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HECUBA AND THE DEMOCRATS: POLITICAL POLARITIES IN EURIPIDES' PLAY*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2014

Extract

In an article in The Classical Quarterly in 2009 I suggested that it was high time that those Euripides scholars who believe that the demagogues were ‘a bad thing’ woke up to the fact that historians of the fifth century had long since discredited that view and had been portraying them in a favourable light. The Euripideans' conviction that the passages in the plays which denounce democracy were objectively justified had led them to confuse what the playwright's characters say with what he himself felt, which of course is unknowable. I focused then on Suppliant Women and Orestes. In this article I turn the spotlight onto Hecuba, understanding of which I feel has been damaged by a failure to take on board the clear polarizing of democratic Greeks and royalist Asians upon which the tragedy insists.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Classical Association 2014 

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Footnotes

*

This article began life in 2012 as a talk at Sydney University. I am grateful to Frances Muecke for asking me to give it, and to Alastair Blanshard, Paul Roche, and Peter Wilson for their helpful comments.

References

1 Morwood, J., ‘Euripides and the Demagogues’, CQ 59.2 (2009), 353–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Kovacs, D., The Heroic Muse (Baltimore, MD, 1987), 81, 82Google Scholar.

3 Matthiessen, K. (ed.), Euripides. Hekabe (Berlin and New York, 2010), 36–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Hall, E., Greek Tragedy. Suffering under the Sun (Oxford, 2010), 257–8Google Scholar.

5 Cf. Aesch. Ag. 883; Thuc. 6.72.4; Eur. IA 914; Arist. Pol. 1327b: Aristotle argues that there is no need to include ‘the teeming population that grows up in connection with the sailor crowd (ton nautikon okhlon)’ in the citizen body. However, the sailors will be citizens.

6 Yunis, H., Taming Democracy, Models of Political Rhetoric in Classical Athens (Ithaca, NY, 1996), 39Google Scholar. See also Ober, J., Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Rhetoric, Ideology, and the Power of the People (Princeton, NJ, 1989), 11Google Scholar; Roberts, J.T., Athens on Trial. The Antidemocratic Tradition in Western Thought (Princeton, NJ, 1994), 38, 55, 76–7Google Scholar.

7 It is a mistake to think that Euripides generally employs the word with a pejorative meaning. In his surviving work, neutral or laudatory uses are significantly in the majority. Context is all-important.

8 I am grateful to Peter Wilson for this quotation.

9 See Ar. Thesm. 338–9, with Sommerstein's note at 331–51.

10 See Ar. Av. 1074–5, with Dunbar's note ad loc.

11 Csapo, E., ‘The Men Who Built the Theatres: Theatropolai, Theatronai, and Arkhitektones’, in Wilson, P. (ed.), The Greek Theatre and Festivals. Documentary Studies (Oxford, 2007), 96–7Google Scholar.

12 Sometime in the future I would like to examine the passage in the posthumous Iphigenia in Aulis where the Greek kings Agamemnon and Menelaus criticize Calchas and Odysseus on the grounds that they might actually communicate their hugger-mugger dealings to the Greek army (513–27). Menelaus even suggests that they kill the seer and Agamemnon seems unfazed by the idea (519–20). What would the first audience have made of this lack of transparency among Greeks?

13 Tierney, M. (ed.), Euripides. Hecuba (Dublin, 1946)Google Scholar, n. ad loc.

14 Kovacs (n. 2), 82.

15 Matthiessen (n. 3), 37. It is true that, according to Thucydides, Nicias, an Athenian general in the calamitous Sicilian expedition of 415–413, allowed his fear of what the soldiers would say when they got back to Athens to influence his strategy on Sicily (Thuc. 7.48.4); but he is being held up as an example of bad leadership.

16 Hall (n. 4), 256. See also the hostile estimate of Jaroslav Daneš, Political Aspects of Greek Tragedy (Červený Kostelec, 2012), 92: ‘Euripides’ Odysseus in Hecuba is portrayed as a model of a demagogue who manipulates the crowd and disseminates brutality and violence in order to increase his prestige'.

17 Murray, G. (tr.), The Electra of Euripides (London, 1905), viGoogle Scholar.

18 One might here point to an intertext between this passage and Iliad 9.312–3, where a critical Achilles tells Odysseus that he hates like the gates of hell the man ‘who hides one thing in his heart but says another’. Plain-speaking can be seen as a virtue.

19 Burnett, A. P., Revenge in Attic and Later Tragedy (Berkeley, CA, and London, 1998), 64Google Scholar.

20 Herman, G., Morality and Behaviour in Democratic Athens. A Social History (Cambridge, 2006), 189–94Google Scholar, with quotation from 190–1.

21 Woodbridge, L., Elizabethan Revenge Drama (Cambridge, 2010), 36, 32 n. 24CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 King, F.W. (ed.), Euripides, Hecuba (London, 1938)Google Scholar, n. at 1289–90: ‘“See”, because the breeze was fluttering the tents and the plumes of the soldiers’ helmets.’

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