Since my undergraduate thesis on accounts of the wisdom of Silenus, the tutor of Dionysus, I have been fascinated by how Greeks and Romans represented and transmitted divine speech. My research targets figures like poets, prophets, and philosophers who channel the gods or who become completely overwhelmed with divine inspiration as gods speak through them. I am attracted to the idea of larger forces operating through human agents and dissolving the boundaries of individual identity.
My dissertation is a series of close readings of Seneca’s speeches in persona in his philosophical prose. I argue that Seneca takes on the creative role of divine reason, the guiding force behind the Stoic cosmos, by speaking through the voices of his characters. At the same time, he illustrates his and his characters’ harmony with divine reason, through speech, a faculty ancient thinkers associated especially with human rationality. Based on the Stoic belief that the voice is part of the material soul, I argue that Seneca’s rhetorical choices evoke the physical basis of Stoic virtue.
In the monograph that I am preparing based on my dissertation, I argue that Senecan philosophy does not just transmit information or provide moral exempla; I argue that reading the text and seeing it performed changes the material condition of the souls of Seneca’s audience, from a Stoic perspective. Further, I argue that Seneca’s own transformations into different characters mirror the transformation his readers undergo as they read and/or hear the text. Through this mirroring, Seneca calls their attention to their shared identity as particles of divine reason and encourages them to dissociate from their wealth, age, social status, and even, at times, their gender. By combining literary analysis with a view towards embodied reading practices, I aim to shed new light on Seneca’s philosophical project.