publisher colophon
  • The Child’s Voice in Euripidean Tragedy: Socialization Through Challenge*

INTRODUCTION

Euripides was the first playwright to develop juvenile characters who could speak before an audience.1 Nine of his extant plays include prepubescent children in the cast (Romilly 1986.82–85, Menu 1992.239–40, 1995.146), but only three feature children with singing parts on stage.2 These parts are short lyric passages alternating with adult responses or interruptions: the monody of the son of Alcestis in Alcestis (393–403, 406–15);3 [End Page 203] the amoibaion (lyric exchange) between Molossus and Andromache in Andromache that culminates in the child’s supplication of Menelaus (501–14, 523–36); and the kommos (antiphonal ritual lament) performed by the two choruses of mothers and sons of the dead Argive warriors in the Supplices (1123–64). In these short segments, Euripides presents children—usually silent secondary characters (Fantham 1986.268 and Yoon 2012.34)—as individuals in their own right who make their voices heard.4

My purpose is twofold. First, I seek to provide a comprehensive examination of children’s voices on stage, a topic that has not yet received sufficient attention either in the study of Greek drama or in that of the history of childhood. Second, I explore the basic question of why, among all of Euripides’ child characters, these particular sons are given a voice—beyond the obvious purpose of enhancing dramatic tension and pathos.5 One reason for this is that these sons are destined to survive, thus providing familial and communal generational continuity; from their point of view, all the plays can be said to have “happy endings.” Moreover, these children are old enough to understand their situation and its implications. Of particular significance are the occasions on which these children sing. In each case, it is a private or public religious ceremony—that is, a widely practiced ritual that was one of the main tools of socialization in the Greek oikos (“family”) and polis.6

While exploring to what extent the representations of the children in these passages corresponds to the image of children and their characteristics in Greek tragedy in general, I will also situate these passages within a broader socio-cultural reality and in relation to the representation [End Page 204] of childhood experiences “offstage” in two ways. First, the lyrics sung by children reflect Greek assumptions regarding minors’ responses to unsettling circumstances, predominantly the loss of a parent whether by death or absence, that also challenged the civic community of classical Athens. The songs thus provide detailed pictures of how children’s own experiences and perspectives in disconcerting situations were perceived.7 Second, there is an unequivocal and strong interconnection between voice and maturity. All these singing children undergo a process of accelerated socialization, metamorphizing from helpless minors into dynamic individuals capable of responding to their own situations—unlike children’s stereotypical characteristics in tragedy and beyond. Religious ritual proficiency, exhibited through the voice, allows the children to become active agents in their own integration into the adult community. The theatre audience is assured of their resilience: they can reach adulthood and fulfil their roles as full members of society.

ALCESTIS

Alcestis (438 bce), the first surviving tragedy in which a child sings on stage, is the only one of the thirty-two surviving tragic plays in which a monologue is performed by a child. Although the play features both a son and a daughter whose exact ages and names are not indicated in the text, only the voice of the boy, sometimes called Eumelus, is heard.8

The thematic focus of the play is Alcestis’ sacrificial act of tendering her life in place of that of her husband Admetus and the familial response to her death (Segal 1993.51–62). The presence of children on stage for more than a third of the play (entering after 242 and remaining until [End Page 205] 434, when they return to the palace with Admetus for the funeral), highlights their key role in Alcestis’ dilemma: should she fulfil her obligations as a mother or perform this enormous sacrifice as a wife?9

The son’s monody comes towards the end of the second episode, which focuses on the separation of Alcestis from her family.10 The boy was probably played by one of the participants in the boys’ choruses who competed at the City Dionysia or by a well-trained child actor capable of singing lyrics.11 He seems to be at his mother’s bedside and, in all probability, there was an ekkyklēma on stage, so Alcestis would be seen by the audience lying on her couch surrounded by her family and household (Luschnig and Roisman 2003.92). Although it is usual today to keep death physically (and emotionally) separate from everyday life, in ancient Greece, death was a routine part of life, and the funeral process began at home. Children were, therefore, involved in the experience of death and practiced mourning rituals together with the adults (e.g., E. Tr. 1182–84), as is documented in iconographic representations from the early archaic period onward (Rühfel 1984.31–45, Oakley 2003.163–72, Langdon 2008.58–62 and 2015.218–26).

The monody, a lament in its mood and content, is the boy’s initial response to Alcestis’ death. The fact that the child character is the first of the family to react emphasizes his loss of his mother and contrasts Eumelus’s vulnerability with the more practical behavior of his father Admetus, who, at that moment, is burdened with the task of organizing the funeral (Koonce 1962.48). This is the first time in the literary sources that parental loss is presented from the perspective of a child, although it is not a formal response, for the official ceremony has not yet begun.12 However, [End Page 206] the monody “exhibits many of the normal features of conventionally adult formal lament” (Koonce 1962.184), in a scene that recalls the laying out of the body, the prothesis (πρόθεσις), which was an important stage in the proceedings for performing ritual lamentation and the best documented in the sources.13 In the monody’s first part, the strophe, the child refers mainly to himself and his emotional situation, beginning his lyrics with words that declare and acknowledge his mother’s death (393–99):

ἰώ μοι τύχας. μαῖα δὴ κάτωβέβακεν, οὐκέτ’ ἔστιν, ὦπάτερ, ὑφ’ ἁλίωι,προλιποῦσα δ’ ἐμὸν βίονὠρφάνισεν τλάμων.†ἴδε γὰρ ἴδε βλέφαρον καὶ†παρατόνους χέρας.

Alas, my misfortune, mommy is gone, / father, / she no longer exists under the sun, / she, stout-hearted, has departed from my life / and has made me an orphan, / †See her closed eyelids / and† her hands hanging down at her sides.14

The tone and language are characteristic of responses to death in personal lamentations. Hence the simple structure of the child’s sentences, as noted by Luschnig and Roisman (2003.182), is not so much an effort to reproduce childish language (which is not found in the tragic genre: Sifakis 1979.73, Golden 1995.32, Parker 2007.131, and Thomas 2010.195 n. 26),15 as it is a reflection of conventional mourning formulae that bear no [End Page 207] relation to the boy’s young age. The content of the monody instead highlights his acquisition of ritualistic religious knowledge. He would have been exposed to both familial and communal worship where he learned to imitate the words and actions of the adults.16 Many ritual laments and first reactions to death in the sources, including tragedy, open with assertions of the fact of death and the loneliness of the bereaved who has been deprived of the support of the dead family member (Koonce 1962.184–85 and Alexiou 2002.193–95).

In addition, this child echoes the phrases previously heard from adults in the play. For example, verses 393–94 are identical to Alcestis’ words in 379; verse 394 repeats the chorus’ statement at 392 and Alcestis’ at 270–71: “Children, children, your mother is not alive / doesn’t exist anymore” (τέκνα τέκν’, οὐκέτι δὴ / οὐκέτι μάτηρ σφῶιν ἔστιν; cf. 390); while verse 396 echoes Admetus’s declaration of his personal feeling of abandonment (386, 391). Language that specifically relates to the child’s young age can, perhaps, be seen in Eumelus’s use of the word μαῖα in his desperate appeal to his father (395),17 and in the “chick” (νεοσσός) metaphor in the second part of the strophe where the boy, calling to his dead mother, displays mainly physical and emotional responses (400–03):

ὑπάκουσον ἄκουσον, ὦ μᾶτερ, ἀντιάζω.ἐγώ σ’ ἐγώ, μᾶτερ,†καλοῦμαι ὁ σὸς ποτὶ σοῖσι πίτ-νων† στόμασιν νεοσσός.

Give ear and hear me, mother, I’m entreating (you) /  I’m †calling you,† mother, I’m your chick, / [falling down] onto your lips.

Euripides often uses bird similes and metaphors in relation to his child characters to indicate their tender age and helplessness and emphasize [End Page 208] their need for parental protection (Sifakis 1979.68–69, 78).18 They are comparable to the gesture of clutching at the mother’s robes that is mentioned in Alcestis’ death scene (189–90; cf. Heracl. 48–49, Tr. 750), while the phrase “[falling down] onto your lips,” albeit not entirely clear,19 demonstrates how actions reflect familial emotions. This display of emotion through touch appears in Euripides at the moment of separation before death and is similar to the earlier scene wherein Alcestis weeps and kisses her children before dying (190–91).20 This intimacy between child and mother is disrupted by Admetus’s brief response in iambic trimeters (404–05);21 he offers no comfort, but laments his family’s tragedy, which will also be the focal motif of the child’s verses in the following antistrophe (406–15):

νέος ἐγώ, πάτερ, λείπομαι φίλαςμονόστολός τε ματρός· ὦσχέτλια δὴ παθὼνἐγὼ ἔργ’, ἃ σὺ σύγκασί μοι συνέτλας κούρα.. . .. . . ὦ πάτερ,ἀνόνατ’ ἀνόνατ’ ἐνύμφευσας οὐδὲ γήρωςἔβας τέλος σὺν τᾶιδ’·ἔφθιτο γὰρ πάρος· οἰχομένας δὲ σοῦ,μᾶτερ, ὄλωλεν οἶκος.

I’m too young, father, to be left alone, / without my dear mother / what a cruel thing I suffer / which you / girl, my own sister, share with me together / . . . / father, / you’ve [End Page 209] married in vain, / and you will grow old without her. / She disappeared aforetime. With your departure, / mother, the oikos is lost.

The feelings of bereavement and doom, which are additional characteristics of laments, are demonstrated by the boy’s repeated invocation of his young age (νέος, 406) and of his sense of abandonment and the loss of maternal love.22 But then, from this point on (407), the boy turns to the experiences of his sister and father, remarking on their common misfortune. In the context of mourning, this switch from references to the dead to references to the other silent figures in the scene usually occurs when a parent fears for the future of an orphaned child (Koonce 1962.186), but here the situation is reversed. The child’s concern for Admetus and his sister is a sharp twist from private grief to collective mourning for the family and indicates a more mature developmental stage, as well as deviating from what was normally regarded in the literary sources as a young child’s mental and intellectual incompetence (e.g., S. OT 1511–12 L.J.-W., Arist. Pol. 1260a11–14, 31–33, and Golden 2015.4–6). Euripides often attributes to a single child behaviors consistent with different ages (Kassel 1991.50–51),23 but here the inconsistency in the age-appropriate behaviors is particularly pointed. The boy now expresses notions (not just phrases) that are more characteristic of the adult world, echoing Admetus’s earlier remark about the strokes of fate that have afflicted his family (264–65) and pointing to the misfortune of the whole household: his sister, still young (κούρα, 410), has become an orphan, and his father will now grow old alone, since his marriage was in vain (an idea repeated by Admetus later in the play: 880–87). This feeling that a mother’s death affects the entire family appears again in Theseus’s pronouncement following Phaedra’s suicide in Hippolytus (845–51),24 and is a recurring motif on epitaphs.25 This indicates that it is a conventional sentiment, here placed in the mouth of a child. [End Page 210]

From the socio-familial perspective, the ideas articulated by the mourning child complement Alcestis’ earlier speech that stressed the mother’s importance both to the child’s emotional security throughout childhood and to his or her socialization process. During her prolonged farewell address to Admetus (280–325), when she exacts from him an oath not to remarry, Alcestis warns of the suffering, maltreatment, and damage that an ill-disposed stepmother might inflict on her children (306–10; cf., e.g., Med. 1147–49). She emphasizes in particular her daughter’s marriage and childbirth, two key events that epitomize the mother’s role in a girl’s maturation (313–19) that a stepmother, lacking affection, would not be able to fulfill (Lushnig and Roisman 2003.99–100 on 309). Preparing daughters for marriage and family life in ancient Greece meant preparing them for their social obligations and societal functions. As Michael Dyson (1988.16) remarks, the image of an orphaned girl stresses the family’s vulnerability upon the death of the mother (e.g., CEG 526 ii.1 and ii.2–3). Therefore, Alcestis’ son’s reference to his own status as an orphan and the misfortunes of his orphaned sister suggest a more complicated problem beyond the loss of motherly love, which problem is closely linked with Alcestis’ fear of the injury an evil stepmother might inflict on her children.

This anxiety about a stepmother’s natural and inevitable animosity toward her stepchildren (e.g., Pl. Lg. 930b) is particularly widespread in mythological narratives that gained popularity in fifth-century bce tragedy (Watson 1995.20–49 and 239–57). Although the mythical models, which are characterized by the stepmother’s extremely hostile behavior toward her stepchildren, cannot be traced to any specific historical events, the classical sources clearly point to the conflict and disputes that such relationships can entail by their very nature.26 It is impossible to estimate how many children in classical Athens grew up with stepmothers, but it is reasonable to assume that such cases were not uncommon.27 Although the children’s precise ages are not mentioned, they are evidently still very young, but old enough to understand their new familial circumstances, witness their [End Page 211] father’s oath (371–73), feel grief (penthos, πένθος), and the son can express himself in mourning.28

In Alcestis, the boy’s voice communicates not only the emotions experienced by a child in these circumstances, but also the familial-social challenges that would follow the loss of a mother in classical Athens. This situation of maternal orphanhood lacked a legal definition and was not treated in public discourse, but was probably quite common and had a real potential to subvert the stability of the oikos. Hence by taking upon himself the role of the main mourner in the first reaction to a death in the family and by demonstrating expertise in the conventional ritualistic elements of lamentation, Eumelus exploits this platform both to individuate his own experience and to enable his socialization process. In so doing, he passes from childish vulnerability and helplessness, deprived of motherly love and protection, to a more mature approach, including concern for the welfare of the whole family: he shifts the emphasis from his own sorrow to the common sorrow of the oikos. This transition, which takes place precipitously, suggests that he will survive the obstacles presented by the loss of a mother and succeed in integrating into the adult community.

ANDROMACHE

The play Andromache, which may have been produced around the mid-twenties,29 also features a surviving child given a voice on stage, but it is the only instance in which the child is a suppliant. The plot is set in Phthia and concerns Andromache, Hector’s widow and “spear captive” concubine of Neoptolemus, and the future of their son Molossus (Apollod. Epit. 6.12), who will give his name to the country of Molossia and become the founder of the dynasty of Molossian kings (e.g., Sch. Od. 3.188a Pontani = FrGH 241F42, Sch. Pi. N. 7.56a). This is Thetis’ prophecy at the “happy ending” of the play, when she promises that the boy will establish an unbreakable and prosperous lineage of kings (1247–49).

The child’s name is not mentioned in the text but is listed in the dramatis personae as Μολοττός in the mss. and in Scholia on 309 and 709 [End Page 212] (Stevens 1971.94 on 27). Though his youth is mentioned several times in the play in various formulations (Menu 1995.146, 163 n. 9), neither a precise age nor any characteristics of the actor who played this role are attested.30

The boy is the focus of a dispute arising from problems of legitimacy and inheritance between Hermione (Neoptolemus’s legitimate wife who has not yet given birth to a legal male heir) and Andromache.31 Molossus’s legal status from the contemporary Athenian perspective is that of an illegitimate child, a nothos: a child born to his father outside of wedlock or, eventually, someone whose mother is not Athenian, and, as such, not entitled to citizenship and inheritance.32 Menelaus, Hermione’s father, is concerned that Andromache’s offspring, a nothos of barbarian origin, will come to rule over the Greeks in Phthia. Menelaus and his daughter therefore plan to dispose of both mother and child by taking advantage of the absence of Neoptolemus, who has left for Delphi. The intention to kill Molossus is mentioned at the beginning of the play (68–69), and he speaks in response to that threat to his life in the absence of his father’s protection.

The son’s presence before the audience, which extends over more than 400 verses, includes two entrances onto the stage, beginning in the second episode (309) when he is forcibly removed from his hiding place by Menelaus and his armed reinforcements. He remains silent till his first exit from stage (464) and is passive while listening both to Hermione’s and Menelaus’s plot to kill him and to his mother’s farewell address (from 411), in which she declares her willingness to give her life for him. Anxiety in the face of imminent disaster and the child’s silence increase the dramatic tension required for the climax that follows. [End Page 213]

After a brief absence, Molossus enters the stage again at the beginning of the third episode (494), where he will remain until the end of that episode (765). As in his first entrance, he is brought by force from the palace, together with Andromache, in order to be executed. Mother and child are physically connected: she is bound, and the child clings to her while the chorus recites (494–96):

καὶ μὴν ἐσορῶ τόδε σύγκρατονζεῦγος πρὸ δόμων ψήφωι θανάτουκατακεκριμένον.

Look. I see here, in front of the house, / the pair closely united / sentenced to death.

Their pitiable situation is accentuated by the chorus’s use of anapaests in their greeting speech (497–500), a meter characteristic of choral announcements of processional entrances (cf. Suppl. 1114–22), including for those sentenced to death (Taplin 1977.73, Halleran 1985.13–14, and Lloyd 1994.133). This choral foreword comments on the bitter fate of Andromache and the child, noting the child’s innocence and lack of any guilt or threat, which is a recurring motif in Euripidean tragedy (e.g., 570–71, HF 206, 546, Tr. 764–65; Kassel 1991.48–49) and reflects common tragic perceptions of children.

In this play, Molossus is Andromache’s only child (47); in other versions, Andromache and Neoptolemus are described as having more children (e.g., Paus. 1.11.1 and Wagner 1894.2151). His status as an only child, which was probably an innovation on the part of Euripides, serves to intensify the dramatic effect of the threat to his life (Stevens 1971.98 on 47) and stresses Andromache’s vulnerability and her powerlessness to protect that child, especially because of her fragile social status (Vester 2009.297–99)—just as she had been unable to prevent the Greeks’ murder of her first child, Hector’s son Astyanax (Allan 2000.15–16; cf. Tr. 749–56). But unlike Astyanax, Molossus is destined to survive and establish a royal dynasty, so he must demonstrate strength and for this he is given a voice.

The amoibaion between mother and son is clustered in a strophe (501–14) and antistrophe (522–36), each opened by Andromache and followed by Menelaus’s response (515–22, 537–44). Andromache begins by describing her present dire situation: walking to her death with hands bleeding from their shackles (501–03). Her son first reacts by expressing his [End Page 214] fear (504–05): μᾶτερ μᾶτερ, ἐγὼ δὲ σᾶι / πτέρυγι συγκαταβαίνω, “Mother, mother, I’m going down / under your wing.” As in Eumelus’s lament in Alcestis (as well as earlier in Andromache, 441), little children are compared to nestlings. This analogy may have indicated early childhood. Euripides uses this simile in a later play, Troades, with regard to Astyanax, who, in a similar situation, clutches at Andromache’s robes like a chick (749–51). This is also a description of a child’s fear and of a parent’s inability to protect her offspring from his fate.

Facing the loss of maternal protection, Molossus appeals to his absent father Neoptolemus: “Father, come here and protect your dearest” (ὦ πάτερ, / μόλε φίλοις ἐπίκουρος, 508–09). The tragic child who is deprived of the support of his absent father is another recurring topic in Euripides and other writers (e.g., HF 74–77, 490–96, Tr. 752–53, Hom. Il. 22.484–505, 24.732–38, and see Haussker 2020), and is further highlighted by Andromache’s heart-rending recollection of Hector, the father of Astyanax (523–55). Andromache and her son’s subsequent rescue by his great-grandfather Peleus (549–79, 717–18, 747–51) affirms Peleus’s fulfillment of the function of a kyrios (master and protector), a role generally taken on by paternal kin in the absence of the father (cf., e.g., HF 44–48, 261–62).

In the final exchange between mother and son in the strophe (510–14), Andromache sings of imminent death, and Molossus helplessly confirms their shared wretchedness. Her appeal to her “beloved child” (τέκνον ὦ φίλος, 510) expresses the intense and intimate maternal sentiments that characterize Euripides’ depictions of the moments when parent and child are about to be separated by death, as we also see in Eumelus’s lament.

However, while this child is stereotypically defined by weakness and helplessness in the strophe, in the antistrophe, there is an abrupt change, and Molossus takes the initiative. First he asks, using a deliberative subjunctive,33 how he can avert death: δύστανος, τί δ’ ἐγὼ μόρου / παράτροπον μέλος εὕρω; “Wretched me, / what song will I find that averts the doom?” (526–27). The boy now raises doubts as to his fate: instead of assuming that he is doomed, he seeks to be rescued rather than remain helpless.34 Therefore, when Andromache, desperate, urges Molossus to supplicate [End Page 215] Menelaus with a ritual gesture: “Grasp the master’s knees, child, beg him [for clemency]” (λίσσου γούνασι δεσπότου / χρίμπτων, ὦ τέκνον, 529–30), the boy releases his hold on his mother and presumably kneels, entreating Menelaus in a conciliatory manner as befits his status as suppliant: ὦ φίλος / φίλος, ἄνες θάνατόν μοι, “Dear one, / dear one, avert death from me,” 530–31.

The child’s active response to Andromache’s directions is a poignant dramatic moment, where dramaturgy is more effective than emotional rhetoric.35 The supplication rite, with its variations combining ceremonial and legal elements, was often used by ancient Greeks in situations of immediate danger and/or at moments of powerlessness (Naiden 2006.29–104). Such powerlessness is emphasized by Andromache’s helpless weeping (532–34) and Molossus’s despondency, as he ends the amoibaion by wondering once again how he can escape from danger: ὤμοι μοι, τί δ’ ἐγὼ κακῶν / μῆχος ἐξανύσωμαι; “What expedient for misfortunes / can I obtain for myself?” 535–36.

Scenes of children’s supplication appear in the classical period mainly in tragedy, less often on ceramics (Naiden 2006.19). They occur even when the child is too young to fully comprehend the situation, as in the case of the infant Orestes, to whom Iphigeneia appeals to join in her supplication to Agamemnon (IA 1241–48), or that of Eurysaces (S. Aj. 1171–81 L.J.-W.), who under Teucer’s guidance performs the ritual gestures but, like Orestes, has nothing to say. This ritual included kneeling, clinging onto the cult image or locus of supplication (such as Ajax’s dead body in Sophocles’ play or an altar in Heracl. 123–24), and/or seeking to touch the knees or chin of the person being supplicated: e.g., HF 984–89, IA 1247).36

Molossus’s supplication, evidently based on the expectation that the plea of a child would elicit a positive response (cf., e.g., Med. 856–65, IA 1245–48),37 actually fails, as it is cruelly rejected by Menelaus (537–38). This is the common reaction of those supplicated in Euripides, which more [End Page 216] than once leads to the death of children. Heracles’ son is rejected and slain by his father following his impromptu supplication (kneeling and holding his chin), a fate shared by Medea’s children (HF 990–93, Med. 1282–89, 1309).38 Andromache’s son, on the contrary, destined to survive and continue the male line of Achilles, is entitled to a great future. Hence he is eventually rescued by Peleus, and his precocity, which he already revealed by using his voice while pleading for his life throughout the second part of the amoibaion,39 is demonstrated again when he helps his great-grandfather free his mother from her chains, thus taking a symbolic part in her protection (722–23, 747).

Molossus is not the first child suppliant in tragedy who is portrayed as undergoing a process of accelerated socialization. Eurysaces in Sophocles’ Ajax had already performed this rite when Teucer demanded that he play a major role in guarding Ajax’s body, despite being a toddler (Haussker 2020). The basic difference between these two cases lies in the cognitive development of Euripides’ character. While Eurysaces, due to his tender age, seems not to fully understand his situation (n. 28 above), Molossus is aware of the threat to his life and old enough to try to avert the evil decree. His process of maturation is not limited to mirroring an adult’s expectations like Eurysaces, but is the result of his own inner development through making his voice heard. This voice plays a significant role in the boy’s transformation from the vulnerable last descendant of the Aeacid dynasty—a line in danger of extinction—into the divinely decreed founder of the eponymous line of royal Greek Molossians, despite his initially weak claim to inherit as a nothos.

SUPPLICES

Supplices gives us the first and only instance among the surviving tragedies in which children collectively perform choral parts on stage and take part in a kommos (1123–64). The Epigoni, who are the sons of the fallen Argive commanders who died attacking Thebes, comprise a secondary chorus and sing an antiphonal lament with a choir of their grandmothers, the mothers [End Page 217] of the fallen Argive champions: two generations of bereavement.40 Their number is uncertain—it may have been five (the number of the corpses), seven (a mythical number), or fifteen.41 Likewise, their precise age, as in the previous two cases, is not specified, but their very participation as a secondary choir indicates that they are older than Eumelus and Molossus. It can therefore be assumed that they were of the same age range as the boy participants in choral competitions, which is estimated to have been between ten and seventeen (Pritchard 2004.220; cf. Wilson 2000.75). We don’t know whether they were still classed as children or were already adolescents.42

The casting of boys in the play, which is Euripides’ addition to the myth of the Seven (Toher 2001.341–42), would appear to be very appropriate for a drama in which child-parent ties are a recurring motif (Storey 2008 passim). The play was produced in the late 420s bce in response to the Athenians’ defeat in the Battle of Delium in 424/3, after which the Boeotians refused to allow the Athenians to bury their dead.43 The plot revolves around the return of the bodies of the fallen Argive commanders and the need to provide them with proper funeral rites. The funeral, as it was performed on the stage, combined well-known elements of the private and public ceremonies held in honor of war casualties in fifth-century bce Athens.44 The public ritual included children, who, at its conclusion, took an active role in lamenting their dead (Th. 2.45.1, 46.2). Likewise, [End Page 218] the sons of the Argive leaders are present before the audience throughout most of this play—a longer time than in any other tragedy. They remain silent from the opening tableau (although they are first mentioned at 106), through the first kommos (798–836) and Adrastus’s eulogy (857–917), when they face the bodies of their fathers displayed on the stage,45 until leaving the stage for the cremation (954). From that point on, their participation becomes active, through the cremation of the corpses and the processional entrance back onto the stage, until the final kommos of the play. That is when they, a “shadow chorus” (Scully 1996.68), first sing after their long silence.46 Their entrance, which deliberately resembles the procession of war orphans on the opening day of the Dionysia (Rehm 2005.129 and below), is impressive (Kornarou 2008.36–37). The dramatic impact of their lyrics of lament, which they sing in alternation with the main chorus while holding the ashes of their fallen fathers, undeniably creates an emotional climax (Collard 1975.391).

From the socio-religious perspective, the mourning Epigoni (as previously when accompanying the bodies for cremation [after 954]), are carrying out their basic familial obligations, albeit in public. Lamentation was a central ritual element in the chain of ceremonial actions that constituted the funeral. The duty to lament appears in sources beginning in the early Archaic period that, in addition to burial, stipulate the minimum ceremony that must be performed in honor of the dead.47 Urns containing the ashes of the fallen, which are seen on stage during the entire dirge (1114–15, 1123–24, 1159; cf. S. El. 1126–70 L.J.-W.), symbolize the performance of this double duty and confirm the formality of the lament.48 The boys, indeed, display the ritualistic skill that would have been acquired in the framework of family worship in early childhood,49 and, as they are older than Eumelus and Molossus, they are able to cooperate equally with the adults, their grandmothers, in antiphonal singing. [End Page 219]

The Epigoni’s song, like that of Alcestis’ son, includes the typical themes of funeral laments, such as an opening statement of the fact of death (which is repeated: 1123–26, 1138–39), an appeal to the dead in the vocative (πάτερ, 1138, 1142, 1152),50 and a rhetorical plea to the deceased asking whether the dead hear their sorrow: “Father, . . . do you hear the wails of [your] offspring?” (πάτερ, . . . κλύεις τέκνων γόους; 1142). This appeal is characteristic of formal dirges and emphasizes the antitheses between life and death, and between the mourner and the deceased (cf. E. Tr. 1303, 1305–09 and Alcestis, above), an antithesis that is accentuated here by the use of first- and second-person pronouns and their adjectival derivations.51 Likewise, gestures demonstrate familial intimacy (1152–53), and there are references to the emotional state of the bereaved, to which the third strophe and antistrophe (1152–64) are wholly devoted, including the sons’ reluctance to console themselves (1154–55), their ruin (1158), and their tears bewailing their loss (1160–61).

At the outset, the Epigoni demonstrate the emotions connected with being orphans, in particular their sense of being alone in an “empty house” without parental protection (1131–33):

ἐγὼ δ’ ἔρημος ἀθλίου πατρὸς τάλαςἔρημον οἶκον ὀρφανεύσομαι λαβών,οὐ πατρὸς ἐν χερσὶ τοῦ τεκόντος.

And I’m wretched, bereft of my miserable father, / (going to be) an orphan in an empty house / without the guardianship of my father who begot me.

Losing a father is mentioned in the sources far more frequently than the loss of a mother. It was a legal issue with far-reaching social and economic implications, and, as such, posed a constant challenge to the polis authorities. Here, for the first time, the issue is mentioned by children [End Page 220] themselves. In other examples, it is mothers who refer to their children’s newly disrupted social status (e.g., Hom. Il. 22.484–505, 24.726–38 [Andromache]; S. Aj. 510–13, 945–46 L.J.-W. [Tecmessa]). This innovation may result from the absence of the wives of the fallen in the play, but more probably it can be attributed to the older age of the boys, who are no longer under their mother’s care. In addition, in contrast to laments by younger orphans that emphasize their helplessness and vulnerability, in this case, the lament focuses on the father as a progenitor and reinforces the father’s dominant role in parenting (as found in both literature and epitaphs: e.g., A. Ch. 760–63, Arist. EN 1161a16–17, and CEG 591).

The song then turns to the Epigoni’s role as future avengers of the deaths of their fathers (1143–52). This revenge will also receive divine sanction from Athena in the exodus (1213–26). The boys proclaim their intention to retaliate as future warriors and shield bearers (1143–46, 1149–51):

ἆρ’ ἀσπιδοῦχος ἔτι ποτ’ ἀντιτείσομαισὸν φόνον; εἰ γὰρ γένοιτο . . .ἔτ’ ἂν θεοῦ θέλοντος ἔλθοι δίκαπατρῶιος. . .ἔτ’ Ἀσωποῦ με δέξεται γάνοςχαλκέοις <ἐν> ὅπλοις Δαναϊδᾶν στρατηλάταν,τοῦ φθιμένου πατρὸς ἐκδικαστάν.

I’ll revenge your death as a soldier bearing the shield, / I wish . . . / with the help of the god, justice will be attained / on behalf of my father

. . .

Yet the water of Asopus will wait for me / in copper armor, as commander of Danaus’s descendants, / the avenger of my dead father.

Revenge, another common theme in ritual dirges (e.g., A. Ch. 327–31 and Alexiou 2002.179), appears explicitly in the sources as one of the obligations of sons (e.g., S. Aj. 556–57 L.J.-W., E. Tr. 753, Lys. 13.41–42, and Strauss 2002.77–78) and as anchored in the concept of justice (e.g., Hom. Od. 3.196–98 and Arist. Rh. 1401a37–38). In the present passage, revenge is directly related to the familial and societal expectation that sons will inherit their fathers’ valor. The boys promise to follow [End Page 221] in their fathers’ footsteps as outstanding warriors and thereby preserve their fathers’ reputations, which is a key component of the father-son relationship (Strauss 2002.76–81; cf., e.g., Hom. Il. 6.476–81, S. Aj. 550–51 L.J.-W.). Offstage as well, a major feature of the Dionysia festival was the ceremony in which coming-of-age war orphans, who had been raised at the city’s expense, received arms from the polis and vowed to follow the legacy of their dead fathers.52

While Supplices’ references to armor may allude to this ceremony as a symbol of the chorus’ paternal battle heritage (cf. S. Aj. 574–76 L.J.-W.), these passages have the wider public and social meaning of emphasizing a boy’s future obligation to the community. This was also the duty proclaimed as the legacy of the fallen in the funeral oration of Pericles: a demand that sons demonstrate the heroic qualities inherited from their fathers (esp. Th. 2.43.4–6, 45.1). In the play, there is a clear indication of war still to come, and the Epigoni are the next generation who must risk their lives for the community, as did their dead fathers. The same subject was the focus of the epic poem Epigoni, which dealt with the return of the sons of the Seven to sack Thebes and may have been popular at about the same period as the play.53 In Aristophanes’ Pax, Boy a recites the opening line of the poem at the wedding banquet of Trygaius (νῦν αὖθ’ ὁπλοτέρων ἀνδρῶν ἀρχώμεθα—, 1270),54 and the text could even have been included in the school curriculum (cf., e.g., Pl. Prt. 325e–26a).

Seeking to demonstrate the coherence of the second “static” part of Supplices, Mark Toher (2001.333 with n. 6) suggests that funeral rituals were a necessary therapeutic vehicle for restoring the social order after the trauma and disarray of combat as represented in the beginning of the play. The children’s participation in the final kommos is vital for this process of societal recovery: the boys undergo an accelerated maturation process as [End Page 222] part of the death ritual. They begin as suppliants, silent participants, traumatized victims of adult aggression, who are made even more vulnerable by their status as orphans.55 With Athena’s approval of their words as a prediction of events to come, the Epigoni end the play as future heroic leaders who conquer Thebes, avenge the deaths of their fathers, and are celebrated in song.

The Epigoni’s choral performance emphasizes the concept of polis collectivity, just like the competitive choral performances organized by tribe in Athens.56 Minors aged between childhood and adolescence (probably mostly children from the more privileged families) took part in these events, which were considered a key element in their socialization process and important for their education (Wilson 2000.75–76, Griffith 2001.43–47, and Pritchard 2004.213–22). Their participation symbolized their membership in the civic community and implied future civic solidarity in the political-military sphere. The boys in Supplices, representing Athenian war orphans, embody not only the disturbing social problem of fatherless sons but also hope for the future. They perform their choral lament as the pinnacle of their integration into an adult society that must survive despite the death of soldiers and while they internalize the values of their late fathers, their family, and their political community.

CONCLUSION

An examination of children’s lyrics in Euripides’ tragedies reveals the various ways in which they voice the child’s perspective in the midst of familial and societal crises. This perspective is limited to children who are destined to survive and whose maturity is guaranteed by the tragic plot that provides them with a happy ending: Eumelus’s mother comes back to life, Molossus discovers his mission to establish a royal dynasty, and the Epigoni will grow up to become glorious warlords and avenge the deaths of their fathers. Their voices are heard as part of religious ceremonies that served as major socializing agents and preserved important cultural and socio-political concepts and ideologies for the Greek polis. [End Page 223]

Euripides’ boys, overwhelmed by the catastrophic events in their lives, deprived of full parental protection, and suffering from the inferiority and weakness that characterize the stereotypes of childhood in tragedy (and offstage), give multifaceted responses to matters related to their status, their survival, their commitments, and their futures—all of which were also of concern to the civil-political community of classical Athens. Through their voices, they demonstrate their vulnerability but also a mature strength that rarely correlates with their social status as minors or, in the case of Eumelus and Molossus, with their apparent biological ages; they are transformed from helpless victims into active agents of their own socialization, in both the private and civic spheres.

The lyrical voices of children in these plays therefore serve as vehicles for turning their vulnerability into strength and for accelerating their development. The rapid maturation process that children undergo on stage, which to the modern mind may seem undesirable and even tragic, was probably not perceived as such by Athenian audiences of the fifth century bce (a society in which only half of newborns reached adulthood: Hansen 2006.53, 55, 57, and 86). However, such precocity might have been needed not only to survive the obstacles on the way to adulthood but also, and primarily, to ensure that a child would become a member of the civic community. Hence Euripides’ attempt to represent the human predicament from the perspective of children by making their voices heard—which is rare, despite the relatively large numbers of child characters in his plays—transforms the poignancy created by the children’s powerlessness into private and communal hope and strength.

Fayah Haussker
Tel Aviv University

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alexiou, Margaret. 2002. The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition (rev. D. Yatromanolakis and P. Roilos). Lanham.
Allan, William. 2000. The Andromache and Euripidean Tragedy. Oxford.
Bates, William N. 1930. Euripides: A Student of Human Nature. Philadelphia.
Beaumont, Lesley A. 2012. Childhood in Ancient Athens: Iconography and Social History. London.
Bowie, Angus M. 1997. “Tragic Filters for History: Euripides’ Supplices and Sophocles’ Philoctetes,” in Ch. Pelling, ed., Tragedy and the Historian. Oxford. 39–62.
Bremmer, Jan N. 1995. “The Family and Other Centres of Religious Learning in Antiquity,” in J. W. Drijvers and A. A. MacDonald, eds., Centres of Learning. Leiden. 29–38.
Burnett, Anne P. 1971. Catastrophe Survived: Euripides’ Plays of Mixed Reversal. Oxford.
Carter, David. 2004. “Was Attic Tragedy Democratic?” Polis 21(1–2). 1–25.
Castellani, Victor. 1980. “Notes on the Structure of Euripides’ Alcestis,” AJP 100(4). 487–96.
Collard, Christopher. 1972. “The Funeral Oration in Euripides’ Suppliants,” BICS 19.39–53.
———. (ed.) 1975. Euripides: Supplices. Groningen.
Collard, Christopher, Martin Cropp, and Kevin H. Lee (eds.) 1995. Euripides: Selected Fragmentary Plays, volume 1. Warminster.
Conacher, Desmond J. (ed.) 1988. Euripides: Alcestis. Warminster.
Dale, A. M. (ed.) 1954. Euripides: Alcestis. Oxford.
Demand, Nancy. 1994. Birth, Death, and Motherhood in Classical Greece. Baltimore.
Devrient, Hans. 1904. Das Kind auf der antiken Bühne. Weimar.
Dickey, Eleanor. 2010. “Forms of Address and Markers of Status,” in E. J. Bakker, ed., A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language. Chichester. 327–37.
Dyson, Michael. 1988. “Alcestis’ Children and the Character of Admetus,” JHS 108.13–23.
Fantham, Elaine. 1986. “Andromache’s Child in Euripides and Seneca,” in M. Cropp, E. Fantham, and S. E. Scully, eds., Greek Tragedy and its Legacy: Essays Presented to D. J. Conacher. Calgary. 267–80.
Garland, Robert. 1982. “Geras Thanonton: An Investigation into the Claims of the Homeric Dead,” BICS 29.69–80.
———. 2001. The Greek Way of Death. Ithaca.
Golden, Leon. 1970–71. “Euripides’ Alcestis: Structure and Theme,” CJ 66(2).116–25.
Golden, Mark. 1995. “Baby Talk and Child Language in Ancient Greece,” in F. De Martino and A. H. Sommerstein, eds., Lo spettacolo delle voci. Bari. 2.11–34.
———. 2015. Children and Childhood in Classical Athens. Baltimore.
Goldhill, Simon. 1987. “The Great Dionysia and Civic Ideology,” JHS 107.58–76.
Gregory, Justina. 2005. “Euripidean Tragedy,” in J. Gregory, ed., A Companion to Greek Tragedy. Oxford. 251–70.
Griffith, Mark. 2001. “Public and Private in Early Greek Institutions of Education,” in Y. L. Too, ed., Education in Greek and Roman Antiquity. Leiden. 23–84.
———. 2011. “Extended Families, Marriage, and Inter-City Relations in (Later) Athenian Tragedy: Dynasts II,” in D. M. Carter, ed., Why Athens? A Reappraisal of Tragic Politics. Oxford. 175–208.
Halleran, Michael R. 1985. Stagecraft in Euripides. London.
Hansen, Mogens H. 2006. The Shotgun Method: The Demography of the Ancient Greek City-State Culture. Columbia, Mo.
Harvey, David F. 2007. “‘Help! I’m Dying Here’: A Letter from a Slave,” ZPE 163.49–50.
Haussker, Fayah. 2020. “The Orphans of Dionysus: Children and War in Greek Tragedy,” in G. Prontera et al., eds., Children and War: Past and Present III. Warwick (forthcoming).
Jordan, David. R. 2000. “A Personal Letter Found in the Athenian Agora,” Hesperia 69.91–103.
Jouan, François. 1997. “Les rites funéraires dans les Suppliantes d´Euripide,” Kernos 10.215–32.
Kaimio, Maarit. 1970. The Chorus of Greek Drama with the Light of the Person and Number Used. Helsinki.
Kamen, Deborah. 2013. Status in Classical Athens. Princeton.
Kassel, Rudolf. 1991. “Quomodo quibus locis apud veteres scriptores Graecos infantes atque parvuli pueri inducantur describantur commemorentur,” in H. G. Nesselrath, ed., Kleine Schriften. Berlin. 1–73.
Koonce, Dorothy. 1962. Formal Lamentation for the Dead in Greek Tragedy. Ph.D. diss., U. of Pennsylvania.
Kornarou, Eleni. 2008. “The Display of the Dead on the Greek Tragic Stage: The Case of Euripides’ Supplices,” BICS 51(1).29–38.
Langdon, Susan H. 2008. Art and Identity in Dark Age Greece, 1100–700 bce. Cambridge.
———. 2015. “The Ends and Means of Childhood,” in G. Cosçkunsu, ed., The Archaeology of Childhood: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on an Archaeological Enigma. Albany. 217–33.
Lloyd, Michael (ed.) 1994. Euripides: Andromache. Warminster.
Loraux, Nicole. 1986. The Invention of Athens: The Funeral Oration in the Classical City (trans. A. Sheridan). Cambridge, Mass.
Luschnig, Celia A. E., and Hanna M. Roisman (eds.) 2003. Euripides’ Alcestis. Norman.
Masqueray, Paul. 1908. Euripide et ses idees. Paris.
Mastronarde, Donald J. 2010. The Art of Euripides: Dramatic Technique and Social Context. Cambridge.
Menu, Michel. 1992. “L’enfant chez Euripide: affectivité et dramaturgie,” Pallas 38.239–58.
———. 1995. “Salut et mort de l’enfance dans l’Andromaque d’Euripide,” in D. Auger, ed., Enfant et enfances dans les mythologies. Paris. 145–67.
Morgan, Janett E. 2011. “Families and Religion in Classical Greece,” in B. Rawson, ed., A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford. 445–64.
Morwood, James. 2007. Euripides: Suppliant Women. Oxford.
Naiden, Fred S. 2006. Ancient Supplication. Oxford.
Oakley, John H. 2003. “Death and the Child,” in J. Neils and J. H. Oakley, eds., Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past. New Haven. 163–94.
Ogden, Daniel. 2009. “Bastardy and Fatherlessness in the Ancient Greek World,” in S. Hübner and D. Ratzan, eds., Growing up Fatherless in Antiquity. Cambridge. 105–19.
Parker, Laetitia P. E. (ed.) 2007. Euripides: Alcestis. Oxford.
Phillips, David D. 2013. The Law of Ancient Athens. Ann Arbor.
Pritchard, David. 2004. “Kleisthenes, Participation, and the Dithyrambic Contests of Late Archaic and Classical Athens,” Phoenix 58 (3–4).208–28.
Rehm, Rush. 1988. “The Staging of Suppliant Plays,” GRBS 29.263–307.
———. 2005. Greek Tragic Theatre. Taylor and Francis e-Library.
Rhodes, Peter J. 1985. A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia. Oxford.
Riemer, Peter. 1989. Die Alkestis des Euripides. Frankfurt.
Rijksbaron, Albert. 2002. The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek: An Introduction. Chicago.
Romilly, Jacqueline (ed.) 1986. La modernité d’Euripide. Paris.
Rühfel, Hilde. 1984. Das Kind in der griechischen Kunst: Von der minoischmykenischen Zeit bis zum Hellenismus. Mainz.
Scully, Stephen. 1996. “Orchestra and Stage and Euripides’ Suppliant Women,” Arion 4(1).61–84.
Segal, Charles. 1993. Euripides and the Poetics of Sorrow. Durham.
Seidensticker, Bernd. 2005. “Dithyramb, Comedy, and Satyr-Play,” in J. Gregory, ed., A Companion to Greek Tragedy. Oxford. 38–54.
Seifert, Martina. 2011. Dazugehören: Kinder in Kulten und Festen von Oikos und Phratrie. Bildanalysen zu attischen Sozialisationsstufen des 6. bis 4. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. Stuttgart.
Shaw, Carl. 2014. Satyric Play: The Evolution of Greek Comedy and Satyr Drama. Oxford.
Sifakis, Gregory M. 1979. “Children in Greek Tragedy,” BICS 26(1).67–80.
Slater, Niall W. 2005. “Nothing to Do with Satyrs? Alcestis and the Concept of Prosatyric Drama,” in G. W. M. Harrison, ed., Satyr Drama: Tragedy at Play. Swansea. 83–101.
Stanley-Porter, D. P. 1973. “Mute Actors in the Tragedies of Euripides,” BICS 20.68–93.
Stevens, Philip T. (ed.) 1971. Euripides: Andromache. Oxford.
Storey, Jan C. 2008. Euripides: Suppliant Women. London.
Strauss, Barry S. 2002. Fathers and Sons in Athens: Ideology and Society in the Era of the Peloponnesian War. Taylor and Francis e-Library.
Sutton, Dana F. 1980. The Greek Satyr Play. Meisenheim am Glan.
Taplin, Oliver P. 1977. The Stagecraft of Aeschylus: The Dramatic Use of Exits and Entrances in Greek Tragedy. Oxford.
———. 2007. Pots and Plays: Interactions Between Tragedy and Greek Vase-Painting of the Fourth Century bc. Oxford.
Thomas, Oliver. 2010. “Ancient Greek Awareness of Child Language Acquisition,” Glotta 86.185–223.
Thompson, Wesley E. 1972. “Athenian Marriage Patterns: Remarriage,” CSCA 5.211–25.
Thorburn, John E. (ed.) 2002. The Alcestis of Euripides. New York.
Toher, Mark. 2001. “Euripides’ Supplices and the Social Function of Funeral Ritual,” Hermes 129(3).332–43.
Vester, Christina. 2009. “Bigamy and Bastardy, Wives and Concubines: Civic Identity in Andromache,” in J. R. C. Cousland and J. R. Hume, eds., The Play of Texts and Fragments: Essays in Honour of Martin Cropp. Leiden. 293–305.
Wagner, Richard. 1894. “Andromache 1,” RE l(2).2151–52.
Watson, Patricia A. 1995. Ancient Stepmothers: Myth, Misogyny, and Reality. Leiden.
Webster, Thomas B. L. 1967. The Tragedies of Euripides. London.
Wiles, David. 1997. Tragedy in Athens: Performance Space and Theatrical Meaning. Cambridge.
Wilson, Peter. 2000. The Athenian Institution of the Khoregia: The Chorus, the City, and the Stage. Cambridge.
Yoon, Florence. 2012. The Use of Anonymous Characters in Greek Tragedy: The Shaping of Heroes. Leiden.
Zeitlin, Froma I. 2008. “Intimate Relations: Children, Childbearing, and Parentage on the Euripidean Stage,” in M. Revermann and P. Wilson, eds., Performance, Iconography, Reception: Studies in Honour of Oliver Taplin. Oxford. 318–32.

Footnotes

Greek authors and texts are cited according to the editions and abbreviations of LSJ, unless otherwise noted. Epigraphic and iconographic abbreviations follow OCD. Translations are my own.

This paper is a revised and extended version of a lecture given at The Classical Association Annual Conference 2018 (University of Leicester), entitled “Children’s Voice in Euripides’ Tragedy: Socialization in Challenge.” I would like to thank Arethusa’s anonymous referees and editorial board for their helpful suggestions.

1. I define children as those under the age of social maturity: males younger than 17–18 (e.g., Arist. Ath. 42.1 with Rhodes 1985.497–99) and females under marriageable age (e.g., Hes. Op. 697 and Pl. Lg. 833d2–4). Euripides does not indicate a specific age for any child, and since the precise meanings of tragic vocabulary regarding the age of minors is fluid (Menu 1992.240–41 and 1995.146, Golden 2015.10–12), the parameters for identifying the stage of development of the young characters discussed will be examined separately in each case. On the determination of children’s ages in written sources, see Seifert 2011.29–33 and Beaumont 2012.17–24.

2. For fragmentary plays, see Theseus frags. 385 and 386 Nauck (cf. Ar. V. 312 and 314); perhaps Alcmeon (A or B) frag. 84 Nauck and Telephus (Collard, Cropp, and Lee 1995.18–20).

3. That Alcestis was the fourth play in a tetralogy and the attached paragraph of the second hypothesis (hyp. 2.12–17) points to its satyric nature have led to scholarly controversies over its generic affiliation: “tragedy” versus “tragicomedy” or “pro-satyric” drama (see, in particular, Riemer 1989.1–5). For arguments that the play is a tragedy, mainly due to the absence of a satyr chorus and the fact that the text has come down to us as a tragedy, see Shaw 2014.94–105. For additional such arguments based on thematic, stylistic, and performative considerations, see Dale 1959.xxi–xxii, Conacher 1988.35–37, Parker 2007. xix–xxiv, and Mastronarde 2010.55–57.

4. Short iambic passages such as those sounded off-stage by Medea’s children (Med. 1270a, 1271–72, 1277–78) or those cited by adults without the child delivering them on stage (e.g., HF 74–75, 988–89, and Tr. 1182–84) are beyond the scope of this study.

5. It is, of course, undeniable that the suffering of children evokes dramatic pathos, and that this fact dominated research during the 20th century; see Masqueray 1908.91–103, Bates 1930.42–51, Stanley-Porter 1973.69, Menu 1992, and Allan 2000.65. Nonetheless, as I will show, the relatively common use of children in Euripidean tragedy and, in particular, the decision to make their voices heard cannot be explained merely by the desire to create or intensify pathos.

6. Cf. Seifert 2011.293 for representations of minors in Greek art: “Kinder und Jugendliche treten überwiegend auf Darstellungen kultischer und festlicher Zusammenhänge auf, in denen angemessenes Verhalten der dargestellten Personen zur Anschauung gebracht wurde.”

7. Unfortunately, with the exception of a personal letter of Lesis (most probably an adolescent without a clearly defined social status) from the early fourth century bce (SEG 50.276; Jordan 2000 and Harvey 2007), we have no direct testimonies from minors from the classical period, so that the only evidence we are left with is their representation through the lenses of adults.

8. According to Homer and the Scholia, he was named Eumelus (II. 2.713–15, 23.288–89; cf. Sch. E. Alc. 265 Schwartz = 264.2–3 Dindorf), which is the name I will use here; Παῖς is Murray’s emendation of Εὔμηλος, which appears in some mss.; see Dale 1954.83 on 393 and cf. Parker 2007.132. Alcestis’ daughter (165–69), also mentioned in the Scholia and only sometimes included among the cast in the mss., was named Perimēlē (Ant. Lib. 23.5 P.). Children in Euripides are rarely named in the text. Likewise, in classical Greek literature, the names of children are not commonly noted, and parents did not address their minor children by their first names but in kinship terms (Dickey 2010.330).

9. Dyson 1988.14–17. Scholars offer a variety of motives for Alcestis’ decision: her love of Admetus (Dale 1954.xxv–xxvi), her marital union (Dyson 1988.14 with n. 4), her love for both children and husband (Golden 1970–71.119), and concern for the oikos as a whole (Burnett 1971.34–35).

10. For the unquestionably tragic nature of this episode, acknowledged even by scholars who regard the play as mixed or diptych-structured (cf. above, n. 3), see, among others, Castellani 1979, Sutton 1980.180–84, and Slater 2005.

11. Sifakis 1979.73–74 and Parker 2007.131–32. Despite there being no evidence of child actors from the fifth century bce, the possibility that child characters were played by children and that they were capable of performing their own singing is plausible. The argument that singing parts assigned to children were actually sung by adult actors accompanied by the child’s miming also lacks solid evidential support (Devrient 1904.5–6, 12, and Dale 1954.xx). For boys’ choral competitions, see Supplices below.

12. The traditional elements of the death ritual have not yet been performed (98–102, 104, 215–17); the first step of the official farewell will be a choral dirge (thrēnos) sung by Pherai’s citizens (435–76) after Admetus has given instructions about mourning Alcestis (420–31). For the duty of lamenting the dead and its formal ritualistic framework, see the discussion below of Supplices.

13. Garland 2001.23–31. See, e.g., Hom. Il. 24.720–66, E. Andr. 1173–225, Supp. 778–836, Pl. Lg. 947b, and Luc. Luct. 12–20.

14. For the lack of an unequivocally satisfactory reconstruction of the text, see Dale 1954.83–85.

15. For the consistency of tragic language and elevated diction in general, see, e.g., Seiden-sticker 2005.41: “Naturally each of the three great tragedians developed his own style; nevertheless tragic language . . . is fairly homogeneous both overall and within a single tragedy. Messengers, servants, and nurses speak the same language as kings and gods. Linguistic and stylistic differences serve only to mark off the different levels and components of tragedy”; cf. Gregory 2005.256. For the feasibility of deviation, see below, n. 17.

16. Cf. Pl. Lg. 794a, 821c–d, 887d; Bremmer 1995.30–35. For the notion that imitation is natural in childhood and is an effective and important tool of learning, see, e.g., Pl. Prt. 326a, Lg. 796c, and Arist. Po. 1448b6–8.

17. Kassel 1991.43 n. 154. Regarding the word μαῖα, Dale 1954.85 on 393–415 points to the possible use of “nursery language” (cf. Stevens 1971.159 on 504ff.). Although an attractive suggestion (cf. Golden 1995.20, 32), it should be noted, as Dale herself admits and Parker 2007.135 on 393 points out: “There is no other example of the word addressed to a young woman and a real mother”; cf. LSJ s.v.

18. Heracl. 239, Andr. 441, 504–05, HF 71–72, 224, Tr. 749–51; cf. A. Ch. 256 and 501 where Electra and Orestes ask for Agamemnon’s protection, despite their mature age. Dale’s assumption regarding children’s (rather than adults’) use of bird imagery that “Here as in Andr. 505ff. the child sings the sentiments its elders feel for it” (1954.85) may be tempting but is not supported by the sources.

19. Wiles’ 1997.104 notion that “Alcestis’ son sings a strophe which culminates in the action of his kissing her mouth” has no clear justification in the text. For the awkwardness of performing such an act with masks, see Thorburn 2002.104 on 402–03. I follow M. Malamud’s suggestion that the image may derive from the action of a mother bird feeding her nestling.

20. Cf., e.g., Med. 1075 and Tr. 740, 747–48. For intimacy between children and parents in Euripides, see the comprehensive discussions in Masqueray 1908.257–64 and Zeitlin 2008.

21. “She doesn’t hear and doesn’t see. Thus, I and both of you / are stricken by a heavy disaster” (τὴν οὐ κλύουσαν οὐδ’ ὁρῶσαν· ὥστ’ ἐγὼ / καὶ σφὼ βαρείαι συμφορᾶι πεπλήγμεθα).

22. For the primacy of maternal over paternal love (and the reasons for it), see Arist. EN 1161b18–27, 1168a24–26, EE 1241b; Xen. Mem. 2.2.5 and Oec.7. 24. See also E. Ba. 968–69 for the need of a mother’s affection in adulthood—and even after her death: IG II2 7711.6–7.

23. Cf. HF 71–79 with 1360–62, Tr. 749–51 with 1182–84; Fantham 1986.272 and 279 n. 26.

24. But Phaedra’s children are anonymous silent characters who are not seen on stage and attention is not focused on her role as a mother.

25. E.g., CEG 513, 538: “Before yet reaching twenty years of life, she died orphaning her marriage house” ([πρὶν ?δ’ ?ἔτ’ ἔτ]η̣ τελέσαι β̣[ίο] εἴκοσ[ιν], ὀρφανίσασα / ´νυμφιδίος οἴκος ἡλικίας ἔθανεν). In literary sources, such an idea is unusual (Parker 2007.137 on 414–15).

26. Nonetheless, stepmother-stepdaughter relations, about which Alcestis voices her concerns, rarely appear in myth. Similarly, Attic orators do not describe stepmothers’ directly hostile behavior toward their stepchildren (Is. 8.7, 12.5; Lys. 32.17; and D. 57.41, 43). For a comprehensive discussion of stepfamily conflicts in fifth-century bce Athens, the interrelationship between myth and historical reality, and the stepmother’s negative image, see Watson 1995.50–91.

27. Thompson 1972, esp. 219 with n. 41. The high mortality rates in childbirth must be taken into consideration (e.g., CEG 576 and Demand 1994, esp. 44, 71–72).

28. They are evidently older than Eurysaces, Ajax’s son, whose young age prevents him from properly understanding and expressing emotions (S. Aj. 55255 L.J.-W. and Haussker 2020).

29. For a thorough discussion of the possible date and place of the production, see Stevens 1971.15–21 and Allan 2000.149–60.

30. Michael Lloyd’s suggestion that the Molossus character was probably played by a boy recruited from the competing choruses of the City Dionysia seems compelling (1994.133 on 501–04). Cf. Stevens 1971.159 on 504ff.: “Apparently one or more children could be brought in as extras, with small speaking (singing) parts,” and n. 11 above. Dale’s suggestion (1954.xx; cf. Stanley-Porter 1973.75) that Molossus’s words were sung offstage by Peleus seems awkward.

31. For Euripides’ innovation of providing Andromache and Neoptolemus with only one son, see Fantham 1986.268. For perpetuation of an oikos and dynastic line as more important than legitimacy, see Vester 2009.303–05.

32. Scholars have devoted much discussion to the problematic legal status of Athenian “bastards,” particularly in regard to inheritance and civil rights (see Ogden 2009.107–14, Kamen 2013.62–70, and Phillips 2013.175–77, 179–89). A comprehensive review of the topic is beyond the scope of this article, but with regard to Molossus’s right to inherit, it should be recalled that tragic plots involving family law mainly represent a heroic mythical reality; see, in particular, the discussion in Griffith 2011.187–91 and 194 concerning de facto marriages and their offspring among Athenian elites.

33. See Rijksbaron 2002.8 and 40.13.2 for the use of this mood when “the speaker is in doubt concerning an aspect of a state of affairs to be carried out by him.”

34. This stands in contrast to Medea’s children, who utter their cries of distress offstage, remaining defenseless and sure of their imminent death: Boy a: “Oh, what shall I do? How can I escape my mother’s hands?” / Boy b: “I know not, my dear brother. We are lost” (Πα. α: οἴμοι, τί δράσω; ποῖ φύγω μητρὸς χέρας; / Πα. β: οὐκ οἶδ’, ἀδελφὲ φίλτατ’ ὀλλύμεσθα γάρ, 1271–72).

35. Menu’s 1992.245 statement about the originality of this scene is too sweeping.

36. Cf., e.g., the depiction on a red-figure hydria of Dryas’s supplication of his father, Lycurgus, while sitting on the altar, attributed to the Nausicaa Painter and dated ca. 460–440 bce (Krakow, Czartoryski Museum 1225; CVA 14 pl. 12 a–b; LIMC VI “Lykourgos I” 26); and see below n. 38.

37. Cf. adults’ manipulative use of their children to inspire the jury’s pity in Athenian law courts: e.g., Pl. Ap. 34 c–d, Lys. 20.34, Aeschin. 2.179, and D. 21.188.

38. See also the scene of Dryas’s supplication, which may be based on Aeschylus’s Edoni, on an Apulian krater from ca. 350s bce attributed to the Painter of Boston (Ruvo, Museo Jatta 36955 [n.i.32]; LIMC VI “Lykourgos I” 14; and Taplin 2007.68–70).

39. For the connection between voice and precocity in a descendant of the Molossian dynasty that is also expressed in an act of supplication, see Plu. Pyrrh. 3.1–3.

40. The boy participants were most probably cast from a reservoir of dithyrambic choral singers: Dale 1954.xx, Collard 1975.19, and Sifakis 1979.73–74. Webster’s 1967.119 and 127 suggestion that the boys remained mute while their singing parts were performed by the grandmothers’ chorus, i.e., by adults (cf. Devrient 1904.12 and Stanley-Porter 1973.77) does not accord with the minors’ performative ability.

41. Given our inability to know the exact number of children (an inability that, in any case, does not cast doubt on the choral performance of the boys), I follow Rehm 1988.275 and Kornarou 2008.33 n. 19, who argue that there were fifteen sons, a number that corresponds to the number of the grandmothers’ chorus (cf. Collard 1975.18).

42. They are obviously under the age of maturity (1214, 1219–20). For the demarcation of hēbē as around the age of fourteen, see, e.g., Hp. Hebd. 5.6–7, 18–19; Pl. Lg. 810a; Arist. HA 544b22–26, 581a12–20 (with some of its prominent characteristics); Sch. Aeschin. 3.122.1–3 Schultz; and Golden 2015.24.

43. Collard 1975.8–14 and Toher 2001.342–43. Cf. Morwood 2007.26–30, although he does not see a necessarily direct connection between the plot and the Thebans’ conduct after the Athenians’ defeat.

44. E.g., Collard 1972.47–48, Bowie 1997.51–52, Jouan 1997.226, Toher 2001.333–36, and Kornarou 2008. For details of the burial of war victims in Athens during the fifth century bce, see, esp., Loraux 1986.17–42.

45. Five of the seven bodies were there: Capaneus, Eteocles, Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus, and Tydeus.

46. See Scully 1996.83 n. 34 for the boys’ movement between orchestra and stage.

47. E.g., Hom. Il. 22.386, Od. 11.72; S. Ant. 26–30, 847 L.J.-W.; E. Andr. 1159–60; Pl. Mx. 249c; and Lys. 2.61. For ritual lament as an honor for the dead (geras thanontōn, γέρας θανόντων), see, e.g., Od. 4.195–98, 24.189–90, 295–96; Th. 2.34.4, and discussion in Garland 1982.69, 72.

48. Although the last step of the funeral, the burial of the ashes, will take place in Argos (1185–86), what happens on stage can be considered part of the burial process itself.

49. For religious unity between oikos and polis, see the discussion in Morgan 2011.453–58.

50. Verses 1142, 1145, 1149, 1152, 1154, and 1158 referred to Παῖδες. There is no change of speaker in the mss., except a reference to children in 1123.

51. See 1126, 1131, 1142, 1144, 1148–49, 1152, 1154, 1158, and 1161, with Alexiou 2002.171–77. Kaimio 1970.76–78 explains that the references made by the sons chorus both to themselves and to the dead (as well as to the mothers of the fallen) that are intermittently in the form of singular and plural pronouns and verb declensions, are a result of the tension existing in the play between the private and the public. Rehm’s 2005.128–29 argument that each son sings in turn lacks support.

52. Aeschin. 3.154, Isoc. 8.82, and Goldhill 1987.63–64. For the possibility that the ceremony existed already during the fifth century bce, see Carter 2004.5–8 and 10; and cf. Arist. Ath. 42.4 for its (ceremonial) replacement in the second half of the fourth century. For the city’s care of war orphans, see, e.g., Th. 2.46.1, Lys. 64 frag. 129.30–38 Carey, Loraux 1986.26–27, and Haussker 2020 nn. 54–58. For loss of a father as a demographic issue, see Hansen 2006.56, 86.

53. Attributed by Hdt. 4.32 and Certamen 258–60 to Homer, and by Sch. Ar. Pax 1270 to Antimachus. For the Epigoni’s expedition against Thebes, see Hom. Il. 4.405–08, Pi. P. 8.39–51, D. S. 4.66–67.1, Apollod. 3.7.2–4, and Paus. 9.5.13, 9.4.

54. Epigoni frag.1 Bernabé: “But now, let us, Muses, begin (to sing) of younger men” (Νῦν αὖθ’ ὁπλοτέρων ἀνδρῶν ἀρχώμεθα, Μοῦσαι). Trygaius, completing the line, replaces the original ending Μοῦσαι with παῦσαι (“stop”).

55. Hesiod Op. 330, 333–34, and Plato Lg. 927b–c consider harming orphans to be one of the most serious crimes.

56. The best documented of these events are the Dionysia and Thargelia (e.g., Antiphon 6; D. 21.10, 64; IG II2 1138.5–6, 10–11; and Arist. Ath. 56.3.

Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6504
Print ISSN
0004-0975
Pages
203-229
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-28
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.