Chapter 1. Men’s Songs and Women’s Songs

Are the voices of women in men’s poetry representative of women’s independent song traditions? What role, if any, did women’s song traditions play in the shaping of men’s epic traditions (and later, tragedy)? In recent years scholars have begun to suggest that women’s lament traditions may have played a crucial role in the development of epic and tragedy, which were traditionally performed by men. [1] Sheila Murnaghan has noted, for example, that the majority of women’s speech in the Iliad and the Odyssey is closely related to lament in both language and theme. [2] Epic poetry narrates the glory of heroes, the klea andrôn, but it also laments their untimely deaths and the suffering they cause by means of the mournful songs performed by the women left behind.
Turning to the classical period, we find that Greek tragedy is similarly infused with feminine voices and indeed femininity, as the work of such scholars as Helene Foley, Nicole Loraux, and Froma Zeitlin has shown over the course of the past two decades. [3] While a definitive and comprehensive answer to the vexed question of the prominent roles women play in drama and their relationship to “real life” is yet to be found (and may never be), it seems clear at least that Greek drama employed the feminine to confront {30|31} questions of masculinity. In the words of Zeitlin, “the final paradox may be that theater uses the feminine for the purposes of imagining a fuller model for the masculine self, and ‘playing the other’ opens that self to those often banned emotions of fear and pity.” [4]
Most recently in The Mourning Voice, Nicole Loraux examines the function of lamentation in Greek tragedy in order to explore the personal involvement of the audience in the emotional force of tragedy. Arguing against overly political interpretations of the function of tragedy, Loraux emphasizes the outlet that tragedy provides for grief in a city-state where lamentation and elaborate funerals for individuals had become restricted by law. [5] During the Peloponnesian War, women’s rituals of mourning were supplanted by the grandeur of a state funeral for the citizens who gave their lives for the city, but in tragedy, women’s wailing takes center stage. [6]
In this chapter I propose to give an overview of the place of the captive woman’s lament in epic and tragedy within the history of Greek song traditions in general. I argue that the captive woman’s lament in Greek tragedy draws on a number of song traditions, and in doing so becomes a song tradition in its own right. To what extent the stylized laments of the captive women on the Greek stage echo the laments of actual slave women and prisoners of war residing in Athens is itself an extremely interesting but probably unanswerable question. [7] Instead, in this book I seek to trace the development of the captive woman’s lament as a powerful theme within the poetic conventions of Greek tragedy, while nevertheless paying special attention to the instances where these conventions and their emotional dynamic can be shown to intersect with the documented songs and experiences of actual women. {31|32}

Gender, Genre, and the Development of Epic

As I noted in my introduction to this book, the seminal work of Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in the Greek Tradition, was the first to explore the continuity of the Greek lament tradition from ancient times to the present day. [8] Alexiou studied the surviving laments of epic and tragedy, and traced their metaphors, themes, and diction in the laments of late antiquity, Byzantine literature, and modern Greek funerals. Since the publication of Alexiou’s work, many scholars have undertaken the study of lament, but Ritual Lament remains a basic guidebook to this incredibly rich and enduring tradition of women’s song. [9]
What Alexiou and other scholars of the Greek tradition have found is that Greek women’s laments have maintained a continuous tradition of song-making, that is both independent of and parallel to the stylized versions that have been preserved in epic, drama, and later Greek literature. Moreover, there is a great deal of comparative evidence from other cultures to show that the Greek tradition is by no means an isolated phenomenon, and that women all over the world have been since ancient times and continue to be today singers of lament. [10] It is very likely then, if not provable, that the laments of Greek epic, although performed by a male aoidos, would nevertheless have evoked for ancient audiences the songs of their mothers and grandmothers, performed at funerals upon the death of family members and extended relatives. In this way epic subsumes a distinctly feminine mode of singing within its own mode of expression, the dactylic hexameter, no doubt transforming it, but also maintaining many of its essential features.
A groundbreaking book by Aida Vidan can shed light on the dynamics of this process by which women’s song-making becomes incorporated into heroic narratives. Vidan’s book, Embroidered with Gold, Strung with Pearls: The Traditional Ballads of Bosnian Women, publishes and analyzes for the first time women’s songs of the South Slavic tradition that were collected by Milman Parry and Albert Lord and which are now housed in the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature. With few exceptions, to date only the {32|33} men’s heroic songs collected by Parry and Lord have been published and discussed. [11] It was the study of the South Slavic epic tradition that prompted Parry and Lord to formulate their thesis that the Iliad and Odyssey were composed within a flourishing oral epic song culture by means of centuries old traditional techniques for composition-in-performance; this thesis revolutionized Homeric Studies. [12] Vidan’s book continues the work of Parry and Lord by introducing and publishing several of the women’s songs collected in the very same areas in the former Yugoslavia in which Parry and Lord collected the heroic songs that they compared to Homeric poetry.
Vidan shows that the women’s songs share traditional language and many themes with the men’s heroic songs, but they differ in important ways. The women’s songs, as one might expect, offer a uniquely female point of view on the action, and are performed in vastly different contexts such as weddings or intimate gatherings of female friends and relatives. This performance context in turn affects the content and length of the songs. Moreover, whereas the men’s songs that Parry and Lord collected are generally described as epic or heroic poetry, the women’s songs of this region can be divided in three basic (though often overlapping) groups: lyric songs, humorous songs, and narrative ballads. [13] Nevertheless, Vidan points out, formulas, blocks of lines, and themes travel with ease across genre boundaries. [14]
The women’s songs of the former Yugoslavia were at one time so pervasive in the culture that it has been argued by at least one researcher that the men’s heroic song tradition evolved out of that of the women’s songs. [15] The vast majority of the songs in the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Litera- {33|34} ture are in fact women’s songs. [16] These so-called women’s songs, however, could also be performed by men. Of the 300 singers of women’s songs in the collection, 50 are men. Similarly, it is not unheard of to find a woman singer of heroic songs in the South Slavic tradition, particularly if the woman’s father was a singer. [17]
The distinction between women’s songs and men’s songs in this tradition seems to be the musical accompaniment (men’s/heroic songs were accompanied by a musical instrument, the gusle, women’s were not) and the setting (men’s songs were meant for public performance, women’s songs were sung in intimate settings), rather than the content or plot of the songs themselves:
The customary division of South Slavic folk poetry into men’s (epic or heroic) songs and women’s songs (lyric songs, ballads, and humorous narrative songs) has caused perhaps even greater misunderstanding. As early as 1824 Vuk Karadzic recognized that the boundaries are far from clear: “All our folk songs are divided into heroic songs which people sing with the gusle, and women’s songs which are sung not only by women or girls, but also by men, especially young men, most often in unison. Women’s songs are sung by one or two people for their own entertainment, while heroic songs are sung mostly for others to listen to; for that reason, in the performance of women’s songs more attention is given to singing than to the song, while in the performance of heroic ones the attention is turned mostly to the song.” [18] He mentions further on in the same text that heroic songs were mostly sung in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and the southern mountainous regions of Serbia, and that in those areas most households had a gusle. Moreover, he claims, most men knew how to perform with the gusle, and that many women and girls were endowed with this skill as well. It is hardly surprising, then, that Karadzic faced a dilemma when it came to grouping some of the materials he had collected, or that he thought that many of them appeared to be on the borderline “between women’s and heroic songs.” [19]
It appears then that there was a great deal of fluidity of genre and transfer between the women’s and men’s song traditions in the region surveyed by {34|35} Parry and Lord. Women were able to sing songs for each other that were sometimes nearly indistinguishable from men’s heroic poetry, [20] and men could learn and perform the song traditions of women. Vidan argues that such mixing of gender and genre in the composition and performance of these songs was most common in areas where division between the sexes was not strict. [21]
I have chosen to emphasize Vidan’s work on the women’s songs of the South Slavic tradition both because of its recent publication and because it extends the applicability of the fieldwork of Parry and Lord to Greek epic traditions. Moreover, much of Vidan’s work accords well with the wealth of comparative evidence available from the study of modern Greek women’s laments for the dead, even though the content and ritual function of modern Greek laments make them very different from the women’s songs of the South Slavic tradition. [22] In the modern Greek tradition, laments are a distinctly feminine mode of song. Because of its powerful and even subversive force it is to some extent disapproved of by men, but it is nevertheless appreciated for its beauty. [23] Anna Caraveli has pointed out that while only women perform ritual laments for the dead at modern Greek funerals, men may sing laments in other contexts, and that professional male musicians actively admire the laments of women. [24]
Caraveli argues that there are four registers of lament “in ascending order of efficacy and importance”:
  1. Laments that are simply recited as poetry
  2. Laments that are sung, but not on a ritual occasion or in an extraordinary emotional context
  3. Laments that are sung in an extraordinary, heightened emotional context, but in an ordinary setting such as one’s home or the fields. {35|36}
  4. Laments that are performed both in a heightened emotional context and on a ritual occasion (for example, tending the grave, memorial services, funerals) [25]
These four registers are indicative of the wide range of meaning and functions women’s laments can have within a given society. In her fieldwork Caraveli found that women sang laments in relatively unemotional and ordinary contexts, even as an accompaniment to everyday tasks, as well as in ritual settings. [26] Many sung laments are appreciated as poetry, independent of their initial emotional and compositional context, while maintaining a great deal of their emotional force. Laments are most often sung in the company of other women, in intimate settings, much like the women’s songs of the South Slavic tradition: “The existence of a muted, separate women’s world creates the opportunities for strong friendships among women. Rituals of shared grieving reinforce, intensify, and negotiate a great variety of relationships that often pass into daily narrative as metaphors of and codes for female experiences.” [27]
We may compare Caraveli’s analysis with the words of Ibrahim Hrustanovic, the son of one of the female singers in the Parry Collection:
[My mother] told me songs very well. This time she told me about three hundred songs. And earlier she had told me some. I have wondered where she learned all these songs. She said to me: “When I was a girl,” she said, “my father was wealthy, perhaps the wealthiest in this area. I,” she said, “never had to do anything, but I would invite other girls, neighbors and they would come for a meal or drink with me. And what would we do? We would embroider, sing and be merry, entertain and court.” [28]
Very often the female singers in the Parry Collection told Parry and Lord that they had learned their songs from their mothers, grandmothers, or other older women in their villages and towns. In this way stories, formulas, and themes were passed down over genera- {36|37} tions, and each generation learned the techniques of composition from the generation before. This process resembles the more formal process by which men in the South Slavic tradition learned to become composers and singers of heroic poetry. In The Singer of Tales, Lord describes the three step training process that oral traditional poets go through as they learn to sing tales before an audience and eventually become accomplished artists. [29] According to Lord, the first stage is one of listening and absorbing. In the second stage the singer begins to sing and has to learn to fit his thoughts and their expression into a fairly rigid form. The second stage ends when the singer can sing one entire song before an audience. In the third stage an increase in repertory and a growth in competency takes place. It ends when the singer becomes an accomplished practitioner of the art, and can provide entertainment for several nights.
One of the most important metaphors that Lord uses for describing the learning process is that of learning a language. In his chapter on the formula Lord writes:
In studying the patterns and systems of oral narrative verse we are in reality observing the “grammar” of the poetry, a grammar superimposed, as it were, on the grammar of the language concerned. Or, to alter the image, we find a special grammar within the grammar of the language, necessitated by the versification. The formulas are phrases and clauses and sentences of this specialized poetic grammar. The speaker of this language, once he has mastered it, does not move any more mechanically within it than we do in ordinary speech.
When we speak a language, our native language, we do not repeat words and phrases that we have memorized consciously, but the words and sentences emerge from habitual usage. This is true of the singer of tales working in his specialized grammar. He does not “memorize” formulas, any more than we as children “memorize” language. He learns them by hearing them in other singers’ songs, and by habitual usage they become part of his singing as well. Memorization is a conscious act of making one’s own, and repeating, something that one regards as fixed and not one’s own. The learning of an oral poetic language follows the same principles as the learning of language itself, not by the conscious schematization of elementary grammars but by the natural oral method. [30] {37|38}
The process that Lord describes here, I would argue, is true of women’s songs as well. [31] Moreover, because women sing their songs both in formal rituals at which men are present, and informally in the presence of their children and family members, it is possible for the “language” of lament to be appreciated and assimilated by members of both sexes—even if the singing of those laments is the particular province of women. [32]
Lord’s comparison of traditional singing to a language is particularly appropriate when we consider that in the Greek tradition the language of lament is used to express a variety of emotions and experiences, including those of a bride as she leaves home, the joy of new love, the sorrow of lost love, the anxieties of a mother, and the anger of a widow. [33] Because ritual lamentation gives Greek women a public voice that they are not allowed in any other context, women can use lament to protest their position in life and the status quo. [34] This special mode of speech and song can then be manipulated and employed by women in even non-ritual contexts to comment on their lives and situations. [35] Framed within the poetic and social conventions of lament, women’s songs have the power to explore the full range of women’s experiences and to voice their concerns and emotions before the community.
This brief survey of the social context of women’s songs in the South Slavic and modern Greek traditions suggests that the laments of Archaic and Classical Greece and their counterparts in epic and tragedy at least {38|39} potentially served a similar function, namely, to speak about, comment upon, share, and even protest the experiences of Greek women, by way of a mode of speech and song that is the particular province of women. That women’s song traditions could be assimilated and incorporated into men’s poetry has been postulated by Richard Martin and others, who argue that the conventions and even emotional force of such songs is preserved within the overarching medium of ancient Greek epic. [36] Other scholars have gone so far as to suggest that women’s lament traditions are not merely incorporated into Greek epic, they are the very foundation of epic. [37] The comparative evidence discussed here offers many points of contact and support for the work of these scholars, and argues for a primacy of women’s song traditions within the poetics of a song culture like that of the ancient Greeks.

The Poetry of Praise and Lament

Turning now to ancient Greek epic, we find that the Iliad and Odyssey are infused with voices of lament at every point, and those voices are primarily the voices of women. [38] Although the poems of the Epic Cycle are now lost to us, it is clear from what we know of them that in these poems, too, laments for heroes played an important role. [39] Within the Iliad and Odyssey, so full of grief is epic poetry that it has the effect of inspiring mourning in those who are most connected to the ac- {39|40} tion. In other words, what is epic kleos—the latest entertainment [40] —for the generic audience of epic is a song of lament for those with a stake in the tale, with the result that the only distinction between a song of lament and epic poetry becomes the listener. So closely tied are penthos and kleos that in many instances within the poems themselves, they are the same thing. [41]
Thomas Greene has suggested that lamentation in epic collapses the boundaries between the audience and the heroic past, producing “a hallowed communion between the two.” [42] He argues that in fact the telos of most of the European poetry known as epic is tears, and that through tears the communion between past and present is most accessible. One way that this “hallowed communion” is achieved is through the rituals and lament traditions of hero cult. [43] The heroes of epic are characters in a traditional narrative, but they are also religious entities, who were regularly worshipped in countless rituals and festivals throughout the Greek world. [44] The songs of lament for such figures as Achilles and Odysseus within epic are an important part of ritual lamentation for the hero on the part of the communities for whom the epics are performed. [45] We know, for example, {40|41} that Achilles was ritually lamented by the women of Elis at sunset on the evening preceding the Olympic games. [46]
The lamentation of women in epic poetry, as in rituals of hero cult, emphasizes the mortality of the hero. At the same time, the overarching medium of epic poetry that includes these laments conveys upon the hero the immortality of kleos. [47] Epic kleos, as has been demonstrated by Nagy and others, has its origins in praise poetry. Epic narrates the klea andrôn, the famous deeds of heroes. The women’s songs of Greek epic and tragedy, on the other hand, narrate the loss of loved ones, the loss of homeland, and the loss of freedom experienced by captives of war. As Sheila Murnaghan has shown, “lament is at once constitutive of epic and antithetical to it, one of epic’s probable sources and a subversive element within epic that can work against what epic is trying to achieve.” Helene Foley argues similarly: “women historically played the role not only of physically lamenting the dead but of expressing and even acting on views that from Homer on challenged public ideology about death and glory.” [48]
How then do we explain the relationship between the sorrow and anger of lament and the glory of epic? Nancy Sultan has recently argued that women’s laments function as the inception point for a hero’s kleos:
“In Homeric poetry and modern Greek songs, the story of the hero’s hard-won fame and reputation should be told in a performative context, once he returns to his wife and family. The wife (or mother) listens, internalizes his life story and, in effect, takes possession of it, weaving the story into her future laments. The traditional place in which this transfer of tale occurs is the death/marriage bed.” [49]
The widow’s lament traditionally expresses sorrow and anger while detailing the miserable plight of those left behind, but these same features are also {41|42} the first articulation of a hero’s deeds and his importance to the community. Andromache’s lament for Hektor in Iliad 24 illustrates this combination of sorrow and celebration:
ἆνερ, ἀπ' αἰῶνος νέος ὤλεο, κὰδ δέ με χήρην
λείπεις ἐν μεγάροισι· πάϊς δ' ἔτι νήπιος αὔτως
ὃν τέκομεν σύ τ' ἐγώ τε δυσάμμοροι, οὐδέ μιν οἴω
ἥβην ἵξεσθαι· πρὶν γὰρ πόλις ἥδε κατ' ἄκρης
πέρσεται· ἦ γὰρ ὄλωλας ἐπίσκοπος, ὅς τέ μιν αὐτὴν
ῥύσκευ, ἔχες δ' ἀλόχους κεδνὰς καὶ νήπια τέκνα,
αἳ δή τοι τάχα νηυσὶν ὀχήσονται γλαφυρῇσι,
καὶ μὲν ἐγὼ μετὰ τῇσι· σὺ δ' αὖ τέκος ἢ ἐμοὶ αὐτῇ
ἕψεαι, ἔνθά κεν ἔργα ἀεικέα ἐργάζοιο
ἀθλεύων πρὸ ἄνακτος ἀμειλίχου, ἤ τις Ἀχαιῶν
ῥίψει χειρὸς ἑλὼν ἀπὸ πύργου λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον
χωόμενος, ᾧ δή που ἀδελφεὸν ἔκτανεν Ἕκτωρ
ἢ πατέρ' ἠὲ καὶ υἱόν, ἐπεὶ μάλα πολλοὶ Ἀχαιῶν
Ἕκτορος ἐν παλάμῃσιν ὀδὰξ ἕλον ἄσπετον οὖδας.
οὐ γὰρ μείλιχος ἔσκε πατὴρ τεὸς ἐν δαῒ λυγρῇ·
τὼ καί μιν λαοὶ μὲν ὀδύρονται κατὰ ἄστυ,
ἀρητὸν δὲ τοκεῦσι γόον καὶ πένθος ἔθηκας
Ἕκτορ· ἐμοὶ δὲ μάλιστα λελείψεται ἄλγεα λυγρά.
οὐ γάρ μοι θνῄσκων λεχέων ἐκ χεῖρας ὄρεξας,
οὐδέ τί μοι εἶπες πυκινὸν ἔπος, οὗ τέ κεν αἰεὶ
μεμνῄμην νύκτάς τε καὶ ἤματα δάκρυ χέουσα.
Iliad 24.725-745
Husband, you have perished, cut off from your life-force, and you leave me a widow
in the halls. And our son is still very much a child,
the one whom you and I, ill-fated, bore, nor do I think that he
will reach manhood. For sooner will this city be utterly
sacked. You, its guardian, have died, you who
protected it, you who shielded its cherished wives and helpless children,
those who will soon be carried off in the hollow ships,
and I among them. And you, my child, will either
follow me and perform unseemly tasks,
toiling for a cruel master, or else one of the Achaeans
will hurl you from a tower, taking you by the hand—a miserable death—
angry because Hektor killed his brother
or father or maybe even his son, since very many of the Achaeans {42|43}
bit the dust with their teeth at the hands of Hektor.
For your father was not gentle in the midst of sorrow-bringing battle.
Therefore the people grieve for him throughout the city,
and you, Hektor, have brought unspeakable lamentation and sorrow upon your parents. But for me especially you have left behind grievous pain.
For when you died you did not stretch out your arms to me from our marriage bed,
nor did you speak to me an intimate phrase, which I could always
remember when I weep for you day and night.
Andromache’s words are reproachful, as is typical of Greek laments for the dead, and tell Hektor of the suffering that she and their son will have to endure, now that Hektor has abandoned them in death. [50] But at the same time her lament establishes the memory of Hektor as the guardian and sole protector of Troy for all time. His death means the city’s destruction, the death of its men, and the enslavement of the women and children. But these same words initiate his kleos. Her grief, and the city’s grief, are Hektor’s glory. [51]
The laments of such figures as Andromache and Briseis therefore have a dual function. On the level of narrative they are laments for the dead, the warrior husbands and sons who inevitably fall in battle. They protest the cruel fate of the women left behind, and narrate the bitter consequences of war. The grief expressed by the women left behind is raw and real. But for the audience of ancient epic the laments for these husbands and sons are also the prototypical laments for heroes, who for them continue to be lamented and mourned on a seasonally recurring basis. The poetry of epic, as Thomas Greene observes, collapses the boundaries between the two forms of song.
In the Iliad, grief spreads quickly from individual to community. As each lament comes to a close, the immediately surrounding community of mourners antiphonally responds with their own cries and tears: [52]
ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ', ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες
Πάτροκλον πρόφασιν, σφῶν δ' αὐτῶν κήδε' ἑκάστη.
Iliad 19.301-302 {43|44}
So [Briseis] spoke lamenting, and the women wailed in response,
with Patroklos as their pretext, but each woman for her own cares.
As I have argued elsewhere, Briseis’ lament for Patroklos in Iliad 19 and the corresponding wailing it initiates exemplify the process by which personal grief is transformed into collective sorrow. [53] Briseis’ song extends not only to the collective experience of the women around her who lament their fallen husbands, but to the audience of the epic as well. It is not insignificant then that the final lament of the Iliad, sung by Helen (who is the cause of the war), ends not with the antiphonal wailing of the women (as at Iliad 6.499, 19.301, 22.515, and 24.746), but of the dêmos: ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ', ἐπὶ δ' ἔστενε δῆμος ἀπείρων ‘So she spoke lamenting, and the people wailed in response’ (Iliad 24.776).
Ancient sources attest that the grief within epic poetry did indeed manifest itself in the audience. In the classical period, for example, Plato provides us with the following exchange between Socrates and a rhapsode:
Σωκράτης. ἔχε δή μοι τόδε εἰπέ, ὦ Ἴων, καὶ μὴ ἀποκρύψῃ ὅτι ἄν σε ἔρωμαι· ὅταν εὖ εἴπῃς ἔπη καὶ ἐκπλήξῃς μάλιστα τοὺς θεωμένους, ἢ τὸν Ὀδυσσέα ὅταν ἐπὶ τὸν οὐδὸν ἐφαλλόμενον ᾄδῃς, ἐκφανῆ γιγνόμενον τοῖς μνηστῆρσι καὶ ἐκχέοντα τοὺς ὀιστοὺς πρὸ τῶν ποδῶν, ἢ Ἀχιλλέα ἐπὶ τὸν Ἕκτορα ὁρμῶντα, ἢ καὶ τῶν περὶ ᾿Ανδρομάχην ἐλεινῶν τι ἢ περὶ Ἑκάβην ἢ περὶ Πρίαμον, τότε πότερον ἔμφρων εἶ ἢ ἔξω σαυτοῦ γίγνῃ καὶ παρὰ τοῖς πράγμασιν οἴεταί σου εἶναι ἡ ψυχὴ οἷς λέγεις ἐνθουσιάζουσα, ἢ ἐν Ἰθάκῃ οὖσιν ἢ ἐν Τροίᾳ ἢ ὅπως ἂν καὶ τὰ ἔπη ἔχῃ;
Ἴων. ὡς ἐναργές μοι τοῦτο, ὦ Σώκρατες, τὸ τεκμήριον εἶπες· οὐ γάρ σε ἀποκρυψάμενος ἐρῶ. ἐγὼ γὰρ ὅταν ἐλεινόν τι λέγω, δακρύων ἐμπίμπλανταί μου οἱ ὀφθαλμοί· ὅταν τε φοβερὸν ἢ δεινόν, ὀρθαὶ αἱ τρίχες ἵστανται ὑπὸ φόβου καὶ ἡ καρδία πηδᾷ.
Σωκράτης. οἶσθα οὖν ὅτι καὶ τῶν θεατῶν τοὺς πολλοὺς ταὐτὰ ταῦτα ὑμεῖς ἐργάζεσθε;
Ἴων. καὶ μάλα καλῶς οἶδα· καθορῶ γὰρ ἑκάστοτε αὐτοὺς ἄνωθεν ἀπὸ τοῦ βήματος κλάοντάς τε καὶ δεινὸν ἐμβλέποντας καὶ συνθαμβοῦντας τοῖς λεγομένοις. δεῖ γάρ με καὶ σφόδρ' αὐτοῖς τὸν νοῦν προσέχειν· ὡς ἐὰν μὲν κλάοντας αὐτοὺς καθίσω, αὐτὸς γελάσομαι ἀργύριον λαμβάνων, ἐὰν δὲ γελῶντας, αὐτὸς κλαύσομαι ἀργύριον ἀπολλύς.
Plato, Ion 535b-535e {44|45}
Socrates: Stop and tell me this, and don’t conceal what I am going to ask of you: When you perform epic poetry well and produce the greatest effect upon the audience, such as when you sing of Odysseus leaping forth on the floor, revealed to the suitors and casting his arrows at his feet, or the description of Achilles rushing at Hector, or the piteous sorrows of Andromache, Hecuba, or Priam, are you in your right mind? Are you not carried out of yourself, and does not your soul in its enthusiasm seem to be among the persons or places of which you are speaking, whether they are in Ithaca or in Troy or whatever may be the scene of the poem?
Ion: How vivid is the evidence you have adduced, Socrates. For I will not conceal it and will tell you. Whenever I relate a tale of pity, my eyes are filled with tears, and when I speak of horrors, my hair stands on end from fear and my heart throbs.
Socrates: And are you aware that you rhapsodes produce similar effects on most spectators?
Ion: Only too well; for I look down upon them from the stage, and see them every time weeping, casting terrible glances, and being astonished at the things being recounted. And I am obliged to give my very best attention to them; for if I make them cry I myself shall laugh when I get my money, but if I make them laugh I myself shall cry for losing it. [54]
Plato’s depiction of the effect of lamentation in epic has its own purpose within the dialogue and in the corpus of Plato’s writings as a whole, but if we can trust this passage even as an exaggerated approximation of the truth, it is clear that the laments of such figures as Briseis, Andromache, and Hecuba inspired a very tearful and emotional reaction in ancient Athenian audiences of the classical period, and probably throughout the history of epic performances. The passage suggests that the emotions that Aristotle posited as central to the experience of viewing tragedy, namely pity and fear, were elicited by epic as well if performed successfully.
These tears for the plight of the captive Trojan women and the fallen Trojan warriors are remarkable, and, as I noted in my introduction to this book, point to an appreciation for the plight of the defeated, regardless of {45|46} nationality or ethnicity. The extent to which the Trojans can be considered “barbarians” is a question that will have to be reserved for later chapters, but I submit already now that the emotional dynamics of lamentation in epic allowed an identification with the Trojan suffering that superceded national and ethnic loyalties. Because the laments of the captive women of epic formed a continuum with—and in fact evoked for the audience—the rituals and song traditions of Greek women, their emotional impact was potentially as powerful as that of the laments sung at actual funerals by the wives, mothers, and grandmothers of the community of listeners.
In the Modern Greek tradition, Caraveli notes that in some instances merely the first notes of a melody associated with lament were enough to cause a family of mourners to burst into tears. She writes: “Such reactions on the part of diverse audiences suggest that responses to specific styles of lament performances are, to some extent, learned. Not only are the texts of laments symbolic languages unto themselves, but performance components also carry symbolic associations, thus triggering ‘pain’ in the participants and facilitating the creation of an extraordinary emotional context.” [55] Nicole Loraux has made similar suggestions about the triggering effects of the music that would have accompanied the laments of Greek tragedy. [56]

Lamenting Women on the Tragic Stage

I now propose to turn from Greek epic to Greek tragedy, where women’s laments play an equally important role in a medium that, like epic, belongs to men. In Greek tragedy, female characters are famously outspoken: they debate, praise, blame, make plans, pray, scheme, sympathize, narrate the past, and make speech acts. But if there is one thing that female characters do in tragedy above all else, it is lament. Both epic and tragedy then are infused with the grief of women, despite the fact that they are male oriented performance traditions. Epic poetry was composed and performed by men; tragedy was composed by men and all roles were performed by male actors. Women may have been in the audience, but the scholarly consensus seems to be that the dramas were not intended for the benefit of women, but rather for the benefit of the male citizen body. [57] {46|47}
Helene Foley’s well-known article entitled “The Politics of Tragic Lamentation” explores in detail the representation of women’s laments in tragedy and their relationship to the laws, customs, and attitudes of fifth-century Athens. [58] Foley shows that the laments enacted in tragedy, particularly those that are closely tied to funeral ritual, have a complex relationship with societal practices. Whereas in tragedy women perform elaborate public laments, tear their cheeks, and rip their clothing, laws enacted from the archaic period onward expressly prohibited these actions. [59] Other elements of the funeral ritual that take place in tragedy were likewise restricted by laws intended to curb the power and prestige of the aristocracy, while at the same time shifting loyalties from the oikos to the polis. [60] Building on the work of Alexiou as well as the fieldwork of scholars of modern Greek laments, Foley argues that the intent of these laws was to suppress the incendiary power of laments to initiate revenge. In order for the polis to be successful, aristocratic cycles of vendetta, in which the laments of women played a crucial motivating role, had to be put to an end. [61]
As women’s control over the funeral rituals was weakened and their voices of lament muted, new forms of public mourning began to supplant the aristocratic funeral. First, as Alexiou has shown, in the incipient democracy of Athens there was a gradual transfer of mourning rituals and their associated emotions “from the ancestor of the clan cult to the hero of the state cult.” [62] Similarly, as Athenians were increasingly called to serve the state as sailors and soldiers over the course of the fifth century BC, the epitaphios {47|48} logos, or state funeral oration, effectively replaced the private funeral for the honored war dead. The grandeur and solemnity of public funerals for the war dead became an important forum for Athenian state ideology. [63]
As Foley and others have noted, however, the laws restricting lamentation were never entirely successful: some laws apparently lapsed and were later repassed, and some customs known to have been prohibited by law are alluded to as still in practice throughout the classical period. [64] Lament continued to be the essential medium for the articulation of grief, as is evidenced by its unbroken continuity of form and function in Greek literary and artistic traditions and in popular culture, up to the present day.
Nicole Loraux, who has articulated most fully the displacement of women’s laments by the state funeral oration, has written several works that illuminate the role of lament in Athenian tragedy. [65] In The Mourning Voice, Loraux argues for a renewed appreciation of the emotional dynamic of Greek tragedy, which she stresses in contrast to the didactic and political aspects of Greek tragedy that have been the focus of discussion in recent decades. [66] She shows how tragedy came to be a legitimate outlet for lamentation and tears for the citizen body at the same time that women’s laments were being curbed by laws and the public funeral oration was beginning to supplant private mourning rituals. As Segal notes, building on the work of Loraux: “what is repressed in the austere official ceremony of the funeral oration, as we see it in Pericles’ funeral speech or in the epitaphios ascribed to Lysias, can appear in the unrestrained, though formalized and mythicized, laments in the tragedies.” [67] Noting that tragedy was not situated in the political heart of the city, in the agora, or on the Pnyx, where assemblies were held, but rather in the theater of Dionysus, Loraux argues that in the process of viewing tragedy the spectator learns that he is a mortal first, and a citizen second. She concludes: “through the evocation of mourning… the spectator will be overcome, and purgation will arouse him to transcend his membership in the civic community and to comprehend his even more essential membership in {48|49} the race of mortals. This has always been the final word sung, not so much to the citizen as to the spectator, by the mourning voice of tragedy.” [68]
Lament, therefore, seems as essential to Greek tragedy as it is to Greek epic, and perhaps more so. The mourning voices of women on the tragic stage are both reenactments of prototypical laments for heroes and also a vehicle for the exploration and release of contemporary sorrows. As Segal writes, “This weeping within the play also provides a cue for the desired and appropriate response of the audience, their participation in the emotional release of the theater.” [69] The weeping is crucial, and as we explore the captive woman’s lament in the ensuing chapters, we will have to address the question of just what the citizen spectators are weeping for. Does each audience member weep for his own sorrows, as in the response of the surrounding women to Briseis’ lament of Iliad 19? Or is there a larger, civic sorrow that can be released by the viewing of tragedy together as a citizen body?

The Captive Woman’s Lament

I now turn to the captive woman’s lament itself, and its place within Greek tragedy. As we have already begun to see in my introduction to this book, the lamentation of the captive Trojan women in the tragedies of Euripides exemplifies the features of Greek lament that Alexiou has traced from antiquity to the present day. [70] I have suggested, moreover, that the captive woman’s lament combines at least two of Alexiou’s categories of lament, thereby forming a category in its own right that is the particular province of captive women.
I first became interested in women’s lament traditions, and more specifically the captive woman’s lament, while studying the speech of Euripides’ Medea, in which Medea details the plight in which Jason has left her. [71] Here is the climax of the speech:
νῦν ποῖ τράπωμαι; πότερα πρὸς πατρὸς δόμους,
οὓς σοὶ προδοῦσα καὶ πάτραν ἀφικόμην;
ἢ πρὸς ταλαίνας Πελιάδας; καλῶς γ' ἂν οὖν
δέξαιντό μ' οἴκοις ὧν πατέρα κατέκτανον.
ἔχει γὰρ οὕτω· τοῖς μὲν οἴκοθεν φίλοις {49|50}
ἐχθρὰ καθέστηχ', οὓς δέ μ' οὐκ ἐχρῆν κακῶς
δρᾶν, σοὶ χάριν φέρουσα πολεμίους ἔχω.
Medea 502-508
Now where can I turn? Can I go to my father’s house,
the house which I betrayed along with my fatherland when I came here?
Or to the wretched daughters of Pelias? Indeed they will certainly
welcome me in their home after I killed their father.
For it stands thus: to my friends at home
I have made myself an enemy, and the people whom I need never have
treated badly are now my foes, thanks to you.
Medea’s speech has been cited by R. L. Fowler as a prime example of what he calls the “desperation speech” in Greek literature. In an exhaustive study Fowler argues that the desperation speech was a literary device with its ultimate origins in Homer that reached its full form in tragedy. [72] He describes the speech as a series of questions, which are rhetorically posed and rejected:
The options are rejected one after the other, until the speaker lapses into a state of helplessness (usually evident from an expressed wish for a speedy death); or, if he or she is of a more heroic bent, a decision follows that something truly dramatic is in order, suicide or murder being the commonest choices. [73]
The classic examples cited from tragedy are Sophocles’ Ajax 430-480 (spoken by Ajax) and Euripides’ Medea 502-519 (spoken by Medea). I will quote just a few lines of Ajax’s lengthy speech here:
καὶ νῦν τί χρὴ δρᾶν; ὅστις ἐμφανῶς θεοῖς
ἐχθαίρομαι, μισεῖ δέ μ' Ἑλλήνων στρατός,
ἔχθει δὲ Τροία πᾶσα καὶ πεδία τάδε.
πότερα πρὸς οἴκους, ναυλόχους λιπὼν ἕδρας
μόνους τ' Ἀτρείδας, πέλαγος Αἰγαῖον περῶ;
καὶ ποῖον ὄμμα πατρὶ δηλώσω φανεὶς
Τελαμῶνι; πῶς με τλήσεταί ποτ' εἰσιδεῖν
γυμνὸν φανέντα τῶν ἀριστείων ἄτερ, {50|51}
ὧν αὐτὸς ἔσχε στέφανον εὐκλείας μέγαν;
οὐκ ἔστι τοὔργον τλητόν.
Ajax 457-466
And now what shall I do, when I am plainly hated by the gods,
abhorred by the Greek forces
and detested by all Troy and all these plains?
Shall I leave my station at the ships
and the Atreidae to their own devices in order to go home across the Aegean?
And how shall I face my father Telamon, when I arrive?
How will he bear to look on me,
when I stand before him stripped, without that supreme prize of valor
for which he himself won a great crown of fame?
No, I could not bear to do it! [74]
Fowler’s study leads him to conclude that the desperation speech is a feature of tragedy and the mark of the tragic figure.
In his investigation into the origin of the desperation speech Fowler naturally looks to the Homeric heroes, who often face comparable critical moments in the course of their trials that call for decisive action. I submit that there is another kind of speech in the Iliad, however, which is far more likely to be the true prototype of the desperation speech as it is used by Medea and Ajax. The laments of Andromache, Briseis, and Helen have a remarkably similar form to that which Fowler calls the desperation speech. What is the relationship between what Fowler calls the desperation speech, and what I have called the language of lament? [75]
To start answering that question, let us look at the words of Tecmessa, Ajax’s captive concubine, who replies to Ajax’s so-called desperation speech with one of her own. She describes how she was once the daughter of a wealthy father and then became a slave when Ajax sacked her town. Worried that Ajax will kill himself, she begs him not to leave her to become a Greek captive (for a second time) and an object of abuse, and pleads with him not to abandon their son to become a helpless orphan. Then in words that echo Andromache’s in the Iliad she exclaims:
Ἐμοὶ γὰρ οὐκέτ' ἔστιν εἰς ὅ τι βλέπω
πλὴν σοῦ· σὺ γάρ μοι πατρίδ' ᾔστωσας δορί· {51|52}
καὶ μητέρ' ἄλλη μοῖρα τὸν φύσαντά τε
καθεῖλεν ᾍδου θανασίμους οἰκήτορας·
τίς δῆτ' ἐμοὶ γένοιτ' ἂν ἀντὶ σοῦ πατρίς;
τίς πλοῦτος; ἐν σοὶ πᾶσ' ἔγωγε σῴζομαι.
Ajax 514-520
I have nothing left to which I can look,
save you. Your spear ravaged my country to nothingness,
and another fate has brought down my mother and father,
giving them a home in Hades in their death.
What homeland, then, could I have without you?
What wealth? My welfare is entirely in your hands.
Tecmessa’s speech combines both the account of the resources she has lost with the rhetorical questions of the desperation speech proper. But these same features are typical of Greek laments. [76] These features are also of course particularly appropriate for the captive woman in a foreign land, who has nowhere else she can turn. Tecmessa here employs the language of lament even in advance of Ajax’ death in an attempt to save him and protect herself and her son.
We may compare, as a number of scholars have done, Tecmessa’s speech with that of Andromache’s speech/lament to Hektor in Iliad 6. [77] The content of Andromache’s speech in Iliad 6 resonates with other traditional laments in the Iliad, including her own laments in Iliad 22 and 24. Andromache is, from the standpoint of epic traditions, the quintessential lamenting and soon-to-be captive wife, even though her captive status is only foreshadowed and never actually realized in the Iliad. She says:
δαιμόνιε φθίσει σε τὸ σὸν μένος, οὐδ' ἐλεαίρεις
παῖδά τε νηπίαχον καὶ ἔμ' ἄμμορον, ἣ τάχα χήρη
σεῦ ἔσομαι· τάχα γάρ σε κατακτανέουσιν Ἀχαιοὶ
πάντες ἐφορμηθέντες· ἐμοὶ δέ κε κέρδιον εἴη
σεῦ ἀφαμαρτούσῃ χθόνα δύμεναι· οὐ γὰρ ἔτ' ἄλλη
ἔσται θαλπωρὴ ἐπεὶ ἂν σύ γε πότμον ἐπίσπῃς
ἀλλ' ἄχε'· οὐδέ μοι ἔστι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ. {52|53}
ἤτοι γὰρ πατέρ' ἁμὸν ἀπέκτανε δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς,
ἐκ δὲ πόλιν πέρσεν Κιλίκων εὖ ναιετάουσαν
Θήβην ὑψίπυλον...

Ἕκτορ ἀτὰρ σύ μοί ἐσσι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
ἠδὲ κασίγνητος, σὺ δέ μοι θαλερὸς παρακοίτης·
ἀλλ' ἄγε νῦν ἐλέαιρε καὶ αὐτοῦ μίμν' ἐπὶ πύργῳ,
μὴ παῖδ' ὀρφανικὸν θήῃς χήρην τε γυναῖκα·
Iliad 6.407-432
daimonios one, your own spirit will destroy you, neither do you pity
your infant son nor me, ill-fated, I who will soon be
your widow. For soon the Achaeans will kill you,
making an attack all together. It would be better for me
to plunge into the earth if I lost you. For no longer will there be any
comfort once you have met your fate,
but grief. Nor are my father and mistress mother still alive.
For indeed brilliant Achilles killed my father,
and he utterly sacked the well-inhabited city of the Cilicians,
high-gated Thebe...

Hektor, you are my father and mistress mother,
you are my brother, and you are my flourishing husband.
I beg you, pity me and stay here on the tower,
don't make your child an orphan and your wife a widow.
The element of reproach, which has been noted as characteristic of laments, often takes the form of an accusation of abandonment. [78] Andromache does not reproach Hektor directly in this speech, as she does in Iliad 22 and 24, but she does warn him not to leave her a widow and their son an orphan. [79] Hektor admits he would rather die than see Andromache led off into captivity (6.464-465). Andromache herself expresses a wish to die if she loses Hektor (6.410-411), and this wish too is a common feature of laments. [80] The accusation of abandonment in both ancient and modern Greek {53|54} laments is typically accompanied by a description of the lamenting woman’s endangered position in the community. [81] Andromache here relates how she has lost the protection of all of her family members, and sets up Hektor as her last resource.
On this last point we may compare the way that Briseis too relates the deaths of her husband and brothers:
ἄνδρα μὲν ᾧ ἔδοσάν με πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
εἶδον πρὸ πτόλιος δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ,
τρεῖς τε κασιγνήτους, τούς μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ,
κηδείους, οἳ πάντες ὀλέθριον ἦμαρ ἐπέσπον
Iliad 19.291-294
The husband to whom my father and mistress mother gave me
I saw torn by the sharp bronze before the city,
and my three brothers, whom one mother bore together with me,
beloved ones, all of whom met their day of destruction. [82]
Tecmessa’s speech makes use of many of the traditional lament techniques that Andromache’s does. Her speech is traditional, but I do not deny that a great deal of its power lies in its intertextual relationship with the Iliad. This intertextual relationship is not limited to Andromache’s proleptic lament for Hektor in Iliad 6, however; it is equally reminiscent of Briseis’ lament for Patroklos. [83] And when we understand that the speeches of Andromache and Tecmessa are in fact the laments of soon-to-be captive women, we can appreciate the connections between Andromache, Briseis, and Tecmessa on another level: all three are well-born women who become captive concubines. Andromache and Tecmessa once were and will again be social equals, and that symmetry is part of the power of Tecmessa’s speech. In fact Greek laments traditionally articulate a woman’s life history while they at the same time define a woman’s particular relationship with her community.
Tecmessa’s speech is therefore remarkable both for its traditional content as well as for the literary bridge that it creates between epic and tragic interpretations of captive women’s lament traditions. Like Andromache’s in {54|55} Iliad 6, the speech is not a formal lament for the dead. Ajax is still alive, and Tecmessa’s speech is in fact a speech and not a song (as will be many of the laments of Euripidean tragedy discussed in subsequent chapters). Nevertheless, Tecmessa makes use of the language of lament to give herself a voice and the opportunity to try to dissuade Ajax from killing himself.
In the Introduction, I adduced a lament speech from Euripides’ Andromache in which Andromache earns the pity of the Greek chorus when she couches her words within the traditional language of lament. Here too, the chorus pities and even praises Tecmessa: Αἴας, ἔχειν σ' ἂν οἶκτον ὡς κἀγὼ φρενὶ/θέλοιμ' ἄν· αἰνοίης γὰρ ἂν τὰ τῆσδ' ἔπη (“Ajax, I would wish you to have pity for her even as I do; for then you would praise her words”). As in the Andromache, lament earns approval and pity for Tecmessa where previous attempts to speak failed. Tecmessa recalls that when she attempted to dissuade Ajax from leaving in the middle of the night on his mission to kill the Greek captains, he dismissed her harshly:
Ὁ δ' εἶπε πρός με βαί', ἀεὶ δ' ὑμνούμενα·
"Γύναι, γυναιξὶ κόσμον ἡ σιγὴ φέρει."
Κἀγὼ μαθοῦσ' ἔληξ', ὁ δ' ἐσσύθη μόνος·
Ajax 292-294
And he said to me the familiar saying:
“Woman, silence is the adornment of women.”
I learned my lesson and held my tongue, while he rushed out alone.
I submit that the “desperation speech” of Tecmessa is better understood as a manipulation of the genre of lament by a woman who needs to speak out in a desperate situation.
Recognition of the specialized speech in the laments of captive women in the Iliad calls for a re-examination of other desperation speeches in tragedy. The speech of Ajax in Sophocles’ play of that name is likely to be, as Fowler suggests, the model for many desperate deliberations in subsequent tragedy. I argue, however, that it is also through the laments of figures like Briseis and Andromache that we should read Tecmessa’s and perhaps even Ajax’s rhetoric of desperation. [84] Just as Odysseus laments like a captive woman, one of his own victims, when he hears the kleos of his deeds at Troy in Odyssey 8, Ajax experiences the helplessness of the woman he will leave behind, and voices it {55|56} in a speech of desperation that employs the rhetoric and traditional themes of lamentation. In this way, like the Iliad and Odyssey, the Ajax allows an Athenian audience, however briefly, to explore the agony and consequences of war by way of the sorrow of women, as it is expressed in the captive woman’s lament.
As I noted above, Tecmessa’s lament provides us with a perfect bridge between the captive women’s laments of epic and those of later tragedy. In the next chapter, I will explore another such intermediary, Aeschylus’ Persians. That play places the suffering of the defeated enemy before the eyes of the victorious Athenians a mere eight years after the battle of Salamis, amidst on-going hostilities with Persia. Because the battle itself takes place in Greece, no Persian women are taken captive. But the youth of a nation is cut down, and the women left behind lament their husbands and sons. Aeschylus’ play features a chorus of Persian elders who lament Persia’s lost youth, and by extension, Persia itself. As we will see, the laments of the Persian elders are often directly concerned with the plight of the Persian wives who have lost their husbands. Throughout the play the audience is invited to imagine the lamentation of the Persian women and to contemplate the battle from the perspective of the widowed women. Thus already in 472 BC the Athenians were capable of sympathizing with and even weeping for their worst enemy. The Trojan War tragedies, removed as they are by time and tradition, are not as extraordinary in their sympathy for the defeated as the Persians, but they too are part of a meaningful pattern that extends as far back as the Iliad. {56|}


[ back ] 1. Murnaghan 1999, Nagy 1999, and Sultan 1999. In the arguments that follow, I am heavily indebted to the work of these three scholars.
[ back ] 2. Murnaghan 1999, 206. See also Monsacré 1984, 137-196 and Dué 2002. Richard Martin (1989) has studied the many genres of stylized speech that have been incorporated into the genre of epic poetry, and he has shown that the Iliad and Odyssey include within the overall epic frame the conventions and allusive power of a number of other pre-existing verbal art forms, including prayer, supplication, boasting, and insulting, as well as lament (on lament, see especially Martin 1989, 86-88).
[ back ] 3. See especially Foley 2001, Loraux 1995 and 1998, and Zeitlin 1996, with references to earlier work there. For the feminine aspects of the heroes of Greek epic, see Monsacré 1984.
[ back ] 4. Zeitlin 1996, 363. Loraux agrees with this formulation (Loraux 1995, 9).
[ back ] 5. Loraux 2002. On the legislation of lament in the archaic period see, e.g., Alexiou 1974, 14-23, Loraux 1986, 45-49, Holst-Warhaft 1992, 114-19, McClure 1999, 45, Murnaghan 1999, 204-5, and further below.
[ back ] 6. On the displacement of women’s laments by the state funeral oration see especially Loraux 1986 and further below.
[ back ] 7. For a recent look at women and slavery in antiquity, see the collection edited by Joshel and Murnaghan 1998, which necessarily relies on male authored and primarily literary sources (see pp. 19-20 of the introduction to that volume). On the institution of slavery in ancient Greece in general, see Finley 1968, 1980, 1981, and 1987, Sainte Croix 1981, Wiedemann 1981 and 1987, Vidal-Naquet 1986, 159-223, Garlan 1988, and Fisher 1993. For transcripts of modern Greek laments recorded by anthropologists, see Lardas 1992 (which contains translations of modern Greek laments) and the collections cited in the bibliography of Roilos and Yatromanolakis 2002, 270.
[ back ] 8. For continuation and application of Alexiou’s work, see Caraveli-Chavez 1978 and Caraveli 1986, Danforth 1982, Seremetakis 1990 and 1991, Holst-Warhaft 1992, Herzfeld 1993, Sultan 1993 and 1999, Murnaghan 1999, Derderian 2001, and Dué 2002.
[ back ] 9. See also Alexiou 2001.
[ back ] 10. See Bowers 1993 for a brief survey, as well as Rosenblatt, Walsh, and Jackson 1976, Holst-Warhaft 1992, 20-27, and the bibliography in Roilos and Yatromanolakis 2002, under the heading “Ethnographic and Comparative Material.”
[ back ] 11. See Bartók and Lord 1951, as well as the songs and translations published by the Milman Parry Collection in the series Serbocroatian Heroic Songs (Serbian Academy of Sciences and Harvard University Press, 1953-). Women’s songs are included in Bartók and Lord 1951, and Coote 1977 and 1992 also discusses the women’s songs in the Parry Collection. For a brief overview of the collections and publications of South Slavic oral traditional songs, see Vidan 2003, 2-3, with citations there.
[ back ] 12. The findings of Parry and Lord are best studied in the work of Parry and Lord themselves, as published in Parry 1971 and Lord 1960, 1991, and 1995. For an introduction to and overview of the significance of this work see the introduction by Stephen Mitchell and Gregory Nagy to the 40th anniversary edition of Lord’s 1960 book, The Singer of Tales.
[ back ] 13. Vidan 2003, 12. See Vidan 2003, 12-31 for a discussion of the problems of terminology in the study of the South Slavic song tradition.
[ back ] 14. Vidan 2003, 22.
[ back ] 15. Vidan 2003, 15, quoting Nikola Andric.
[ back ] 16. Of the 12,544 texts contained in the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, approximately 11,250 are women’s songs. See Vidan 2003, 4.
[ back ] 17. Vidan 2003, 3-4.
[ back ] 18. Karadzic, coll. & ed., Srpske narodne pjesme, vol. 1 (1969 edition), 529. Translation is Vidan’s.
[ back ] 19. Vidan 2003, 14.
[ back ] 20. For examples of women who knew heroic songs or claimed to know them, see Vidan 2003, 15-16 and 19, with further citations there. There seem to have been on the one hand women who could sing narrative poetry that resembled heroic/epic poetry very closely, but which was distinctly feminine in its outlook and plot, and on the other women who had been exposed to performances of men’s/heroic poetry, and who therefore could recite the plot of certain songs and even reproduce them to a certain extent. See, in addition to Vidan, Murko 1990.
[ back ] 21. Vidan 2003, 17-19.
[ back ] 22. For a study of South Slavic funeral laments (not addressed in Vidan’s work), see Kerewsky-Halpern 1981, as well as Foley 2002, 195-199.
[ back ] 23. Caraveli 1986. On the subversive power of lament, see, in addition to Caraveli, Alexiou 1974, 21-22 and 124-25, Serematakis 1990 and 1991, Holst-Warhaft 1992, and Foley 2001, 19-56.
[ back ] 24. Caraveli 1986, 179.
[ back ] 25. Caraveli 1986, 177.
[ back ] 26. So also in the South Slavic tradition. See Vidan 2003, 9.
[ back ] 27. Caraveli, 1986, 177. Abu-Lughod 1999 documents a similar women’s world (and lament and love song tradition) among the Bedouin Awlad ‘Ali. Such a world is frequently evoked in the surviving fragments of the poetry of Sappho.
[ back ] 28. Vidan 2003, 80.
[ back ] 29. Lord 1960, 21-26.
[ back ] 30. Lord 1960, 35-36.
[ back ] 31. The multiformity and fluidity of the oral system within which laments are generated varies considerably from culture to culture, of course. Danforth describes one such system (1982, 71-72): “[Modern] Greek funeral laments are part of a longstanding oral tradition in which the literary concept of one authentic or correct version of a song does not exist. . . In Potamia, although several women have the ability to compose very original laments, the vast majority of laments sung are well known to most women. In such cases the variation that exists involves the complexity and the degree of elaboration with which traditional themes are presented.” On the oral formulaic qualities of modern Greek laments and love songs see also Alexiou 1974 and 2001 and Caraveli-Chavez 1978.
[ back ] 32. On lamentation as a language, cf. Danforth 1982, 73: “laments constitute a public language, a cultural code, for the expression of grief.”
[ back ] 33. On this point see especially Caraveli-Chavez 1978, Danforth 1982, 74-95, and Caraveli 1986, 178-192. For application of this principle to Homeric poetry see Dué 2002.
[ back ] 34. See Caraveli 1986 and Holst-Warhaft 1992. Danforth 1982 gives the following quote as an epigraph to his Death Rituals of Rural Greece: “Songs are just words. Those who are bitter sing them./They sing them to get rid of their bitterness, but the bitterness doesn’t go away.” (Translation is Danforth’s.)
[ back ] 35. See Ebbott 1999 for a discussion of this phenomenon in the Iliad. For a striking parallel in Awlad ‘Ali Bedouin society, see Abu-Lughod 1999, 238-240.
[ back ] 36. See note 2, above. See also Foley 2002, 188-218 for a discussion of the “ecology” of genres within Serbian oral poetry, which, like ancient Greek epic, includes magical charms, lyric songs, and funeral laments, among others. For women’s laments preserved in Persian epic see Davidson 2000.
[ back ] 37. See note 1, above.
[ back ] 38. Important exceptions to this rule are Achilles and Odysseus, each the star of his own epics. Achilles, as Monsacré 1984 has shown, is a master of both men’s and women’s song traditions; Odysseus is famously compared to a lamenting captive woman, one of his own victims, when he hears his own kleos performed by Demodokos in the court of the Phaeacians (see the Introduction). Men frequently cry and sometimes lament in the Homeric epics, but more formal songs of lament in funeral contexts seem to be the province of women (see van Wees 1998).
[ back ] 39. To cite just a few examples, there are likely to have been laments for Antilokhos, Memnon, and Achilles in the Aethiopis (“Song of the Ethiopians”), laments for Astyanax and other Trojans in the Ilioupersis (“Sack of Troy”) and Little Iliad, laments for various Greek heroes in the Nostoi (“Homecomings”).
[ back ] 40. See Odyssey 1.351-352. On the relationship between kleos and penthos in the Iliad and Odyssey see Nagy 1979, 94-117. On the mixture of lament and praise see also Martin 1989, 144.
[ back ] 41. The Iliad and Odyssey refer in several places to the various epic traditions that came to be known as the Epic Cycle. These songs, epic in nature, are represented as either entertainment (for an audience that is disconnected from the events narrated (see, e.g., Odyssey 1.153-155 and 325-327 and Odyssey 8.73-82 and 499-520) or as a source of tears (see, e.g., Odyssey 1.328-344, 4.113-116, and 8.83-86 and 521-532). In the Iliad there are no representations of the performance of epic poetry by a professional bard, but epic poetry is nevertheless performed by the heroes themselves when they narrate the past (by way of the medium of epic poetry, the dactylic hexameter). In these cases the purpose of narrating epic poetry is didactic (if the story is about the remote past or a previous generation of heroes—see, e.g., Iliad 9.527-599 and 11.669-761), or else it is a subject of lament (as in Iliad 6.414-428, 19.291-294, and 22..60-71). For more on the function of these narratives within the Iliad and Odyssey see the work of Martin 1989, Alden 2000, and Dué 2002.
[ back ] 42. Greene 1999, 195.
[ back ] 43. On this point, see also the related arguments of Seaford 1994, chapter 5. Seaford’s approach to the Homeric texts is ultimately very different from my own, but I agree with his emphasis on the importance of the laments and funeral rituals in the final books of the Iliad and their meaning for the audiences of the emerging city-state in the archaic period.
[ back ] 44. For these two dimensions of the Greek hero see Dué and Nagy 2003.
[ back ] 45. See Nagy 1979, 94-117 and Dué 2002, 80-81.
[ back ] 46. Pausanias 6.23.3. See Nagy 1979, 114. For this and other examples of cult practices in honor of Achilles, see Nilsson 1906, 457 as well as Hedreen 1991.
[ back ] 47. Kleos is fame or glory, especially the fame or glory that comes from being glorified by poetry or song. It is also the word that epic poetry uses to refer to itself. The Iliad is the kleos of Achilles, his immortality in song. See Nagy, Best of the Achaeans, 16–18. For more on the mortality of the hero as contrasted with the immortality of song, see chapter 2.
[ back ] 48. Murnaghan 1999, 203 and Foley 2001, 14. Foley speaks of lament as a “voice of dissent” in Greek epic and tragedy. Finally, on the seeming oxymoron of the “glorious thrênos” see Loraux 2002, 56-65.
[ back ] 49. Sultan 1999, 91. (Cf. Odyssey 11.223-224.)
[ back ] 50. On the element of reproach and the traditional accusation of abandonment see Alexiou 1974, 182-84. On this passage in particular see also Holst-Warhaft 1992, 112-113.
[ back ] 51. See also Sultan 1999, 80-81. Cf. as well pp. 92-93, in which Sultan discusses the final lines of this lament, and notes that the fact that Hektor did not die in their marriage bed is a source of particular grief for Andromache. It is there that the hero’s story is transferred from husband to wife.
[ back ] 52. On the antiphonal refrain of Greek laments, see Alexiou 1974, 131-60 and Caraveli-Chavez 1978.
[ back ] 53. See Dué 2002, 80-81. For a similar transformation of the laments of women into a collective, civic sorrow, see Segal’s discussion of Euripides’ Hippolytus 1462-1466 (Segal 1993, 121) and McClure 1999, 41 and 156.
[ back ] 54. Translation after Benjamin Jowett (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895). On this passage, see also Greene 1999, who adduces further passages from the work of Plato that characterize epic poetry as a medium that elicits tears and uncontrolled emotion in both the performer and the audience. On the disapproving stance taken by Plato towards the mimesis of lament (especially in tragedy), see Seaford 1994, 140-41, Nagy 1998, Loraux 1998, 10-11, and van Wees 1998. See also the discussion of Segal 1993, 62-67, on the “unmanliness” of male tears in the classical sources.
[ back ] 55. Caraveli 1986, 175-76.
[ back ] 56. See Loraux 2002, 54-65.
[ back ] 57. On the much discussed question of whether or not women were in the audience of the Athenian dramatic festivals, see, e.g., Podlecki 1990, Winkler 1990, Henderson 1991, Goldhill 1997, Katz 1998, McClure 1999, 4-6, Foley 2001, 3.
[ back ] 58. This article is republished in a revised and expanded form in Foley 2001, 21-55.
[ back ] 59. See Alexiou 1974, 14-23, Loraux 1986, 45-49 and 1998, 9-28, Holst-Warhaft 1992, 114-19, Seaford 1994, 74-105, and most recently, Frisone 2000 (with note 60, below).
[ back ] 60. See the very similar arguments of Alexiou 1974, 21-23 and Seaford 1994, 106, as well as Foley 2001, 22-25, with references there. Loraux 1998 only partially agrees with this formulation. She argues that mourning is by nature feminine (in archaic and classical Greek thought) and that by regulating lamentation the Greek city-states were in actuality regulating women. These laws also had the function of monitoring femininity in male citizens, who were understood to be feminized by public grief and the emotions inspired by women’s laments.
[ back ] 61. See especially, in addition to Foley 2001, Seaford 1994, chapter 3. On the connection between lament and vendetta see also Holst-Warhaft 1992. The most recent survey of Greek funerary legislation (not restricted to the Archaic period) is that of Frisone 2000, although her approach is quite different from that of the studies I have highlighted here, in that her focus is more on community (as opposed to the polis) and the religious motives for such legislation as well as the concern for miasma. Hawke’s 2004 review of this book outlines the differences between the two approaches, and provides a very useful bibliography for each in notes one and two.
[ back ] 62. Alexiou 1974, 19.
[ back ] 63. Foley 2001, 25. On this point see also Alexiou 1974, 21-23 and Loraux 1986.
[ back ] 64. See especially Alexiou 1974, 23 and passim, Blok 1999, 104-107, and Foley 2001, 25-26.
[ back ] 65. See especially Loraux 1998 and 2002.
[ back ] 66. For a fuller discussion of recent trends in the criticism and interpretation of Greek tragedy, see the foreword to Loraux 2002 by Pietro Pucci. Loraux does not deny the didactic and political functions of Greek tragedy, but rather sees tragedy as a “genre in conflict,” in which multiple kinds of speech, song, and, dance compete with one another.
[ back ] 67. Segal 1993, 20.
[ back ] 68. Loraux 2002, 93.
[ back ] 69. Segal 1993, 29. See also Segal 1993, 64.
[ back ] 70. Because of the vast scope of Alexiou’s study, the tragedies of Euripides are discussed only sporadically in that work.
[ back ] 71. Dué 2000.
[ back ] 72. Fowler 1987.
[ back ] 73. Fowler 1987, 6.
[ back ] 74. Translation after Richard Jebb (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893).
[ back ] 75. On “the language of lament,” see the Introduction.
[ back ] 76. See note 1, above. For the questions that are a common feature of laments, see especially Alexiou 1974, 161-165. See also chapter 4.
[ back ] 77. Much of my analysis of the speeches of Andromache, Tecmessa, and Briseis here is adapted from my previous discussion of this same topic in Dué 2002 (see especially pages 67-81).
[ back ] 78. Alexiou 2002, 182-84. For an intertextual reading of the laments of Andromache and Briseis in the Iliad, see now also Tsagalis 2004, chapter 5.
[ back ] 79. See Iliad 22.482-486, 24.726-727, 24.742-745.
[ back ] 80. Alexiou 2002, 178-81 and citations at note 46. Cf. Iliad 22.481, where Andromache wishes she had never been born, and Helen’s similar wish at 24.764.
[ back ] 81. Alexiou 1974, 165-84, Caraveli 1986, and Herzfeld 1993.
[ back ] 82. Cf. as well Electra to Orestes in the Libation Bearers, 235-244.
[ back ] 83. See Rose 1995, 64 and Ormand 1999, 112-13. Both note in passing the connection with Briseis. For Tecmessa and Andromache see also Brown 1965 and Kirkwood 1965.
[ back ] 84. On Medeas as a captive woman, see the Introduction.