Octavia


Seneca's Works / Monday, April 2nd, 2018
Ritratto di claudia ottavia, da roma, via varese.JPG
Sculpture portrait of Claudia Octavia

Octavia is a Roman tragedy that focuses on three days in the year 62 AD during which Nero divorced and exiled his wife Claudia Octavia and married another (Poppaea Sabina). The play also deals with the irascibility of Nero and his inability to take heed of the philosopher Seneca’s advice to rein in his passions.

The play was attributed to Seneca, but modern scholarship generally discredits this. It is presumed to have been written later in the Flavian period during the 1st century, after the deaths of both Nero and Seneca.

Characters

  • Octavia.
  • Octavia’s Nurse.
  • Chorus of Romans.
  • Seneca.
  • Prefect.
  • Poppaea.
  • Agrippina (ghost).
  • Nero.
  • Messenger.

Plot

Act I

Octavia, weary of her existence, bewails her misery. Her nurse execrates the drawbacks which beset the proud surroundings of life in a Palace. The Nurse consoles the grieving Octavia, and dissuades her from prosecuting any revenge which she might be contemplating. The Chorus being in favor of Octavia, looks with detestation upon the marriage of Poppaea, and condemns the degenerate patience of the Romans, as being unworthy, too indifferent and servile, and inveighs against the crimes of Nero.

Act II

Seneca despises the vices of his times, praises the simplicity of his former life, and offers his opinion that all things are tending in a direction for the worse. The philosopher warns his patron Nero to no purpose, who pertinaciously insists on carrying out his tyrannical plans, and appoints the next day for his marriage with Poppaea.

Act III

Agrippina appears from the underworld, a cruel soothsayer carrying before her the fatal torches, at the nuptials of Poppaea, and Nero whose death she predicts. Octavia urges the populace, who are espousing her cause, not to grieve about her divorce. The chorus, however, does grieve for her sad lot.

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Act IV

Poppaea, being frightened, in her sleep, narrates her dream to the Nurse; the Nurse treating the dream as nonsense, consoles Poppaea, with some silly interpretation. The Chorus praises the beauty of Poppaea. The Messenger describes the mood of the populace, on account of the divorce of Octavia and the marriage with Poppaea.

Act V

Nero, boiling over with rage, on account of the tumultuous rising of the populace, orders the most severe measures to be taken against them, and that Octavia, as the cause of such a rising, shall be transported to Pandataria and there slain. The Chorus sings regarding popular favor, which has been destructive to so many, and after that brings into notice the hard fates which have befallen the Caesarean Dynasty.