City of Suppliants

City of Suppliants : Tragedy and the Athenian Empire

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After fending off Persia in the fifth century BCE, Athens assumed a leadership position in the Aegean world. Initially it led the Delian League, a military alliance against the Persians, but eventually the league evolved into an empire with Athens in control and exacting tribute from its former allies. Athenians justified this subjection of their allies by emphasizing their fairness and benevolence towards them, which gave Athens the moral right to lead. But Athenians also believed that the strong rule over the weak and that dominating others allowed them to maintain their own freedom. These conflicting views about Athens' imperial rule found expression in the theatre, and this book probes how the three major playwrights dramatized Athenian imperial ideology. Through close readings of Aeschylus' Eumenides, Euripides' Children of Heracles, and Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, as well as other suppliant dramas, Angeliki Tzanetou argues that Athenian tragedy performed an important ideological function by representing Athens as a benevolent and moral ruler that treated foreign suppliants compassionately. She shows how memorable and disenfranchised figures of tragedy, such as Orestes and Oedipus, or the homeless and tyrant-pursued children of Heracles were generously incorporated into the public body of Athens, thus reinforcing Athenians' sense of their civic magnanimity. This fresh reading of the Athenian suppliant plays deepens our understanding of how Athenians understood their political hegemony and reveals how core Athenian values such as justice, freedom, piety, and respect for the laws intersected with imperial ideology.

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Product details

  • Hardback | 222 pages
  • 157.48 x 236.22 x 22.86mm | 408.23g
  • University of Texas Press
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • English
  • Firsttion.
  • 0292737165
  • 9780292737167
  • 1,387,413

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Review quote

"[O]ver all I found this a stimulating and thought- provoking book which made me re-examine some of my own assumptions about the relationship between Athenian imperial ideology and tragedy. Tzanetou offers a very useful addition to the ever-increasing scholarship on the relationship between tragedy and the Athenian empire, and it deserves a wide audience." - Sophie Mills, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Bryn Mawr Classical Review "In this insightful, readable scholarly study, Tzanetou (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) examines the dialectical relation, over time, between the hegemonic ideals of the ancient Athenian empire and three suppliant plays that put the dramatic spotlight on Athens. Collectively, Aeschylus's Eumenides, Euripides's Children of Heracles (Tzanetou glances at Euripides's Suppliant Women as well), and Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus portray Athens less as a military power determined to dominate other entities in the region and more as a paragon of moral leadership committed to democracy and protecting suffering strangers by integrating them into society. Respectively, the dramas reflect Athens at different stages of its trajectory. The first, emphasizing justice and the alliance with Argos, shows the empire at its zenith. The second, focusing on freedom and the city as a welcoming refuge for foreign exiles, shows the empire maintaining its preeminence among allies. And the third, highlighting the qualified acceptance of Oedipus, shows the empire in crisis, verging on defeat by Sparta. Not merely panegyrics to Athens, the suppliant plays explored here probe the enduring tension between the ideology of empire and the practices of democracy. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above." - Choice "This book is a well written and compact contribution to the growing scholarship on the impact of Athens's imperial activities on the culture of the city[...] Tzanetou has demonstrated clearly and elegantly now th suppliant plays are both impacted by and impact the understanding of Athens's imperial ambitions." - The Historian Journal

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