Virtue and vice on stage

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3 Scopus citations


Philo’s claims to have attended the theater are well known; yet the extent to which dramatic themes inform his writings remains to be explored. This study juxtaposes two of Philo’s treatises that engage with drama in disparate ways. First, in the Legatio ad Gaium, drawing on contemporary disdain for acting, Philo criticizes the emperor’s theatrical pretentions. Coupled with his aspirations for divine honors, Philo depicts Gaius’ passion for performing as particularly contemptuous. More than mere personal folly, however, Gaius’ administration was an enactment of a tragic plot in which the Jews had become the dramatic victims. By contrast, in Quod omnis probus liber sit, Philo provides a string of exempla in support of the Stoic paradox that the virtuous person is truly free, even if enslaved; among these are two popular dramatic heroes: Polyxena and Heracles. The contrast between these two treatises foregrounds the complexity of Philo’s relationship with the stage: on the one hand, the bloody violence of tragedy is emblematic of Gaius’ policies toward the Jews; on the other, individual dramatis personae are evoked as embodying the ideals of virtue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-256
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Ancient Judaism
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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