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The Humanities Conference 2003

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The Severed Limbs of Polyxena: The Feminine Archetype in Selected Ancient Greek and Roman Drama

Dr Linda O. Valenty.

In keeping with a major theme of the conference this research demonstrates the continuing relevance of classical dramatic literature to the fields of history, sociology, and psychology as it uncovers complex societal and political themes in Euripides and Seneca.

In some sense the true personae of all ancient heroines are sacrificed to the more complex masculine hero as Polyxena was sacrificed to Achilles shade: their individuality is subsumed in a simple archetype, ready to be digested without anxiety by the audiences of antiquity. This image gives us access to the varied archetypes of women in ancient Greece and Rome: the wife, the mother, the adulteress, the seer, the witch, and the slave. This paper will concentrate on Euripides 'The Trojan Women' and Seneca's 'Phoenissae', uncovering in these works the socio-political notions of positive and negative femininity. We will consider the Jungian approach to the role of the archetype in literature as well as socio-historical theories. The sheer volume of female characters in 'The Trojan Women' provides us with a variety of portrayals, while Seneca's Stoicism gives his explication of the essentially Greek Oedipus myth a distinctly Roman counterpoint.

This study uses two dominant plays by Euripides and Seneca to address the following questions: In which ways do 'The Trojan Women and 'Phoenissae' reinforce society's expectations and conclusions about the role of women in each culture and relevant era? How does the tragic form relate to the depiction of the female in ancient Greece and Rome? In what way does the archetypal image of women evolve from Greek to Roman literature? Does an archetypal framework enhance analytical approaches that seek to understand the role of women in ancient dramatic literature?


Dr Linda O. Valenty  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Bethany L. Thomas Department of Political Science
California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo

Linda O. Valenty is an Assistant Professor at Cal Poly. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UC Davis, with specializations in Political Psychology and Political Theory.

Bethany L. Thomas is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at Cal Poly. She holds a B.A. in Classics from UC San Diego and specializes in ancient Greek and Latin literature.

  • Archetype
  • Stoicism
  • Drama
  • Feminism
  • Euripides
  • Seneca
  • 'The Trojan Women'
  • 'Phoenissae'
  • Jungian
  • Polyxena
  • Classical Theater
  • Ancient Greece
  • Ancient Rome
  • Women
Person as Subject
  • Euripides Seneca Lucius Annaeus

(30 min Conference Paper, English)