Female Acts in Greek Tragedy

Female Acts in Greek Tragedy

Helene P. Foley
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 424
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s7m1
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  • Book Info
    Female Acts in Greek Tragedy
    Book Description:

    Although Classical Athenian ideology did not permit women to exercise legal, economic, and social autonomy, the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides often represent them as influential social and moral forces in their own right. Scholars have struggled to explain this seeming contradiction. Helene Foley shows how Greek tragedy uses gender relations to explore specific issues in the development of the social, political, and intellectual life in the polis. She investigates three central and problematic areas in which tragic heroines act independently of men: death ritual and lamentation, marriage, and the making of significant ethical choices. Her anthropological approach, together with her literary analysis, allows for an unusually rich context in which to understand gender relations in ancient Greece.

    This book examines, for example, the tragic response to legislation regulating family life that may have begun as early as the sixth century. It also draws upon contemporary studies of virtue ethics and upon feminist reconsiderations of the Western ethical tradition. Foley maintains that by viewing public issues through the lens of the family, tragedy asks whether public and private morality can operate on the same terms. Moreover, the plays use women to represent significant moral alternatives. Tragedy thus exploits, reinforces, and questions cultural clichés about women and gender in a fashion that resonates with contemporary Athenian social and political issues.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2473-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introductory Note and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    Greek tragedy was written and performed by men and aimed—perhaps not exclusively if women were present in the theater—at a large, public male audience.¹ Masculine identity and conflicts remain central to the enterprise, but the texts often explore or query these issues through female characters and the culturally more marginal positions that they occupy. Such indirection is basic to the genre as a whole. Tragic plots borrow from the whole repertoire of Greek myths, often myths about cities other than Athens, and the plays take place in the remote past. The heroic kings who dominate the cities of...

  6. Part I THE POLITICS OF TRAGIC LAMENTATION
    (pp. 19-56)

    Readers and viewers of Greek tragedy sometimes find their attention wandering during the often lengthy scenes of ritual lamentation in Greek tragedy. My students have almost reached the point of horrified laughter when considering the scene in Euripides’Bacchaewhere Cadmus and Agave apparently lamented each part of the dismembered body of king Pentheus and reconstituted it for proper burial on stage. During these moments of distraction, we tell ourselves that although our own society is uncomfortable with lengthy and elaborate public displays of misery, we must be tolerant of a cultural difference. As readers of Aristotle’sPoetics,we believe...

  7. Part II THE CONTRADICTIONS OF TRAGIC MARRIAGE
    (pp. 57-106)

    The plots of Attic New Comedy of the fourth century B.C.E. and later generally revolve around the marriages and love affairs of Athenian men. A typical plot recognizes intractable social obstacles to the fulfillment of desire yet can conclude with a young man enabled to marry the girl of his dreams because she turns out after all to be a marriageable citizen daughter, to legitimize the child of a raped (citizen) virgin, or to prolong an affair with a sympathetic concubine (pallakē) orhetaira(courtesan or prostitute) who has caught his fancy.¹ Although the exact relation of these plots to...

  8. Part III WOMEN AS MORAL AGENTS IN GREEK TRAGEDY
    (pp. 107-300)

    In thePoetics,Aristotle defines tragic character in relation to tragic choice. In drama, character, Aristotle argues, reveals aprohairesisor a process of undertaking commitment in which a person chooses to act or to abstain from action in circumstances where the choice is not obvious (Poetics6.1450b8–10).¹ What I would like to begin to explore in this part of the book is the representation of the making and enacting of difficult moral choices—if not necessarily difficult choices in precisely the Aristotelian sense—by female characters in Greek tragedy, and to examine the complex interrelation between female moral...

  9. Part IV ANODOS DRAMAS: EURIPIDES’ ALCESTIS AND HELEN
    (pp. 301-332)

    Homer’sOdysseybestows on Penelopekleos,the immortal fame conferred by epic poetry, for her chastity and her brilliance in devising the stratagem of the web (2.125 and 24.196–97,kleos . . . aretēs). At the same time the poem pointedly contrasts the heroine’s creative fidelity to her husband with the adultery and treachery of Clytemnestra and (more discreetly) Helen. Attic tragedy, apparently preferring to dramatize the Clytemnestras over the Penelopes,¹ rarely pronounces women worthy of an eternal reputation foraretē(virtue or excellence) that even in epic is largely reserved for men. Euripidean drama awardskleosto its sacrificial...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 333-338)

    Unquestionably, ancient Greece left a legacy to later Western culture that reinforced symbolic links between female, “nature,” domestic/private, emotion/the irrational, and passivity and male, culture, public, rational/the selfcontrolled, and activity.¹ Greek conceptions of the self and of models of human achievement were also structured in our remaining documents from a male point of view, with women, barbarians, slaves, and children serving to define less fully human alternatives. The characters of Greek tragedy can openly articulate such clichés about gender, and tragic action can directly or indirectly reinforce them, in part through conformity to cultural ideals and in part through its...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 339-368)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 369-386)
  13. Index Locorum
    (pp. 387-410)