Intimate Commerce: Exchange, Gender, and Subjectivity in Greek Tragedy

University of Texas Press
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Exchanges of women between men occur regularly in Greek tragedy—and almost always with catastrophic results. Instead of cementing bonds between men, such exchanges rend them. They allow women, who should be silent objects, to become monstrous subjects, while men often end up as lifeless corpses. But why do the tragedies always represent the transferal of women as disastrous?

Victoria Wohl offers an illuminating analysis of the exchange of women in Sophocles' Trachiniae, Aeschylus' Agamemnon, and Euripides' Alcestis. She shows how the attempts of women in these plays to become active subjects rather than passive objects of exchange inevitably fail. While these failures seem to validate male hegemony, the women's actions, however futile, blur the distinction between male subject and female object, calling into question the very nature of the tragic self. What the tragedies thus present, Wohl asserts, is not only an affirmation of Athens' reigning ideologies (including its gender hierarchy) but also the possibility of resistance to them and the imagination of alternatives.

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About the author

Victoria Wohl is Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics at Ohio State University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Texas Press
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Published on
Jan 1, 2010
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Pages
332
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ISBN
9780292774056
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Ancient & Classical
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Content Protection
This content is DRM free.
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How can we make sense of the innovative structure of Euripidean drama? And what political role did tragedy play in the democracy of classical Athens? These questions are usually considered to be mutually exclusive, but this book shows that they can only be properly answered together. Providing a new approach to the aesthetics and politics of Greek tragedy, Victoria Wohl argues that the poetic form of Euripides' drama constitutes a mode of political thought. Through readings of select plays, she explores the politics of Euripides' radical aesthetics, showing how formal innovation generates political passions with real-world consequences.

Euripides' plays have long perplexed readers. With their disjointed plots, comic touches, and frequent happy endings, they seem to stretch the boundaries of tragedy. But the plays' formal traits—from their exorbitantly beautiful lyrics to their arousal and resolution of suspense—shape the audience's political sensibilities and ideological attachments. Engendering civic passions, the plays enact as well as express political ideas. Wohl draws out the political implications of Euripidean aesthetics by exploring such topics as narrative and ideological desire, the politics of pathos, realism and its utopian possibilities, the logic of political allegory, and tragedy's relation to its historical moment.

Breaking through the impasse between formalist and historicist interpretations of Greek tragedy, Euripides and the Politics of Form demonstrates that aesthetic structure and political meaning are mutually implicated—and that to read the plays poetically is necessarily to read them politically.

Classical Athenian literature often speaks of democratic politics in sexual terms. Citizens are urged to become lovers of the polis, and politicians claim to be lovers of the people. Victoria Wohl argues that this was no dead metaphor. Exploring the intersection between eros and politics in democratic Athens, Wohl traces the private desires aroused by public ideology and the political consequences of citizens' most intimate longings. Love among the Ruins analyzes the civic fantasies that lay beneath (but not necessarily parallel to) Athens's political ideology. It shows how desire can disrupt politics and provides a deeper--at times disturbing--insight into the democratic unconscious of ancient Athens.

The Athenians imagined the perfect citizen as a noble and manly lover. But this icon conceals a multitude of other possible figures: sexy tyrants, potent pathics, and seductive perverts. Through critical re-readings of canonical texts, Wohl investigates these fantasies, which seem so antithetical to Athens's manifest ideals. She examines the interrelation of patriotism and narcissism, the trope of politics as prostitution, the elite suspicion of political pleasure, and the status of perversion within Athens's sexual and political norms. She also discusses the morbid drive that propelled Athenian imperialism, as well as democratic Athens's paradoxical fascination with the joys of tyranny.


Drawing on contemporary critical theory in original ways, Wohl sketches the relationship between citizen psyche and political life to illuminate the complex, frequently contradictory passions that structure democracy, ancient and modern.

Classical Athenian literature often speaks of democratic politics in sexual terms. Citizens are urged to become lovers of the polis, and politicians claim to be lovers of the people. Victoria Wohl argues that this was no dead metaphor. Exploring the intersection between eros and politics in democratic Athens, Wohl traces the private desires aroused by public ideology and the political consequences of citizens' most intimate longings. Love among the Ruins analyzes the civic fantasies that lay beneath (but not necessarily parallel to) Athens's political ideology. It shows how desire can disrupt politics and provides a deeper--at times disturbing--insight into the democratic unconscious of ancient Athens.

The Athenians imagined the perfect citizen as a noble and manly lover. But this icon conceals a multitude of other possible figures: sexy tyrants, potent pathics, and seductive perverts. Through critical re-readings of canonical texts, Wohl investigates these fantasies, which seem so antithetical to Athens's manifest ideals. She examines the interrelation of patriotism and narcissism, the trope of politics as prostitution, the elite suspicion of political pleasure, and the status of perversion within Athens's sexual and political norms. She also discusses the morbid drive that propelled Athenian imperialism, as well as democratic Athens's paradoxical fascination with the joys of tyranny.


Drawing on contemporary critical theory in original ways, Wohl sketches the relationship between citizen psyche and political life to illuminate the complex, frequently contradictory passions that structure democracy, ancient and modern.

How can we make sense of the innovative structure of Euripidean drama? And what political role did tragedy play in the democracy of classical Athens? These questions are usually considered to be mutually exclusive, but this book shows that they can only be properly answered together. Providing a new approach to the aesthetics and politics of Greek tragedy, Victoria Wohl argues that the poetic form of Euripides' drama constitutes a mode of political thought. Through readings of select plays, she explores the politics of Euripides' radical aesthetics, showing how formal innovation generates political passions with real-world consequences.

Euripides' plays have long perplexed readers. With their disjointed plots, comic touches, and frequent happy endings, they seem to stretch the boundaries of tragedy. But the plays' formal traits—from their exorbitantly beautiful lyrics to their arousal and resolution of suspense—shape the audience's political sensibilities and ideological attachments. Engendering civic passions, the plays enact as well as express political ideas. Wohl draws out the political implications of Euripidean aesthetics by exploring such topics as narrative and ideological desire, the politics of pathos, realism and its utopian possibilities, the logic of political allegory, and tragedy's relation to its historical moment.

Breaking through the impasse between formalist and historicist interpretations of Greek tragedy, Euripides and the Politics of Form demonstrates that aesthetic structure and political meaning are mutually implicated—and that to read the plays poetically is necessarily to read them politically.

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