Eros, Euripides and a re-evaluation of Greek sexuality with particular reference to Alcestis, Andromache, Andromeda, Antigone and Helen
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2021
Accounts of love and marriage in Euripidean tragedy have formed a consensus that eros never has positive effects, but leads only to misfortune (Greek eros means sexual longing and thus differs from the English ‘love’, which connotes affection). This, for example, is the view of Thumiger (2013) in ‘Mad Eros and Eroticized Madness in Greek Tragedy’ or Sanders (2013) in ‘Sexual Jealousy and Eros in Euripides’ Medea’. These views go back to Seaford (‘The Tragic Wedding’, 1987) and give the impression that love is presented in the majority of Attic tragedies as a condition for trauma, an amplification of trauma or a trauma in itself. Therefore, the treatment of eros in tragedy has been one-sided and partial. This construction of Greek sexuality has begun to be challenged, albeit from the perspective of homoerotic relations (Davidson 2008), and the time is ripe for a re-evaluation of male-female eros in Greek tragedy, taking into account not only the totality of the evidence from tragedy, but also that of other genres (such as comedy) and other media (such as vase-painting). I argue for a more complex picture of eros in Greek tragedy, and in Euripides in particular, where it is possible to observe both positive and negative constructions. I focus on three complete and two fragmentary plays (Alcestis, Andromache and Helen; Antigone and Andromeda). These five tragedies present marital love in a much more positive light than other, more frequently discussed Euripidean plays, where erotic love has devastating effects on characters’ lives (e.g. Medea). After a chapter outlining the social and theoretical context of Euripidean tragedy, these plays form the backbone of four chapters (one for the fragmentary plays). In order to situate Euripides’ plays in their contexts and to present a fuller understanding of Greek tragedy as a genre, I pursue an on-going dialogue with other tragic poets, other genres and other types of evidence for Athenian attitudes; I discuss the representation of marital eros in comedy (e.g. Lysistrata) and vase-paintings associated with wedding ceremonies. The conclusion draws together the complex nature of Euripidean marriage and tragic marriage in general, and the implications for our understanding of later fifth-century Athenian culture. I apply a multi-layered method based on the findings of literary criticism and anthropology. I explore the ways in which Euripides treats the myths he has inherited from his tradition and why he chooses to depict eros both in a negative and positive way. In parallel, I delve into the anthropological aspects of eros and its relation to Euripidean marriage, as they reflect Athenian society. Do the dramas in question reflect or contradict our picture of the Greeks’ approach towards marital love, as has been formed by Vernant, Sourvinou and Seaford’s studies on the Athenian law, myth and ritual? Through the interplay of these literary-critical and anthropological approaches, it will be possible to establish a much more sophisticated understanding of Euripides, Greek tragedy and the culture in which it was performed.