Conflicting identities in the Euripidean chorus

Swift, Laura (2013). Conflicting identities in the Euripidean chorus. In: Gagné, Renaud and Hopman, Marianne eds. Choral mediations in Greek tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 130–154.



This chapter investigates the topic of choral identity and how this is used by the tragedians. Unlike the tragic characters, the chorus’ identity is never fixed but is the free choice of the poet, and for this reason the choice of chorus profoundly influences the telling of the myth and the presentation of the characters within it. Yet choral identity does not always fall into a straightforward category; rather, choruses are presented as possessing multiple and conflicting forms of identity. This clustering of alternative identities generates tension, which the surviving tragedies frequently use to explore ideas of belonging and community within the world of the audience. The paper will focus on two tragedies where these issues are presented with particular force: Euripides’ Ion and Medea. In both plays we are shown choruses whose identity as members of their polis-community comes into conflict with other aspects of their identity (as women, as members of an oikos), and where these forms of identity in turn are presented as conflicting with their role as a chorus performing within a ritual context. In both these plays, the fluctuating identity of the chorus is used to explore ideas about what it means to belong to a particular group, and the benefits and hazards which result from such affiliation.

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