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Ben Jonson's

SEJANUS

 

Sejanus was first acted in 1603, and came to be included in the Folio of 1616. Like its twin Catiline, Sejanus deals with a failed insurrection against the Roman ruling order; and, as in Catiline, the insurgent faction is identified with the unseen world, or broader libido, or even Darth Vader principle (remember Vader’s phalloid helmet):

Drusus We must shortly pray

            To Modestie, that he will rest contented –

Arruntius I, where he is, and not write emperor.

                                                                        (Act I)

Cordus Did you observe how they inveighed against Caesar?

Arruntius I, baits, baits, for us to bite at…

                                                                (Act II)

Gallus See, see their action!

Arruntius I, now their heads do travail…

                                                               (Act II)

Sejanus Am I called? Macro I, thou,

Thou insolent monster, art bid stand.

                                                      (Act V)

Lepidus And this man [Sejanus] fall! Fall? I, without a look…

                                                                                            (Act V)

We have seen in Catiline that Cicero, the supreme wordsmith, together with the many letters that flow back and forth between the camps, bear the allegoric value of the written word, as the key medium of the Gnostic knowledge and wisdom which will effect the psychic transformation in question. The libido bears the potential, as was actualised in the case of Will Shakspere (see especially Troilus and Cressida and Henry the Eighth), to overwhelm the process of Gnostic meditation. Thus the esoteric tradition insisted on the victory over the raw passions as a prerequisite of the attainment of Gnostic nobility. This is the point of the mangy, half-starved dog in Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I (fig. ). This principle was also enshrined, as we have seen, in the ritual of the twenty-eighth degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, which states: ‘Ye who have not the power to subdue passion, flee from this place of truth.’ This is echoed here:

Sabinus With good temper, I like him, that he is not moved with passion.

                                                                                                             (Act III)

The written word is represented here principally by the written proclamations and communication from Tiberius in the temple of Apollo, scene as allegory of the defeat of the libido in Act V; and also by the renowned annalist Cremetius Cordus, the subject of whose books is, in the typical Gnostic way, the unseen world as idea, and who the insurgents (unseen world as untamed will) have in their sights:

Natta O Cordus do you call him? Latiaris I.

The visual imagination is the key faculty in the attainment of Gnostic nobility, and is celebrated as such in the First Folio as allegory, as shown in Ugly Dick, in the character of Michael (sourced from Trithemius’ ), as well as the numerous Watches and torches and flares. In Catiline it is represented by Mark Antony, as we have seen. Just so here, this faculty (more precisely, the reasoning imagination) is enshrined in the character of Sertorius Macro:

Tiberius Macro is sharp, and apprehends. Besides,

              I know him subtle, close, wise, and well-read

              In man, and his large nature. He hath studied

              Affections, passions, knows their springs, their ends,

              Which way, and whether they will work…

                                                                              (Act III)

Hence Macro’s utterly central role in organising and executing the defeat of the rebels at the temple of Apollo in the final Act. Here is another Watch:

Macro And tell him it must early be proclaimed

            The place, Apollo’s temple. Regulus That’s remembered.

Macro And at what hour. Regulus Yes. Macro You do forget

            To send one for the Provost of the watch?

Regulus I have not: here he comes.

                                                     (Act V)

Here is an uncanny echo of the words of the Gnostic Christ:

Jesus said: “Perhaps people think that I have come to impose peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to impose conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war. For there will be five in a house: There will be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father, and they will stand alone.”

                                                                                              Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas, 16, (trans. Marvin Meyer).

Macro I will not ask, why Caesar bids do this…

           Were it to plot against the fame, the life

           Of one, with whom I twinned; remove a wife

           From my warm side, as loved, as is the air;

           Practise away each parent; draw mine heir

           In compass, though but one; work all my kin

           To swift perdition; leave no untrained engine,

           For friendship, or for innocence; nay, make

           The gods all guilty: I would undertake

           This, being imposed me, both with gain, and ease.

                                                                                     (Act III)

– And here, of the Star of Bethlehem:

Terentius Minutius tells us here, my lord,

                 That, a new head being set upon your statue,

                 A rope is since found wreathed about it! and,

                 But now, a fiery meteor, in the form

                 Of a great ball, was seen to role along

                 The troubled air, where yet it hangs, imperfect…

                                                                                           (Act III)

This is also another instance of beheading in its common esoteric role as a symbol of rebirth (see, for example, the apparition in Macbeth). Solomon and Alexander and Christ are used at different times in FF to represent the Gnostic ideal. In Sejanus, this key value is born by Germanicus and his children, whom the insurgents have in their sights:

Cordus I thought once…

             To have paralleled him with great Alexander:

             For both were of the best feature, of high race…

                                                                                       (Act I)

Germanicus’ mother Agrippina is therefore logically the Queen of Hell-Grail Queen, whose realm is the unseen world of nature:

Tiberius Knowes yet, Sejanus, whom we point at?

Sejanus I, or else my thought, my sense, or both do err:

‘Tis Agrippina? Tiberius She; and her proud race.

                                                                            (Act II)

Augusta, mother of Tiberius, also bears this value:

Sejanus And then they must compare her with Augusta,

              I, and prefer her too…

– For it is the unseen world, as contemplated as idea or symbol, which gives birth to the Gnostic ego. This dual role of the unseen world, as villain (as blind will) to the hero, and also the means (as idea or symbol) of his salvation, is expressed also in Luke Skywalker’s realisation that Darth Vader, hitherto his mortal enemy, is in truth his father, atonement with whom is the goal of his quest. This is a key principle in transformative journeys of this kind. The poison that does for Drusus, son of Germanicus, and therefore representative of the Gnostic ideal, is identified with the unseen world:

Sejanus Lygdus? What’s he? Livia An eunuch Drusus loves.

Eudemus I, and his cup-bearer.

                                                (Act II)

The Gnostic hero is protected against the flooding of the ego by the blind will:

Arruntius I, to pray that,

               Which would to his [Tiberius’] head be as hot as thunder,

               (‘Gainst which he wears that charm) should but the court

                Receive him at his word.

– Where the ‘charm’ is a laurel wreath arcing the brows. A comma seems to have been deliberately inserted here, so that ‘I’ may resonate between its pronominal and familiar esoteric meanings:

Sejanus Her, I, indeed adore.

                                              (Act V)

 

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