I've been reading Seneca since July and I've just finished one collection of his plays - Four Tragedies and Octavia which include ThyestesPhaedraTrojan WomenOedipus, and Octavia, which was the final play of the collection (there are still quite a few Seneca plays I've not yet read, I've by no means finished with Seneca!). There's no consensus that Seneca the Younger actually did write Octavia and there's a theory it was in fact written after his death by one of his followers. Nevertheless, a fascinating play.

It tells the story of Claudia Octavia, an empress of Rome who was married to Nero. She was the daughter of the Emperor Claudius (and so also the stepsister of Nero) and Valeria Messalina, who was executed in 48 A.D. for conspiring to kill Claudius who had gone on to marry Agrippina the Younger, Nero's mother. On Claudius' death Nero ascended the throne having, it's thought, poisoned Octavia's brother Britannicus (his story is told in Racine's Britannicus) and later, he murdered Agrippina. Unsurprisingly, the marriage of Octavia and Nero was unhappy, and the author of Octavia tells of how Nero had grown tired of his wife and wished instead to marry his mistress Poppaea. Octavia is shown waiting for her death, and we also see Nero discussing the matter with Seneca who urges him not to divorce Octavia but instead to control his urges. He is of course unable to do so; Octavia is executed, and Nero marries Poppaea.

Having read Octavia I went on to read a little about Poppaea. I was not at all surprised to learn that she had died suddenly whilst pregnant, quite possibly because, during an argument, Nero kicked her in the stomach. The play is very moving, Octavia is very much a victim, troubled it would seem all her life with violence and pain. I couldn't possibly comment on whether Seneca did write it or not, but it certainly is in his style: tragedy mixed philosophy. I very much enjoyed it.

And that was my 41st title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Why I Write by George Orwell.


  1. I have not read Seneca at all'; in fact my reading of Roman Literature is very limited. However my Grandmother, really really liked his works and said that he fleshed out the characters very well. I think I will pick up one of his plays soon! So no surprising as to what happened to Princess Poppaea! But still its tragic, both her and Octavia's faith!

    1. Certainly is tragic. I do like Seneca - looking forward to more of his works. And I've not read a vast amount of Roman works either - I'm always more drawn to the Greeks for some reason :)


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