Student Research Projects

Stoicism in “Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria”

Student Christopher Merrell '16 (Classical Studies and History)
Department Classics
Course Classics 330: Classical Epic and the Epic Tradition


This project addresses the question of whether Monteverdi's opera “Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria” has a "Neostoic framework," as suggested by Professor Carter, and if so, what that framework involves. This project uses the works of Epictetus as the main primary source for understanding Stoicism, but the essay also includes important references to Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. Studying these thinkers along with scholarly interpretations of them has led to a discovery: Monteverdi's “Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria” interprets the “Odyssey” as a victory of Stoic virtues, such as patience and self control, over the overwhelming powers that constantly plague the characters, namely time, fortune, and love. It is Stoic because human beings are not the victims but the victors, in spite of these forces being against them. The discovery is significant because it demonstrates the ways in which ancient philosophy helps to interpret the meaning of the “Odyssey.” While the “Odyssey” came before Stoicism, Stoicism has shaped the human understanding of the epic.