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Reviewed by:
  • Seneca: Medea ed. by A. J. Boyle
  • Christopher Star
A. J. Boyle (ed.). Seneca: Medea. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. cl, 481. $199.00. ISBN 978-0-19-960208-7.

After producing editions of Octavia (Oxford, 2008) and Seneca’s Oedipus (Oxford, 2011), Boyle has now given us a similarly ambitious volume of Seneca’s Medea. It consists of a lengthy introduction, an original Latin text with facing translation, and a detailed commentary, followed by a bibliography and indices. This edition is aimed at a wide audience and will be of great value not only to scholars in classics, but also to those in modern languages and theater.

The introduction is divided into ten sections and includes discussions of Seneca’s life, literary style, philosophy, Roman theater, myth, and meter. The longest sections treat the play and its reception. In his analysis of the play, Boyle describes Medea as an outsider and barbarian who nevertheless shows the paradoxes and fragility of civilization (lxxix). Boyle also provides enlightening discussions of the portrayal of psychology in Medea, but he does not believe that the play is directly connected to Seneca’s Stoicism (xix). As a result, the question of the play’s relationship to Seneca’s prose works is not treated as fully or judiciously as other topics. Boyle’s discussion of Senecan philosophy looks at On Anger and the connection between anger and revenge. After outlining thirty-two propositions from this treatise, Boyle states that fourteen of the propositions are problematized by either or both Medea and Thyestes, without explaining how this is so (lx).

The translation is in verses of varying length, which aim to approximate the meters used by Seneca (cxlix–cl). It reads well and offers an interesting mix of antiquated and colloquial English. Throughout Medea’s frequent prayers and divine invocations, Boyle uses the archaic second-person forms (i.e., “thou,” “thy,” “thee,” and “ye”), which he notes are “familiar to us from the King James Bible and the English-language Christian liturgy of (most of) the twentieth century” (102). Some readers may find this usage and explanation out of place. Seneca does not use archaic forms in his addresses to the gods. Often a “thou” translates a tu. The connection to the Christian bible and liturgy does not seem justified given the very unchristian nature of this play.

Less regularly, the language is informal. For example, at the play’s end, Medea’s recipe iam natos, parens (1024) is rendered “take back your sons now, daddy.” In his commentary on this passage, Boyle notes that his translation “partly alludes to Silvia [sic] Plath’s famous poem ‘Daddy’ (in Ariel 1965), in which ‘daddy’ has some of the dark, acrid resonance of Medea’s parens” (385). An interesting choice and explanation, but the translation is not unique. E. R. Wilson (Seneca: Six Tragedies [Oxford 2010] 101) translates parens similarly.

As this connection to Plath’s poetry suggests, Boyle not only draws links between Seneca’s play and classical works, but also relates it to more contemporary ones. For example, he provides a four-page list of post-1900 Medeas that includes dramas, sculptures, ballets, poems, novels, a “song album,” and a TV mini-series (cxxiv–cxxxvii). As Boyle notes, “Medea has become a truly global myth” (cxxxvii). Throughout, Boyle shows how Seneca’s Medea is, along with Euripides’s play, one of the most influential links in the long development of this fact. His translation and commentary will enable those with little or no Latin to study the play in detail, and his ample stage directions and discussion of the problems of staging should encourage performances and performance criticism. [End Page 586]

Globalization has its cost, however, as Seneca’s play demonstrates. Because Boyle reaches out to so wide an audience, students of Latin are not as well served as they could be. It is not that Boyle neglects to treat grammatical, philological, and metrical questions. The main problem is the inclusion of English translations next to the original in the commentary. This editorial choice detracts from this book’s usefulness in the Latin classroom. Thus, as Boyle notes of the play itself...


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