188. The Phoenician Women by Seneca (65 AD)


Oedipus wanders the countryside, blinded by his own hand, and seeking his own death after learning of his actions in Thebes, guided and protected only by his daughter Antigone. Meanwhile his sons Eteocles and Polynices are at war for the throne, held apart from coming to blows only by their mother Jocasta placing herself litrerally between their swords.

My version was in Seneca, The Complete Tragedies, published by University of Chicago Press and edited by Shadi Bartsch (Vol. 1, ISBN 9780226748238)

My thoughts :

Not only is this play unfinished (two Acts at  best, ending abruptly, and missing the chorus which would otherwise be suggested by the play’s title) but it also may well be two fragments from different plays, as Antigone appears in both settings simultaneously.

The story of the two brothers going to war against each other was told five hundred years earlier in the plays Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus, and The Phoenician Women by Euripides.

What stands out in this fragment is Antigone’s devotion to her father, refusing to leave his side and deterring him from his urge to end his wretched life. They reminded me of Shakespeare’s Cordelia and King Lear.

“No force will ever loose my grasp upon your body, Father; nobody will ever rob you of my company. The glorious house and wealthy realms of Labdacus – my brothers can fight for them ; the prize possession in my father’s mighty realm belongs to me – my father, and he will not be taken from me…. “                               Antigone lines 51-56

 “My daughter, why prostrate yourself at my knees in tears? …. Only you can melt my hardened feelings, only you in this our house can teach me natural love. Nothing that I know you want is onerous or painful for me. Just give the word: this Oedipus will swim across the Aegean waters at your command, he’ll swallow down the flames that earth spews from the Sicilian mountain, … he’ll offer up his liver to the vultures, at your command he’ll even stay alive.”                                                                     Oedipus, lines 306, 309-319

 As a father with a lovely daughter myself, this spoke to me.

Personal rating:  Not really worth pursuing as it is only a fragment. I’ll give it a 4, but perhaps more if it had been complete, especially the first half with Oedipus and Antigone.

Next :  A change of pace from all this tragedy : The Satyricon by Petronius

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