Seneca is undoubtedly the forefather of psychoanalysis with great mastery in detailed descriptions of grotesque individuals, skilfully portraying their actions and their unrelenting self-reflections. In this sense, Medea and Thyestes are his most prominent characters. It is almost impossible to overlook the connections between the age and the environment, where Seneca spent the later years of his life, and his tragedy, the blood-soaked lunacy of the emperor (Nero), and the doings of an intellectual in a bedlam of callousness and madness that led to a point where the only solution is self-destruction. Whether his suicide ensued from coercion or of his own accord, Seneca passed away and thus robbed the world of an important witness, despite his belief in the legacy of his partial testimonials. Superficially following the teachings of ancient Greek scholars, Seneca believed that self-censorship of thought lies at the core of philosophy. However, whenever he let his wild imagination run loose in his tragedies, for which history is still left uncertain whether they were performed or merely read aloud in private circles, Seneca brought not his philosophical but his true, psychoanalytical side to the foreground.
Florence Dupont believed that in this tragedy (Thyestes) the seemingly superficial chorus performs four different roles; in the first as a traditional chorus, its second and third roles serve as reasoning of a solitary individual, perhaps that of Seneca as a philosopher, and its fourth role occupies the voice of all mankind. With Seneca conforming to Greek tragedy as a literary ideal, the chorus fulfils its regular function of trite, common sense thinking of a crowd, which the individual hero fears to leave. The first chorus thus certainly has to follow the models of Sophocles and Euripides which Seneca formally pastiches, while the nature of pastiche itself could be highlighted by pastiching the chorus as a Music hall choir, the Siegfried chorus line, or a circle dance. The second and third choruses could assume the role of an inopportune philosopher, who theorizes at the scenes of most heinous crimes, while the fourth chorus could be made up of children.
Seneca revels in detailed descriptions of crime, scenes of slaughter, corpses, dismembering of bodies, and cannibalism. Even contemporary drama has not yet addressed scenes such as Seneca’s descriptions of drinking the blood and consuming the meat of one’s own sons. His description of cannibal pleasure is at once incestuous and erotic; Thyestes’ body transforms the meat of his sons into an atrocious, incestuous pregnancy that has the same external signs of nausea as female pregnancy, only that these signs are heavily reinforced into monstrous proportions. Thyestes seduced the wife of Atreus and his invasion continues from monstrous fertilization, a monstrous pregnancy, all to the monstrous birth: spewing out the meat of his slaughtered sons. Despite everything, Thyestes does not commit suicide, but survives and leaves, only to repeat it all again later: he seduces his own daughter (and not only her) and thus effects a heinous string of crime that includes both a patricide, a matricide, and ends with lunacy and forgiveness for the crimes of Orestes. Aeschylus’ solution, a trilogy that finishes with Eumenides, arguing that only democracy can mend the individual and thus prevent the incidence of crime, ensuring the salvation and progress of humanity, perhaps remains Seneca’s subversive dream …
Because it relies on power as the dominant driving force in crime and its victim (who is incidentally also a criminal), Atreus’ monstrosity is politically led and politically executed; in fact it is power that leads the victim to the criminal, because the only difference between them is in timing – the meticulous planning of loosening the lawless attention and consideration. Currently, Thyestes is a dormant political beast, whose monstrosity will erupt at the next favourable moment. In this context, there is not much difference between the two brothers, as both share similar thoughts.
The dim grove where Atreus commits his monstrous persiflage of sacrifice, a massacre of three boys, mirrors a laboratory of a pedantic murderer and his instruments, but also his fetishes. Think of Hannibal Lecter and his labs, or those from contemporary pop culture. The tragedy’s costume design could be inspired by similar associations: post-apocalypse, and naked bodies bearing scars, wounds, and various skin disorders.