Seneca's Oedipus is a work which matters. It is the only ancient Roman play to survive—indeed, excluding the youthful Julius Caesar's lost Oedipus, it is the only ancient Roman play attested—on one of the most important and enduring myths of European intellectual history. It is poetically experimental, intellectually complex, and theatrically spectacular. Its themes include the psychology of guilt, fear, and reason, the ethics and limits of power, the order of fate and history, the nature of tragic theatre. Its impact on the European dramatic tradition has been immense. Dramatists such as Mussato, Anguillara, Kyd, Hughes, Shakespeare, Marston, Jonson, Chapman, Corneille, Tesauro, Racine, Dryden and Lee, and Voltaire parade its influence. Even Sidney's Apologie for Poetrie (1595) quotes it. In modern times the play's influence has perhaps most been felt through its adaptation by Ted Hughes for the 1968 National Theatre production in London, directed by Peter Brook—which was followed three years later by the version of the Belgian dramatist and film-maker Hugo Claus (1971). But the influence of the Senecan play may be found throughout the twentieth century not only in drama, but in song, opera, prose fiction, psychoanalytic theory, and film.
This is the first full-scale critical edition of Seneca's Oedipus with commentary to appear in English. Recent editions of the play with commentary or at least extensive notes may be found in German (1994 and 1983), Italian (two in 1993), and French (1999, the recent Budé edition), but not in English, though several translations have appeared. The most recent English-language edition of Oedipus, that of John Fitch in the Loeb Classical Library (2004), in accordance with the format for the series supplies very few notes and no commentary. The present edition has a more ambitious remit. It offers a substantial introduction, a new Latin text (with thirty-six different readings from the Zwierlein Oxford text of 1986), an English verse translation designed for both performance and serious study, and a detailed commentary on the play which is exegetic, analytic, and interpretative. The format is identical to that which I adopted in my edition of Octavia (Oxford 2008). The aim again has been to elucidate the text pg xdramatically as well as philologically, and to locate the play firmly in its contemporary historical and theatrical context and in the ensuing literary and dramatic tradition. The edition should prove useful to drama students, to Latin students at every stage of the language, to professional scholars of Classics, Drama, and Comparative Literature—and to anyone interested in the cultural dynamics of literary reception and in the interplay between theatre and history.
Like all new editions of classical texts the present one owes much to previous editions—far more than the selective citation of them would suggest. I am especially indebted to the erudition and philological exactitude of Karlheinz Töchterle's 1994 Heidelberg edition. Despite my disagreement with him on innumerable issues, large and small, my debts to Töchterle will be evident throughout the commentary. Vincent Farenga (USC), John Henderson (King's College, Cambridge), Gesine Manuwald (University College, London), Helen Morales (UCSB), and Joseph Smith (SDSU) read earlier drafts of parts or all of this book and offered critical advice. Francis Cairns 'tested' the translation on his Senecan tragedy class at Florida State University in Fall 2009. In the book's final stages Lisl Walsh (USC) provided exemplary assistance. I thank them all sincerely. Responsibility for errors of fact or judgement which the book contains stays firmly with me. I should also like to thank Routledge for permission to use some rewritten material from my Tragic Seneca (London 1997) and Roman Tragedy (London 2006) and Francis Cairns Publications for permission to reuse some material from my Seneca's Troades (Leeds 1994) in various parts of the Introduction. Section II of the Introduction, 'The Roman Theatre', is an updated version of the similarly titled section in the Introduction to my Octavia (OUP, Oxford 2008).
I am again obligated to two great educational institutions: Cambridge University, whose libraries I have used with profit, most especially the library of the Classics Faculty; and the University of Southern California, whose many years of institutional and collegial support (including on this occasion a sabbatical leave in the spring of 2008) have assisted greatly.
USC, Los Angeles
Winter Solstice 2009