supraque fines moris humani. The external natural world is used as a metaphor for what we would want to call the physiological, or psychological or moral, disturbance of the protagonist.

Keywords:   Seneca, Thyestes, tragedy, Atreus, horror, natural world, metaphor, terror, human nature

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