[SydPhil] SHAPE Talk: Rick Benitez, 17th May, 10.30am USYD

David Macarthur david.macarthur at sydney.edu.au
Tue May 14 10:53:30 AEST 2013

This week’s SHAPE talk will be by Prof. Rick Benitez whose presentation is titled The Distorted Face of Desire—Aesthetics and Emotion in Seneca’s Tragedies

Of all the Stoic philosophers, Seneca expresses the most categorical opposition to passion.  Strangely, however, his tragedies are replete with speeches that convey the most extreme, most vehement, and most unruly emotions. The difficulty, then, is to explain the function of emotion in Seneca's tragedies. The most common sort of explanation offered is a therapeutic explanation, according to which Seneca's surreal and nightmarish images communicate directly to passionate, irrational people, with the aim of showing them, through empathy, how dangerous emotion can be. I argue that this explanation is neither consistent with Seneca's general views, nor with what we know about his intended audience. A much better explanation is that Seneca's tragedies are intended as tonics that provide stable reminders of the evils of emotion to already dispassionate people. Emotions are expressed in Seneca's tragedies, but they are not intended even to be felt, let alone appreciated. For Seneca, there is no lesson to be learned through suffering, and in that sense his tragedies are deeply anti-tragic.

Time: 10.30am, Fri May 17

Place: Philosophy Common Room, Main Quad, USYD.


Dr. David Macarthur | Senior Lecturer & UG Coordinator
Philosophy Department | SOPHI
University of Sydney, 2006 | Australia
Ph: +61-2-9351-3193

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