Saturday, March 4, 2017

TFBT: Seneca's Phaedra

This month’s Book Club at the Kosmos Society features a tragedy by Seneca: Phaedra, It is a treatment of the same myth with which many members will already be familiar, Euripides Hippolytus, so it might be interesting to make comparisons.

 I like this Hippolytus better; a leader of men rather than a man-child tip-toeing across an “ untrodden meadow”  (if you will pardon the euphemism.)  Speaking of euphemisms; "with soft hand to hurl stiff javelins "  Hmm.   I will have to look at other translations, currently I am reading Frank Justus Miller.

 "Will he give up his hate for thee, when ‘tis for hate of thee, perchance, he repels all women?”  I hadn’t considered this motivation

Venus(Aphrodite), detesting the offspring of the hated Sun (Helios), is avenging through us the chains that bound her to her loved Mars (Ares), and loads the whole race of Phoebus (Helios) with shame unspeakable. No daughter of Minos’ house hath found love’s bondage light; ever ‘tis linked with guilt. “ First, Seneca wrote at the time when the Roman sun-god Sol, the Greek god Apollo and the Titan Helios were all being synthesized into on deity; Apollo.  But Aphrodite’s’ hatred of Helios’ family runs deeper than just Minos’ house.  Their cousin, daughter of Aeetes, son of Helios didn’t do much better in the love department or Helios' sister; "Eos, whom Aphrodite tormented with constant passion as punishment for sleeping with Ares, fell in love with Orion and took him off with her to Delos." (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 27)   Aaron Asthma at adds that “Aphrodite placed a curse upon the goddess Eos causing her to fall in love with a train of mortals--Orion, Tithonos, Cephalus and Cleitus.”  Helios and Eos’ sister Selene seems to suffer the same curse "Rising from the distant east, the Lady Selene (Moon), Titan- goddess, saw the girl [Medea the witch] wandering distraught [for love of Jason], and in wicked glee said to herself: ‘So I am not the only one to go astray for love, I that burn for beautiful Endymion and seek him in the Latmian Cave… Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 55 ff    Their Aunt Circe didn’t seem to have a guy in her life either until Ithacan mortals boated by.  I find all this interesting because the Hyperionides; Helios, Selene and Eos were the sole surviving Titanic family that might be a threat to the sovereignty of the Cronides; children of Cronus.  Those sons of the Iapetus were either in Tartarus or assigned to the edges of the universe.  Crius and his sons Asterius, Pallas and Perses seem to disappear after the Titanomachy.  That just leaves the sons of Oceanus, who are unlikely to give up their river beds and flow up to Olympus in revolt. In other words, the sole family of gods who children might threaten the divine order are cursed with an obsession for mortals.  What a coincidence!

129] “O wife of Theseus, illustrious child of Jove". Wasn’t Theseus the son of Poseidon (Neptune)?

 274] “Thou goddess, born of the cruel sea, who art called mother of both Loves,” In case you are wondering the two “erotes” in question are Eros and Himeros, Love and Desire.

 Some interesting proverbs;

  • Nice euphemism for Theseus being trapped in the underworld, "Through the deep shades of the pool which none recrosses is he faring"
  • Freedom near at hand makes the aged brave.”  Freedom from the burdens of life; slavery in her case.  I like this version of the nurse better
  • The mighty god (Eros), lords it o’er all my soul. This winged god rules ruthlessly throughout the earth and inflames Jove himself, wounded with unquenched fires.
  • 222] “Trust not in Death”   Wow!  More fully, “Trust not in Dis. Though he bar his realm, and though the Stygian dog keep guard o’er the grim doors, Theseus alone finds out forbidden ways.”
  • “The wish for healing has ever been the half of health.”








  1. Erotic love as a force of devastation, as usual.

  2. Maya,

    Been there, suffered that! Drove a hundred miles the wrong way thinking about her.

    I love all the stuff about Cupid being all powerful