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Dark humour (and Neronian literature)

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Sharon Marshall

on 27 March 2014

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Transcript of Dark humour (and Neronian literature)

Dark humour (and Neronian literature)
Seneca's philosophy
4 BC - AD 65
From 54 to 62 acted as Nero's advisor, together with Burrus
Nero’s early rule quite competent as he listened to Seneca and Burrus
Over time they lost sway
In 59 they reluctantly agreed to murder of Argipinna, Nero’s mother
At death of Burrus in 62 and Seneca retired and devoted his time again to study and writing
65 Seneca caught up in aftermath of Pisonian conspiracy
Seneca's tragedies
Ask us to consider human soul's potential for evil
Do this by confronting us with shocking behavior
Rely on dark humour as vehicle for paradox
Critical response:
'unintentional comicalities'
'dreadful specimen of misplaced cleverness'

The myth
Atreus and Thyestes sons of Pelops
Atreus married Aerope and had two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus
Aerope fell in love with Thyestes and had affair with him
Both men competed for throne of Mycenae
Contest was to be decided by possession of ram with golden fleece
Fleece owned by Atreus, but Aerope stole it and gave it to Thyestes who thus seized power and banished Atreus
After a time Atreus regained power and drove Thyestes into exile
Seeking revenge, Atreus lures Thyestes and his sons back to Mycenae, feigning reconciliation
39-65 AD
Nephew of Seneca
Close friend of Nero, awarded special honours (e.g. quaestorship)
SERIOUS feud (for unknown reason)
In 65 joins Pisonian conspiracy
Black humour:
What is it to be human?
Thomson: "resolved clash of incompatibles"
Involves blurring of fundamental boundaries or distinctions
Leaves us at once amused and disturbed
Self-consciously invites us to examine our response
Traditional tenets of Stoic philosophy:
the universe is governed for the best by a rational providence
contentment is achieved through a simple life in accordance with nature and duty to the state
human suffering should be accepted and has a beneficial effect on the soul
study and learning are important

Dark humour in the
Bellum Civile
"Thus Lycidas was pierced by a grappling-iron that hurled its swift hooks on board. He would have sunk in the sea, but for his comrades who seized his legs as they swung in air. He was torn asunder and his blood gushed out, not trickling as from a wound, but raining on all sides from his severed arteries; and the free play of the life coursing through the different limbs was cut off by the water. No other victim's life escaped through so wide a channel."
Bellum Civil
e III, 635-642)
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