Research Stream


Jacqueline Clarke (2017)
The University of Adelaide

Family Passions: Correr’s Early-Humanist Reception of Seneca and Ovid

This project examines the early-Humanist and Christian reception of extreme emotional states explored in some Classical myths and literary works.

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By analysing Gregorio Correr’s early-Humanist tragedy, Progne (1427), as a reception both of Seneca’s bloodcurdling tragedy the Thyestes and one of the most disturbing myths narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, it focuses upon the distorting effect of strong emotions on family relationships, with particular regard to the emotional consequences of violent rape within the family.

When Gregorio Correr composed his Latin tragedy the Progne in 1427, he adapted Seneca’s Thyestes with its dark exploration of a family torn apart by the corrosive emotions of rage and envy to a myth narrated in Ovid Metamorphoses Book 6: the rape and mutilation of Philomela by her brother-in law Tereus and the terrible revenge exacted by his wife Procne for his violation of her sister. In doing so, he altered what is sometimes referred to as an ‘all male tragedy’ into one that largely focused upon female protagonists, making rape the emotional centre of his work.

Clarke’s project analyses Correr’s reception of the emotions explored in Seneca and Ovid, focusing in particular upon the way he depicts the emotional impact of rape and the effect that this has on the bonds between the two sisters, Procne and Philomela, the husband and wife, Tereus and Procne and, ultimately, the mother Procne and her son Itys (whom she kills, dismembers and serves up to her husband for his dinner!). Clarke will explore how Correr, as both a Humanist and Christian, comes to terms with the disturbing emotions treated in these pagan works of literature, emotions so extreme that they culminate in a barbaric act of infanticide and cannibalism. Her project will offer insight into the Humanist and Christian attitude to rage, particularly the rage of women.

As Humanist tragedies form a bridge between Seneca’s tragedies and the revenge tragedies of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage (indeed Progne was performed in front of Queen Elizabeth in 1566), Clarke’s project may also contribute to the understanding of Elizabethan dramatists’ treatment of female rage.

This project falls under the area ‘Meanings’ which aims to explore how emotions were understood and expressed in Europe from 1100‒1800.


Clarke, J. ‘Rape, Revenge and Resurrection in Correr's Progne’. The International Journal of the Classical Tradition (online May 2018).

Image: Tereus Confronted with the Head of his Son Itylus Peter Paul Rubens (1636‒1638) Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.