"A little throat cutting in the meantime": Seneca's violent imagery

Philosophy and Literature 32 (1):pp. 130-144 (2008)
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Abstract

In this essay, I consider the philosophical purposes served by Seneca’s insistently violent imagery and argue that Seneca appears to provide what I term an “erotica of death.” In the Roman context, a context in which violence and violent death are regular features of popular entertainment, there is a worry that Seneca’s vivid depictions of violent death can only aim at eliciting more of the intoxicating pleasure Romans derived from their spectacles. However, where the spectacle features as a species of death denial, a “pornography” in which death is stripped of its emotive and symbolic content, Seneca provides an “erotica” in which raw physical detail serves to announce and evoke emotive responses to death. He thus works against the Roman taboo on expressing fear and the equation of fear with cowardice in order to court the dismay and disgust necessary as a precondition for a robust therapy for death anxiety.

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Amy Olberding
University of Oklahoma

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