Mixed choruses and marriage songs: a new interpretation of the third stasimon of the Hippolytos

Swift, L. A. (2006). Mixed choruses and marriage songs: a new interpretation of the third stasimon of the Hippolytos. Journal of Hellenic Studies, 126 pp. 125–40.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0075426900007692


This article uses evidence drawn from hymenaios and wedding ritual to reach a new interpretation of the third stasimon of the Hippolytos, and its rôle in the play. There is longstanding contention about whether a second (male) chorus participates in the ode, singing in antiphony with the existing tragic chorus. Even scholars who accept that a second chorus is present have tended to regard it as an aberration which needs to be explained away, rather than a deliberate choice with poetic significance. I discuss the cultural implications of such a chorus, examining our evidence for real-life mixed choruses, and then applying this to the ode itself. The evidence for mixed choruses suggests they are strongly associated with marriage. Looking more closely at the language and imagery of the ode, there are allusions to the topoi of wedding songs and ritual running through it. The ode can use these as a device to trigger deep-rooted responses and associations from the audience, as these motifs are drawn from the cultural tradition which the audience shares. The topoi tie in with the theme of marriage and sexuality within the Hippolytos as a whole. But while their usual purpose is to set up conventional models and ways of thinking, the way they are deployed in the ode in fact serves to undermine these models, and to put a darker spin on the norms of sexual behaviour. This strand of imagery therefore also provides a filter for interpreting Hippolytos' own attitude towards sexuality, and a guide to how we are meant to respond to it.

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