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) & Professor Susan Deacy (Supervisor)


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

Cite this

Animal metaphors and the depiction of female avengers in Attic tragedy
Abbattista , A. (Author). 21 Mar 2018

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis