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Euripides’ Suppliant Women, Theseus and Athenocentrism 1)

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Abstract In Euripides’ Suppliant Women, Theseus at first rejects Adrastos’ supplication to recover the bodies of the Argive dead. Later he changes his mind. This article discusses the initial failure of the supplication, both examining the failings in Adrastos’ appeal and suggesting that a strong case can be made for Theseus’ rejection: neither he nor Athens would have suffered from gods or from men had he stood by it. Why then did he have the change of heart that the play clearly approves? The article links his rejection with a narrow nationalism evinced in his response to the exogamous marriages Adrastos had contracted for his daughters. His attitude looks back to Perikles’ marriage law of 451 BC and reflects the chauvinism that it brought in its wake. Theseus must unlearn this limited mind-set and become a truly Panhellenic hero. The article traces how this in fact happens in the course of the play, above all through the developing relationship between Theseus and Adrastos. His jingoism and isolationism melt away, though in her ex machina appearance Athena undermines the great-heartedness that both kings have displayed. Despite that, the play ends affirmatively, endorsing the theme of the inadequacy of a narrow Athenocentrism.

Affiliations: 1: Wadham College Oxford OX1 3PN UK


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