Wrestling anger: An investigation into Seneca’s approach to the management of passion through Stoic philosophy

Alexandra Frost

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

This thesis asks how passions, in particular anger, can be managed through practising Stoic philosophy. I explore the role of the Stoic theory of passions in Seneca’s writing and situate him within Stoic theory. I explore how Medea and Thyestes reflect his vision of anger communicated in De Ira and De Clementia by treating his protagonists as case-studies of individuals with extreme anger to assess whether they could be improved by Stoicism.
Chapter One situates Seneca within the Stoic theory of passions by considering how he responds to his predecessors, how he follows orthodox doctrines, how he was influenced by later thinkers and where he advances philosophical doctrines. Chapter Two analyses anger in De Ira and De Clementia and compares Stoic perceptions with those of Aristotle and the Epicureans and compares its presentation in Seneca’s prose and dramas. Chapter Three considers how to extirpate anger according to the advice offered in Seneca’s moral essays. It traces the techniques’ origins, considering whether they are philosophical, depend on Stoic doctrines, if they are practical solutions or a combination. I critique their feasibility as remedies for passions. Chapter Four presents the Stoic elements pertinent to passions in the selected plays. It explores the anti-Stoic interpretation of Senecan drama, the reasons for philosophy’s prevalence and how his drama reflects his moral theory. Chapter Five asks whether Medea and Atreus reflect a Stoic perspective and how they would benefit by adopting a philosophical outlook. It considers possible audience responses and identifies potential ‘cures’ and whether the characters attempt to address their anger.
In conclusion, I accept Seneca’s account of anger and deduce that practising Stoic techniques can help remove anger. While the opportunity for cures in the characters is not applied, the educative function of Senecan drama invites the audience to learn from the protagonists’ failures.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationPh.D.
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Sheppard, Anne, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 8 May 2018

Keywords

  • Seneca
  • adfectus
  • anger
  • Stoicism

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