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Reviews Charles Segal. Euripides and the Poetics of Sorrow. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. Pp. xiv + 314. $45.00. In Euripides and the Poetics of Sorrow. Charles Segal examines the handling of sorrow in Alcestis, Hippolytus, and Hecuba in regard to gender, divinity, authorial self-consciousness, and audience reaction. He notes, for example, that male and female characters, humans and divinities , city and self, and characters and audience respond differently. Males use public space and weep reluctantly; women use interior space and weep openly; the gods show no emotion at human suffering; and, through a kind of sympathy, the probably all-male audience, as Aristotle says in the Poetics, is purged of pity and fear (1449b). From Segal's earlier work, readers know that he explains drama functionally. He believes tragedy creates a "space between" where "order and disorder " and contradictory impulses "lose their familiar clarity of definitions and energies are released to combine in new ways." This basically anthropological, psychological, and didactic perspective (utile) sees the "pleasure of tragic song" as providing "comfort, solace, and security amid anxiety, confusion, and loss" and alleviating "the distress and pain inherent in the condition of mortality." The approach tends to cloud al times the purely inventive pleasure (duke) and importance of imagination's ability to take "'pieces of recollection from here and there and . . . sew them together, to see how ... the probable differs from the true" (Augustine. De Trinitate XlI. ii.2). It imagines audiences at drama festivals responding more like acolytes at a communal service than as citizens weighing the terrible events which they are witnessing against their present conditions and taking pleasure, as Joseph Addison says, in their not being in those dangers (The Spectator, No. 418). Segal draws slightly different emphases from the sorrow present in each of the plays. From Alcestis. which "begins with death, goes on to the completion of the funeral rites," and then, by defeating death, finds additional action, he derives a need to break out of the femaledominated house and the particularly female lyric genre of the dirge, or threnos, and enter the male-dominated realm of generosity, hospitality , heroism, civic art, and the exclusively male epinician, or victory song. He finds the play espousing theatrical activity as the way out of oblivion. From Hippolytus and the mutually exclusive male and female languages of its principals, he constructs the conditions for the tragedy and the means to offset its damages through the initiation of a commemorative ritual in which maidens will celebrate Hippolytus and Phaedra in song and mourning. From Hecuba, which repeats some of the earlier criticisms of female language, he isolates a joining of "personal change and cultural decline with the fabulous, mythical motif of metamorphosis and . . . evocations of maenadic ritual." The result 286 Reviews287 serves as an alternative to "the familiar tragic topos of mutability of fortune" in explaining '"psychological and cultural identity"' and deciding "who or what is the real Hecuba and whether a stable definition of female character is possible." Resistance to change through Polyxena's "fidelity to an innate nobility of nature, is the foil to the change that takes place in Hecuba as she moves from maternal tenderness to terrifying vengefulness." What is most frightening in this metamorphosis is the way enemies come to resemble one another. Segal sees in the three actions female challenges to the limits of predominantly masculine centers of power and authority, brought on by intense emotional commitments to house and family and creating "spaces between" wherein, again, this time through sorrow, "energies are released to combine in new ways."' The book is a compilation of separate essays on the three plays which Segal has published since 1988, and it should be read as such rather than as a work with a single, unified, overarching thesis. Its origin in pieces or modular units accounts for repetition and shifts in emphasis which might be annoying if the book were read as a single unit but essential if one is reading a separate chapter, as, alas, is increasingly how scholarly texts are read today. This origin accounts as well for a slight incoherence, as topics intrude and disappear more to justify the contexts of their...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 286-287
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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