Laken’s Thesis Idea: The Power of Grief and its Role of Othering in War-Themed Tragedy

I spent most of the summer considering possible thesis topics, but the only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to do something related to tragedy and possibly history. I read through almost all of the surviving tragedies from the three major tragedians over the course of a few months, and I was particularly drawn to titles I had not studied in my previous CSTS courses. Additionally, the significant role that grief plays in almost every tragedy and the language used to describe this emotion were points of interest I found myself repeatedly coming back to. Both of these interests led me to focus on two plays in particular: The Persians by Aeschylus and Trojan Women by Euripides. These works both focus on a main cast of non-Greeks following a war they lost, meaning that grief is at the center of each story. However, the differences in how grief is depicted between these two plays are somewhat surprising—Andromache and the cast of women in Trojan Women are treated quite similarly to a cast of Greek women in terms of their grief. They tear at their hair, beat their breasts, scratch their faces, and make the typical sounds associated with mourning. On the other hand, Xerxes and the men in the Persians do not grieve like the Greek men seen in popular works like the Iliad. Instead, they also tear at their hair, beat their chests, scratch their faces, and make the typical mourning sounds.

I found myself thinking over the gendered language of grief and Euripides and Aeschylus’ varied depictions of the mourning of non-Greeks often, inspiring me to pursue a thesis centered on this theme. How would Greeks in the audience have reacted to each cast of characters? What are the historical implications of these tragedies? Is it significant that the Persian men are essentially feminized in their grief while the Trojan women stay true to the audience’s views of Greek women? As a double major in history and classics, I also wanted to focus on the historical contexts of these plays. These two authors are a generation apart, with Aeschylus living and fighting in the Persian War and Euripides experiencing the Peloponnesian War at the end of his life. How have these monumental events—as well as the social and political environment of Athens during their lifetimes—influenced these works? I plan to reference other plays by these two authors (and possibly Sophocles), in addition to historical sources like Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon to answer these questions. 

I see myself facing some challenges solidifying my topic and deciding which sources to use, particularly secondary sources. I have already struggled to find works that discuss the Persians and Trojan Women, so I can see that providing some issues. Additionally, I will be balancing my history thesis work and seminar on top of this one, so I will need to be careful with time management. However, I think it is very important to explore the tragedies that are often overlooked by others in classics, particularly due to their heavy historical implications and their role as the few tragedies focused on non-Greek peoples in the classical world. 

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