City of Suppliants: Tragedy and the Athenian Empire.
This book is a well-written and compact contribution to the growing scholarship on the impact of Athens's imperial activities on the culture of the city. Athens, as the imperial city, is posited as a hegemon (absent the tyrannical implication of empire), a position emphasized through its openness to suppliants and its ability and willingness both to defend those suppliants attacked unjustly and to integrate the polluted or hostile into its civic/religious structure. The suppliants come willingly and volunteer to subject themselves to Athens in return for benefits that only Athens can provide them--justice, safety, or even a new home. This process is played out, Angeliki Tzanetou argues, against the backdrop of Athenian-Spartan conflict and especially the Peloponnesian War. Tzanetou explores in particular Aeschylus's Eumenides, Euripides's Heraclidae, and Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus with a brief mention also of the Suppliants of Aeschylus and of Euripides, respectively.
After an informative introduction, Tzanetou uses the Eumenides in chapter 1 to introduce the primary themes she sees in the suppliant plays--voluntary submission to Athenian power in return for benefits to the ally and, simultaneously, integration of a hostile and/or polluted enemy as a benefactor and defender of the city. In Eumenides, Orestes is the suppliant-turned-ally, and the Furies-turned-Eumenides are the hostile and polluted foe. The analysis of the Furies is insightful and establishes the pattern continued with Eurystheus in Heraclidae and on Oedipus, who is both suppliant and polluted foe.
Tzanetou frequently considers the plays with comparison to the funeral oration, an Athenian panegyric genre that includes suppliant narratives within the framework of hegemonic discourse. It is especially prominent in her discussion of Heraclidae (chapter 3). Acknowledging different contexts for tragedy and funeral oration, however, would have helped explain the differences in the representations of foreigners. Funeral oratory was only for Athenians, though drama was performed before foreign residents and allies alike, a dynamic important for her analysis.
The discussion of Oedipus at Colonus (chapter 4) argues for a vision of a less secure empire. The hegemonic ideology Tzanetou identifies was evident by 407/ 406 BCE, when the play was likely written, and on the decline as the Peloponnesian War turned increasingly against the Athenians. It would have been appropriate, though, to explore the play under the circumstances of performance in 401 BCE, after the Athenians had lost their empire and Greek city-states were realigning, with Thebes and Athens joining together against an increasingly imperial Sparta, all dynamics that might have impacted the play's reception.
This book is not for a general audience but for readers knowledgeable of fifth-century-BCE history and the plays in question. As one such reader, this reviewer found the analysis invigorating but abbreviated and requiring previous knowledge. Tzanetou has demonstrated clearly and elegantly how the suppliant plays are both impacted by and impact the understanding of Athens's imperial ambitions. She adds yet another argument for viewing Greek tragedy in an imperial context as the Athenians themselves must have done.
Rebecca Futo Kennedy
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|Author:||Kennedy, Rebecca Futo|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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