Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Open Access)


Colby College. Classics Dept.


Hanna Roisman

Second Advisor

Joseph Roisman

Third Advisor

David Simon


Aeschylus and Euripides used tragic female characters to help fulfill the purpose of religious celebration and to achieve the motivation of public reaction. The playwrights, revising myths about tragic woman and redefining the Greek definition of appropriate femininity, supported or questioned the very customs which they changed. Originally composed as part of a religious festival for Dionysus, the god of wine, revelry and fertility, the tragedies of Aeschylus and Euripides were evaluated by Aristotle. He favored Aeschylus over Euripides, but it appears as if his stipulations for tragic characterization do not apply to Aeschylean and Euripidean women. Modem critics question both Aristotle's analysis in the Poetics as well as the tragedies which he evaluated. As part of the assessment of Aeschylus, the character of the Persian Queen, Atossa, appears as a conradiction the images that Greeks maintain of non-Greeks. The Persians is discussed in relation to modem criticisms and as on its function as a warning against radical changes in Athenian domestic life. The Oresteia, a trilogy, also charts the importance of an atypical woman in Aeschylean tragedy, and how this role, Clytaemnestra, represents an extreme example of the natural and necessary evolution of families, households and kingdoms. In contrast to Aeschylus' plea to retain nomoi (traditional custom and law), EUripides' tragedy, the Medea, demonstrates the importance of a family and a country to provide security, especially for women. Medea's abandonment by Jason and subsequent desperation drives her to commit murder in the hope of revenge. Ultimately, Euripides advocates changes in social convention away from the alienation of non-Greek, non-citizens, and females. Euripides is, unfortunately, tagged a misogynist by some in this tragedy and another example-the Hippolytus. Euripides' Phaedra becomes entangled in a scheme of divine vengeance and ultimately commits suicide in an attempt to avoid societal shame. Far from treatises of hate, Euripidean women take advantage of the little power they possess within a constrictive social system. While both Aeschylus and Euripides revise customary images and expectations of women in the context of religiously-motivated drama, one playwright intends to maintain civic order and the other intends to challenge the secular norm.


Aeschylus, Euripedes, female character

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