Animal metaphors and the depiction of female avengers in Attic tragedy

  • Alessandra Abbattista

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    In the attempt to enrich classical literary criticism with modern theoretical
    perspectives, this thesis formulates an interdisciplinary methodological approach
    to the study of animal metaphors in the tragic depiction of female avengers.
    Philological and linguistic commentaries on the tragic passages where animals
    metaphorically occur are not sufficient to determine the effect that Attic
    dramatists would have provoked in the fifth-century Athenian audience. The
    thesis identifies the dramatic techniques that Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides
    deploy to depict vengeful heroines in animal terms, by combining gender studies
    of the classical world, classical studies of animals and posthumanism. It rejects
    the anthropocentric and anthropomorphic views of previous classical scholars
    who have interpreted the animal-woman metaphor in revenge plots as a tragic
    expression of non-humanity. It argues instead that animal imagery was considered
    particularly effective to express the human contradictions of female vengeance in
    the theatre of Dionysus. The thesis investigates the metaphorical employment of
    the nightingale, the lioness and the snake in the tragic characterisation of women
    who claim compensation for the injuries suffered within and against their household. Chapter 1 is focused on the image of the nightingale in comparison
    with tragic heroines, who perform ritual lamentation to incite vengeance. Chapter
    2 explores the lioness metaphor in the representation of tragic heroines, who
    through strength and protectiveness commit vengeance. Chapter 3 examines the
    metaphorical use of the snake in association with tragic heroines, who plan and
    inflict vengeance by deceit. Through the reconstruction of the metaphorical
    metamorphoses enacted by vengeful women into nightingales, lionesses and
    snakes, the thesis demonstrates that Attic dramatists would have provoked a tragic
    effect of pathos. Employed as a Dionysiac tool, animal imagery reveals the tragic
    humanity of avenging heroines whose voice, agency and deception cause nothing
    but suffering to their family, and inevitably to themselves.
    Date of Award21 Mar 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SponsorsArts and Humanities Research Council
    SupervisorSusanne Greenhalgh (Supervisor), Fiona McHardy (Supervisor) & Susan Deacy (Supervisor)


    • Animal metaphors, female revenge, ancient Greek tragedy, Dionysus gender studies, animal studies, posthumanism

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