The Rage of a Hero in the Song of the Nightingale

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Title: The Rage of a Hero in the Song of the Nightingale
Author: Foxley, Florencia
Advisor: Roberts, Deborah H.; Mulligan, Bret; Conybeare, Catherine
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Classics
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2013
Abstract: My senior thesis provides a comprehensive way of reading Euripides’ tragedy Medea by encompassing both the traditional Greek heroic and maternal aspects of Medea’s identity, in particular explaining how this reading clarifies Medea’s act of infanticide at the end of the play. In the play, Medea talks about herself and her values in ways that ally her with other male heroes from Greek legend, notably Ajax from Sophocles’ tragedy of the same name and Achilles from the Iliad. I explore how Euripides uses some of Sophocles’ distinctive heroic language in Medea to create a significant comparison between Medea and Ajax. I argue that this comparison, supplemented by a comparison between Achilles and Medea and how they operate in their close personal relationships creates an image of Medea as a hero that is both in keeping with traditional Greek ideals of the hero and creates significant overlap with Greek understandings of maternity and maternal affection. The comparisons to Ajax show the reader that Medea is a figure devoted to her heroic ideals of honor and of helping her friends and harming her enemies, just like Ajax, and like Ajax, she too will be forced to commit a self-destructive act because of her own relentless obstinacy. The comparisons to Achilles, and Achilles' relationship with his dearest connection, Patroclus, provide a traditional example for how heroes engage with, and inevitably harm, those ‘most dear’ to them. Euripides uses the same Greek term, φίλτατος (‘most dear’), to describe Medea’s relationship to her children as is used to describe Achilles relationship to Patroclus. In this way, Medea’s eventual killing of her children can be understood as an act similar to Achilles’ indirect killing of Patroclus; the infanticide can thus be understood as an act that causes great pain to Medea, but is nevertheless inevitable. These sentiments of heroic pain and remorse over the death of someone ‘most dear’ overlap a great deal with maternal pain and love of their children, helping us understand how Medea can be both maternal and loving while still being wholly heroic and destructive.
Subject: Euripides. Medea
Subject: Euripides -- Criticism and interpretation
Subject: Love, Maternal, in literature
Subject: Heroes in literature
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Foxley, Florencia. "The Rage of a Hero in the Song of the Nightingale". 2013. Available electronically from

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