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WOMEN OUTSIDE THE PALACE:
EURIPIDEAN WOMEN AND THEIR SPACE
JEANNIE THAN NGUYEN
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Jeannie Thanh Nguyen
My deepest thanks must go first to the professors of my committee, Dr. Karelisa
Hartigan, Dr. Konstantinos Kapparis, and Dr. David Young, for their comments and
suggestions that have made this thesis my work of art. I am especially grateful to Dr.
Hartigan for her instruction, insight, patience, and especially chastisement. She has made
me love being a scholar of Classics. Heartfelt thanks also go to Ms. Druscilla Gurahoo,
who has always saved me when I find myself in a mess. I would like to express my
greatest appreciation to my parents, sister, and brother, who have supported and
encouraged me through every endeavor. I would be lost without them. I am also
extremely grateful to Generosa, David, and Shannon for their ideas and much-welcomed
distractions-they have kept me sane. Finally, I am especially indebted to Will for
listening to me whine and then reminding me that perhaps one day I may be as great a
scholar as he is. His words have kept me going.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ......... ................................................................................... iii
LIST OF FIGURES .............. ... ................................ ......... ..v
ABSTRACT ........ .............. ............. ..... .......... .......... vi
1 IN TR O D U C TIO N ......................................................................... .... .. ........
2 FE M IN IN E SP A C E ..................................................................... ......................... 8
3 M E D E A ...................................... ...................................................... 19
4 H IPPOLY TU S .......... ........ .............. ... ......... .............. ............. 31
5 H E C U B A ...................................... .....................................................4 1
6 E L E C T R A ............................................................................. 5 1
7 C O N C L U SIO N ......... ......................................................................... ......... .. 6 1
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S ........... ............................................................... ............... 65
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ...................................................................... ..................72
LIST OF FIGURES
1 Divisions of Space in Classical Homes. Female spaces marked +; male spaces
shaded. Entrances to houses from the street marked with arrows ...........................
2 Plan and Reconstruction of an Oval House, Smyrna. 10th century BC .................. 10
3 The Phases of Zagora; House Walls in Black; Left: First Phase Right: Second
P h a se ...................................... .................................................... 1 1
4 Water-jar (ca. 520 B.C.) from Athens, depicting women at a fountain house.........16
5 The progression of Medea's myth. Young (Hillsdale College Lecture, 1992).......30
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
WOMEN OUTSIDE THE PALACE:
EURIPIDEAN WOMEN AND THEIR SPACE
Jeannie Thanh Nguyen
Chair: Karelisa Hartigan
Major Department: Classics
The characters of Euripides' dramas are the threads that create his intricate
narrative, and when woven together through situations crossing space and time, they
produce a masterful account of tragic and often less than tragic figures. Euripides'
characters defy the ordinary ideals of tragedy. Euripides' women, though mythical
characters, often operate outside of the conventions of proper womanly behavior.
My purpose in this thesis is to investigate Euripides' female characters in the
Medea, Hippolytus, Hecuba, and Electra, the spaces associated with each principal
character, and, more specifically, the behavior the women display within and outside of
their female spaces. In the first part of my work I introduce the spaces Athenian women
inhabited and describe the typical roles expected within these areas. The purpose of this
is to establish a standard of behavior with which to compare the actions of the
predominant female figures in Euripides' tragedies. For instance, Electra states that her
place is in the house and her task is to keep it tidy.
The movement from typical feminine spaces within to areas without, however,
exhibits a change from normative behavior. Therefore, the second and larger part of my
work is devoted to providing an analysis of the behaviors the women exhibit in these four
tragedies in order to explain the implications of these actions, namely how these
behaviors are associated with their feminine space and how Euripides uses the women's
space to heighten his narrative. For example, in the Hippolytus, Phaedra constantly
wavers in her desires to be inside and outside the house. Through this analysis I hope to
demonstrate that the underlying continuity interlaced within the definition of feminine
space is a woman's association with a male figure. Without the rightful male figure, a
woman's space is either distorted or is altogether lost. Domestic space is a realm of
masculine control where women are cared and provided for. Interior spaces are
associated with female passivity and proper behavior. However, when these women step
outside of the palace, they no longer act according to traditional standards of behavior,
but enter the public world of men where they are not welcome. These women, in turn,
act as men, and therefore achieve their goals. In the end, though, Euripides' tragedies
demonstrate that it is those women who are restored to male figures that continue to live
on. The Athenian female cannot exist without a male.
i~TELTa TOUTOUOi AXAETV Si1ccSa -
VOETv 6pav p uvtLval cyrpEqcEL p paV TEXV(CELV,
KQX' UTOTo"TrETlGo TrEpLvoETv TrraVTa -
Then I taught these people (characters) to speak -
to think, to see, to understand, to love to twist, to scheme,
to suspect wicked things, to contrive cunningly all things -
Aristophanes, Frogs, 954, 957-958
Euripides was an unconventional tragedian who did not reinforce or validate the
prevailing principles of the Athenian polis, as did Sophocles or Aeschylus, but rather
represented current social ideologies as false, gross, and mistaken. One way in which his
tragedies reflect this very concept is through his dramatic creation of a world where the
women are the intricate and developed characters while the males are often degraded to
gender stereotypes. By placing the female at the core of the dramatic action of his plays,
"he feminized tragedy, the most masculine institution of the Athenian democratic
patriarchy, and symbolically castrated the manly, 'lofty,' heroic legacy of Aeschylus."1
Countering male against female, depraved morality against virtue, passion against
reason, Euripides' tragedies extend beyond simply speaking "honorable things"2 and in
his departure from the standard, reveal the faults and weaknesses of Athenian values. In
1 Zelenak (1998) 101.
2 Aristophanes Frogs 1055.
his portrayal in Aristophanes' Frogs, the character of Euripides asserts that a poet should
be admired for "superlative artistry, craftsmanship, and the skill of a talented teacher to
make men better by counsel sage" (1009).3 Euripides meant for his tragedies to educate
the public, but his contemporaries criticized him, claiming that he failed in this respect
and turned sound, well-born citizens into poX6T1poTQTous men.4 They argue that
Euripides did so by giving equal importance in narrative to both servants and masters,
often employing the lesser characters as the voice of reason and source for proper
behavior. They especially condemn him for his selection of subject matter, stating that it
was improper to write about less than virtuous women or "whores like Phaedra or
Sthenoboea."5 It is through his divergence from the tragic norm that his plays become so
valuable to study.
The most striking variance in his tragedies in comparison with other tragedians lies
in his depiction of women. Aristophanes claimed that Euripides was a misogynist,
slandering women and characterizing them as deceitful, vengeful, and contriving.
Euripides, however, displays tremendous sympathy for women and the female
perspective, devoting entire plays to the fate of women in war-torn, conquered cities and
often creating speeches lamenting the throes of women.6 He also presents many
courageous, virtuous, and selfless women, such as Alcestis, Helen, and Iphigenia who
3 Trans. by Webb (1962) 400. Euripides even claims that his plays achieved this at lines 954, 957-958.
4 Arist. Frogs 1011.
5 Arist. Frogs 948-950, 1043. We can conjecture that the Phaedra refers to the first presentation of the
6 Examples include the Hecuba, Electra, The Trojan Women, etc.
display the traits of an ideal woman. In addition to this, throughout his works Euripides
expresses an accurate awareness and firm grasp of the female psychology,7 and almost
always casts the "thinkers" of his plays as women.8 The difference in his portrayal of
women, however, appears in their divergent behavior from the typical standards of
feminine conduct. The question then remains as to why Euripides chooses to represent
his women with such unflattering myths if he is not the accused misogynist. On closer
examination one sees that these women who appear to display objectionable actions are,
in fact, not portrayed by Euripides as "wicked women." By analyzing the way in which
his stories depart from the traditional myth, one can gather his vision and attitudes toward
the female9 and, more specifically, one may observe that Euripides does not portray his
women as debased at all, but rather as human beings, subject to the experiences, whims,
and emotions of the entire race.10 They are presented without blame or condemnation,
but demonstrate what it is to be human when the passion overcomes the rational and
when, after the suffering and calamity, the only expression of humanity left is the
exchange of comfort and understanding. Euripides does not condone their reprobate
behavior or commend his audience to model them; instead, he presents mythological
characters as people recognizable to that audience.
Another question arises when discussing Euripides and his use of women, namely,
why it is even important to study the female characters. Greek tragedy uniquely gives its
7 See March (1990) 32-33, 64n4, and 64n7 for specific examples.
8Dodds (1973) 80.
9 This is the approach of March (1990) 32-75. This argument will be analyzed in further detail within the
body of the thesis.
10 In describing Euripides tragedies, Kitto (1978) 195 states it most accurately by saying: 'In the last
analysis Euripides' tragic hero is mankind.'
female characters what women were denied in real life-equal status with men. Zelenak
claims that the theatre, like the political arena, was an entirely male experience and that
there is no solid evidence to support the inclusion of women in theatre audiences.1 I am
not entirely sure I agree with this statement. As I mention in the subsequent chapter, the
evidence we have about females is found in the literature written by men whose
perceptions and views may not be wholly reflective of reality. In the same way that
scholars cannot assume too much based on the written record, they cannot, in the reverse
mistake, assume too little, as I believe that Zelenak does here. However, at this time,
women were often separated from the company of men and denied an education as well
as means to express their opinions. They were not allowed to hold office, vote, own
property, or even give testimony in court.12
The segregation in the Greek notions of gender ideology was not only reinforced
externally in everyday life, but also subtly in their words and speech. There was no basic
word for "woman" that corresponded to &avip, "man" in Classical Attic Greek.
Alternatively, yuvi', "wife," served this function. Ancient Greeks could not supply
precise terminology for words such as "unmarried" or "single woman" the way they
distinguished between different kinds of prostitutes (i.e.-FrahAaKis, rTaipa,Trr6pvTr).
Rather, women were defined according to sociological and political terminology,
identifying women as pi-Trp, 6uydT-rp, 68EAcp', Trap6cvos, yuv or vi'pqrn. All of
1 Zelenak (1998) 18. Refer to Pickard-Cambridge (1968) 264-265 for evidence for and against women's
presence in the theatre.
12 Zelenak (1998) 21. If a female's testimony was required, her male guardian would speak in her place.
Schaps (1977) 323 says that women were not permitted to plead in court. However, there were a variety of
reasons that they could be connected with a trial that required their presence, including rights of law
succession or the arousal of sympathy from the jury (see Aeschines 2.148, 152; Plato Apology 34c-35b;
Demosthenes 19.310, 21.99 and 186, 25.85, 54.35; Arist. Wasps 568-569, Plutus 380).
these terms labeled women with their roles in association with males, which reflect the
classical Greek conception of sexuality-the female is in opposition to the male.13
Females functioned the same way in Greek tragedy and particularly with
Euripides' characters. His women fulfilled their role as the opposing other to the male
character "[playing] the role of catalysts, agents, instruments, blockers, spoilers,
destroyers, and sometimes helpers or saviors for the male characters. When elaborately
represented, they may serve as antimodels as well as hidden models for the masculine
self..."14 In Euripides' tragedies we see that his women exist through some male
connection. However, the contrasting factor of Euripides' women to the Athenian female
was that he gave his women a voice. Whether their behavior was contemptible or they
acted as respectable figures, Euripides presented the lives of his characters through their
own lenses and allowed his audience a chance to view these women as representative of
their own. His women were perhaps not complete representations of reality, but an image
of how people and especially women could behave when placed within certain
circumstances. Why study Euripidean women? Because it tells us just as much about the
Classical Athenian female as it does about Euripides himself.
Finally, one must ask why it is important to study spaces and, more specifically, the
perceived boundaries of feminine space. In approaching this topic, one discovers that
there is not much contemporary scholarship about female space because not much is
known about it. Archaeological evidence identifies areas within the home indicative of
female space. However, the ancient literature does not provide completely accurate
13 Zelenak (1998) 17-21.
14 Zeitlin (1990) 68-69.
information to interpret these remains; the interior space of women was a mystery to men
because they were not a part of it.'5 Their perspective, though, is the surviving record we
have of the past. Therefore, by analyzing the ancient viewpoints (whether completely
reflective of reality or not), we have the best source for gaining insight on the lives and
spaces of Athenian women. Euripides is one of the surviving voices of the ancients, and,
therefore, his view on feminine space can add to our knowledge of women and their
The main reason to study feminine space lies in the fact that the ancient Athenian
female was identified and connected with her place within the home. If one is to study
females, it naturally follows that he/she must analyze their spaces as well, because much
of their life was centered around and within the oikos. Zeitlin notes the relational aspect
between boundaries of inside and out for women saying,
The house, as we know, is primarily the proper domain of the woman, to which the social
rules of the culture assign her, while its men go forth into the outside world to pursue
manly accomplishments in war and politics.16
Athenian males appear to relegate females to the home and claim that this is the
ideal place for women. However, one must ask why this is so. They claim that the home
is the woman's workplace, place of safety, and place of respect.7 However, it may not
be because men believe that the home is best suited for females, but rather because the
15 Zeitlin (1990) 355, 357. The inside space of women is often presented as a place of plots against men.
Montiglio (2000) 256 reinforces this very idea stating, "Within a society, that of democratic Athens, in
which silent seclusion is the condition imposed on women in real life, it is not surprising that women are
the experts at conniving silences also on the stage. By representing women who act through secret
networks, the tragedians point to the dangers that supposedly lurk behind women's confinement and
exclusion from the spheres of public speech." Rf. Athenaios 13.6ff. for anti-feminine views.
16 Zeitlin (1996) 349, 354.
1 I will offer further analysis on ancient feminine space in the following chapter.
public outside will not accept them. This is exactly what we see in analyzing Euripides'
plays. The moment his women "step outside the palace" they act in ways contrary to the
expected behaviors of females. Only when these women assume male behaviors can they
accomplish anything in the public realm of men.
In analyzing Euripides' use of space, one must first determine how he defines
feminine space, and then identify how his women behave within (and without) this space.
In doing so, one may gain some understanding of Euripides' perspective on women and
quite possibly learn more about the Athenian woman from the realist himself.
"Your renown will be great ifyou do not behave in an inferior way to that natural ofyour
sex, and your glory will be to be least mentioned amongst men concerning either your
virtue or your faults. "
The roles and space of women in ancient Greece are difficult to determine when
one realizes that he/she is studying a group that was extolled for being little mentioned.
Modem day scholars, in an attempt to piece together what knowledge they can gather
from this "silent" group, mainly possess literary evidence that was written almost entirely
by the opposing gender. The problem is situated in determining how much of reality is
reflected in the ideology of how women should live and act according to the perceptions
and views of the dominant and lasting voices of men.
Archaeological finds provide us with clear and unbiased evidence in determining
the role of women and their place within the home.1 The oikos served as the basis of the
framework of ancient Greek society.2 In this complex hierarchy of relationships stood
the male head and underneath him the nuclear family, followed by the entire economic
unit-slaves, property, and land. It was this domestic space to which females of classical
Athens were often confined. Ancient authors state that particular areas within the home,
1 The interpretations of these findings may be biased-as are all interpretations-but the importance of
these remains is that it provides us with artifacts from the past available for any analysis.
2 For the varying definitions of the oikos and its place in Athenian Law, see MacDowell (1989) 10-21.
Here and throughout, I refer to the oikos as the family as well as the house, itself.
known as the gynaikon or gynaikonitis, were the women's quarters3 set aside for domestic
functions such as weaving, cooking, and storage.4 Examination of homes excavated in
Athens identifies areas such as these used as 'workrooms' that contained hearths and
loom-weights. Greek literature identifies and associates these types of spaces with
women (Hesiod, Works and Days, 520ff; Homer, Iliad, 22, 440; Aeschylus, Agamemnon,
95). Not only do these surviving remains indicate rooms employed for female duties,
these domestic spaces also demonstrate a separation between areas for men and women.
The andron was set apart from the women's quarters with no access between and each
apartment had its own entrance. This archaeological evidence seems to demonstrate that
the separation of male and female space was proper and practiced in ancient Athens.5
*'I F C1'^!'H^ ^M* __*-.._* -,,* -- -
Left: House on the North Slope of the Areopagus Right: Dema House at Ano Liossia
Figure 1: Divisions of Space in Classical Homes. Female spaces marked +; male spaces
shaded. Entrances to houses from the street marked with arrows.
3 References include Demosthenes 37.45-46, Xenophon's Oeconomicus 9.5, and Lysias 1.9-10, in which
one of the major points in Euphiletos' argument (-ET ydp KC(' TaUO' Opiv 8il|yroao6ai) is the location of
the women's quarters.
4 Morris (1999) 306.
5 For more on the archaeological evidence of the division of space between males and females within the
home, see Walker (1983) 81-91. Figures taken from Walker (1983) 87.
Nevett's work on this subject, however, claims that there was no strict division of
spaces, but rather varying degrees of male areas. Namely, she claims that any public area
was associated with male space while all other spaces (that excluded outsiders) were
appropriate for women, into which some men were permitted to enter.6 This view
provides a separation between public and private spheres and places women within the
remote areas beyond the reach and eyes of most men. This interpretation also reinforces
the belief that the female space is hidden, secret, and interior and only approachable via
male space and male control-the kyrios who guards the door. If one were to cross over
the threshold of female space without permission, he/she would be committing an act of
hybris7 or perhaps even moicheia as they would be accused of entering with the intention
to seduce the women of the house.
Morris' article traces the evolution of the Greek home and its transitions from early
Archaic to Classical structures. Before 750 B.C. domestic spaces were single rooms of
oval or apsidal shape.
0 3 6 fAe
S I 2 meters
Figure 2: Plan and Reconstruction of an Oval House, Smyrna. 10th century BC.8
6Nevett 1994, 1995, 1999.
SDemosthenes 18.132 and Lysias 1.4, 25, 36 are very clear in expressing this point of view.
8 Figure taken from Pedley (2002) 111.
However, the late eighth-century brought about a shift in shape to rectilinear
houses. These structures were still single-roomed or contained one main area and a small
porch, but by 700 B.C. houses with courtyards began to appear. Courtyard homes
became standard in classical Greece by 600 B.C. In analyzing this shift in structures,
Morris does not divide the home into gendered spaces, but suggests that the ideas about
divisions of space between the sexes and the physical divisions of homes reflect the
literature of Hesiod and the classical authors and their view of the seclusion of women to
interior spaces. 9 Whatever the interpretations of the archaeological remnants, there was
clearly a division of male and female space within the home and certain areas that women
Although ancient literature may provide a partial and idealized perception of the
woman's place within the home, it supplies us with the views, expectations, and mindset
9 Hesiod and many classical authors connect space with gender and inner areas with females (e.g. Hesiod,
Op. 519-525). For his specific argument, see Morris (1999) 305-317.
10 Figures taken from Morris (1999) 317.
that the Athenians held whether or not it was completely true to reality. We see that the
architectural remains display spatial divisions within the home, but why did these
demarcations of space come about? And why was it that the woman's place was
relegated to the home? In Xenophon's Oeconomicus, Ischomachos teaches his young
wife her responsibilities saying,
7.35 'Your duty will be to remain indoors and send out those servants whose work is
outside, and superintend those who are to work indoors, and to receive the incoming,
7.36 and distribute so much of them as must be spent, and watch over so much as is to be
kept in store, and take care that the sum laid by for a year be not spent in a month. And
when wool is brought to you, you must see that cloaks are made for those that want them.
You must see too that the dry corn is in good condition for making food.'1
The pseudo-Aristotelian Oikonomikos echoes similar sentiments about the
woman's expected place stating, "the gods have made one gender (the women) fit only
for a 'seated' way of life but too weak for activities out of doors, while the other gender
(the men) were less suited for domestic work but strong enough for labour that required
motion" (Oik. 1.1344a 3-6).12 Socrates in a conversation with his friend, Aristarchos,
promotes the labor and domestic skills of Aristarchos' female relations to start a home
industry in order to sustain his and their livelihood (Xenophon's Memoribilia II.7.2-14).13
Much of the ancient literature attributes the demarcation of space to the division of labor
between the sexes.14 The Greeks recognized a difference in roles for each gender and
11 Trans. by Marchant (1923), my italics. See also sections 10.10-13 for additional tasks the wife was
expected to undertake.
12 Translation by Scheidel (1995) 205. See also Arist. Pol. 1254b 13ff.
13 For the autonomy and self-contained nature of the woman's sphere see Shaw (1975) 256; Powell (1988)
341-350, 359; Just (1989) 114-118, 151-152, 164; Cohen (1991) 159-162; Pomeroy (1994) 58-61; Cox
14 For example, Hierocles, in Stob. Flor. 3.696f. (ed. Hense).
associated the space that each possessed with the duties each performed in these areas.1
The women, therefore, were often situated within the private sphere of the interior, while
men possessed the public sphere.
Not only were women seemingly restricted to the home because of their domestic
duties, but also because it served as a means of protection. With Pericles' Citizen Laws
of 451-450, Athenian citizen status and the legitimacy of heirs were often called into
question. One of the greatest roles a woman held was to produce offspring.16
Apollodorus, in his speech against Neaera, reinforces this view by claiming that a wife's
job was "for the procreation of legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of the
household" (Dem. 59.122).17 The entire prosecution of Neaera was intended to slander
Stephanus by challenging the citizenship of his children, whether they belong to
Stephanus' former wife, an Athenian citizen, or Neaera, the metic.18 Adultery also
disputed the paternity of offspring. Therefore, women were confined to the oikos to
ensure they did not violate their marriage vows or that they, themselves, were not
violated.19 This need for supervision kept women under the guardianship and protection
of their male figure. In Aristarchus' conversation with Socrates, Aristarchus gave an
analogy in which he, as the male guardian, served as the "watchdog" who protected the
15 TEI KCat OiKOVOPlCa ETEpa Cxv pb6 KCal yUVCatK65- TOI bPV y&p KTOOC I T1S bE q)UXdTTEIV Epyov
OTriv (Arist. Pol. 1277b 24ff).
16 Solon's laws (20.2) enforce this very idea.
17 Trans. by Pomeroy (1994) 115.
18 For more on the trial of Neaera, see Kapparis (1999).
19 Cohen (1989) 3-15 argues that there was a separation of space between males and females, but that this
division did not necessarily translate to seclusion or isolation. His article focuses on the conflict in
scholarship between reality and ideology. See also Richter (1971) 1-8. For the purposes of this paper,
however, I mainly analyze the perceptions of the ancients and their association of females mainly to the
"sheep" (the women) so that they could live and work in safety and so that no harm
would come to them (Xen. Mem 2.7.14). In Lysias I On the Murder ofEratosthenes, the
defendant, Euphiletos, remarks that he watched over his wife as much as possible and
kept an eye on her as was reasonable, but it was when his wife attended his mother's
funeral (in the view of the public) that she was seduced by Eratosthenes (Lysias 1.6-8).
Funerals, sacrifices (Aristophanes, Ach. 253), and religious festivals (e.g. the
Thesmophoria, Isaeus 8.19-20; 3.80; 6.49) were occasions in which women stepped
outside of the home.20 These excursions out of doors, as Euphiletos' argument
exemplifies, made women susceptible to seduction and ruin. The best solution, therefore,
would be to limit females to the inner spaces of the oikos.
Women were also expected to stay within the home because it was those women
who had a sense of propriety who remained isolated from public view. In Plato's Laws,
the Athenian claims that women were accustomed to living a private life and would do
anything rather than be exposed to public view (781c). The speaker of Lysias 3.6
declares that his female relatives were so proper and concerned for their modesty that
they were even embarrassed to be seen by their male relations. Respectable women were
those who stayed at home and carried out their domestic duties.21 As Pericles stated, the
woman's greatest glory was to be silent and subdued (Thuc. II.45.2).22 The seclusion and
anonymity of women was also practiced in the law courts. Orators purposefully avoided
naming living respectable women in order to keep from casting a slur on their names.
20 For a more inclusive list of activities which took women outside of the home, see Cohen (1989) 8.
21 For further examples see Demosthenes 47, Isaeus 3.13-14, Lysias 1.22-23.
22 The poet Hipponax of Ephesos even said that a woman's two best days were when someone married her
and when he carried out her dead body (Hipponax 68).
Instead, these women would be identified through their male relations using kinship
terms. Schaps notes that the orator Mantitheus uses "six men and one deme to identify a
single woman", all without naming the woman herself (Dem. 40.6).23 Only those women
who were disreputable, of the opposing council, or dead would be named. Otherwise,
naming a female would be considered a slander upon an honorable and proper woman.24
Examples such as these illustrate that a woman's place and propriety lay in her
associations with her male figures and in being little seen and heard.
Although much of ancient literature expresses these ideals for the place a woman
was expected to occupy, the reality was that women were never completely secluded in
the home. The wealthy were the only ones who could possibly maintain such standards.25
In the Politics, Aristotle claims that in a democratic system, it is impossible to restrict a
poor woman from going out to work (1300a, 1323a).26 Not only did women exit their
homes for economic activities,27 but they also performed menial labors out of doors, such
as washing clothes and fetching water, in addition to visiting their friends and
neighbors.28 Even though these expectations of isolation for women were not completely
23 Schaps (1977) 326.
24 There were, of course, some exceptions to this. For the complete analysis of the naming of women, see
Schaps (1977) 323-330.
25 Sheidel (1995) 204.
26 Cohen (1989) 8.
27 Women would work in the fields (Aristophanes, Peace 535; Demosthenes 57.45) or even sell items in the
marketplace (Aristophanes, Ach. 478, Wasps 497, 1380-1385; Lys. 445; Thes. 405-440; Demosthenes
28 Many black-figure vases depict women at a public fountain house, one place in which they could meet
one another and converse. Fantham et al. (1994) 106-109.
observed in real life, nevertheless, these ideals were part of every Athenian male's
Figure 4: Water-jar (ca. 520 B.C.) from Athens, depicting women at a fountain house.29
29 Figure taken from Fantham et al. (1994) 108.
In the context of Euripides' plays, these principles were inherent in the audience's
mentality. The moment Euripides' women stepped outside of their homes, it was
indicative that something was wrong within the oikos.30 Euripides recognized the
prevailing perceptions of space and women's roles within these spaces and he
undoubtedly played with the audience's conceptions in his retelling of the mythical
stories. There was a reason why Alcestis was considered the epitome of the perfect
woman. We see in her actions that she was willing to sacrifice her life for that of her
husband's, claiming that she did not wish to live a life without Admetus or to leave her
children fatherless (287ff) because she knew that her very existence was dependent on
some male figure.31 Euripides' noble characterization of Alcestis is not only seen in her
behaviors but is also expressed in her spacing. Even in this, she upholds the ideals of a
perfect wife. The prologue places her KQT' OTKouS (19), nearly at the point of death.
However, when she does exit the palace, she is accompanied by her husband
(i8oi0 i8oV,/ dS' K 86Pcov 8i KQl rr6IOaS TropEuETat, 233-234). She is then afforded
one of the most unique tragic deaths where, unlike any other woman, she actually dies on
stage.32 Later on when Herakles returns Alcestis to Admetus, she is veiled and silent, and
therefore out of public view and sound. Slater interprets Alcestis' reunion with Admetus
and re-submersion into silence as "the glory of the Athenian wife",33 which resonates her
status as the epitome of the best wife.
3o Padel (1983) 15.
31 If Admetus were to die, Alcestis, as an heiress, would have been expected to remarry. See the Gortyn
Law Code (col. III.17-30, VI.15-VIII.50) and Plutarch Solon 20.2-23.2. Slater (2000) 107 says that
Alcestis dies for Admetus, her children, AND the household, because these are inseparable.
32 For the ways in which to kill a woman in Greek tragedy, see Loraux (1987) 9-39.
3 Slater (2000) 115.
Euripides takes the audience's perceptions of feminine space and represents his
female characters within these lines of thought. The following chapters provide an
analysis of some of Euripides' most striking female characters and the interplay between
their space and their behavior. Euripides takes these mythic women and does the most
despicable thing-he brings them outside of the palace. In the narratives of these women
we see their struggle in deciding between living out their circumstances in the expected
passivity of the female or taking action against their misfortunes. Euripides uses their
spatial connections, roles, and male figures to influence their behaviors. In examining
Euripides' plays with the Athenian ideals of female seclusion in mind, one will discover a
deeper meaning to his plays and gain a greater understanding of them.
From the very start of the play we see that Medea does not fall into the category
of the typical female. The prologue introduces us to her as the woman who fell in love
with Jason and carried out great and terrible deeds for him on account of that passion (8-
10). Immediately we, along with the ancient audience, recall the myths of Medea and
how she aided Jason in obtaining the golden fleece and sailed away with him to Iolcus.
Perhaps we would also remember the version where she killed her brother, Apsyrtus, and
scattered his remains in the Black Sea and how she deceived Pelias' daughters to kill
their own father. Even if we did not, Euripides reminds us of these very tales.1
Undoubtedly, the audience knew Medea's stories before Euripides even presented his
version for the stage, and we can be certain that they had her myths in mind as they were
watching this play.2
But what is it about Medea that makes her such an extraordinary female? One
could say that she was the sorceress who fell in love with a would-be hero and betrayed
her father and homeland for him, but it extends even further than this. In choosing Jason
Medea rejected her father's authority and male presence and abandoned her home in
Colchis. Even before we encounter her on Euripides' stage Medea has already, in
1 Euripides rouses our memory of these myths in the prologue by the very mention of Pelias' name (3) and
by recounting his murder by his daughters' hands (oi0' &v KTGEivE T-rEioaoc TT-EAld~a Kopa5 TraTTpa,
9). He also speaks Medea's past actions through her own voice when she laments the fact that she killed
her own brother for Jason (167) and repeats the story of Pelias' death at lines 486-487 and 503-505.
2 For the complete lineage of Medea's mythological story see Figure 6 at end of chapter.
essence, "stepped outside the palace" and begun to act on her own behalf. The first
evidence of this adoption of male roles is recalled in the marriage oath she made with
Jason, which she refers to at lines 161 (PEydCotls pKOtLS vSrioaaEva TOV
KaTdpaTov Trrdotv) and 495 (oiK EuopKOS cbv). Although Euripides never explicitly
mentions the substance of the agreement they made with one another, we can confer from
this pact that it was some exchange of favors-namely, her assistance in acquiring the
golden fleece for his hand in marriage.3 A Greek betrothal was never accomplished
between man and woman, but rather father-in-law and groom.4 Here, however, we see
that Medea is the one who binds herself to Jason and acts in her father's stead in
completing the marriage. What is more, her oath compels her to carry out Jason's actions
as well. She, as she so eagerly reminds him (475ff. and 515), saved his life (acoad a'),
killing the dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece and providing him a means for escape.
Once again she assumes a male role in acting as Jason's "savior." Her manly behaviors
do not stop there, however. Once in Iolcus she serves as the conqueror of Jason's
enemies, beguiling the daughters of Pelias to cut up their father in the hopes of returning
him to his youth.
In every instance above it appears (and Medea also claims) that she acts on Jason's
behalf, but the truth of the matter is that she also acts on her behalf. All of her actions
reflect the absence of a male figure and a search for a space or home in which to exist as
a traditional female. Because she rejected her father, she in turn makes a marriage oath to
replace her lost male figure with Jason. Her destruction of Pelias was to furnish Jason
3 For more information on the significance of the hand-clasp see Flory (1978) 70.
4 This marriage, therefore, is not legally valid. For more on Greek betrothals see Harrison (1968) 1-59.
with a kingdom in Iolchus (and, in essence, a home for herself). This action only resulted
in their banishment/flight from the land and, consequently, resulted in their current
residency in Corinth. At the start of Euripides' play, it is here in Corinth that we find
Medea, once again without a male figure. We are told that her husband, Jason, has
deserted her and the children and has broken their marriage vows by taking another wife.
We hear that she sits inside the house suffering (24, 135, 180) as the classic female
passive victim starving herself in her misery.
This seclusion, however, does not last long and Medea emerges on stage lamenting
the lot of a woman's life in a dramatic first entrance. "We have waited in suspense,
learned of Medea's passive suffering at second hand and from her own cries of anguish;
and now, it seems, that helpless passivity ends and the resulting action... is set afoot."5
At her first entrance out of doors, we immediately see in Medea's speech that she does
not hold the values of the traditional Greek woman. Her point of view is slightly skewed.
She claims that she comes outside to the women of Corinth so that they do not think ill of
her because she believes that those who live quietly get a bad reputation (214ff.). This is
absolutely contradictory to the view of a good Greek woman who remains indoors
confined to her woman's quarters doing her female tasks, and instead runs more so along
the lines of the male way of thinking.6 In other words, for a male there is no glory in
sustaining a quiet life indoors. She even reinforces this view by complaining how
unfortunate women are because they must remain at home while a man is free to go out
of doors (245). Instead she is at home bemoaning the fact that she is deserted without a
5 Reckford (1968) 333.
6 "It is more shameful for the man [of a married couple] to stay indoors than to busy himself with outdoor
affairs." Xenophon Oeconomicus 8.
country, a family, friends, or a husband. She has nothing left except her home and her
At this point in the play Creon enters to announce that he is depriving her of her
home as well. This banishment devastates her existence, for Medea is yet again without a
male figure and a space, but this time not by choice. Not only is she a wife abandoned,
but now she is also an exile, which she mentions over and over again throughout the play
thereafter.7 Previous to Creon's entrance Medea was distraught and suffering in misery,
but she was inactive within the house. It is not until she loses both her male figure and
her space that Medea decides to take action against her enemies-Jason, Glauke,8 and
Creon. She supplicates Creon to allow her to remain one last day in Corinth in order to
prepare for her exile. Her speech is entirely calculated, first attempting to assuage his
fears and convince him that she is not as clever and vindictive as some would have him
believe. When that does not allay his fears, she supplicates him; submits to the exile; and
then begs him for time, playing on his role as a father to invoke his pity. Creon-out of
compassion, against his better judgment, and in his naivety of Medea's capability to
act-grants her one final day, a concession which results in his undoing.
As the tragedy progresses we discover that this is not simply a play about
transformation or a reversal of roles. Although Medea does seem to just sit passively one
7 Medea mentions that she is an exile twenty times at the following lines: 275, 338, 341, 346, 353, 372,
400, 436, 449, 454, 458, 459, 511, 603, 606, 706, 713, 881, 938, and 1023. Before Creon orders her to
leave the land she only refers to herself as "desolate" or "helpless" (Eprlpos, 255). It is interesting to note
that Kovacs (1994) translates this adjective as "without relatives", which indicates the dependence a
woman has on her family or male protection.
8 Note that not once is Glauke mentioned by name. As is common for Greek women, she is referred to by
her roles in relation to a man, i.e. KpQovTro -rrai6a (19), vircpav (164), etc. (262, 283, 288, 309, 366,
375,554, 556, 623,694, 783,785,788, 885, 888,942, 945, 952-953, 957, 962, 967, 970, 978, 994, 1001,
1003, 1064-1066, 1125, 1137, 1144, 1179, 1207, 1210, 1220, 1233, 1348, and 1394.) See Schaps (1977)
day and then the next decide to avenge herself against her enemies (and in so doing act as
a man), her actions are more a continuation of past behavior. The play is afortiori a
comparison of Medea's "masculinity" or assumption of male roles set up against a
backdrop of men who parade before her throughout the play. The initial parts of the
tragedy and Medea's myths demonstrate that she associates herself with and is dependent
upon a male figure, but more than this, she becomes her own male figure. The moment
she rejects her father and binds herself to Jason, Medea acts the part of a hero and,
perhaps, deserves the title just as much as Jason. She helped him achieve his glory and
renown-the very reason that Creon believed Jason to be a good match for his daughter.
Even in her destruction of Pelias, Medea was providing Jason with a home.
Medea's prevailing role in their relationship is evident in her first conversation with
Jason in which she dominates the speech with her abusive language and reasoning.9
Medea is very much the male figure and the hero and as such she relishes this role. Her
words display this mindset. She does not criticize Jason for his lust or adultery, but for
his cowardice (avav8pfav, 466). Then she goes on to remind him of the fact that she
was the one who rescued him. Not only that, she claims that the Greeks themselves know
of her deeds (476), and so she is the one who achieves the renown. She describes her acts
in full detail, but then states that Jason's only deed was to desert her and his children in
order to bed another woman. She emasculates him even further my claiming that he is
the one who held her hand in supplication, clasping her knees for favor (496-497).
Her heroic mindset is also evident in the fact that much of her motivation to carry
out her revenge was so that she would not be the object of her enemies' laughter.
9 For views on Medea's commanding speech see McClure (1999) 373-376. She identifies Medea's
language as legalistic and also a "transgression of normative gender roles."
McClure labels this as a "potential source of shame and fear... Like a hero she wishes to
appear formidable and invincible rather than vulnerable in the face of her opponents." 10
Medea says that she would not have anyone think her qpair'lv K&aoEVfi P-rT'
ilouXaCav11 (808). In addition to this, her behaviors reflect the heroic code when she
states that she would rather be seen as one who does damage to her enemies, helps her
friends, and achieves great fame (809-810).12
Medea is the hero, but she is also a woman. Therefore, all of her actions
throughout the play are placed in contrast to every male that comes before her. Euripides
emphasizes repeatedly Medea's cleverness and the belief that a clever woman is
dangerous13 in complete antithesis to Creon who is represented as a fool (371).14 Creon
is supposed to be the powerful male ruler and Medea the weak female victim, but he is
the one who yields to her in compassion while she manipulates him for vengeance. As
noted before, when Medea interacts with Jason, she dominates him in speech and asserts
her power through her abusive language and Jason is left giving illogical and
unreasonable answers for his behavior. With Aegeus, Medea may seem to act as a
dependent for a place of refuge, but she in fact is the one who has the power to help cure
10 McClure (1999) 381. Medea mentions this fear of ridicule repeatedly at 383, 398, 404-405, 797, 1049-
1050, 1354-1355, and 1362.
11 It is interesting to note that Warner (1955) translates this as "a stay-at-home", reinforcing Medea's earlier
speech and view that one who remains at home achieves no glory, which she believes is comparable to
being common and weak.
12 For more on Medea's heroic traits and Medea as a hero see Barlow (1989) 161-164.
13 This occurs at lines 285, 293, 295, 303, 320, 407, 539, 545, and 913.
14 Medea even emphasizes his foolishness in saying, "6 8' TO TooIOTOV pIopias #cpiKETO" (371).
Musurillo (1966) 55 describes the situation thus, "Creon is completely taken in by Medea's attractive and
specious friendliness; his mistake is to think he can give Medea a day of grace without regretting it."
Aegeus who is helpless in his need for an offspring. She uses her power of persuasive
speech once again and with an oath obligates Aegeus to serve as her protector. This
democratic political alliance creates an unusual displacement of the hierarchical structure
between man and woman, much less a ruler of Athens, such as Aegeus is.
Medea is without a doubt an actor/aggressor/agent and would never allow herself to
be a victim. Her behaviors consistently reiterate this view and are displayed before each
male figure. In her interaction with Creon, Medea's speech emphasizes this very fact,
and she also says outright that the only reason she would "fawn on" (6coTrEGoat, 368)
him was in order to achieve some benefit. After he departs we discover that her profit
will produce the destruction of three. With Jason, Medea's discourse proves herself the
better speaker, but it is not until her second encounter with Jason that we see the depth of
her artfulness. Not only does she convince him that she believed that her previous
behavior was foolish, she also uses her own children as the instruments of her murderous
plot. Her behavior was so convincing, Jason ends up praising her as a ocCOppova wife
(913) and approves of her speech.15
Her oath with Aegeus provides her a place of sanctuary for her exile and even
allows her a solution to carry out her vengeance. Buttrey provides an excellent
breakdown of the play in which he notes the chiastic arrangement of the scenes of the
play and claims that Aegeus' scene is the fulcrum on which the narrative hinges.16
Aegeus' presence is so important to the narrative because he provides Medea with a
refuge, a "space", to which to escape. The one thing she lacked was a space, which is
15 For the reversal and convincing nature of Medea's argument, see McClure (1999) 391.
16 Buttrey (1958) 6 argues that the order of the appearance of men creates an increase in passion until
Aegeus appears and then creates a change in tone for the play. At this point her vengeance begins.
clearly essential to her existence. She tells the Chorus that her lament about the woes of
being a woman does not apply to them because they have a city, a home, etc.
(ao't piv -F6oAl 6' ri' EoTl KQ T-rTpob 86pot/ (3iou T' ivrloVT Kai q(icov
ouvouoaa, 253-254). They agree with her when they ask what house or land (again a
space) will protect her from misfortune (359-360). Her method of escape was never
uncertain, but her space was.17 Once the issue of a haven is resolved, so are her plans for
murder. Through her oath with Aegeus, she has created a space. As Medea proves, she
may attempt to become her own male figure and carry out her vengeance against her
enemies, but no matter how much of the hero Medea may act, she is still a female
incapable of achieving her own space and fully becoming a male. Her attempts, though,
are gruesomely close. When the messenger comes to report the death of the princess, she
desires to hear his KdAArXOTov pg6ov, savors the details, and considers him a friend
(1127-1128). When the messenger's speech is over, she declares her final male task.
Noteworthy is the fact that Medea's lamentation of being an exile disappears the
moment that she hears of the death of Glauke and Creon. I have already established that
Medea is an agent of her life. She acts; she controls; she decides. Jason may have
stripped away her role as wife and Creon may have taken away her home, but none of
these situations occurred because she chose them. However, Medea reverses her
situation the moment she decides to kill her enemies. Her exile now becomes a deliberate
choice (it may be to escape death, but it is still a choice). Her final act is the death of her
children. One of the most human and feminine elements of Medea is her vacillation in
murdering her children. She so desperately acts the part of the male, but she cannot
1 See Musurillo (1966) 58-59.
escape her femininity and womanly roles. The fact that she murders her children is not
her renunciation of her femininity and ascension to a divine status, but rather her
complete dissociation from Jason as her male figure. She states repeatedly that her
children remind her of Jason and curses them along with their father (112-114). They
serve as a source of pain and hate and are living reminders of her past relationship with
Jason.18 In her mind, she must leave her male figure and space by choice, and killing her
children is part of this choice. Her final act is a complete separation of all of her ties to
Jason. She has made the choice; she has executed it. Once again, she acts the part of the
Clearly the theme of space is a large element of Medea's situation. The irony of
the tragedy, however, appears in this very component-the absence of space. All of the
staging of the Medea occurs in one place: before, within, or on top of Medea's house.
Yet, she is the only one who is without a space and a home. The play is centered around
a house that she no longer possesses. Every representative symbol of space has already
been stripped away from her and every behavior is in search of some space to call her
own. The irony extends even further when we realize that Medea, the woman, is the only
one who is successful in "protecting" her children. Every man in the play emphasizes the
fact that they act in order to protect, provide for, or produce offspring. Creon states
outright that the reason he banishes Medea is to safeguard his daughter (283), because he
fears that Medea will injure the princess (along with himself and Jason). Jason claims
that he comes to Medea in order to take care of his children in their exile (461ff.) and that
the reason he married Glauke was in the interests of the children (550)-to raise them
18 For Medea's attitude toward her children, see Buttrey (1958) 3.
worthily of his position (562) and to give them royal familial connections (595ff.). When
Jason returns the final time after he has discovered the death of his wife and Creon, he
rushes to Medea's house to save the lives of his children (pc:Ov S~ -raficov 'iA6ov
EKocYacYV (3iov, 1303). When he asks the Chorus if Medea intends to kill him as well
(1308), he does not realize the truth and accuracy of his words, for Medea has done this
very thing in killing their children. Aegeus' presence in the tragedy emphasizes the
importance of male offspring to continue the family line, because that is the very reason
that he went to Delphi and consequently met Medea. She is the one who is confined to a
house, and yet all of her actions and behaviors previous to, during, and following the play
are active and not passive, while the men who are free (245) and pass before her are the
ones who are sensitive and concerned for their offspring and are ineffective in protecting
them. In the end Medea states that she will kill her children lest they be slain by a hand
less friendly to them (238ff). This is her means of protection. Medea's escape scene at
the end of the play is not an elevation to divine status, but rather a reflection of the
paternal provision of her grandfather to grant her a means of safety. Helios and Medea
are able to do for their offspring what Creon could not do for Glauke and Jason could not
do for his sons.
Throughout the play Medea expresses regret at the fact that she betrayed her
homeland for Jason.19 She says that her mistake was in leaving her father's home
(iapdapTavov T66' vK E~EAPTrraVOV 6PouS TrraTpc'ouS, 800-801). She is
absolutely right. Jason says that he offered Medea a better life, recognition, and a place
among people who were civilized (535ff.) but what she truly needed was a man and a
19 These sentiments, expressed by Medea, occur at lines 166-167, 255ff., 328, 483, 502-503, and 800.
home. The moment she lost both of these essential things (not by choice) she, as a hero,
takes action in order to avenge herself. For a time with Jason Medea was a woman fit for
the home, but with the loss of her male figure and space, she becomes what she lacks and
acts as the agent of her own destiny. Medea "stepped outside of the palace" the moment
she left her father for Jason and her assumption of male roles thereafter was to regain a
place for herself. She is the only one in the play who is able to protect her children, but
does so also to give her enemy, Jason, the greatest pain (1398)-a loss of identity that she
experienced when he deserted her. Critics balk at the fact that Medea, who has carried
out such heinous crimes, has escaped unpunished. They speculate the reasons for which
Euripides chooses to end his play in this manner. I would suggest that Euripides does not
condone her behaviors but makes her escape a reflection of all her past behaviors-she is
continuing her search for a male figure with which to associate herself. She is an actor;
she is a hero; but she is also a woman.
ATTEMPT TO DETERMINE THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE MEDEA MYTH
(Courtesy Professor David C. Young)
First Source: Heslod Theoony.(8th cent. B.C.] Medea's name means "clever one,"
"contriver." In Hesiod she was abducted by Jason (son of Aeson) after he took the Golden
Fleece (on orders from his wicked uncle Pelias) from her father, Aeetes. (These motifs
remain rather unchanged.) On returning to Greece with Jason, she bore him a child.
Figure 5: The progression of Medea's myth. Young (Hillsdale College Lecture, 1992).
'\ Naupm d:
Nosto: (Returs) Medea & J.'s son eaten
M. magicaly rejuvenates by a lion when they return
Aeson (by cutting himup?) to Greece
i s(Cf. 2
mid-6th cent vase. Eutmels Medeatriesto
Fake rejuveno~ r mnake children imrortal in
scheme by Medea to Hera's temple; Jason catches
kill Pelias (once his her; they die.
daughters have cut
him up, it won't make
him alNe) 3
Q- Cep Medealas
(Pinar) King Creon, fees, AeaMng
Pherecydes: M. children in temple Creon's
cuts up her brother, relatives kill them. b say
Absyrtus, tsses that Medea did
pieces overboard to
sow down her father's
men, who pursue her & J.
k edher wndre
MYTH IN ART
OMd Medea's children
\' story where Corinthians
stone children to death
Continuous living traditions into YOU
modem literature. Thistadtin des
Although Euripides entitles his play, the Hippolytus, this work is as much about
Phaedra as it is Hippolytus. In his first construction of the Hippolytus (Kaluptomenos),
Euripides simply made Phaedra the seductress who served as Aphrodite's instrument of
revenge against Hippolytus. However, Phaedra's brazenness and complete impropriety
of behavior in contrast to a true Athenian woman were not well-received by the Athenian
audience. The changes Euripides makes to Phaedra, therefore, are extremely significant
to how he chooses to characterize her in the second Hippolytus (Stephanephoros). In his
transformation of the myth, he makes Phaedra a virtuous woman who vacillates between
maintaining her feminine seclusion and silence and stepping out into public view and
hearing. The audience members are observers of her struggle, watching her every move;
and though they may pity her situation, they fear that the moment she steps outside of the
palace, she will become the seductress of the previous play. In order to view the
outcome, however, the audience must witness all her behaviors and without a doubt,
Euripides uses the spatial associations to enhance and characterize his second Phaedra.
Before Phaedra appears on stage, her actions within her space and her behaviors
beyond the palace are described by Aphrodite. The goddess tells how Phaedra saw
Hippolytus at the Eleusinian Mysteries and was stricken by a terrible love for him (24-
28). Aphrodite remarks that Phaedra constructed her a temple along the rock of Pallas
that overlooks Troezen for her 'love over the seas'. Aphrodite's final description of
Phaedra places her in Troezen at the home of Pittheus where she now resides on account
of Theseus' exile from Athens. Every locale that Aphrodite identifies with Phaedra in the
prologue places the queen in an exterior space beyond her palace.
The Greek view of women marks them as particularly vulnerable to influences that
attack or penetrate.1 When they retire to the interior, the danger of persuasive forces
lessens. For it was when Phaedra left her home to take part in the mysteries of Demeter
that she became possessed by Aphrodite. She left her domestic realm to set up a temple
for this goddess, and more specifically, for Hippolytus (pcOs' ipco-' iKSrTiov, 32).2
Euripides emphasizes that even before Phaedra came to Troezen (rrpiv p Ov A6ETv
rTivSE yfiv Tporqvlvav, 29), her eyes, and to an even greater extent, her mind, were
turned toward Hippolytus and his city (KaT6otov, 30). Her departure from Athens takes
her away from her home, places her within the home of Pittheus, and gives her even
closer contact to Hippolytus. When Phaedra steps outside of her typical interior spaces,
whether compelled by Aphrodite, forced into exile with Theseus, or of her own accord,
she is associated with Hippolytus.
Immediately before Phaedra appears, the Chorus informs us that she keeps herself
EVTOS O'LKCOV (131-132) covering her golden hair with a veil.3 Inside she is able to
1 There are four types madness listed in Plato's Phaedros in which women frequently seem susceptible: the
manic, the Corybantic, the poetic, and the erotic. Phaedra's possession by Aphrodite is a prime example of
the erotic madness. See Padel (1983) 3-19 for more on female possession.
2 The manuscripts conflict between whether or not Phaedra loves a "foreign" love (9KrTqlov) or a
"conspicuous" love (Krl|AXov). Barrett (1964) 98, 160 reads 9Kr|qlov. I prefer this reading because
Phaedra's passion for Hippolytus is only evident to Aphrodite and the audience. Also, the exchange
between Hippolytus being 9KT|1POV for Theseus who, to Phaedra's undoing, becomes EKrlqTOV increases
the irony of the play, for it is the absence of Phaedra's male figure that brings about her actions.
Regardless of the readings, however, the point is still the same-Phaedra constructs a temple for Aphrodite
and associates it with Hippolytus.
3 Goff (1990) 5 labels this as a double seclusion that could either be interpreted as the appropriate behavior
of a modest woman or equally as a part of her sickness and refusal to speak. She claims that this behavior
is an effort to 'block' the influences on her.
maintain her chastity and conceal her secret love. However, when Phaedra is brought
outside, the audience discovers that she has been longing all the while to be outdoors
(181). Weak and frail Phaedra seeks the assistance of her servants to lift her up and let
loose her hair-a behavior in stark contrast to her modesty and veiling indoors.4 Once
outside she reveals her desire to roam the haunts of Artemis. In actuality, her speech
deepens her desire for association with Hippolytus. Her discourse echoes Hippolytus'
hymn to Artemis, recollecting the waters that Aidos uses to tend the "undefiled meadow"
(73ff). 5 In longing for Artemis' domain and the capacity to hunt, Phaedra goes beyond
just wishing to be in Hippolytus' realm; she also desires to take part in his pursuits and,
as his companion, be with him wherever he goes. She goes even further when she calls
out to Artemis and wishes to tame horses in her sanctuary. Not only does she long for
Hippolytus' space and companionship, she desires to be Hippolytus himself.6 When
Phaedra realizes the madness of her words, she becomes ashamed and covers herself up
(243-245). In effect, she attempts to physically shield herself from the reckless impulse
of a Scalov (241).
4 Goff (1990) 5 says that Phaedra frees her body and hair as a precursor to the 'loosening' of her speech in
her state of delerium.
5Segal (1965) 124 says, "Phaedra's longing for a drought of 'pure waters' (209) and for a 'grassy meadow'
(210) recall the pure waters of Hippolytus' aidos (78) and the 'untouched meadow' from which he brings
his offering (73-74). She longs too for the woodland (UAav, 215) and the hunting of wild beasts, and
desires to 'hurl the Thessalianjavelin holding the barbed missile in my hand' (220-222)." For more on the
concept of aidos in the Hippolytus see Cairns (1993) 1-474.
6 Hippolytus' name is evidently associated with horses. Phaedra's longing to tame horses echoes
Hippolytus' care of his horses (1241). For the significance of Hippolytus' name, see Fauth (1959) 428-430,
Segal (1965) 147n.48, 166, and Burkert (1979) 112-113. Zeitlin (1996) 225 makes the argument that
Hippolytus changes from being "one who binds (111, 1183) and loosens horses" to one who really is true to
his name, "one whose body is loosened by horses." Phaedra does not realize how accurate her desire to be
Hippolytus is, for in the same respect, Phaedra is one whose body and mind is destroyed by the horse-man,
Throughout the play Phaedra constantly wavers between her actions within her
interior space and that outside, between being eukleia and accomplishing her desires,
between death and life. The moment she is outside, the nurse says, she wishes to hurry
back inside (182). Her speech takes her to imaginary places out of doors, but when she
finishes her wanderings, she covers her head. Her space is crucial to her struggle because
it is what defines her roles and essentially her identity. Throughout the Hippolytus,
Phaedra's interior space links her to some specific role within it. When she is at the
temple, she is a worshipper of Aphrodite. At Athens, she is Theseus' wife and a mother.
When associated with Crete, she defines herself as the daughter of the king.' In Troezen,
however, the lines are blurred. This is because in every space previous, her role was
connected to some male figure, or even greater, a divinity. The difference Phaedra faces
in Troezen is that her male figure, Theseus, is iKSriPos8 while her desired male
connection, Hippolytus, is too close, yet too far. In the prologue, Phaedra is first
mentioned not by her name, but by her title EuyEVfiS 8apap (26)-a connection to both
her father and Theseus. Inside the palace at Troezen, her space confines her to her role as
mother and wife, but in relation to Hippolytus, she is also a step-mother and, in her mind,
potentially a mistress. When the Chorus conjectures about the reasons for Phaedra's
sickness, they supply a cause in every one of her interior roles: some divine spirit
possesses her, bad news is carried from her homeland of Crete, her husband has a secret
affair, and lastly, her sufferings come because she is pregnant with child. Every single
female duty and association she might hold is called into question. Their answers are
SLines 155, 337, 719, and 755.
8 This is emphasized on three separate occasions in the Hippolytus. Lines 37, 281, and 659.
correct but do not quite hit the mark. The true source of her sickness is a divine
possession-Aphrodite's. She does carry ill-fortune from Crete-her ancestral curse. A
secret affair does tear apart her marriage-her incestual desire for Hippolytus. And
finally, her duty as a mother grieves her-the exposure of her secret dooms her children
(306). Even though Theseus is absent, when Phaedra contains herself to the inside, her
roles and associations with Theseus remain intact. The moment she steps out of her
house, however, she links herself to Hippolytus and every role she possesses
disappears-she desires to be a huntress and a horse-tamer.
No one recognizes this dichotomy of space and male associations better than
Phaedra herself. When she comes to her senses after her feverish speech, she veils her
head wishing to die. Her veiling, in a sense, hides her from public view and links her to
interior spaces. Despite the nurse's constant questioning, she maintains that her role as a
mother is upheld and that she loves her children (315), that she is still an honored wife
and prays to continuously be so (321), and that her family relations, though hated and a
curse to her life, are ever present (337ff). Somewhere amidst the Nurse's supplication
and inquiries Phaedra unveils her head and leads the nurse to speak out Hippolytus'
name.9 When her secret is made known to the Nurse and the Chorus of Troezenian
women, Phaedra explains how she had tried to keep silent and had resolved to die rather
9Though the staging is not explicit as to when Phaedra unveils her head, it is clear that sometime after the
veiling of line 245 and before her soliloquy about adulteresses (373-where we can safely assume that she
does not make an entire speech with a covering on her head), Phaedra has stripped off her shroud. I believe
Phaedra does so at line 335 where she says that she will yield compelled by the Nurse's suppliant hand.
Her speech previous to this point pushes the Nurse away in an effort to maintain her silence. After she
surrenders to the Nurse's petitions, however, she no longer holds her silent posture, but speaks out freely
about her ancestral curse. The Nurse's supplication is key to the physical unveiling because it sets in
motion the spoken "unveiling" of Phaedra's secret. The Nurse clasps Phaedra's hands
([3tdlcrt, XEIP65 E~cpTCoPivfl; 325) and knees (KC'i ocov yE yovaTCov, 326) urging her to give in.
Phaedra finally does out of reverence for the Nurse's begging hand. Uncovering her head would be
Phaedra's gesture in submitting to this concession and ultimately leads to the revelation of her sickness.
than let her secret be known. She condemns those women who shame their marriage bed
with men other than their husband. The very word that she uses, 6upactou (409),
implies going outside the door and, as Barrett notes, refers to something that does not
belong to the oTKoS.10 Adulteresses are, in essence, those women who step outside of
their house to seek consummation of their pleasure. Although Phaedra denounces these
females, she does not realize to what extent she follows these very women when she steps
outside her house and professes her desires for Hippolytus.
Phaedra is not the only one who castigates women, the object of hate to all
(plirlc a -rrCaat, 407). When the Nurse reveals Phaedra's passion to Hippolytus, he
speaks out in a long tirade against women, calling them KLi35lrGa (616) and KQKdQ (616,
625, and 627), and suggesting there should be other means by which men might produce
offspring (619ff). With all of his insults, however, not once in his speech does he place a
woman outside of the boundaries of her home. Rabinowitz interprets Hippolytus' speech
as more than just madness and disgust toward the Nurse's proposition, but also as an
expression of "the cultural beliefs that define the ways in which the female threatens
social structures, and therefore define as well the place she is supposed to occupy
according to male desire.""1 Although Hippolytus goes to extremes by claiming that
bringing a woman into one's household is a source of ruin (616ff), for him it is
inconceivable that a woman should occupy any other space but the interior. Within a
span of less than fifty lines, he limits women exclusively to within the home. First he
wishes to dwell v S~ Scb'paotv free from the female sex (623), and then claims that
10 Barret (1964) 235.
11 Rabinowitz (1993) 157.
when a man marries, he takes a creature of ruin Els 5866ou (630). He goes even further
by saying that a foolish woman who sits KQT' OLKov is trouble (639) and hopes that there
may never be a clever woman ev y' polS 586ots (640). Finally, he closes by saying
that women should have voiceless beasts as their companions for it is the clever women
who plot evils EvSov while their servants carry them E'co (649). In Hippolytus' mind,
every association and role a woman plays-be it mother, wife, or daughter-is connected
to and contained within the household. Hippolytus condemns women in the home, but
never even conceives that they might come out and cause trouble.
Phaedra, however, has not and cannot restrain herself to the interior. Though she
constantly wavers in her decisions to remain inside or out, she knows that if she stays
within her house, she will continue to suffer without disgracing her family, but will die
without the honor she so desperately desires.12 The very reason she wishes to step
outside the palace is to allow her virtue to be known. The moment she does so, however,
she is doomed, for women were not praised for being recognized, but for being little
mentioned. Her situation is difficult because she desires recognition, but she wants it as a
man. When she exits the house, Phaedra slowly and unconsciously takes steps toward
revealing her secret love to Hippolytus. It begins with her fevered speech and proceeds
to a "confession" that is curbed by a resolution to die eukleia. She eventually succumbs
to the Nurse's suggestions to cure her sickness, whose solutions all come from within the
house. She tells Phaedra that she has a love potion KQT' O'iKOUS (509). She also uses the
house, whose ceiling beams are not perfectly constructed, to serve as an object lesson to
12 Grene (1955) 189 translates Phaedra's speech at line 403 as, "It would always be my choice to have my
virtues known and honored." For more on Phaedra's vascillation between speech and silence and sexuality
and shame see Rabinowitz (1993) 162.
Phaedra to persuade her to act on her passion13 (467-469), and ultimately retreats within
the house to reveal Phaedra's desire to Hippolytus (565ff.).14 But it is there at the
doorway of the palace, the liminal space between the interior and exterior, probity and
passion, that Phaedra makes her decision.15 She comes face to face with Hippolytus
without ever interacting with him16 in the neutral threshold of the palace, between
complete separation and consummation of her desires.17 After Hippolytus concludes his
denunciation of women, he says that he will go K 86pcov while Theseus is KSTrlniPg
X6ov6o (659) in order to prevent further interaction with Phaedra.
Phaedra, propelled by the mortification and shame she felt from Hippolytus'
speech, realizes that her movement into exterior spaces did not provide the cure she had
expected and so decides upon her final act. With the oath of secrecy obtained from the
Chorus, she enters the palace once again in an effort to protect her role as mother,
daughter, and chaste wife (715ff.). Every action previous to this has been to find a
solution to her sickness in both interior and exterior spaces. Her suffering within
excluded her from eukeleia in the presence of others. Her exit from the palace and virtue
in affliction gave her nobility before the Chorus, but also brought with it the revelation of
13 I take Goff (1990) 9 and Barrett's (1964) 224-225 interpretation that these lines indicate that a part of the
house that is unseen is not so well constructed and therefore represents an intentional act of concealment.
14 Their conversation spoken by Phaedra and the Chorus as EIV6v v 86ploto (566), 9ocoGEv (567),
v 86poti (576), and (p drt Bco&dTcov (579).
15 See Alcock (1995) 1-271 for the liminal area as a sacred space.
16 Smith (1960) 162-177 argues that Phaedra makes a series of entrances and exits and is not present when
Hippolytus gives his invective against women. I, however, agree with Avery (1968) 19-35 that this speech
is more compelling while Phaedra is present on stage, heightens her mortification, and spurs her to take
action. For a compelling argument for Phaedra's presence, see Hartigan (1991) 54n52.
17 This is the one of the key differences between Euripides' first and second Hippolytus. In the first
Hippolytus, Phaedra interacts with Hippolytus and acts as an outright seductress. See Reckford (1974)
307-328 for a reconstruction of the first play.
her desires to Hippolytus. Her final act, then, is a reflection of her solution both to the
interior and exterior. Her suicide is a return to her interior roles as daughter, mother, and
wife. She returns to her bedroom, marriage bed, and the very roof of her house to kill
herself in order to maintain her chastity as a wife, not shame her Cretan home, and
provide for her children. Goff says that her suicide is her complete containment to the
interior.18 On the other hand, Phaedra's suicide note is her absolute departure to the
exterior. The tablet serves as her entrance into the public realm of men where she was
never permitted19 and functions as a lasting voice to speak her testimony. The fact that
the letter is a lie merely propagates her exterior behavior as "evil".20 In the absence of a
male figure to plead her cause, Phaedra "steps outside of the palace" and takes on the
male role herself, defending her case before the only jury that has the power to inflict
When the Nurse tries desperately to persuade Phaedra to find a way to cure her
sickness, she offers the home as the source of her solutions. She does not realize the
extent to which Phaedra hears and follows her advice, but not the way in which she
intended. Phaedra does employ her house as the means of her salvation and destruction,
and it in turn is destroyed by her. From lines 804 to the very end of the play, every
instance that the Chorus or Theseus laments the situation, they mourn about how the
house is destroyed and never that Phaedra is dead.21 In the end even after the falsity of
18 Goff (1990) 7.
19 Rabinowitz (1993) 165.
20 For the body as writing, see duBois (1991) 69-74.
21 Phaedra's death is only mentioned twice, once by the Nurse at 779 and once by the Chorus at 788. On
the other hand, the destruction of the house is expressed ten separate times: 813, 819, 845, 847, 851, 861,
870-871, 901, 1341, and 1344.
Phaedra's letter and the shamefulness of her desires are revealed, she still maintains her
connection to the household and her roles within the interior.
Euripides' Hecuba, as with all of his plays, is an intricately woven narrative that
possesses a variety of meanings, themes, and morals.1 Many modern day scholars
interpret the tragedy as the reshaping of Hecuba's character and the complete depiction of
her suffering,2 the moral evaluation of revenge,3 or the contrast between Polyxena's
virtuous action and Hecuba's monstrous vengeance.4 The purpose of this chapter,
however, is not to present a new interpretation, but rather to analyze how Euripides
manipulates the spacing of the play to add to its significance, to mark the divisions
between public and private spheres, and to display how Hecuba behaves within these
spaces. Undoubtedly one of the main themes within the Hecuba is the emphasis on
transformations and transitions. The play is the story of Hecuba's radical alteration of
actions in response to the circumstances she encounters. As Hartigan states, "the text is
not to be seen as a study of character. Greek drama, especially Euripidean drama, is
1 While some authors find fault with the play's lack of unity and the impression that it is composed of two
separate parts, others attempt to identify the unifying element that joins the halves together. Abrahamson
(1952) 120n1 gives a great bibliography for affirmative and opposing viewpoints and states that the
approach of viewing the play as two parts causes unnecessary difficulty which quickly disappears in light
of understanding of the play's essential meaning.
2 See Abrahamson (1952) 128-129. He claims that the tragedy of Hecuba is about her moral destruction:
"It is a story of a human being that is being broken and breaks."
3 See Meridor (1978) 34-35 who argues that the play is composed of Hecuba's sorrow and then her
consequent permissible and required revenge against Polymestor.
4 See Conacher (1961) 1-26 who says that the play is about Hecuba's absolute loss of moral identity and the
disparity of her behavior in comparison to that of her daughter Polyxena's.
always a study of individual response to difficult if not unbearable situations."' Although
the tragedy occurs strictly within the locus of the Chersonese, we get a full description of
Hecuba's existence past, present, and future. Therefore, the complete reversal of
Hecuba's behavior in her space-due to her loss of husband, home, and eventually
children-is a reflection of this significant transition from queen to slave to something
that is finally less than human.
Although we, the audience, never get a true picture of Hecuba's existence in Troy
before her enslavement, Euripides does provide glimpses of her past and uses these
images as a foundation in establishing the woman that once was in order to show her
progression to complete beast. We get the first view of Hecuba's former prosperity and
position when we meet Polydorus in the prologue where he identifies himself as the son
of Hecuba and Priam (3-4) and goes on to describe a time when Ilium flourished and he
was secretly conveyed to Thrace with provision and wealth. It was a time when yfis
6p6' EiKEL6'6pioapcaTa Trrpyot T' p6paucarot TpcLKfiS ioav X0ovo6 (16-17). Here,
Hecuba was mother, daughter, and wife.6 But then the affluence of Hecuba's home was
uprooted and destroyed (21-22), her sons killed (Hector, 21 and Polydorus, 25), and her
husband butchered (23). Throughout the play Hecuba refers to herself and is referred to
by what she once was-she came EK TupavvLKcV V 86pcov (55), being Trp606E 8'
5 Hartigan (1997) 41.
6 Within the span of two lines, Hecuba is identified by all of her roles in relation to each of her male
figures: Polydorus, Cisseus, and Priam (3-4).
avacoa (62, 492), and once was i6SE TTptdpou TOU pEy' 6A(3ou 56dpap (493)-in
contrast to what she is now--arats, avav8pos, &froAts (669).7
The most poignant marker of Troy's past glory, however, comes from the Chorus'
lament in the city's destruction and the recollection of their final night there (905-952).
As the Trojan women sing about the end of the evening's festivities, we enter the most
intimate of all places: the bride-chamber (v 6aAdpots, 919). The serene picture
portrays the woman primping herself before she joins her husband in bed-a simple
female task.8 The cries in the streets and the destruction of the city shatter this moment,
however, and send the woman out of doors, barely clothed (AXXT1 5S~ qpAia
Pov6OrETrXAo AX-Trouoa, Acop'i cbs Kopa, 933-934), seeking the sanctuary of Artemis
to provide the safety her husband (dead) cannot. The interior feminine space at Troy for
Hecuba and the Trojan women was a place of protection and prosperity. As soon as they
lose their male connection and step outside of these spaces, they must seek the sanctuary
of a higher power-a divinity-to defend them. But Artemis' altar does not save them.
Without the protection of a male and the safety of walls, they become subject to slavery.
In these images of Hecuba, Euripides provides an account of the roles she once
possessed. Once stripped of her home and her male connections she no longer occupies a
definite interior space. At the start of the play that we find that she is now in the
Chersonese on the shores of Thrace.9 This land is the liminal space between Hecuba's
7 Also referenced to in lines 56, 160, 494, 809ff, and 893. Note that most mention of Hecuba's loss follows
immediately after a statement of what she once had/was.
8 Zeitlin (1996) 190 in reference to this scene says, "This intimate glimpse into a woman's chamber with its
typical object, the mirror, is the sign of her private world (so often depicted in vase paintings)..."
9 Whether the action occurs here or at Troy is a source of some confusion in the text, which has been
observed by the scholiast ad 521. There is greater evidence for the setting to be along the shores of Thrace,
past life in Troy and expected future slavery in Greece. As noted before in Phaedra's
story, the liminal space is a dangerous area that can either force a woman to her place of
proper female space or propel her to "outside" behavior contrary to how a woman should
act. Segal identifies this setting as a "no-man's-land between Asia and Greece."10
Hecuba and the Trojan women are part of a Greek camp where they exist as outsiders and
slaves in a martial community. For the women, there is only a liminal space because they
do not have their city of Troy or belong to the camp of the Greeks. Their tents are
separate from the male public space, which is the open territory along the shore where the
men come together to conduct their business (98ff.). The further we follow the play the
more we discover not what the land possesses, but what it lacks. We never actually see
the Greek tents, the seashore, and Achilles' tomb, but we do hear of them. Here,
however, there exist no divine places as at Troy.11 Although the chorus exhorts Hecuba
to go to the temples and altars (144, 146-147), these are only supplications with no direct
consequences and where no specific action ever occurs.12 Not only is the land devoid of
divine sanctuaries, it is lacking in the divinities themselves. The prologue does not open
with a divinity, but a disembodied ghost; the Greeks are hindered from their voyage
first because the text itself indicates this (35) and second because it accentuates the proximity of
Polymestor and his appearance in the story. The argument that the setting is in Troy because Polyxena is
sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles is less convincing because we never actually see this any part of this
locale. Rather, the action that occurs there is relayed by a messenger.
10 Segal (1990a) 305. In addition, Segal (1990b) 109 points out that Polymestor's command is a "land"
(770-771) and not a city. The city is actually never acknowledged by anything else other than its name.
Instead it is represented as a "house". Zeitlin (1996) 173 suggests this same notion when she says,
"[Thrace] seems to have only one inhabitant a man, Polymestor, together with his children..."
1 Euripides mentions the altar where Priam was slain (23), the shrine of Artemis where the Trojan women
sought protection (290, 935) and a temple to Athena (1008).
12 See Zeitlin (1996) 174-175.
home not by a god, but by Achilles' shade demanding a sacrifice to his tomb;13 and the
close of the play imparts a prophesy, not from deity, but a mutilated king. The gods are
only present in the general mention of their names. 14 The land and the gods exist in
words, but never concretely.
In this in-between space, Hecuba attempts to continue her feminine roles.
However, she is now only a mother. She no longer has a husband or a city to be a wife
and queen. Though she lives among the Greeks as a slave to Agamemnon,15 she claims
that her city still lives on through her children (80, 281).16 When the Chorus reveals the
assembly's decision to sacrifice Polyxena to the ghost of Achilles, Hecuba behaves in the
only way she knows how-she assumes the customary female posture as suppliant in
order to gain sympathy and favor toward her requests.17 She beseeches the male figure,
Odysseus, who has the power to carry out action (294-295), and begs for the life of her
daughter. In her speech she asks for repayment for the favor she granted Odysseus when
she saved his life in Troy. She then furnishes alternative victims for sacrifice, naming
13 Polydorus appears in the prologue and gives this explanation for the presence of the Greek army along
the shores of Thrace, but whether or not this is completely accurate is called into question when we find out
that after Polyxena has been slain, the Greeks still have not received a favorable wind
(oi y~p 'f-r' oipious Trrvox; OE66, 900).
14 Zeitlin (1996) 172-216 provides a thorough analysis on the significance of Dionysus in both language
and action that occurs throughout the play and identifies the Hekabe as a typical Dionysiac plot. It is a play
where all roles and morality are thrown into deep confusion and women violate typical social behaviors.
The presence of Dionysus is clear in the background of the plot, but on the surface, none of the gods seem
to exist. See also Segal (1989) 9-29.
15 See Gregory (1992) 266-269 for Agamemnon as Hecuba's master.
16 Zeitlin (1996) 188 states, "Light is equivalent to child, and one depends upon the other. Without living
children, one may look at the light but yet no longer exist: to look at a dead child negates one's existence,
both present and future, for the child is often imagined as the light or eye of one's life and also of one's
17 See Mercier (1993) 149-160 on Hecuba's supplication to Odysseus and also Gould (1973) 74-103 on
supplication in Greek literature.
oxen and even Helen, and finally ends by appealing to Nomos. However, it is Nomos that
has brought about the need for Polyxena's sacrifice in the first place for the dead require
honors (309, 316). Hecuba's petitions, as she so aptly put it, were pa'Tr-v (335) because
she is among those of no account (294). The content of her speech does not and cannot
persuade Odysseus. As a female slave, she has no power or position.18
Polyxena, however, does not need Hecuba to beg for her life, for the princess has
decided that she will willingly go to her death. Like Hecuba, Polyxena is also bereft of a
male figure and home, but although she is being led to her slaughter, she ironically does
not act the part of the female victim or plead for a male to speak on her behalf. In the
absence of a man, Polyxena chooses instead to assume male roles and, by refusing to
supplicate Odysseus and to live life as a slave, has chosen her death. As she is led away
she is veiled as a woman who obediently follows the male. The site of Achilles' tomb,
however, serves as a liminal space for Polyxena who stands on the threshold between life
and death. Here she acts as both male and female. In the role of a male, Polyxena does
not allow anyone to touch her to hold her down (548), but offers her body willingly to the
knife.19 More importantly, she addresses the assembly with a speech and unbelievably
bares her body for all to see. The female body, only acceptable for view in the privacy of
the home, is made public. Polyxena, however, is not condemned for this gesture because
in the eyes of the Greek army, she is not a female victim who must be held down and
slaughtered, but rather a hero. With the reversal of roles, there came about a reversal of
space-Achilles' tomb, a public area, brought Polyxena her honor. In her death she
18 Conacher (1961) 18.
19 See Zeitlin (1996) 199.
ceases to act the part of a man but falls gracefully, covering herself as a proper woman
should.20 In recognition of the honor of this maiden, the Greek soldiers "clothe" her body
with leaves and branches, and eventually she will be forever covered over in flames or a
Hecuba pleaded to Odysseus for Polyxena's life, but her daughter willingly chose
to face death. When Hecuba discovers the death of her son, Polydorus, once again, as a
suppliant, she petitions a male figure to act on her behalf. This time Agamemnon is the
recipient of her pleas, and once more she appeals to Nomos and begs for pity. When she
recognizes that her speech EOLKa -FpdfaEtv oi~Sv (813), she shifts her approach and
entreats the power of Peitho. This alteration in speech begins her progression toward
transformation in assuming male roles. This is emphasized to an even greater extent
when we see Hecuba use Cassandra's body as a commodity and expect repayment from
Agamemnon for it.21 Agamemnon, however, refuses to avenge her cause. With no
figure, no space, and now deprived of two more of her children, Hecuba decides that she
must become the man herself and punish her son's murderer.
With the reversal of roles comes also the alteration of space. No longer is the
interior a woman's domain of protection, rest, and adornment. The Chorus' reminiscence
of their final night in Troy, fittingly placed right before the Trojan women's act of
violence, provides a stark contrast between their former domestic space and the inner
space of the tent. This new interior becomes a place of vengeance and murder. Segal
20 I emphasize the verb "act" because, logically, Polyxena could never be a man. I may be arguing
semantics, but the point is that she assumes male behaviors and in a public sphere is lauded for them.
There is no denying that she is a woman, and when she dies, she does so as a respectable female.
21 A woman's body is often seen as an object of exchange and her male figure is the one who has authority
over her body. See Wohl (1998) 1-294.
defines the female interior area as "the space of the irrational or the aspects of the
personality that are hidden, dark, and fearful. It is often the place of female sexuality,
deceit, and revenge."22
Although Greek men did perceive female space as places of guile and mystery
(mostly because these areas were prohibited to them),23 I would argue that this is not
what we see in this tragedy. Hecuba's spaces reflect her very decision to act the part of
the male. Therefore, her behaviors in her new space become completely reversed. The
interior was once her area of safety and servitude to a male figure, but it then becomes
her place of dominance and destruction. Agamemnon's tent can no longer be conceived
as feminine space, because the people who act within it are not women. In the Chorus'
lament of their final night in Troy they spoke of adorning and decorating themselves
within the interior space of their bedchamber. In the tent, the reverse occurs. They
slowly strip Polymestor of his sword, his children, and his robe. Just as it was improper
for females to step out of doors, Polymestor's presence in the "women's quarters" is the
reverse impropriety-the intrusion of a male in "feminine space". When Polymestor asks
Hecuba if it is safe to enter the women's tents, it is followed by the question of whether
or not there were any men around (1017). Polymestor recognized that were he to enter a
female space without permission, it would constitute an act of hybris.24 What Polymestor
did not realize, though, was that the women within have become men who will carry out
22 Segal (1990b) 125.
23 See Zeitlin (1990) 355.
24 Refer to chapter I page 2 of this thesis.
Hecuba's revenge. Hecuba acts the part of the kyrios and with her words now effective,
she is able to persuade Polymestor to enter the tent.
Once Hecuba has completed her act of vengeance, her assumption of male roles is
truly complete. She solidified her transformation with a single unspeakable act. Her new
position is quickly tested within the public realm of men when she defends herself and
her deeds before the assembly. In a place where she was previously unwelcome,25 she
speaks on her own behalf and persuades the Greek assembly of the justice of her actions.
The reversals of space are brought to fulfillment in the end with Polymestor's prophecies.
He destroys Hecuba entirely by foretelling the death of her last child, Cassandra, and her
own metamorphosis into a dog. She is no longer a queen, wife, mother, or even human
Throughout the Hecuba Euripides gives us deeper and more distinct pictures of the
settings within the play. In the broad view lies the Chersonese, the land between
Hecuba's old home and new, between former and future life. This locale is then
narrowed to the area of the Greek camp, where Hecuba exists as an outsider and slave in
the realm of men. Within this space are three settings: the tomb of Achilles, the outside
(in general), and the tent of Agamemnon. Achilles' tomb was a public space that
embraced Polyxena's heroism and encircled her forever as a maiden. The outside was a
place that brought Hecuba, the woman, pain and rejection through the death of her
children and the refusal of her supplications. However, for Hecuba as her own male
figure, Agamemnon's tent becomes her place of violence and dominance. Once her
transformation is accomplished, the exterior space no longer serves as a place of pain, but
25 Odysseus refused to let her die with her daughter (389-390). Neither her presence nor death was needed
to appease Achilles.
of victory. Hecuba moves beyond the liminal space of the Chersonese and chooses a
definite space the moment she chooses to act and enter the tent to kill and harm. In this
space Hecuba finds her voice but loses her identity. She chose to step outside into the
public realm of men and by her actions there played the part of a man; as she departs for
her new home, she leaves as a beast.
The opening lines of Euripides' Electra concerns a place ("i) yfis TrraAca6v
"Apyos, 1) and a man, which we hear is Argos (6) and Agamemnon (3). However, the
play does not focus on these two elements, but rather the lack of them. In the prologue
the audience discovers that this &vac, Agamemnon, has been murdered by his wife while
his daughter, Electra, has been forced outside of the palace to live in poverty with a
farmer. In contrast to the tomb in the Choephoroi and the palace in Sophocles' Elektra,
here Euripides has placed Electra on a farm at the outskirts of the city. In doing so he
emphasizes the extreme distance between Electra's present location and her former place
inside the palace. Finally, at the end of the play, she will be exiled from the land
After the death of her father, Electra's existence within the palace had been
anything but grand. She was kept in seclusion cut off from any male suitors in fear that
she would give birth to a child who would avenge her father's death (23-24).1 Electra
claims that her brother left her in the palace in ouwpqopals aAyLoTraCto (132-134) and
there she remained until she was wedded to the farmer-a wedding in name only. All of
this is told to us by Electra's current man, the humble farmer. Electra's isolation is key to
Euripides' characterization of her. These years outside of the palace have allowed her
ample opportunity to lament her situation and resent Aegisthus and her mother for
1 It was inconceivable that Electra, a female, would ever avenge her father's death. Just as Hippolytus
underestimates the vengeance of a woman, so too does Aegisthus and Clytemnestra.
placing her there. Indeed, throughout the play she spends her time pitying herself. She
lacks, or thinks she lacks, a real man to protect her in a space that is unfamiliar to one of
We first meet Electra carrying a pot for water on her way to the spring-a servant's
task in which she rejoices in order to show the gods how Aegisthus' cruelty has degraded
her. Her toil, however, is not forced upon her through necessity, but by her own volition.
As the dialogue continues between Electra and the farmer, we see that in spite of all her
complaints her labors are not even that difficult (Kai yxp oi0 Trp6co
-Mrlycal PEAdpcov TJovS', 77-78).
When she returns from the spring she is singing and dancing a lament for her father
and brother, but on closer examination, her hymn grieves more for herself than anyone
else. It begins with her pitiable situation, ic'b 1po pot (114),2 her hard toil and hateful life
(120-121), and then turns to the death of her father, which is then followed by the exile of
her brother. Although she calls Orestes her TAQxaiov o0yyov' (131), her misfortunes are
the most grievous (&AyioTaotav, 134). Despite all the mourning she does for her father,
not once do we hear of her visiting her father's grave and performing funerary rites there.
Furthermore the more we hear her complaints the more we discover that she has
brought them upon herself. The Chorus of women invite Electra to the festival of Hera,
but she refuses, claiming her appearance (blemished by tearful nights and cut hair3) is not
fit for the occasion (175-189). She is keener on doing a dance for her misfortunes than
dancing with the brides of Argos for the goddess. When offered clothes and finery to
2 This phrase is repeated again in the two following antistrophe at lines 129 and 159.
3 See Falconer (1995) 319.
wear she does not even respond to the Chorus' assistance, but continues on with the
unfortunate state of her affairs, first pitying father, brother, then self-this time grieving
her impoverished living situation. Electra clearly obtains satisfaction and joy from her
self-martyrdom and weeping.4 Once she encounters the strangers (Orestes and Pylades)
and hears about her brother's status, she unleashes her miseries once again on a fresh pair
of ears-this time bemoaning her appearance, marriage, and squalid home (239, 247,
251). She reiterates these same rTuXaS (3apELas (301) once again at the close of her
speech (304-313). All of her lamentations stem from the fact that she has no male figure
in her life or, at least, no male she is willing to recognize. This is clear enough in her
speech. In her first hundred lines even before she converses with Orestes, Electra has
mentioned her father or his death sixteen times,5 Orestes three times,6 and the farmer
twice.7 Even in her isolation these men are constantly in her thoughts and words. With
the deficiency of a male figure,8 she has no roles-daughter, sister, or wife-and
therefore no identity.
Electra's situation is pitiable to be sure, but it perhaps would not be so grievous if it
were not for the fact that she spends most of her time comparing what she does not have
4 See Raeburn (2000) 151-154.
5 Electra identifies him by some form of rraTrip eleven times at lines 59, 121, 137, 141, 143, 153, 156,
161, 188, 200, and 206. When she calls him by name, it is in reference to Agamemnon as her father at lines
115, 125, and 186. She mentions Agamemnon through his death only twice at 149 and 201.
6 Electra refers to Orestes as her brother oi"yyov' (131), by name (63), or through his exile (202).
7 When she speaks about the farmer, she calls him as either a friend (pqiov, 67) or as a poor man/laborer
(XEpviot, 207). The only time she refers to him as her husband at all in the play is at line 366 after Orestes
speaks about the pretense of their marriage (OUVEKKXATTTEl ydlYou). She never identifies the farmer as
her husband, but rather as one who is called her husband (oiTO5 KKAXrT|Tq TT6rr6otS E ).
8 The farmer does not serve as a sufficient male connection for Electra. See below for my argument on this.
to what her mother does. Part of her lamenting comes from the fact that she does not
possess what she feels she is entitled to. She is cast from the royal halls, her ancestral
home, (306) as a fugitive (209) or a prisoner (1009), and, therefore, no longer possesses
the fineries or adornments fit for the royal child of Agamemnon (186). Clytemnestra sits
upon the throne (315) as queen while Electra is in a peasant's hut (206). Her mother is
surrounded by wealth and luxury (314, 967, 1011) in stark contrast to her own poverty.9
Moreover, the queen is amid a crowd of servants, Phrygian spoils who "adorn her home"
(316, 1007), but Electra feels and looks like a slave (107, 1004).
These regal luxuries, however, are only a fraction of what she complains about.
What she truly resents is the fact that she has lost her rightful place within the palace.
She says that Clytemnestra robbed her and Orestes of their status in the house (lit., made
them subordinate, 63), taking it away at the death of her father. She is further humiliated
by her banishment to the country-the outdoor space of poor women and slaves who had
to work for a living. Art presents the idealized form of the female as pale, because she
was supposed to stay indoors, and the normally dark-skinned Greek women would apply
whitening make up to make themselves look paler, and thus more aristocratic.10 A
princess placed outdoors and thus having the likeness of a poor country woman or a slave
would feel humiliated and rejected because of this. Electra's loss of luxury is one thing;
her loss of status-something altogether worse.
The disparity that Electra perhaps laments most is that her mother has a husband
and children-in essence, a new family-while she has S CruXETS ydptous (49). At the
9 For the disparity between Electra's destitution and Clytemnestra's wealth see Zeitlin (1970) 647, O'Brien
(1964), 32-34, and Kubo (1967) 23.
10 For depictions of women on ancient pottery see Rasmussen et al. (1991) 1-282.
palace Electra was cut off from any male suitors, but now she lives in a marriage that is
not truly a marriage. Although Electra keeps up the pretense of the union by doing
feminine household duties (Trv 66pots 8' i-i;as XpEOV E EUTPETuTLELV, 74-75), nothing
binds the two together as husband and wife. The farmer refuses to shame her in bed or
touch her (43-44, 51, 255), and so they have no children. What is more, with all of the
female duties that Electra claims to carry out, she does not even know how to entertain
guests (357) or prepare them a meal (422-423) as a proper wife was expected to do. The
greatest indicator of the falsity of their marriage, however, is found in the statement,
"ou KUpLOV TOV 86vTa aP' yELTrat" (259). The farmer knows that Aegisthus had no
right to give Electra to him because Clytemnestra's lover was not Electra's rightful male
figure. This counterfeit marriage is further exposed at the end of the play when the
Discouri tell Orestes to give Electra to Pylades as his wife (1249, 1284), either
completely disregarding the fact that she is married to the farmer or considering it null
and void. Only Orestes, who is Electra's proper male connection, can obey their order
and join Electra in true marriage with Pylades. Electra's union with the farmer, because
it is false, serves as another source of misery in the disparity between her life and that of
Electra's comparisons with Clytemnestra accentuate her woes, but also create a
distinction between her and her mother. Electra sees Clytemnestra as a quintessential
dissolute and base woman. She is the adulteress who primps herself before the mirror to
display herself in public for some evil while her husband is away (1070ff.), betrays her
connubial bed (920), and marries in shame (916ff). Clytemnestra has stepped out of her
interior space and exchanged her husband for a lover, becoming the typical promiscuous
woman. She rejected her connection with Agamemnon and persuaded Aegisthus to
slaughter him. As the adulteress, she violates the division of space; and though she
remains in the palace, it is no longer a home without the true male leader. Clytemnestra
has destroyed the household, and therefore the household (her offspring) will destroy her.
This is how Electra views her mother. In Electra's mind, her mother is the wicked
woman who steps out of doors, but in actuality, Electra is the one who stands at the
exterior. She has been exiled from the palace. Despite her attempts to contrast herself
with her mother, at the same time she desires to possess everything that Clytemnestra has.
Eventually, they become one and the same, for although Electra condemns her mother,
she will repeat her very crime. As Clytemnestra stained the palace, so will Electra
pollute her new "space"-the hut to which she has been exiled.
During the course of the play as we hear Electra grieving, we may become annoyed
with her whining, but we still pity her and feel she is justified in her hatred toward
Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. As the play progresses, however, we begin to see that her
view of the world is distorted and things are not entirely as she sees them.11 The lowly
farmer with whom she has entered into a 6avdatoLov ydp|ov (247) is a man of great
virtue (367ff.)12 while the brother whom she believed so brave and courageous is a
coward. Her false marriage is a far cry from the luxuries of the palace (where she claims
she ought to be), but here on the farm she is surrounded by kindness and care.13 The
tragedy of Electra is not her sorrowful circumstance, but rather the progressive unveiling
1 For an in-depth analysis of Electra's "double vision" see Arnott (1981) 179-192 and Hartigan (1991)
12 On the character of the farmer see Sheppard (1918) 137-138.
13 Morwood (1981) 368-369.
of her distorted sense of reality that leads her to kill her mother. Her time outside of the
palace devoid of a male figure has perverted her perception of the world.
She believes that Orestes, her courageous brother (&SEAqpv TOV EPliv
EUQapofi), would never enter Argos in secret (525-526) nor would he resemble her in
stature (537) because he is a man trained at the gym. As we discover Orestes' character,
however, we find that he is spineless and unwilling to take any risks.14 In his opening
speech he says that he came into Argos ouSEVOS ~uVEti6Tog (88) and does not even
intend to enter within the city walls (94). He has no plan to avenge his father, but instead
asks Electra and then the Old Man what he should do (274, 612). He is also extremely
hesitant to reveal his identity to his sister because he realizes that "once recognized he
will have to act."15
Clytemnestra, too, despite all of her heinous past acts, is not the wretched woman
we see Electra describing over and over again. Though we may know her as an
adulteress, this is not the woman we see in the play. Instead, Euripides shows her as a
truly caring mother. As Arnott points out, Clytemnestra was the one who saved Electra
from death (28ff) and chose to visit her daughter after her reported childbearing; she
appears to worry about her image and her children.16 Aegisthus' portrayal suffers the
same distortion when viewed through Electra's skewed lens. In contrast to the man who
rides about in Agamemnon's chariot, defiles the former king's grave (319ff.), corrupted
14 Sheppard (1918) 138 casts Orestes as "cautious beyond measure, weak, indecisive..."
15 Halporn (1983) 103.
16 Amott (1981) 184.
her mother, and killed her father (916ff.), we see that Aegisthus is a congenial host who
invites strangers to celebrate in his sacrifice (779ff).
Electra's distorted vision and false sense of reality is due to her isolation and lack
of male figures. Without men in her life she has no roles. She can be no daughter to a
dead father (or step-father who exiles her), no sister to a banished brother, and no wife to
a pretend husband. She does nothing other than menial chores, sit and lament, dance and
lament, or sing her lament. It is no wonder that Electra is so willing to die once she has
killed her mother (281) because she essentially has nothing else to live for, which she
comes to realize at the end of the play. If her situation seemed pitiable when she
compared herself to her mother, we see that she is even worse off because her values are
All of her years alone, her miserable sufferings, the absence of a male figure, and
her delusions of reality have led up to the recognition scene with Orestes where she is
ripe for vengeance. Orestes finally returns as her savior-her male figure who can set her
life aright and avenge her father's murderers (600). However, what she believes of his
courage and valor is not exactly what she encounters. She believes Orestes will do the
deed, but fears also that he will fail. She sits in agony awaiting the news of whether or
not he is victorious while poised ready to kill herself (694ff.). Increasingly we see that
brother and sister are nothing alike.17 Where Orestes is cowardly and hesitant, she takes
the lead and so attempts to become her own savior. Electra is the one who plans out the
death of her mother and provides the story to bring Clytemnestra to her home; Electra
sends Orestes inside while she stands outside and brings her mother into the house;
1 See Halporn (1983) 101-118 for the distancing of brother and sister.
Electra guides Orestes' blind hand to drive the sword into their mother. In the absence of
a male figure to avenge her cause (or rather in the presence of one who is too cowardly to
act), Electra becomes her own male figure.
Her years outside of the palace may have made her callous and angry, but they have
not prepared her to fully assume the male roles she has carried out. For after Electra
killed her mother, she was instantly remorseful of her actions. However, we see that she
has not stopped thinking about herself or her position as a woman. The first thing she
asks is who will marry her now. She still longs for a man, a place, a home. Orestes is the
only one who has the authority to provide her this and is told twice by the Discouri to
give her to Pylades (1249, 1284).
The entire play is the struggle for Electra to make for herself a space and she does
achieve this in the end. But why? After such calculated and wicked deeds, how is it that
Electra gets what she desired all along? One wonders if Euripides is rewarding her
behavior or saying that her vengeance was just. Not at all. Based on how we have seen
Euripides characterize Electra we know that her situation is pitiable, to be sure, but not
just cause for murder. Euripides does not allow us to sympathize with Electra; she has
already done that enough for herself. The absence of any male figure and her distance
outside of the palace has aroused her vengeance and caused her to commit her shameful
act. Therefore, I believe that Euripides has presented this ending because he is providing
Electra with a male guardian in place of Orestes who is being exiled. Electra still gets
what she wants, not because she deserved to have a true husband but because this
guardian will keep her under control and will provide a space for her. This is
substantiated by line 1311 when Orestes asks if his sister will be all right now that he is
exiled. The Discouri say that though she may be exiled from Argos, she has a husband
and home, which is all she needs.
Throughout these four plays we see that Euripides defines female space by a male
figure as much as or perhaps even more so than the actually physical interior space itself.
The concept of female space and male connection is so intricately woven together, that
for a woman, being without a man is essentially equivalent to being without a space.
When Medea rejected her father and chose Jason, she left her homeland. After she lost
Jason to another woman, she becomes an exile from Corinth. When she acquires the
allegiance of Aegeus, she gains a new space and a new home. Phaedra, whose husband is
off in a foreign country, associates the interior with Theseus and the exterior with
Hippolytus, and shifts between both spaces. Hecuba has lost both husband and male
children and was abandoned to a life of slavery. She would have no real home, although
she would be the servant of a male. She subsisted within the Chersonese until she
abandons the land altogether. Although the farmer is not a true male figure for Electra,
she lives within his home, but outside the palace walls. Just as women were identified in
the law courts through their male relations, here in Euripides' tragedies, without a male, a
woman has no identity, no space, and no existence.
Euripides' views on the seclusion of women to the home seem no different then
other men of his time. He demonstrates that the moment his women "step outside the
palace", whether by choice or compulsion, they are doomed. Interior spaces are
associated with female passivity and proper behavior while exterior spaces belong to the
public realm of men and cause women pain and suffering. We see these very ideas
reflected in the spacing of these women. Medea was a passive victim until she stepped
outside of her house; Phaedra suffered in silence inside her room; Hecuba was a queenly
mother and wife before the destruction of Troy; and Electra endured her seclusion within
the palace walls.1 The moment these women lose their feminine space or exit their
homes, however, they experience even greater misfortune or behave in ways improper for
females to act. Medea kills Glauke, Creon, and then her children; Phaedra reveals her
passion for Hippolytus and then writes a false accusation against him; Hecuba blinds
Polymestor and kills his children; and Electra kills her mother after abetting the death of
her stepfather. The interior is the female domain, while the exterior is a place of
improper behavior. When a man kills his enemy, he is a hero. When a woman does the
same, she is a villain. Males have so arranged the world that the same act takes on a
different status dependent upon who-man or woman-does it.
Euripides' innovative nature does not lie in the fact that he brings his women
outside of the house, but rather in that he has them act as males. All of these women first
endured their situation as women were expected to do-inside in silence or through
supplications. But in the absence of their male figure, these women carry out male
actions, which, in these plays, involve murder of some kind. With the reversal of their
roles came a reversal of space, with the result that the women used their interior space-
the former place of passivity-for acts of violence and destruction. The moment they do
this, however, they can never return to these spaces, for they are no longer their places of
refuge, protection, and feminine roles. Medea flees to Athens, Phaedra dies, Hecuba
1 Electra may still have lamented her situation, but she would have at least done so as a princess under the
care of her mother instead of as a poor pauper. I would even go as far to say that had she remained inside
the palace, she would not have resented Clytemnestra as much as she did as an exile and pseudo-wife to the
departs from the land, and Electra is exiled. As women their connection with these
specific spaces is lost and they must attempt to regain another female space elsewhere.
Although Euripides seems to propagate female behaviors in exterior spaces as
dangerous, still, we see that when women behave as men, they are successful. What
makes these women so remarkable and at the same time so fearful is the fact that they
succeed, not behaving as women, but as men. What is Euripides telling his audience
when he allows these females to accomplish their desires for revenge? He, unlike
Hippolytus, can conceive of these women out of doors, but is Euripides, through these
female successes, saying that it is permissible for females to exit the home? I do not
think so. Euripides is the impartial dramatist. He neither condemns nor condones his
characters, but portrays them as human beings. Euripides could have just as easily not
allowed these women to accomplish their goals. In a sense, he does have them fail. It is
a question of how one measures success. Can a woman truly feel victorious at the cost of
the lives of her children, her own life, her degeneracy to an animal, or her own exile?
But the measuring these females' success or failure would be missing the point.
Euripides is representing reality. The Athenian female, if placed in these same
circumstances, could carry out all of these actions. The truth of the matter, however, is
that although these women have carried out their vengeance in male form, we see that
they cannot exist without a male figure. They have committed male acts and have all
been successful, but their glory is stained, for they have been rewarded as men and not as
women. A woman acting as a male is, indeed, not only outside the palace, but also her
proper space. Thus in the end she must be restored to a male, a kyrios, or die.
Euripides, despite his reputation for innovation, if analyzed as I have here, seems to
share the views of his audience: women outside the palace are dangerous. But he has,
nevertheless, questioned the prevailing ideas, he has dared to ask if women can be like
men. And although to do so does not earn these females praise, Euripides can answer his
own question with a resounding yes.
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Jeannie Thanh Nguyen was born to Mr. and Mrs. Luc Nguyen on February 14,
1982. Born and raised in Winter Haven, FL, she graduated as the salutatorian from Lake
Region High School in May 2000. In 2004 she completed her Bachelor of Arts in
classics and Bachelor of Science in psychology at the University of Florida. She will also
receive a Master of Arts in classics from the University of Florida in 2006.