University Of Tasmania
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The inward turn : reading masochism in Latin literature

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:37 authored by Donnelly, EJ
This thesis examines the masochistic persona in literature. Beginning with the Marquis de Sade's representation of masochism in Justine, it identifies three key tropes that make up the masochistic character: control, choice, and responsibility. These tropes are then applied to three classical texts: the Satyricon, the Lesbia poems of Catullus, and Seneca's Thyestes. The first section of this dissertation establishes the masochistic identities of these three characters: Encolpius is the masochistic victim of his own passive and submissive nature; Catullus' masochism manifests out of a distortion of his love for Lesbia; and Thyestes labours under masochistic delusion, as he is lured home to Argos by his desire for wealth. After establishing the masochistic identity of these three characters, the second section analyses the impact that masochists have upon narrative. Both Justine and Encolpius are first-person, intradiegetic narrators, and as such their masochism directly affects the narrative. They interpret and relay information in an unreliable way, which is coloured by their individual masochistic characteristics. Catullus' narrative is similarly biased as a result of his masochism. His perception of his relationship with Lesbia is that she holds all the power, and that he is powerless; the reader has no access to Lesbia's voice, or to any other information that may mediate Catullus' perspective. Finally, Thyestes' masochism means that his narrative ‚Äö- framed as it is in a mimetic, dramatic form ‚Äö- does not have the power to become unreliable, because his passivity and masochistic delusion make him an unpersuasive character. Ultimately, this thesis illustrates that masochistic characters have a pervasive impact on the development of a text's narrative: by their nature masochists vacillate, and so they effectively prolong narratives, move them laterally, and, by their self-reflexive victimisation bring about critical shifts in the narrative.


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