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Seminar Latin: Seneca’s Agamemnon


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics), with differential requirements.


Seneca’s tragedies are the only Roman tragedies which have been fully transmitted to us. However, compared to what we know about Greek tragedy, they are very special: we read extremely long en detailed speeches, extremely short and sharp dialogues; and the presentation of the mythical stories show an unusual fascination for cruelty.

Seneca’s tragedies were written after a centuries-long development of theatrical performances – a development that can be traced back to the early, preliterary performances of impovisation theatre in the fourth century BC in Italy and ‘officially’ started, when Livius Andronicus performed the first literary Latin theatreplays. Even though there is only scarce information about early Roman tragedy, it is obvious that the Roman traditions (and not only Greek, Attic, tragedy) did have an impact on Seneca’s specific approach to tragedy. Secondly, Seneca writes his tragedies in a very special context: he writes them in a societal environment that is extremeley theatrical and doesn’t show clear boundaries between art and life. In the imperial period, ‘art’ and literature are far from belonging to an autonomous domain, that would have its own realm and rules; artistic (specifically: dramatic) practices are rather inseparable from (other) societal practices, such as politics. Finally, the recipients – and the expectations – Seneca wants to address, are quite different from the audience of Attic tragedy. As a consequence, theoretical approaches or concepts, such as katharsis or the tragic paradox, can only partly be used to understand the specific techniques and effects of Senecan tragedy.

In our seminar we shall focus on Seneca’s Agamemnon. We shall discuss how Seneca reacts to the theatralization at the time, and what kind of audience he has in mind, when employing techniques (e.g. enargeia, ecphrasis, stichomythia) in order to describe as well as to ‘perform’ violence by language. And we shall explore how – and why – Seneca re-worked the literary traditions of the ‘Pelops-family’ – and how he reacted to Roman adaptations of the myth such as the tragedies of Livius Andronicus and Accius (which to us have be transmitted as fragments only).

Students who want to take part in this seminar, are required to have read the Latin text of Seneca Agamemnon (Zwierlein, O. ed. 1986. L. Annaei Senecae tragoediae. Oxford) in advance.

Students are required to regularly write short commentaries on a selection of passages or fragments and to submit their commentaries via the discussionboard.

In short oral mini-presentations you will e.g. describe a relevant context or a theoretical approach.

Course objectives

  • Survey Roman tragedy, history of Roman drama (including pre- and non-literal dramatic forms)

  • Aesthetic theory, concepts of art in the imperial period, art versus ‘non-art’

  • Theory of drama and history of crucial concepts (mimesis, imitatio, katharsis)

  • Reconstructions of Fragments

  • Advanced research skills: independent formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials (both primary texts and results of earlier research). Analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.

  • Critical assessment of secondary literature;

  • Oral presentation: presenting clearly and making effective use of hand-outs, illustrations and/or multi-media techniques; responding to the argumentation of one of the papers and chairing the discussion

  • Written presentation: setting out research results effectively, clearly and in a well-structured manner.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method


10 EC

  • Active participation, preparation of the pensum

  • Short oral or written presentations

  • Short written paper (1000 words)

  • Written paper (5000 words; You can either choose a different topic or include (a revised version of) your 1000 words-paper, i.e. submit a paper of 6000 words (which then counts 60% of your final grade).

5 EC

  • Active participation, preparation of the pensum

  • Short oral or written presentations

  • Short written paper (1000 words)


10 EC

  • Participation: 20%

  • Short oral or written presentations: 20%

  • Short paper (1000 words): 10%

  • Paper (5000 words): 50%

5 EC

  • Participation: 40%

  • Short oral or written presentations: 40%

  • Short paper (1000 words): 20%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the Paper must always be sufficent.


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, either the written exam or the paper can be repeated after consultation with the teacher. The marks for the oral presentation and the response will still count in such a case.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Please note:
Seneca’s Agamemnon (as well as other passages from Seneca’s tragedies) will be read in the OCT-edition. All students are required to bring their own exemplar and to have read Seneca’s Agamemnon in Latin in advance.
Edition: Zwierlein, O. ed. 1986, L. Annaei Senecae tragodiae. Oxford.


  • Tarrant, R. J. 2004: Seneca Agamemnon. Cambridge.

  • Boyle, A.J. 2019. Seneca: Agamemnon. Edited with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. Oxford.

Introductory literature to Seneca and Seneca’s tragedies

  • Bartsch, S. and Schiesaro, A. edd. 2015. Seneca. Cambridge.

  • Boyle, A.J. 2006. Roman Tragedy. London/ New York (on Seneca: pp. 189-218).

  • Fitch, J.G. ed. 2008. Seneca. Oxford Readings in Classical Studies. Oxford.

Research literature (a bibliography will be provided at the seminar)

  • Wessels, A. 2014: Ästhetisierung und ästhetische Erfahrung von Gewalt. Eine Untersuchung zu Senecas Tragödien. Heidelberg.

Seneca’s other tragedies can be read in translation, e.g.:

  • Fitch, J.G. ed. trans. 2004. Seneca Tragedies, 2 vols., vol. 1: Hercules; Trojan Women; Phoenician women; Medea; Phaedra; vol. 2: Oedipus , Agamemnon, Thyestes, Hercules on Oeta, Octavia Cambridge/Mass.

  • Schrijvers, P. trans. 2014-2015. Seneca Tragedies, deel 1: Medea; Phaedra; Trojaanse vrouwen, deel 2: Thyestes, Agamemnon, Oedipus, Hercules. Groningen.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte.
Registration Contractonderwijs.

Not applicable.


Prof.dr. A.B. Wessels


Not applicable.