I was set an essay this week by Claudia Bosse, a brilliant Vienna-based theatre director with whom I worked a decade ago on Aeschylus’ Persians in Braunschweig, the city that gave A. Hitler German citizenship. Now she’s put on an astonishing production of Seneca’s Thyestes, which I attended with Vienna Latin Professor/Brexit victim Professor Peter Kruschwitz. But I felt like an undergraduate again because she has integrated a recital from Karl Marx’s Grundrisse, and asked me to make sense of the connection.
|With (Former) Reading Uni Latin Professor|
Although Marx was classically educated at Trier Gymnasium and Bonn University, and he mentions practically every Greek and Latin author somewhere, Senecan tragedy (as far as I know) never features. 19th-century Germans all believed A.W. Schlegel, a specialist in ancient drama, who thought Seneca’s tragedy was an abomination--unperformable, tasteless bombast with zero dramatic, poetical or moral value. Schlegel should have seen Bosse’s production.
|5-Stong Chorus, also takes roles of Thyestes, Atreus, Fury, Tantalus, Messenger|
Marx loved theatre, constantly quoting Shakespeare (especially the pound-of-flesh scene in Merchant of Venice and Timon’s realisation that money corrupts) and near-obsessing on Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. And he frequently uses the classical metaphor of cannibalism, on which theme Seneca’s Thyestes is one long variation.
His inaugural speech to the historic First International (1864) at Long Acre discussed the campaign of British workers to restrict the hours of labour, a campaign which had been bitterly opposed by industrial capitalists: they, ‘vampire-like, could but live by sucking blood, and children’s blood, too.’ Industrial Kapital devours the bodies of workers, even child labourers, draining them of their life blood in order to perpetuate its dysfunctional production and consumption.
|Prometheus/Marx being tortured by Capitalist Censorship|
Most importantly, Marx understood the ancient dramatists’ fascination with ignorance in connection with atrocity (Thyestes does not know what he’s eating any more than Oedipus knows whom he’s marrying) as expressing the idea of false consciousness. We all suffer delusions about the economic system we live under. They enable us to tolerate the atrocities it entails.
|Claudia's 2008 Persians with mass chorus of local citizens|