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Female Acts in Greek Tragedy
Helene P. Foley

Paperback | 2002 | $47.95 | £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691094922
424 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400824731 |
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Although Classical Athenian ideology did not permit women to exercise legal, economic, and social autonomy, the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides often represent them as influential social and moral forces in their own right. Scholars have struggled to explain this seeming contradiction. Helene Foley shows how Greek tragedy uses gender relations to explore specific issues in the development of the social, political, and intellectual life in the polis. She investigates three central and problematic areas in which tragic heroines act independently of men: death ritual and lamentation, marriage, and the making of significant ethical choices. Her anthropological approach, together with her literary analysis, allows for an unusually rich context in which to understand gender relations in ancient Greece.

This book examines, for example, the tragic response to legislation regulating family life that may have begun as early as the sixth century. It also draws upon contemporary studies of virtue ethics and upon feminist reconsiderations of the Western ethical tradition. Foley maintains that by viewing public issues through the lens of the family, tragedy asks whether public and private morality can operate on the same terms. Moreover, the plays use women to represent significant moral alternatives. Tragedy thus exploits, reinforces, and questions cultural clichés about women and gender in a fashion that resonates with contemporary Athenian social and political issues.


"Innovative and accessible. . . . [Foley] combines wide coverage with nuance and detail. . . . Hers is the best argument you will find to the effect that Greek tragedy gives heroines a (limited) space from which to assert their private and public virtues alongside male vices and transgressions. This builds to a distinctive and carefully historicized vision of tragedy's role in Athens, not to mention its surprising contribution to modern debates about ethics and gender."--Jon Hesk, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] well-documented study of Greek tragedy from a feminisit perspective."--Choice

"This impressive work is noteworthy for its comprehensive scope and its lucid style. All those interested in an expanded understanding of ancient drama should benefit from this major study done by a very important scholar."--Mary-Kay Gamel, Theatre Journal

"Sensibility of thought and methodology characterize this work that will be valued by scholars, teachers, and students of Greek tragedy. . . . This study excels because of the author's firm grasp of the ancient texts and her willingness to embrace methodologies that do no violence to them."--John E. Thorburn, The Classical Outlook

"Foley offers new perspectives and complete presentations of several tragedy women. . . . This book may not be read in an afternoon. But every classics scholar should read it once and most will reread sections to consider again Foley's selected women."--Karelisa V. Hartigan, Religious Studies Review


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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Introductory Note and Abbreviations xi
Introduction 3
I. The Politics of Tragic Lamentation 19
II. The Contradictions of Tragic Marriage 57
III. Women as Moral Agents in Greek Tragedy 107
III.1. Virgins, Wives, and Mothers; Penelope as Paradigm 109
III.2. Sacrificial Virgins: The Ethics of Lamentation in Sophocles' Electra 145
III.3. Sacrificial Virgins: Antigone as Moral Agent 172
III4. Tragic Wives: Clytemnestras 201
III.5. Tragic Wives: Medea's Divided Self 243
III.6. Tragic Mothers: Maternal Persuasion in Euripides 272
IV Anodos Dramas: Euripides' Alcestis and Helen 301
Conclusion 333
Bibliography 339
General Index 369
Index Locurum 387

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