The Death of Seneca

26 Apr 1993
Ten to Eleven
Heiner Müller
Heiner Müller


Citing Nietzsche, Müller describes the motive of the philologist as "greed," "simply wanting to have everything, grasp everything, know everything." This "hunger" distinguishes the artist, but has become lost in modern art, which is so boring now because it has only "appetite." Müller is interested in two things about Seneca, the teacher of Nero who was enriched in the shadows of power: his morbid hedonism and his ability to dispose of his own life without fear, which was possible in the Roman tradition that did not have an afterlife. Theodor Mommsen suggests that the "villain" Nero, who had no ambition and loved the arts, probably had the happiest reign that the Roman people had ever known. Seneca's afterlife has two roots. First, his adaptations of the Greek dramas bring cruelty onto the stage and thus influence Elizabethan theater. Secondly, Tacitus' precise description of the suicide of Seneca as painful and protracted contributed to the topos of the failed teacher of the prince in German literature in the 18th century, which persisted into the 20th century as a specifically German illusion.

At the end Heiner Müller reads his poem "The Death of Seneca" ["The Death of Seneca"], followed by the poem "Orpheus plowed" ["Orpheus gepflügt"].