Euripides and Thucydides from 415-411: thematic parallels
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In this dissertation, I consider Euripides’ tragedies of 415 (Alexandros-Palamedes-Troiades) and 412 (Helen-Andromeda), and books 6-8 of Thucydides’ Histories (on 416/15-411), with attention to particular thematic elements in each text. These include: ritual and religious impiety; infighting and power struggles between the upper-classes; and personal or collective abandonment to erotic impulses. I propose that during the period in question (or when writing about the period in question, in Thucydides’ case), both authors place novel emphasis on the combined effect of all three elements. This novelty expresses itself in two major ways. First, the authors treat religious indecorum, aristocratic jockeying, and erotic impulsivity as a set, with a consistency that exists neither in Euripides’ previous works, nor in Thucydides’ Histories 1-5. Second, both authors develop a particular vocabulary for these religious and socio-political struggles. Thucydides introduces new terms, or prefers alternative definitions for some that he regularly employs. The result is a section of text that is at once consistent with the material that precedes it, yet outstanding for its peculiar thematic and verbal elements. The focused consistency of Euripides’ thematic and verbal choices in his trilogy of 415 supports the argument that the tragedies of this year must be read as an interdependent set, in which the first two works hold the keys to the content and reading of the third. In his works of 412, choice terms signal Euripides’ unique engagement with the mythical tradition; choice themes link Helen and Andromeda while separating them from Euripides’ other works. My aim in considering these innovations is to offer a fresh way into a wide-ranging conversation regarding Euripides’ and Thucydides’ shared historical context and the similarities between their respective texts. A focused perspective calls attention to the exceptionality of the narrative subset in question, the perception of which can be dulled by generalizing, comprehensive approaches. Euripides and Thucydides appear to have shared certain literary sensibilities that set them in close alignment with one another — and apart from their contemporaries — as men whose contributions to the broader literary landscape were remarkable for the precise features of their construction and expression.