Jealousy, betrayal, revenge, murder, cannibalism, the struggle for power. These are some of the themes in the ancient drama Thyestes by Seneca the Younger, which we will be reading together this summer. If you like Game of Thrones, you’ll like this play, which is about the contentious relationship between brothers, Atreus and Thyestes.
They are part of the legendary House of Atreus, which you may have learned about in your Latin class. The family is cursed when Tantalus tries to feed his son, Pelops, to the gods. Pelops is the father of our characters, whose crimes we will return to in a moment. Atreus is the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus, the leaders of the Greeks in the Trojan War who weren’t so nice. The curse ends when Agamemnon’s son, Orestes, murders his mother, Clytemnestra, because she murdered Agamemnon. Confused? Yeah, the family’s pretty complicated.
It’s complicated between Atreus and Thyestes, too. Thyestes was having an affair with Atreus’ wife and used her to take the throne of Mycenae. Atreus, betrayed and full of rage, took the throne back and banished his brother. It is at this point that our play begins. Atreus feels the need for more vengeance, so he comes up with an evil plan. On the pretense of reconciliation, he invites Thyestes and his sons back to Mycenae. He then commits what Seneca calls both nefas and scelus: he murders his nephews, turns them into stew, and tricks Thyestes into eating them.
Seems excessive, right? That’s one of the many things Seneca wanted out of this play. Seneca was an advisor to the (infamous) emperor, Nero, as well as a Stoic philosopher. Stoicism focuses on controlling one’s emotions, which Nero struggled with and the character Atreus does, too. Though this is an oversimplification of the brilliance of Thyestes, it can be viewed as a cautionary tale about the consequences of giving into emotion.
Seneca’s philosophical works include De Ira, De Brevitate Vitae, and De Clementia. I would like for us to look at the philosophical themes of Seneca’s tragedy, which is why I titled this class De Scelere.
Get ready for some dark, gruesome, and thought-provoking reading. If you’re interested in doing some reading before Academy begins, I recommend any of Seneca’s tragedies (particularly Troades and Medea). It might also be helpful for you to read up on the House of Atreus if you do not have much background in mythology. Seneca had a fascinating life, so you might also be interested in reading about him.
I look forward to meeting you in June!
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This blog will document the MMXVII session of the Virginia Governor's Latin Academy. After elections are held, the aediles will be responsible for its upkeep.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgOffice Phone: (804) 496-1589
c/o Governor's Latin Academy
P.O. Box 5005
Ashland, VA 23005
Download these and use them to help with packing:
GLA Clothing Checklist
GLA Essentials Checklist
GLA School Supplies & Optional Checklist
Again, these are not required and I would only get one from each category, if any.
a. Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency
b. Cassell's Concise Latin-English, English-Latin Dictionary
c. Collins Latin Concise Dictionary
a. Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners
b. Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon Abridged
c. Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary
Daily Life Books
a. Everyday Life in Ancient Rome
b. Peoples of the Roman World
c. A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome
d. Daily Life in the Roman City
You will need Roman clothing for several of our activities. You might not always have much time between these events, so you might want to bring more than one outfit.
An Overview I & II
Simple Tunica, Stola, and Palla Patterns
Legio XX's Civilian Clothing
Another Simple Dress Pattern
Simple Tunic and Toga Patterns
Legio XX's Military Clothing
Officers of the Academy
Censors: Xavier W. and Frances H.
Consuls: Hannah K. and Sayeed A.
Praetor: Jake B. and Claire M.
Aedile: Britney P. and Caroline M. (that’s us!)
Tribune: Ana S. and Min Jae K.
Quaestor: Anna L. and Charlie M-B