University of Cambridge > > Multidisciplinary Gender Research Seminars > Reproducing Rome: Motherhood in Senecan drama (Medea and Phaedra)'.

Reproducing Rome: Motherhood in Senecan drama (Medea and Phaedra)'.

Add to your list(s) Download to your calendar using vCal

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lesley Dixon.

‘Bad’ mothers are rife in the tragedies of the Roman philosopher-dramatist Seneca (1st c. AD), circulating with demonic energy through almost all of his plays. Victims or victimisers, often both, characters such as Jocasta, Medea, Phaedra, Juno or Clytemnestra, all embody a transgressive femininity that becomes, in Seneca’s hands, inextricably linked with their identities as mothers or stepmothers. Focusing on Medea and Phaedra, Seneca’s two most tormented, yet also most fascinating, feminine figures, in this paper I ask: why this intense concern in the tragedies with nightmarish manifestations of maternal vice? Recent criticism has adopted a philosophical or psychological approach to Seneca’s characters, reading Medea and Phaedra as studies in Stoic doctrine on the passions. Yet this tends to occlude the politics of gender representation in both plays: in the concern to show, for example, that Medea is a negative exemplar of the ideal Stoic sage (by default, male), it hardly seems to matter that Medea is also a woman, and that her crime – that of a mother killing her children – is profoundly gendered on cultural and ethical grounds. On the one hand, these tormented women are presented as monstrous, amoral and vulnerable to passions at the expense of reason, but on the other, I argue, they are carefully positioned within a shared societal moral discourse on gender, marriage and parenthood in imperial Rome, thus inching their‘monstrous,’ ‘unnatural’ acts unnervingly closer to a contemporary familial and institutional norm. I suggest that, in showing the ‘mother’s part’ as she struggles with her tragic dilemma and the persona she must inhabit, these plays channel and distort larger concerns in this period about political agency, forms of legitimacy and paternal power.

This talk is part of the Multidisciplinary Gender Research Seminars series.

Tell a friend about this talk:

This talk is included in these lists:

Note that ex-directory lists are not shown.


© 2006-2024, University of Cambridge. Contact Us | Help and Documentation | Privacy and Publicity