Hunting in Seneca’s Phaedra

Alin Mocanu


Seneca, in his tragedy Phaedra, created an elegiac character using, among other elegiac conventions, the amorous hunting. His Phaedra turns into an aggressive erotic predator who wants to “hunt” Hippolytus whom she is in love with. The prologue of Phaedra connects the play with elegiac poetry through the extensive use of venery description, because it highlights Hippolytus’ attitude to love: the young man sees the forest as a place of reclusive solitude where he can hide from frenetic passion. The prologue to Phaedra is also important from a spatial point of view, for Seneca associates his two main characters with a fundamental difference in locale that recalls the roman elegiac paraclausithyron, where the lover tries, without success, to penetrate into his beloved’s intimate space, the house. Furthermore, Seneca reverses the relationship between the lovers: Hippolytus becomes the beloved, Phaedra, the lover, thus inverting the gender roles of normal erotic elegy. At the same time, he amplifies this convention, making it the main theme of his tragedy, for Phaedra has a fundamental impact on the play’s action through her desperate attempts to conquer her stepson. Roman love elegy often associates the lover, the feeble man, with the hunter, while representing the beloved, the dominant woman, as his prey. Seneca goes further, because Hippolytus, the true hunter, becomes the erotic prey, while the female character takes on the role of the erotic predator. In this way, Seneca justifies the reversal of the male and the female characters’ roles in his use of the elegiac theme of hunting.

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