The concept of autochthony in Euripides' Phoenissae




Sanders, Kyle Austin

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Euripides’ Phoenissae is a challenging work that is often overlooked by scholars of Greek drama. This study analyzes how the concept of autochthony occupies a central thematic concern of the play. On the one hand, autochthony unites humans to soil, political claims to myths, and present to past. On the other hand, autochthony was often invoked to exclude foreigners, women and exiles from political life at Athens. We observe a similar dichotomy in the Phoenissae. Autochthony unites the episode action–the story of the fraternal conflict—with the very different subject matter of the choral odes, which treat the founding myths of Thebes. By focalizing the lyric material through the perspective of marginalized female voices (Antigone and the chorus), Euripides is able to problematize the myths and rhetoric associated with autochthony. At the same time, Antigone’s departure with her father at the play’s close offers a transformation of autochthonous power into a positive religious entity. I suggest that a careful examination of the many facets of autochthony can inform our understanding of the Phoenissae with respect to dramatic structure, apparent Euripidean innovations, character motivation, stage direction and audience reception.