The aim of this article is to compare Plutarch’s and Seneca’s use of the texts and themes of fifth century Greek tragedies in order to identify analogies and differences of their approaches. This will help to understand how Greek tragedies were assimilated in the early imperial age in terms of how the texts were encountered and interpreted as well as the ways in which they were reprised and recontextualised. The reprise of text segments or themes from Greek tragedy may sometimes derive from a direct reading of the texts, but often also from the gnomological-anthological tradition. The quotations are recontextualised (more or less consciously) and re-functionalised by Plutarch and Seneca in relation to their purpose, which may be to confirm their own thoughts or to perform a parodic detorsio of the quotation. In the former case the two writers employ a range of expedients so as to integrate the quotation into the moralising discourse, while in the latter they redramatise the quotation by attributing it to characters acting in a context similar to that of the theatre and moving from the level of general reflection to the (different) one of the actual situation. While in the Moralia the particular interpretation of the behaviour of some tragic characters is functional to the development of certain arguments, in Seneca’s tragedies (despite some affinities with Plutarch) the omission or accentuation of elements present in the Greek models is due mainly to the different characterisation of the characters and the different dramatic contexts.
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