Tyranny is often regarded as "a perennial problem" (Boesche 1996) on the basis of its ubiquitous presence in literature. Even more enduring is the problem of how to define human nature, its place in the environment, and its relationship to the divine – a core issue of philosophical anthropology (Pansera 2001, Honenberger 2015). In the present paper, I shall approach the literary construction of the tyrant figure in Greek and Roman tragedy from the holistic perspective of philosophical anthropology. I will focus on three well-known dramas (Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Antigone and Seneca’s Thyestes) which put great emphasis on the moral and cognitive status of tyrants as “exceptional” human types. I will try to show how Sophocles’ Oedipus and Creon and Seneca’s Atreus reflect in different ways the ancient philosophical discussion about the humanizing power of reason and language – a discussion that echoes but at the same time transforms the patterns of folkloric thought. Indeed, not only did a philosophical anthropology sensu proprio develop in the ancient world and refashion traditional mentalities, but Greek and Roman dramatists were also to able to provide a critical response to the models of philosophy. In the age of Presocratic rationalism and Sophistic relativism, Sophocles portrayed his tyrants as masters of speech (λόγος) and intelligence (γνώμη) who dared to challenge divine law but ultimately became inhuman because of their excessive confidence in human cognition. Similarly, though in the largely different context of imperial Rome, Seneca used the tyrant figure to describe the Stoic process of "inversion of reason" (διαστροφὴ τοῦ λόγου) and blamed the degradation of human life from the pursuit of wisdom to the self-conscious promotion of vice.
|Number of pages||45|
|Journal||DIONYSUS EX MACHINA|
|Publication status||Published - 2019|