The Captive Woman’s Lament in Greek Tragedy.

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.

Gender, Genre, and the Development of Epic

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:

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]

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.

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]

The Poetry of Praise and Lament

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:

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.

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?

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.

Lamenting Women on the Tragic Stage

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]

The Captive Woman’s Lament

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 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

Fowler’s study leads him to conclude that the desperation speech is a feature of tragedy and the mark of the tragic figure.

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

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.


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.