Gender, Class and Ideology: The Social Function of Virgin Sacrifice in Euripides' Children of Herakles

Classical Antiquity 26 (1):81-169 (2007)
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This paper explores how gender can operate as a disguise for class in an examination of the self-sacrifice of the Maiden in Euripides' Children of Herakles. In Part I, I discuss the role of human sacrifice in terms of its radical potential to transform society and the role of class struggle in Athens. In Part II, I argue that the representation of women was intimately connected with the social and political life of the polis. In a discussion of iconography, the theater industry and audience I argue that female characters became one of the means by which different groups promoted partisan interests based on class and social status. In Part III, I show how the Maiden solicits the competing interests of the theater audience. After discussing the centrality and marginality of the Maiden's character, I draw upon the funeral oration as a comparative model with which to understand the quite different role of self-sacrifice in tragedy. In addition to representing and mystifying the interests of elite, lower class and marginal groups, the play glorifies a subordinate character whose contradictory social status embodies the social position of other “marginal” members of Athenian society. The play stages a model for taking political action to transform the social system and for commemorating the tragic costs of such undertakings



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