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Chapter Five
Krasis , the Flame and the Moist

"A drop of wine penetrates the whole ocean."[1] This is Chrysippus's. way (SVF 2.479 and 480) of illustrating one of the extreme consequences of the Stoic doctrine of cosmic cohesiveness. He taught that bodies could be combined in one of three different ways: by mechanical juxtaposition, parathesis; by the generation of a new body from two old ones, sunchusis; or by a blend in which the identities of the two blended substances persist, krasis (SVF 2.473, 475, and passim).[2] Of the three species of combining substances, the last, krasis, coextension, is the most radical development of the idea of sumpatheia . In Chrysippus's example, it is not just the case that there is not a single molecule of sea water that is not bonded with wine, but the reverse is also true: every particle of wine is mixed with water. This completes the lesson that may be drawn from other formulations of sumpatheia: on one interpretation, body, in Stoic physics, has neither extremity nor beginning nor end but infinite extension (SVF 2.485), and there is no contact between bodies, only krasis and interpenetration (SVF 2.487).[3]

Senecan drama is replete with extraordinary demonstrations of krasis . Here is one example. The nurse tells Medea that she is alone and defenseless; Medea answers:

Medea superest; hic mare et terras vides
ferrumque et ignes et deos et fulmina.

Medea is alive. In me you find both sea
And land and fire and sword and gods and thunderbolts.
(Med 166–67)


One modern critic speaks of Seneca's literal and figurative running together of sea and land.[4] He distinguishes this from Euripides' less conflationary practice. I would stress "literal" over "figurative." Krasis, coextension, removes the need for figurality and comparison, though the poetic speech often appears to retain the traditional forms of linkage. In any case, the dramatic figurality is based on the literal acceptance of krasis in the Stoa. Another example, which will come up again in another context,[5] is the brief hubristic career of the lesser Ajax in Agamemnon 532–56. Here we have a Herculean character built into a storm, to enhance our sense of its fury. Ajax embraces the lightning and becomes lightning himself:

dirimit insanum mare
fluctusque rumpit pectore et navem manu
complexus ignes traxit et caeco mari
conlucet Aiax; omne resplendet fretum.

he breasts the raging sea;
Head-on he breaks the waves. Grappling the ship
He trails a burst of fire on the lightless brine:
Ajax burns bright, and the ocean blazes back.
(Aga 540–43)

The storm itself is relevant. It is the cosmic counterpart both to the Trojan War and, more significantly, to the inner war in Clytaemestra. For the time being, the storm is a surrogate for the queen's fury; the two occupy the same imaginary space. R. D. Laing's "engulfment" and "implosion," categories explored in his The Divided Self, are modern analogues to the psychological and aesthetic implications of krasis .[6] The craving for fusions, seemingly at odds with literary and dramatic selectivity, is part of the power of the Senecan vision.

Coextension would seem to fly in the face of the Aristotelian, commonsense assumption of identity, according to which no two bodies can occupy the same space, an assumption argued with great force and much rancor by the most important of the ancient critics of Stoic krasis, Alexander of Aphrodisias (ca. 200 of our era).[7] Logically, there is also a distinction between coextension and that aspect of sumpatheia according to which one body or substance influences or affects


another. But the formula "body passes through body"—soma dia somatos chorei (SVF 2.469)—indicates the affinity of sumpatheia and krasis (and, consequently, change). However distinct in terms of logical definition, the two models are mutually supportive, as we shall see when the various concepts we have been discussing are tested against the Senecan material. Stoic tonos further authenticates the assumption that one and the same unit of space can be occupied by more than one object.[8]

The most celebrated and most discussed homogenization of this sort is that of body and soul, both of them corporeal, though the soul is a more rarified substance.[9] But in addition to this ancient challenge to the mind-body dualism, the imperial Stoic texts insist on the coextension of all sorts of pairs of seeming opposites and irreconcilables, including life and death, the special condition always being that in this integration the two merged identities or substances are preserved as identities. Coextension was to bear marvelous fruit in much of the mannerist writing of the Stoic Renaissance. This is how Chapman describes two lines of swordsmen lining up against each other:

Every man's look showed, fed with either's spirit,
As one had been a mirror to another,
Like forms of life and death; each took from other;
And so were life and death mixed at their heights,
That you could see no fear of death, for life,
Nor love of life, for death . . .
(Bussy D'Ambois 2.1.45–50)

To be sure, in the next line Chapman cites as the authority for the thought that life and death "in all respects are one" the Skeptic Pyrrho. But in fact Pyrrho could also be quoted for the opposite opinion, or for the opinion that nothing meaningful could be said about either life or death. The possibility of thinking that life and death are consubstantial goes back to Heraclitus, but finds its classical confirmation in the krasis texts of the Stoics.[10]

Krasis is the most powerful manifestation of sumpatheia, especially of what we might call "affective" sumpatheia, the force that not only


binds the particles of the universe together, but in fusing them affects, confuses, and disturbs them. Susceptibility to being affected extends to inorganic matter as well as organic. When the Stoicizing Philo says that the structure of inorganic matter is a bond, not unbreakable, but hard to dissolve, the statement confirms the bondedness but also leaves room for the element of disorder that the ubiquitous interconnectedness and affectability, the contagio, entails.[11] This is the philosophical grounding—hinted at in the Stoic writings but usually smothered by a missionary optimism—for the remarkable flourishing of contagio and arrostrma in Senecan drama. Where the imbalance has its origin—what small flaw it is that initiates the toppling of the harmonious structure and induces the rippling effect of havoc and suffering—is passed over in silence. Whether it is a minute deviation in the course of one of the planets that sets off the wider disaster or a piece of human stupidity or indulgence that triggers a cosmic turbulence is hard or impossible to discover. What is clear is that the potential and desirable, but never demonstrable, harmony can be upset from both directions, through the agency of krasis, the irritation induced by confluence, and that human and environmental disturbances go hand in hand. Krasis, the fusion or coextension of entities that a well-designed harmony would keep apart in friendly discreteness, completes the work of sumpatheia, and substantially guarantees a spoilage of that harmony.

To appreciate the difference between the Greek tradition and the new focus of Senecan tragedy, it is useful to look at a passage in Euripides' Hecuba (592–602). The ancient queen develops the precise moral calculus that has always guided her action: contrary to what we see in the case of the soil, where it is a matter of chance whether the harvest is good or bad, a good person will always be good, and a bad person bad, no matter what the circumstances. This is a distinction, not only between adventitious luck and innate quality, which has recently been the subject of much discussion,[12] but also between an ethically indeterminate world around us and morally determined humanity. Stoic science is not at liberty to allow this contrast between material and spiritual values. To be sure, there is no scarcity of statements in the Stoic writers alleging, like Euripides' heroine, that a good person will do good, and a bad person the opposite. But the implications of cosmic sumpatheia countermand the simplicity of that faith.


The graphic detail of the plague in the first chorus of Oedipus, mentioned earlier, is anticipated by a remarkable speech by Oedipus himself, which highlights the impossibility of any member of the collectivity being excepted from the general malaise:

cui reservamur malo?
inter ruinas urbis et semper novis
deflenda lacrimis funera ac populi struem
incolumis asto—scilicet Phoebi reus.
sperare poteras sceleribus tantis dari
regnum salubre? fecimus caelum nocens.

For what new horror
Am I reserved? Amidst my city's woes,
Amid funeral pyres kept streaming with fresh tears,
Amid the piles of the dead, I stand unscathed,
Apollo's felon? Could you have hoped to gain
A wholesome kingdom for your deadly deeds?
I have spread my guilt to the sky.
Oed 31–36)

About the rapid pendulation between "I" and "you" and back to "I," I shall have something to say later (see chapter 7 below). Here Oedipus, at the center of a diseased world, knows that the disease will translate itself to him also. But he also knows that in some mysterious way he is himself responsible for the cosmic sickness. Man and the world have become linked, with infection the inescapable accessory and coextension the dreaded consequence.

The pestilential double bind recalls Artaud's theater as plague, from which streams the contagion of all the plagues buried in the soul.[13] Perhaps we are also reminded of the Jacobean revenge play in which the virtuous revenger cannot but take on the viciousness of the tyrant. When Antonio and his allies, in Marston's Antonio's Revenge, cut out Piero's tongue, and serve him a dish of Julio's flesh, before stabbing him to death, only to be praised as saviors by their fellow citizens, the automatism of the spreading evil and its outrageous physicality point back to the same insight that Cicero's contagio catches in a word.[14] (One wonders what effect the performance by the boy actors might have had on the audience!) Seneca himself, in his philosophical writings, leans on the medical trope to throw the spotlight on, but also


apologize for, the spread of corruption. In a characteristically overwrought passage in the Epistles (95.22ff.), he chalks up the increasing complexity of the physician's art to diseases caused by the manner and nature of what people eat. But this thought sequence turns out to have been an extended simile for the decay of philosophy in the wake of the corruption in the hearts and bodies of men and women. We recall that the body is causarium ac fluidum periturumque, vulnerable, unstable, and destined to perish (NQ 1 prol. 4). In Seneca's drama the medical aspect of sumpatheia turns into obsession, a fervid fixation upon the malignant interlocking and fusion of cosmic constituents. Compare Donne:

Is this the honour which man hath . . . that he hath these earthquakes in himself, sudden shaking; these lightnings, sudden flashes; these thunders, sudden noises; these blazing stars, sudden fiery exhalations; these rivers of blood, sudden red waters? . . . O perplexed discomposition, O riddling distemper, O miserable condition of man!
(Devotions, 1st meditation)

We have seen that the radical corporealism of the Stoa gives poetry a chance to express its insights in a language that emphasizes physicality. Before moving on to other poetic and dramatic entailments of sumpatheia and krasis, I would like to spell out further the importance of physicality in the Senecan scheme. Joy and horror, approval and disgust, are voiced so as to elicit the vision and feeling of massed bodies and sensory impact. The official, evangelistic impulse is one of marvelling at the material appropriateness of the physical world. Balbus's hymn to reason and speech in Cicero's De natura deorum 2.59.147ff. starts with empirical proofs of the existence of the gods, along with passing observations on cosmic behavior, the consensus of men, recorded divine manifestations, and divination. The bulk of the speech is an encomium on the beauty and suitability of the natural world, detailed in somatic, even anatomical terms. Similarly, the same Stoic speaker, at 2.54.133ff., after rehearsing the variety, fullness, and harmony of the elements, and of the heavenly bodies, and appending a translation of verses from the astronomer-poet Aratus, launches into a paean of how everything in nature is beautifully adapted for the use of man. We recall that he celebrates the mouth, the gullet, the stomach, the lungs, and the bowels, and the machinery of the intake of food. Marcus Aurelius's reflections often carry the same message. As he talks


about the life of the mind (10.35), the emperor proceeds not only to vision and dentition but also to digestion to vindicate the excellence of the divine design. He articulates his delight in corporeal attractions, even ugliness:

If a man has sensibility and deeper insight into the workings of the Universe, scarcely anything . . . but will seem to him to form in its own peculiar way a pleasing adjunct to the whole. And he will look on the actual gaping jaws of wild beasts with no less pleasure than the representations of them by limners and modellers; and he will be able to see in the aged of either sex a mature prime and comely ripeness. . . . And many such things there are which do not appeal to everyone, but will come home to him alone who is genuinely intimate with Nature and her works.
(Meditations 2.2, tr. C. R. Haines)

Physicality is the key word for these capital exhibitions of the good that Stoic optimism finds in all the workings of a harmonious world visualized as a cooperative body. Our earlier observation that "Stoic ethics is ultimately parasitical on physics"[15] can be focussed more narrowly to declare that Stoicism pushes its language toward the experience of physicality, and especially of the physicality of living bodies and their parts and their relations. This is not the same as Nietzsche's panegyric of physics as a foundation for rejecting outworn moral values.[16] Rather, moral values and physical experience are felt to be coextensive and identical.

But physicality, because of the implications of krasis and contagio and the uncontrollable potential of dislocation and arrostema, can (and, ultimately, must) work in the opposite direction and challenge the most resolute optimism. The same Marcus Aurelius also recommends (6.13) that the experience of the physical be realistic; that as one eats pork one should think: this is a dead pig; as one makes love, one should think: this is rubbing a bit of flesh and spasmodically excreting a bit of mucus. For delusion, he explains, is unwarranted; the physicality must not be mistaken for a source of beauty and enjoyment only. Disgust must be a close neighbor of delight; only in that way can the corporeality of all that is be fully appreciated.[17] Thus the cleavage of the human and the cosmic is erased under the aegis of the coexten-


sion of the aesthetic and the physical, the healthy and the sick, the corporeal and the limitless. In the words of M. Bakhtin about Rabelais (with some acknowledgement also of the contributions of Pico, Giambattista Porta, Giordano Bruno, and Campanella): "The grotesque body has no facade, no impenetrable surface. . . . It contains, like Pantagruel's mouth, new unknown spheres. It acquires cosmic dimensions, while the cosmos acquires a bodily nature.[18]

In modern and postmodern criticism, physicality has come to be ranged closely with figurality and allegory, with language furnishing its own body alienated from the plane of reference and burgeoning into pure signification. "Allegories are in the realm of thoughts what ruins are in the realm of things."[19] The victory of the signifier over the signified generates the materiality, the physicality, sometimes the paresis of speech and literatures.[20] The aims of these modern critics are vastly different from what Seneca and Marcus Aurelius (and, for that matter, Rabelais) had in mind. Stoic radicalism and Seneca's own apocalyptic vision shy away from the allegorical uses of a nature that, because of the demands of krasis, takes its identities au pied de la lettre . The Stoic allegorizers are at pains to relocate human affairs in the cosmic edifice where they are truly at home. But the postmodern emphasis on physicality spilling over into a language that approaches autonomy in regard to its customary usages bears some faint resemblance to the linguistic power of the body in Senecan verse.

For the autonomy of the body speaking its own language, we could cite no finer example than the drunken ditty—or is it a serious rejoicing at the recovery of good fortune?—chanted by Thyestes (Thy 920ff.) as he feasts on his children's flesh. He wants to be merry, but the very roses on his head wither, he sweats and groans, sadness and tears overcome him, and ululare libet, he has an urge to howl. He thinks these are signs of impending trouble; he wonders an habet lacrimas magna voluptas, whether great joy has its store of tears. But then:

nolunt manus
parere, crescit pondus et dextram gravat;


admotus ipsis Bacchus a labris fugit
circaque rictus ore decepto fluit,
et ipsa trepido mensa subsiluit solo.

The hands will not obey; the cup—
How heavy it has grown, how it resists
The grasp! And see how now the wine itself,
Though lifted to the mouth, avoids the touch,
And flees the disappointed lips. Behold,
The table totters on the trembling floor.

And later:

Quis hic tumultus viscera exagitat mea?
quid tremuit intus? sentio impatiens onus
meumque gemitu non meo pectus gemit.

What is this tumult torturing my bowels?
Why do my vitals quake? I feel a load
Unbearable, and from my inmost heart
Come groans that are not mine.

The body owns a knowledge of itself that, temporarily, is beyond the control and understanding of the remedial mind. As Walter Benjamin asserted about the character of German baroque drama: history is victimized by physical nature, and thus secularized and spatialized; man is a creature, on the same level as animals and plants, and thus not a candidate for salvation.[21]

The prominence of the body and the bodily, the language of the body, and language as body: these are the marks that link the vitality and the despair of Senecan drama most closely to the Stoa. Amphitryon recognizes Hercules by his body:

agnosco toros
umerosque et alto nobile in trunco caput.

I recognize the limbs
And shoulders and the noble head upon
Its mighty trunk.
(HF 624–25)

The man is identified by his muscles and by his viscera.[22] In Epistle 11.1 Seneca dwells on the automatism of the body; prompted by the


blushing of a young man, he admits that the natural behavior of the body cannot be regulated by intelligence. People blush, sweat, tremble, even intelligent and well-disciplined people, and there is nothing they can do about it.[23] In Epistle 120.15–16 he associates the complaints of the body with our universal lack of stability and then cites Horace on fickleness (20).

Thyestes' agonized comments on the children in his maw (Thy 1041ff.), Atreus's details of the cooking of the children, earlier reported by the messenger (1057ff., 641ff.); the grandiose description of the sea monster that prompts the death of Hippolytus (Phae 1035–49) and of the mangling of Hippolytus's body by the horses (1093–1104), and Theseus's abortive attempt (1254ff.) to collect the pieces that might reconstitute Hippolytus's body: these are just a few of the numerous passages in which bodies assert their rights and the language of the body flowers and seethes. Melancholy and despair tied to the body can reach virtually Shandyesque proportions, as when Oedipus talks about his intrauterine predestination for evil:

videram nondum diem
uterique nondum solveram clausi moras,
et iam timebar. protinus quosdam editos
nox occupavit et novae luci abstulit:
mors me antecessit.

Even before I saw the light, while still
Delayed within the prison of the womb,
I was a thing of dread. The night of death
Lays hold of many at the hour of birth,
And snatches them away from dawning life.
But death anticipated birth in me.
(Phoe 245–51)

The messenger's account of the killing of the children by Atreus (Thy 717ff.) seems stylized and almost restrained: one corpse continues to stand, and then falls on the killer; a head, complaining indistinctly, rolls aside; the third corpse, struck by two wounds, falls and quenches the altar fires. These zigzag enactments of death are Hellenistic in origin; parallels may be found in Apollonius's Argonautica (3.1380ff.). The authentic ugliness is reserved, as a surprise (744–48), for the account that follows (755ff.): the intestines are pulled out, and the bodies are cut up for the stewing and frying. The fire, the water, and the smoke are all reluctant to collaborate.


Amphitryon's description (HF 991ff.), in spurts, of what happens to Hercules' children and to Megara is delivered in the noisome physical terms we have come to expect. Roman literature, from Ennius on, delights in scenes where heads or limbs cut off continue to have a life of their own.[24] In the Greek repertory that has come down to us, Philoctetes and Rhesus are the only plays that have any claim to showing something equivalent to the physicality and the ugliness of Seneca's scenic art. Once again, baroque drama, such as Garnier's Porcie and Gryphius's Katharina von Georgien, furnishes the closest parallels to Seneca's obsessive somatic particularity.[25] When Porcie learns that Brute has fallen, she invokes the infernal tortures of old: she wants to have her heart torn by fiery tongs; she begs for her heart, her sinews, her bones, her lungs to be burned, cut, broken, pulverized (1638–51).[26] In Garnier's Antigone, Oedipe is disgusted with his body:

Il faut que tout mon corps pourisse sous la terre
Et que mon âme triste aux noirs rivage erre,
Victime de Pluton. Que fay-je plus ici
Qu'infecter de mon corps l'air et la terre aussi!
(lines 149–52)

Ugliness, aimless motion, victimization, revulsion: contagion here turns synecdoche for the reciprocality that sumpatheia demands.

The raw dramaturgy of the body spreads effortlessly, but methodically, across all parts of the cosmos. Where the universe and its manifestations are felt to be uncontrollable—that is, where evil is feared to be automatic and mandatory—the Stoic scientist and sentient, deprived of choice or responsibility, can revel in its aesthetic horror.[27] We must remind ourselves that the graduation from "ugly" to "evil" and vice versa is possible only at the level where the moral and the aesthetic have been redefined in the terms of cosmic corporeality. Elsewhere the preferred term of Stoic ethics is to cheiron, "the worse," a comparative that magnifies the power of intelligibility in the scale of things.[28]


Chrysippus is said to have stated that, by analogy with the human head, which as the seat of reason needs to be delicate and therefore also vulnerable, flaws occur not by nature, but by certain unavoidable consequences of nature.[29] The logic of this statement is tortuous, but the implication seems to be that as nature develops ever subtler forms, it surrenders some of its defenses. There is this difference between dominant Stoic doctrine and what we find in Senecan tragedy: Chrysippus and other Stoics, including Seneca in most of his prose works, make allowances for a world that is fundamentally admirable, and whose basic goodness, though shot through with the untoward effects that come with sumpatheia and contagio, can still be divined, lived up to, and praised. In Senecan drama the scope for decency and goodness is greatly narrowed, and the consequences have rendered the world awash with a degree of instability and ugliness that can be read into the very definition of the cosmos.[30] To revert to an earlier topic, ugliness is easily linked with self-dramatization; the hero's insistence on his suffering and on the physicality of that suffering, and the disgust with the self that is thinly disguised by the boasting, cannot but issue in a kind of heroic vulgarity.

There is virtually no trace left of that other explanation of evil, parallel to the argument from consequences, that is eloquently expressed by Epictetus: after proposing that snot and running noses give the hands a chance to show what they can do, he continues: "What do you think Heracles would have amounted to, if there had not been a lion like the one he encountered, and a hydra . . .?"[31] This is the accounting for evil as assisting the good, or as forming a foil to it. The ugly is a corollary of the beautiful, as Marcus Aurelius tells us (6.36); they have the same origin, and deserve the same reverent contemplation. This is an old position, found as early as Plato, if not earlier. It is more optimistic and less subtle than the argument from consequences, which in Plato appears in the guise of the errant cause. The role of the former in early Stoicism, and in Senecan drama, is virtually nil. The example


of Phaethon, the Ovidian treatment of which is cited in De providentia 5.10–11, demonstrates that the testing of bravery results in dislocation and perdition. "Per alta virtus it, " Seneca's melancholy comment on the youth's daring, is virtually identical with the fuller formulation which I have cited as the quintessential motto of Senecan heroism (above, p. 7).

The argument from consequences is not very different from, and perhaps a subspecies of, the argument from infection. The second chorus of Phaedra, on Beauty (736ff.)—both the beauty of Hippolytus and Beauty in general; the progress of the choral essay weaves the two together in a flexible tissue—zeroes in on the imperilled state of a splendor that cannot isolate itself from danger and inroads, even in the benign isolation that Hippolytus has chosen for himself. Once again, it is merely a short step from this pinpointing of vulnerability to the dramatization of full cosmic disorder, as sampled in the fourth chorus of Thyestes (789ff.); or to the Roman theme of exilium, the threat to the commonwealth and the purgation of the city by removing the contagious and potentially lethal intruder, a theme that is exploited in Seneca's Medea as powerfully as in Cicero's Catilinarians, except that Seneca's urging of sumpatheia negates the possibility of removal and purgation.

I have already noted that at the end of each book of the Naturales quaestiones Seneca chooses to bring science and ethics together under the aegis of the life of physicality. Book 4, on the Nile and on snow and hail and the effects of heat, terminates with an attack on vicious Romans who cool their distemper and indigestion in snow and ice. At the end of book 5, a disquisition on winds is closed off with a denunciation of greed. And book 3 furnishes a transition from talk about waters and rivers and their fertile abundance to the superfluities of luxurious living. The tertium comparationis is fish. They are plentiful in nature; contrast this, Seneca complains, with the extravagance and idiocy of cultivating fish for gourmet food.[32] It is clear that at these moments Seneca does not find in the observation of the order of the cosmos the consolation that he looks for elsewhere, as, for example, in Ad Marciam 18. By the same token, Senecan drama is a repudiation of


Balbus's argument in support of the beauty and the stability of animal and vegetable life. Seneca accepts the Stoic preoccupation with physicality, but balances the joy of it with sadness and disgust. Within the rubric of dramatic action the special quality of deeds is that they tend to be crimes; and such crimes must be open for all to see and feel and smell within a setting commensurate with them. Their openness is a function of their physical and biological essence and impact, of their bodiliness.

But corporeality must not be confused with solidity. Senecan drama conceives of process not only as the action of muscle and vigorous animal tissue; it puts a large premium also on blood, bile, entrails, storms, earthquakes, and conflagrations, with special attention to those viscous and mucous and putrescent elements that document the fluidity and the proneness to disease of all that is, which are calculated to incite our disgust. As we have noted, the sumpatheia of the world body carries in its wake a constant confrontation with dissolution and corrosion, a tendency to decompose and melt. Critics have remarked on the heavy emphasis on slime and rankness in the writings of some of the contemporaries of Seneca, such as Lucan and Persius, writers who are equally obsessed with the inclination of their world to go to pieces in a manner likely to offend our sense of smell or sight. This tendency of Stoic drama and Stoic poetry to go for corruption was as pronounced in the Renaissance as it was in the first century of our era. In a telling chapter entitled "The Transmutation of King Lear, " a recent critic has spelled out the prominence of the agents of decay and putrefaction, of dew and solvents, as part of the process defining the man.[33] Repulsion comes to be the authentic answer to the experience of a world rotting away. The pregnability of bodily nature helps to certify the inexorability of evil; hopelessness becomes drama's gain.

In act 4, scene 1 (154–58) of Bussy D'Ambois, Montsurry says to Tamyra, whom he suspects of misconduct with Bussy:

I know not how I fare; a sudden night
Flows through my entrails; and a headlong chaos


Murmurs within me, which I must digest,
And not drown her in my confusions,
That was my life's joy, being best informed.

Such language, putting night and chaos into the human frame, specifically into the entrails, which figure so importantly in the accounts of religious divination, is light-years removed from Greek dramatic speech. The language emphasizes the volatility, one might even say: the liquidity, of everything that aspires to be substantial—note the words "flows," "digest," "drown." We recall Velleius, Balbus's opponent in Cicero's dialogue on the gods (De nat. deor. 1.15.39), who complains that Chrysippus brings in his gods higgledy-piggledy, in a confused swarm, among them "all those things which by nature flow and stream."[34] We have already had occasion to cite the lines of Bussy:

My sun is turned to blood 'gainst whose red beams
Pindus and Ossa, hid in endless snow,
Laid on my heart and liver, from their veins
Melt like two hungry currents, eating rocks,
Into the ocean of all human life,
And make it bitter, only with my blood.

Bussy D'Ambois is the story of a natural volcano that an intriguer, Monsieur, thought he could use for his own purposes. The elementary power proves too strong, the intriguer turns against his tool, the volcano erupts, and in doing so blasts the Machiavel. The lines body forth a krasis of astounding scope.

Critics have complained that much of the language in the play is overblown. To be fair to Chapman, we must acknowledge that the play of liquid masses, and the interaction between vital cosmos and biological man, descend from a larger perspective, related to the alchemical model that, as mentioned above, has been recognized also in King Lear .[35] In the Senecan realm of dramatic experience, dryness and light have only a short duration before they are overwhelmed by mist


and darkness and by the fluid medium that signifies life both in its vitality and in its decomposition.[36] Even fire, the corporeal analogue and embodiment of wrath, is a kind of fluid.[37] The meteorological and seismological speculations in Naturales quaestiones turn on fire as a rolling, volcanic substance, rather than on its function as a pure, dry emitter of light. Throughout Hercules Furens there is talk of burning, heating, scorching; when Hercules awakes after the terror of his rampage, he wants to burn himself. The Stoics distinguished between productive fire, the vital element co-substantial with the rational seed that is also God;[38] and destructive fire, "lacking skill," the fire that stands for the negative volatility of the world, and that periodically erupts in an act of total conflagration. Cataclysm and conflagration are merely two different ways of talking about the world consuming itself by the logic of its indigenous contagion (see also below, pp. 148f.). Fire and water jointly form the corporeal matrix within which mutability, a constant theme in Seneca's writings, expresses itself.[39]

More typically, ruin is embodied in clouds, smoke, and chaos. Book 3 of Naturales quaestiones is entirely about fluids and veers back and forth between the cosmic and the human, between the physical and the (supposedly) spiritual. At one point (3.15.4) we read: As in our bodies, so in the earth it is the humors that often generate the flaws: humores vitia concipiunt . Liquidity is both the setting and instigator of everything that is wrong with the world. It is the sensible index of contagio . Life is a "sea of troubles," as we learn in the Consolatio ad Polybium, written to console a freedman of Claudius when Seneca was in exile in Corsica:

omnis vita supplicium est: in hoc profundum inquietumque proiecti mare, alternis aestibus reciprocum et modo adlevans nos subitis incrementis, modo maioribus damnis deferens adsidueque iactans numquam stabili consistimus loco. pendemus et fluctuamur et alter in alterum inlidimur et aliquando naufragium facimus, semper timemus in hoc tam


procelloso et in omnes tempestates exposito mari navigantibus nullus portus nisi mortis est.

All life is a mortification. Cast out on that deep and restless sea, a variable, fluctuating seesaw that raises us high with sudden windfalls only to take us down again with tremendous losses, we are never sure of a firm foothold. We remain suspended and are tossed about and bruise one another. Shipwreck is not uncommon; fear is constant. As we sail along on this ocean pounded by squalls and exposed to storms from all quarters, there is no haven save that of death.

The fourth chorus of Thyestes dwells on this ruin:

trepidant, trepidant pectora magno
percussa metu,
ne fatali cuncta ruina
quassata labent iterumque deos
hominesque premat deforme chaos,
iterum terras et mare et ignes40
et vaga picti sidera mundi
natura tegat.

Our hearts are trembling, battered with fright
That all the world collapse in ruin,
And shapeless chaos as before crush down
Both gods and men, and nature bury once more
All land and sea and fire and the coursing stars
Of the firmament.
(Thy 828–35)

Ruin itself, etymologically, is a "flowing," a rush and a collapse like that of overly wet clay.[41] Cosmic flux is a favorite theme or image in the Stoic poets of the first century of our era; the imagery of dissolution, that is, contagion and liquefication, is pervasive in many places in Lucan's Pharsalia:

membra natant sanie, surae fluxere . . .
. . . et nigra destillant inguina tabe.

The limbs swam in corruption, the calves began
To flow . . . the groin dripped with black flux.
(Pharsalia 9.770–72)

Liquidity need not be catastrophic; again and again it enters the text as a token of the locus in which human affairs are precariously anchored. Men must understand that


vitam mortemque per vices ire et conposita dissolvi, dissoluta conponi

Life and death alternate: where joined, they dissolve, where dissolved,
they are rejoined.
(Ep. 71.14)

Troades, Seneca's most subtle and most sensitive dramatic composition, unfolds against the backdrop sketched early in the play. Hecuba comments on the collapse of Troy, and on her own situation:

nec caelum patet
undante fumo: nube ceu densa obsitus
ater favilla squalet Iliaca dies.

The face of heaven is hid
By that dense, wreathing smoke; our city's day,
As if beset by some thick, lowering cloud,
Grows black and foul beneath the ash.
(Tro 19–21)

Undante, "billowing": once again the deluge furnishes the imagery for the moment of disaster and for the sense of desolation that ensues.

In a passage which has something in common with Bussy's "I know not how I fare," Phaedra says of her suffering:

pectus insanum vapor
amorque torret. intimis saevus furit
penitus medullis atque per venas meat
visceribus ignis mersus et venis latens
ut agilis altas flamma percurrit trabes.[42]

My maddened heart with vaporous love is scorched;
My inmost marrow rages with the fire.
Concealed within my vitals it travels through
The veins and, hidden there, it races like
The flame that guts the highest timbers.
(Phae 640–44)

The crucial word here is vapor . In this particular instance vapor and love form one single element, a hendiadys, as is indicated by the verb in the singular, torret . In line 102, vapor is the word used of Phaedra's suffering. In Hercules Oetaeus 1613, vapores is a synonym for flammae . The shade of Tantalus, at the beginning of Thyestes (87–89), refers to himself as crime personified, in the guise of vapor and pestis .

Vapor is exhalation. It is a fugitive, but potent, substance, sharing


in the moist and the dry, in heat and chill. It serves as a pregnant fixing of the Stoic perception that the world, both in its quotidian state and at critical junctures, is "vaporous":

This brave o'erhanging firmament . . . appeareth no other thing to me
than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
(Hamlet 2.2.316–18)

Vapor is common in Naturales quaestiones, as are its derivatives vaporans, vaporarius, vaporatio . In book 6, on earthquakes, Seneca has the vapors either causing the quakes (chapter II) or being a poisonous side effect of them (chapters 27 and 28). As exhalations, they nourish the celestial bodies, including the sun. But vapores can also kill.[43] The sun draws up the vapors of the earth and the sea, with important consequences for the equilibrium of the environment. Exhalations are held responsible for material changes early in Greek literature and philosophy, from Hesiod and Heraclitus to Aristotle. But it was in Stoic cosmology that the focus on fluidity and contagio made talk of vapors unusually fruitful. Here vapor is both the stuff of the world, a stand-in for the pneuma, and a manifest sign of fluctuation and instability. The earth and the human body are compared for their vessels of fluids, and for the corruption spread by them.[44] Just as, Seneca says (NQ 3.15.2ff.), there are within us many kinds of humor, not only the blood, but the brain, the marrow, mucus, spit, tears, and the lubricant that moves our joints, so the earth contains its own varieties of humor . Some are necessary, others are contaminated and more gelatinous. In the sequel Seneca elaborates the dire consequences that ensue from the operation of the fluids. Once again, contagio and putrefaction are the well-nigh automatic corollaries of the world's vaporous identity, in which even the gods (all but Zeus, who equals the pneuma ) are subject to change and dissolution (SVF 2.1049ff.).

The plays are the beneficiaries of this kind of thinking, including Hercules Oetaeus, which Chapman mined for Bussy D'Ambois . The playwright combines Greek scientific topoi about liquefaction and cloud formation with the Stoic concept of the energy field to herald the


critical moments when the precarious balance is, as it must regularly be, evaporated, with incalculable consequences for the health and the sanity of the characters and their designs. The invasion of the psychological realm by language originally devised to plumb physical and biological processes is the most important contribution Seneca made to the development of European drama. Such language is unthinkable on the stage before the advent of a philosophy that envisages life, not as an orderly system of stable and mutually exclusive schemata, but as a complex of energies and tensions defining the relations between entities that constantly threaten to metamorphose into one another. Chapman and Marston fully exploit this impetus provided by a new integrating science of meteorological flux:[45]

O now it nothing fits my cares to speak
But thunder, or to take into my throat
The trump of Heaven, with whose determinate blasts
The winds shall burst, and the enraged seas
Be drunk in his sounds; that my hot woes
Vented enough, I might convert to vapour,
Ascending from my infamy unseen,
Shorten the world, preventing the last breath
That kills the living, and regenerates death.
(Bussy D'Ambois 5.1.41–49)

This is once again the voice of Montsurry, to whom, through the last act of the play, the most "cosmic" speech is given. It is instructive to compare the third chorus of Seneca's Medea (579ff.), in which the jealousy of the deserted wife is said to be more potent—nulla vis tanta, quanta cum —than fire, wind, rain, a river in flood, and snow melting. The force of "more," which appears to cancel the identity of the heroine's feelings with the meteorological correlates, is undone, not only by the power of the imagery in the lyric, but by the scene of witchcraft that follows, in which the magical coextension of the psychological and the cosmological is ritually clinched.

Or take Massinissa in Marston's Sophonisba:


Thou whom, like sparkling steel, the strokes of chance
Made hard and firm, and, like wild-fire turn'd,
The more cold fate, the more thy virtue burn'd,
And in whole seas of miseries didst flame;
On thee, loved creature of a deathless fame,
Rest all my honour.

The temporary hardening for which Massinissa admires Sophonisba is, by virtue of the poetry, drowned in the rush of conflagrations and "whole seas of miseries." The cosmic energies, far from merely forming the setting within which the agent maintains his own solid integrity, turn into a trope for the volatility of all natural behavior. Indeed, "trope" is the wrong word; they come to occupy the very heart of the human endeavor. In the Senecan world, the natural forces do not serve as icons; they are the human energies, caught at a different angle.

From the plays of Seneca, I choose, at random, two characteristic passages. Near the end of the first chorus of Oedipus, the pestilence is apostrophized:[46]

O dira novi facies leti,
gravior leto:
piger ignavos alligat artus
languor, et aegro rubor in vultu,
maculaeque caput sparsere leves;
tum vapor ipsam corporis arcem
flammeus urit
multoque genas sanguine tendit,
oculique rigent et sacer ignis
pascitur artus.[47]

O cruel, strange new form of death,
And worse than death!
A weary languor seizes the sluggish
Limbs, a sickly redness marks the face,
The head is blotched with subtle stains.
Soon fiery vapor burns the body's
Secret citadel


And throbbing temples swell with blood.
The eyes turn rigid; a cursed flame
Devours the limbs.
(Oed 180–87)

Here both vapor and ignis, the two vital manifestations of pneuma, are made symptomatic of the plague.

In act 2 of Seneca's Agamemnon (108ff.), Clytaemestra addresses herself and her animus, her soul, as if that animus were the equivalent of the Greek anemos, "wind," though the principal burden of the imagery comes from the sea and from fire rather than from the air. In her wavering between plans of aggression and thoughts of secret flight, the imagery of motion and of flux comes naturally, though the pervasiveness of the environmental language is remarkable. After the initial quid fluctuaris? "Why do you [= I] waver [= act the wave]?" and after the nurse's recommendation of delay, Clytaemestra develops a self-portrayal of flaming and watery uncertainty:

Maiora cruciant quam ut moras possim pati;
flammae medullas et cor exurunt meum;
mixtus dolori subdidit stimulos timor;
invidia pulsat pectus; hinc animum iugo
premit cupido turpis et vinci vetat;
et inter istas mentis obsessae faces
fessus quidem et deiectus et pessumdatus,
pudor rebellat. fluctibus variis agor,
ut, cum hinc profundum ventus, hinc aestus rapit,
incerta dubitat unda cui cedat malo.

My heavy torments will not brook delay.
My heart, my very marrow is aflame;
Panic has joined its sting to fierce despair,
My breast is lashed with jealousy, ugly lust
Harnesses my soul and tells it to stand fast.
And yet, within this torching of a mind besieged,
Shame makes a stand, though weary and despondent
And all but crushed. By shifting seas I am tossed,
As when the wave, torn between wind and tide,
Stands unresolved which scourge to follow.
(Aga 131–40)

In the last line, Clytaemestra identifies her irresolute self with the sea in motion. Unlike the cross-action of the surge in the simile about Nestor's thinking (Iliad 14.16–19), the attack of the wind and the action of the surf are both seen as mala; the environmental processes are drawn into the orbit of the moral life and receive their moral rating


accordingly. In the end Clytaemestra surrenders herself to the flux: "It is best to follow chance," optimum est casum sequi (144). Thus pain, terror, jealousy, lust, conscience, anger, and hope are, like the bodies in which they are experienced, made over into functions of winds and flames and waves. They are struck and pressed and floated and piloted as if the only sea and the only fire that counted were those found in the soul. Flux rules supreme; the imbrication of the wavering soul within the tide of waves and winds makes cruel demands upon the self. The Stoic sensibility, regarding everything as impermanent and evanescent, fixes on the present with a frantic and parodic obsession. The Senecan selves and their actions are so often exaggerated and their motives distorted precisely because from a true philosophical vantage point their fixity is illusory, their limitation within the human realm is swept out of court, and the benevolent tolerance that the essayist Seneca and the memoirist Marcus Aurelius call for is, especially for the purposes of drama, not an available option.


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