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