• Gender, Class, and Ideology: The Social Function of Virgin Sacrifice in Euripides’ Children of Herakles

    David Roselli (see profile)
    Ancient Greece & Rome, History
    Greece, History, Ancient, Greek drama, Marxian school of sociology, Social history
    Item Type:
    Ancient theatre, gender history, Greek drama, Marxism, Tragedy, Ancient Greek history, Ancient history, Greek theatre, Marxist sociology
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    This paper explores how gender can operate as a disguise for class in an examination of the self-sacrifice of the Maiden in Euripides’ Children of Herakles. In Part I, I discuss the role of human sacrifice in terms of its radical potential to transform society and the role of class struggle in Athens. In Part II, I argue that the representation of women was intimately connected with the social and political life of the polis. In a discussion of iconography, the theater industry and audience I argue that female characters became one of the means by which different groups promoted partisan interests based on class and social status. In Part III, I show how the Maiden solicits the competing interests of the theater audience. After discussing the centrality (as a heroine from an aristocratic family) and marginality (as a woman and associated with other marginal social groups) of the Maiden’s character, I draw upon the funeral oration as a comparative model with which to understand the quite different role of self-sacrifice in tragedy. In addition to representing and mystifying the interests of elite, lower class and marginal groups, the play (on a more radical reading) glorifies a subordinate character whose contradictory social status (both subordinate and elite) embodies the social position of other “marginal” members of Athenian society (e.g., lower class males and females, resident foreigners). The play stages a model for taking political action to transform the social system and for commemorating the tragic costs of such undertakings.
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    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    7 years ago
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