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Durham e-Theses
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Choral odes of Euripides: interpretative problems and mythical paradigms

Aitken, James K. (1991) Choral odes of Euripides: interpretative problems and mythical paradigms. Masters thesis, Durham University.



There is still a tendency to defend Euripides against a charge of inserting entirely irrelevant choruses into his tragedies, but not even the statements of Aristotle (Poetics 1456a25ff.) can be used to convict him of such an act. Nevertheless, certain odes do present problems of interpretation, and especially those that recount mythical tales. Four tragedies containing such odes are considered. The second stasimon of the Helen presents the myth of Demeter and Persephone, which, through the use of related imagery, is seen to be the paradigm for Menelaus' rescue of Helen from Egypt and foretells the couple's successful escape. The extreme textual difficulties of the final stanza of the ode, however, means that it is unlikely that any certain conclusion on this ode will ever be achieved. In the IT Orestes' capture of the effigy of Artemis and his rescue of Iphigenia result in both an assertion of the superiority of Apollo's oracular commands and the procurement of Orestes' kingship in Argos. These two elements are reflected in the third stasimon, in which the tale of Apollo securing his position at Delphi, as Orestes did at Argos, also conveys the superiority of his status. At first the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, described in the third stasimon of the IA, appears to be the very paradigm that Iphigenia will not be able to follow, but as the play proceeds it becomes clear that the sacrifice she undergoes is a form of wedding, and the contrasts between a wedding and the sacrifice lend to the tragedy of her situation. Finally, in the Electra, the chorus describe various heroes of legend, whom Electra and Orestes seem to take as their role models in the murders of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. Neither of the characters, however, has the appropriate heroic qualities, and, although they commit the murders, they are unable to fulfil the roles of their heroic counterparts. Therefore the paradigm fails and thereby serves to comment upon the tragic nature of the murders. In all the plays Euripides uses mythical paradigms, in a more developed form than in the Pindaric odes, to reflect the action on stage such that the action is a repeat of the myth. In this way the myth becomes "historical" and, as in Thucydides' concept of history, a paradigm for common human experience.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1991
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:18 Dec 2012 12:00

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