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The Captive Woman's Lament in Greek Tragedy

By Casey Dué

Publication Year: 2006

The laments of captive women found in extant Athenian tragedy constitute a fundamentally subversive aspect of Greek drama. In performances supported by and intended for the male citizens of Athens, the songs of the captive women at the Dionysia gave a voice to classes who otherwise would have been marginalized and silenced in Athenian society: women, foreigners, and the enslaved. The Captive Woman's Lament in Greek Tragedy addresses the possible meanings ancient audiences might have attached to these songs. Casey Dué challenges long-held assumptions about the opposition between Greeks and barbarians in Greek thought by suggesting that, in viewing the plight of the captive women, Athenian audiences extended pity to those least like themselves. Dué asserts that tragic playwrights often used the lament to create an empathetic link that blurred the line between Greek and barbarian. After a brief overview of the role of lamentation in both modern and classical traditions, Dué focuses on the dramatic portrayal of women captured in the Trojan War, tracing their portrayal through time from the Homeric epics to Euripides' Athenian stage. The author shows how these laments evolved in their significance with the growth of the Athenian Empire. She concludes that while the Athenian polis may have created a merciless empire outside the theater, inside the theater they found themselves confronted by the essential similarities between themselves and those they sought to conquer.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

I have received a great deal of support during the writing of this book. A University of Houston New Faculty Research Grant and a summer grant from the University of Houston Women’s Studies Program allowed me to complete the bulk of the research and writing...

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pp. 1-29

Laments of captive women play a substantial role in the Greek literature that has come down to us. In the extract from Seven Against Thebes that I cite above, the chorus of Theban women lament in anticipation of disaster, envisioning with perfect clarity the simultaneous destruction of their city and the capture and rape of its women. That disaster is never in fact realized...

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Chapter One: Men’s Songs and Women’s Songs

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pp. 30-56

Are the voices of women in men’s poetry representative of women’s independent song traditions? What role, if any, did women’s song traditions play in the shaping of men’s epic traditions (and, later, tragedy)? In recent years scholars have begun to suggest that women’s lament traditions may have played a crucial role in the development of epic and tragedy, which were traditionally performed...

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Chapter Two: Identifying with the Enemy: Love, Loss, and Longing in The Persians of Aeschylus

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pp. 57-90

In the fi rst two decades of the fifth century b.c., the century in which Greek tragedy as we know it flourished, the Greeks were attacked twice by the vastly larger army and navy of the Persian Empire. Against all odds, both times they ultimately succeeded in fending them off. But the cost was high. In 480 b.c. the people of Athens abandoned their city to the Persians...

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Chapter Three: Athenians and Trojans

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pp. 91-116

Before we can examine the laments and plight of the captive Trojan women in Euripides’ Trojan War plays in a meaningful way, it is first necessary to establish an understanding of the Athenians’ particular relationship with the Trojan War. What associations does the Trojan War as a theme carry with it? How are Trojans and the fall of Troy represented in Athenian literature...

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Chapter Four: The Captive Woman’s Lament and Her Revenge in Euripides’ Hecuba

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pp. 117-135

I would like to begin my discussion of the laments of captive Trojan women in Euripides by examining Euripides’ Hecuba, which is thought to have been produced first during the mid-420s b.c., at the height of the first phase of the Peloponnesian War.3 Hecuba was famously all-suffering, and of all the victims...

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Chapter Five: A River Shouting with Tears: Euripides’ Trojan Women

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pp. 136-150

The Trojan Women, first produced in 416 b.c., is both the easiest and the most difficult to interpret of the plays under discussion, and indeed it is this deceptive ease that prompted the writing of this book. The play is an unrelenting portrait of suffering, and has had a great deal of success in modern productions as a play that protests...

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Chapter Six: The Captive Woman in the House: Euripides’ Andromache

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pp. 151-162

Euripides’ Andromache may not have been originally produced in Athens, if we may trust the comment of a scholiast at line 445 of the play, nor can we be certain of the date of its production, which is generally assumed to be the mid 420s.1 It is, moreover, a complicated drama that has not always been admired, though several recent studies have gone a long way...

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Conclusion: The Tears of Pity

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pp. 163-167

Tragedy often forced Athens to confront itself. Athenian tragedy examines the policies, actions, belief structures, and values of its citizens. It does so, however, only for the duration of the performance. In the end, for all that examination and after all the suffering, these same policies, actions, belief structures, and values are often only reaffirmed for the spectators...


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pp. 169-183


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pp. 185-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780292796119
E-ISBN-10: 0292796110
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292709461
Print-ISBN-10: 0292709463

Page Count: 199
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 69174545
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Captive Woman's Lament in Greek Tragedy

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Subject Headings

  • Slavery in literature.
  • Revenge in literature.
  • Women in literature.
  • Greek drama (Tragedy) -- History and criticism.
  • Women and literature -- Greece.
  • Prisoners of war in literature.
  • Laments -- Greece -- History and criticism.
  • Women prisoners in literature.
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