Breaking the natural limits given by the sea: the case of the Roman Empire and its tragedy in the Medea of Seneca.

Alex Tonnetti
  ekklego@gmail.com
  
Alex Tonnetti
  ekklego@gmail.com; tonna246@newschool.edu
  The New School Social Research

Abstract

Alex Tonnetti
The New School of Social Research
ekklego@gmail.com, tonna246@newschool.edu

Breaking the natural limits given by the sea: the case of the Roman Empire and its tragedy in the Medea of Seneca.

The paper discusses Seneca’s thought on the Roman empire. Especially his tragedy Medea offers a cogent and poetic argument about the danger of the empire for subverting the traditional or natural order provided by the Mediterranean seas during millennia of ancient civilization. When the empire expands and reaches over lands until then so well kept apart, it obeys to a principle of unification and centralization (which Rome since then epitomized). The chorus’ lamentation for a vanishing ancient age made of many different cultures and kingdoms, kept apart from each other by natural limits, is an argument of delegitimization, where phusis, nature, is opposed to nomos, the artificial law. The Mediterranean sea’s limits are broken leading to a dangerous upheaval of the ancient order, one from which it will not be possible to come back. The upheaval is not just social and economic, but even more threatening is its following moral and psychological chaos, as the figure of Medea exemplifies. The tragedy of Medea draws on imperial Rome's boundless growth making echo to the growing insanity of despotas like Nero. Seneca’s interpretation of the drama, earlier brought to the stage by Euripides and others, are nurtured by his experience as a statesman, witness and major critic of Roman society. The case will bring up cases of modern historiography and philosophy on parallel issues of ancient and modern empires, boundless growth and social instability, situating in a modern context Marx’ thought on ancient Rome and the reasons of its fall.

poetic representation of fear - Limits to capital - justice - Historiography - Gender