Using and abusing children in Greek tragedy

Rochelle, Pauline (2012). Using and abusing children in Greek tragedy. PhD thesis The Open University.



Vulnerable children are crucial in Greek tragedy and to the philosophy of suffering that it explores. They attract high levels of emotional concern that spill over from the human arena into the divine. As a means of exposing the presence or absence of the power and influence of the gods, children in tragedy are pivotal voices in the integrity and survival of the tragic family. The literary, social and historical contexts within which this importance falls are set out in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 investigates how tragedy features important roles for vulnerable children and how ritual human sacrifice and murder highlight the importance of divine intervention in family life. Chapter 3 looks at the underlying reasons for parents killing their children and examines how this can destroy the family unit by eradicating the family line and preventing the continuance of name and inheritance. The chapter also analyses how divine interference can override a parent's will and sense of right. Chapter 4 considers how the killing of parents by children destroys the vertical family structure and so threatens a crucial aspect of social order. It analyses how the plays test allegiances, power relations and filial obligations to the limit and, within this context, the involvement of the gods creates different levels of liability and degrees of authority. Chapter 5 shows how when planning to murder the most vulnerable children, or in circumstances of abandonment or illegitimacy, the relative power and influence of the divine and human is brought under conclusive and central scrutiny. From this the Conclusion pinpoints the importance of children in Greek tragedy in (i) showing the family capable of repairing itself and establishing values sufficient for it to recover from the worst events, and (ii) suggesting that this can be done without the involvement, interference, or influence of the gods. This realisation offers a fresh aspect to further analyses of Greek tragedy, its form and implications.

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