Plot: Octavia, stepsister and reluctant wife of the Emperor Nero, is to be discarded in favour of his concubine Poppaea. Her life is now in jeopardy, not least because of her popularity with the masses.
My version was from Seneca, The Complete Tragedies, published by University of Chicago Press and edited by Shadi Bartsch (Vol. 1, ISBN 9780226748238). The image attached to this post is meant to represent Nero, and not any current world leader. 😉
My thoughts : This play survived the ages because people believed it was penned by Seneca, and was appended to volumes of his own plays. Modern research now shows that characters in the play speak of events in Nero’s timeline which happened after Seneca’s death. It also features Seneca as a character which would have been a first for literature at this time.
Not a polished play. The first act show Octavia sharing her fears with her nurse, and setting the scene, while the second has Seneca trying to show Nero the honour and mercy that the Emperor could offer, but Nero is too power crazed and arrogant to consider his words. The last third is a jumble of pieces by different characters, possibly intended to be fleshed out into Acts 3, 4 and 5 as was typical of Seneca’s plays. Nero’s mother’s ghost returns to curse the new wedding (Nero had her killed once she had secured his adoption by Claudius and succession as Emperor), Poppaea dreaming of her own death, the news reaching Nero that the crowds are rioting and tearing down statues and calling for Octavia to be restored to the palace, and finally Octavia waiting at the docks for exile to a foreign land where she will be quickly and quietly executed.
Octavia : “Sooner will savage seas be yoked to stars, fire to water, and heaven to grim Tartarus … than my mind, … be yoked to the impious mind of my evil spouse” Day 1, line 222-226.
Nero : The sword will guard the emperor. Seneca : Loyalty is stronger.
Nero : Men should fear Caesar. Seneca : Better if men love him.
Personal rating: An extra point for bringing a new story, 5/10.
Also in these years: (from The Book of Key Facts, Paddington Press, 1978)
Nero kills himself 68 AD. Several contenders for the job opening appear in 69 AD, in what was known as the year of the four emperors. Galba, commander in Spain, declares himself Emperor; while Roman legions in Germany proclaim their general Vitellius as Emperor. Otho, one of Nero’s cronies, kills Galba, and is named Emperor by the Senate, but commits suicide after defeat by Vitellius. Meanwhile, Vespasian, governor of Judea has the support of the eastern provimces, and defeats Vitellius, settling the matter and becoming emperor, founding a new dynasty.
Next : Finally, the New Testament. Essential background for the next two thousand years of Western literature, as Greek mythology has been for the past thousand.