This paper is an attempt to think through paranoia’s epistemic and affective features, which pervade both the worldview presented in Senecan tragedy and the inner life of many of its protagonists. Drawing upon recent literary-critical work, I argue that paranoia is temporally and epistemically ambivalent: subjects simultaneously attempt to “get ahead” of a looming cataclysm—looking to the future in an attempt to avert disaster—while inevitably “falling behind,” failing to predict or preempt the future in time to protect themselves. Much of Senecan tragedy plays out paranoia’s future-oriented vigilance on the formal level. Foreshadowing, allusions, and meta-literary flourishes serve to render both readers and characters hyperaware of the earth-shattering horrors to come; however, in doing so, they also reveal that this forward-oriented bracing only serves to dredge up negative affect in advance. By contrast, I argue that Seneca’s Phoenissae thematizes in the character of Oedipus not only paranoia’s future-looking vigilance but also its inherent lagging, the failure to know and act in advance. These elements of slowness, stuckness, and delay open a space for stillness, relief, and intimacy, even within a narrative which hurtles toward cataclysm.

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