Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (the King) and Seneca’s Oedipus
Contrary to Sophocles’ Oedipus that was written to the Greeks, a peaceful and wise audience, Seneca’s Oedipus was written to the Romans, a militaristic and violent community. Seneca successfully appeals to the elements of Roman literature; therefore, Edith Hamilton in The Roman Way calls him the “Father of sentimental drama.” Seneca wrote the play in around 50 AD about 480 years after Sophocles’ production. The Roman audience responded to a melodramatic plot rather than the tragic theme of the former Oedipus. Seneca, in rewriting the play Oedipus makes significant adjustments to suit the Roman audience, particularly plot and style changes.
Melodrama in this sense (compared to tragedy) draws forth more of an emotional, pitiful reaction and any evidence of fear is removed; on the contrary, the emotion of pity is exaggerated and stressed. The Greek wisdom and their capability to see beauty in all life created a desire for tragedy which draws forth reactions of both pity and fear; according to the Greeks, tragedy portrays mankind at his finest, standing tall among suffering and capable of heroism by overcoming evil. Edith Hamilton in The Roman Way says, “ . . . the unfamiliar and the extraordinary were on the whole repellent to them (the Greeks) and they detested every form of exaggeration.” She goes on to say, “Greek tragedy had no appeal as the Romans understood the words.” The Romans viewed life as cheap, almost worthless; therefore, to appeal to this audience, Seneca made fate seem merciless, while Sophocles suggested a tragic flaw, indicating the partial fault of the character.
The plot of Sophocles’ and Seneca’s Oedipus are much the same. Oedipus’ parents cast him away to die at an early age because they discover his fate to murder his father and marry his mother. A compassionate shepherd passes the child on to Polybus and Meropé, King and Queen of Corinth. When Oedipus is informed of his fate, he flees from his supposed parents in an attempt to evade fulfilling his destiny. Along the journey, he encounters his true father, Laios, King of Thebes. Oedipus is not aware of this, however, and kills Laios. Oedipus continues on to Thebes, answers a riddle to release the city from a fatal plague, and is made King of Thebes, thus marrying his mother, Jocasta. Years later to escape another plague, Oedipus discovers the unbearable truth, so he blinds himself and Jocasta kills herself.
Plot changes in Seneca’s Oedipus occur primarily at the closing of the play; however, Seneca slightly added to and deleted speeches throughout the play. Jocasta attempts to convince Oedipus, “Fate’s is the blame: no man can sin by / Fate.” The concept of fate was added to many conversations to assist in removing the emotion of fear. The play concludes before the audience supposes there is any other factor aside from fate inducing any misfortune. One of the final statements of...