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About The Play

Lucius Annaeus Seneca’s Oedipus, freely adapted by Professor Michael Elliot Rutenberg, is the first translation of this Roman tragedy to interpolate excerpts from Seneca’s moral philosophies into the text. This juxtaposition of Seneca’s calm, rational thought with the passionate, highly theatrical language of his play, creates an exciting synergy of powerful emotional and intellectual appeal.

Unlike Aristotle who, in exploring the nature of tragedy cites human imperfection as its cause, Seneca believes that human beings live at the whim of blind chance or divine will. The Roman playwright and philosopher is not interested in placing blame for misfortune on human imperfection as is his Greek predecessor; he is interested in how we face tragedy not of our own making. For Seneca, we may not always be in control of what happens to us, but we have the capacity to control our response to it. His central tenet is that we must try to find the strength to accept suffering with dignity, courage, and mercy. This philosophy seems as relevant today in a world filled with repeated horrors against those who are innocent, as it was in ancient times.

The text includes an introduction comparing ancient Greek and Roman drama, historical references to the plague as symbol, a retrospective of the evolution of the Sphinx from benign guardian to its later incarnation as an image of evil, similarities between Seneca’s Stoicism and early Judaic/Christian theology, and approaches to presenting the play for modern audiences.