About face: an inverse archaeology of Ep. 115


  • Victoria Rimell University of Warwick




This essay considers Ep. 115, after Ep. 114, as a culminating chapter in Seneca’s exploration of how to interpret the interplay between soul (animus) and appearance (facies, uultus). In response to this letter – an affectively intense phenomenon that presumes and invites inter-relation – I experiment in setting Seneca’s juxtapositions of face-to-face encounters in poetic citations (Virgil, Ovid, Euripides) alongside psychologist Silvan Tomkins’ work on faciality and its reception in psychotherapy, affect theory and theories of ‘surface reading’ in literary studies and in classical reception. Reading the language of the face is complicated and put under pressure in Seneca by the distinctivenessand bodily nature of different emotions, and by the notion that masking is a form of political resistance or even philosophical virtue. The letter’s jarring texture, faceless author and ‘inverse archaeology’ of the soul as itself a facies, draw attention to what is lost, in human terms, when faces become unreadable. Seneca offers neither a timeless, sensuous spur for ‘surface reading’, nor an easy antidote to the hermeneutics of suspicion.




Come citare

Rimell, V. (2022). About face: an inverse archaeology of Ep. 115. Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 2, 225–252. https://doi.org/10.13133/2785-2849/2400