Steps to acquiring godhood : ritual and divinity in Seneca's Medea
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This thesis argues for the importance of ritual and analyzes its use in Seneca’s Medea, emphasizing Act 4’s importance and its relevance for understanding Medea’s actions and identity in Act 5. I employ the ritual methodologies of Catherine Bell and Bruce Kapferer, and broader context of Roman religion, to argue that Medea uses ritual to transform herself, culminating in sacrificial murders which make her a divinity, escaping the mortal realm by the end of the play. Focusing first on prayer, I exhibit how it structures the mortal’s position with respect to divinities according to a recognizably ‘lived’ experience of its first century CE audience. Subsequently, I show how the magic ritual of Act 4 portrays Medea as a powerful sorceress and actively stages ritual to augment her existing power, entering her into the divine realm. I emphasize her divine heritage and special bond with Hecate as crucial factors to her success. Lastly, I posit that the child-murders of Act 5 function as a sacrifice that re-integrates Medea with her birth family, severs her from mortal community, and designates her as a vengeful deity. I build upon Senecan scholarship by suggesting a progressive arc for the play and treating ritual seriously. My work faces ritual as lived experience, one demanding the full engagement of the participant’s mind and matter. Contextualizing within Roman religion, I explore how ritual functions as a communication method between humans and gods. This ritual analysis also illuminates the interconnectedness of magic and public cult, casting doubt on the dominant assumption that any ritual performed in isolation is magical. Furthermore, I analyze the sacrificial murders to comment on perversion in Roman religion. I thus show the play’s embeddedness in early Imperial Rome’s culture and indicate that Seneca uses this to speak to the terrifying concept of abusing power.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 Internationalhttp://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/
Embargo Date: 2024-06-03
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 3rd June 2024
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