Sexual and familial distortion in Euripides' Phoenissae

Swift, L. A. (2009). Sexual and familial distortion in Euripides' Phoenissae. Transactions of the American Philological Association, 139(1) pp. 53–87.



This article offers a new interpretation of Euripides' Phoenissae, and argues for a new source of unity in the play, by focusing on the theme of mismanaged sexuality. The curse on the Labdacid house is caused by, and takes the form of, abnormalities in sexual and familial roles, and it is these abnormalities which lie behind Antigone's behavior and Menoeceus's suicide: these episodes should therefore be understood not as disjointed but as connected to central concerns. The play also engages with this theme on an imagistic level, and explores it through the imagery of civilization in the choral odes and through the figure of the Sphinx. Finally, it is argued that the Chorus of Phoenician maidens offers a corrective to the destructive cycle in Thebes, and hints at the positive role that well-governed sexuality can play in human societies.

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