Catharsis, trauma and war in Greek tragedy: An inquiry into the therapeutic potential of Greek tragedy with special reference to the female experience

Peggy Shannon

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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My research applies ancient Greek drama as a lens to examine gender, war, and the potential for catharsis and emotional healing through narrative engagement and situational recognition. Three modernised ancient Greek plays representing a multi-national approach to live performance serve as Case Studies. They include: Velina Hasu Houston’s The Intuition of Iphigenia, Judith Thompson’s Elektra in Bosnia, and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Ajax in Afghanistan. I investigate whether performances of Greek tragedy remain capable of producing cathartic affect in spectators. My research questions the nature of war-related traumatic experiences for contemporary women and how these experiences have been represented in new productions of ancient Greek plays during a backdrop of war. By interrogating a link between the ancient characters and contemporary women in and around war, I am able to argue that Iphigenia’s ‘sacrifice’, Elektra and Clytemnestra’s hunger for retribution, Athena’s decision to punish Ajax by ‘scrambling his brain’, and Tecmessa’s secondary trauma as the spouse of a soldier suffering PTSD serve as effective models for the examination of contemporary trauma experienced by women. I argue that the cathartic and therapeutic potential of Greek tragedy remains viable in modernity. Zeitlin’s theory of ‘emotional surrogacy’, Street’s theory of ‘primary trauma’, Dekel’s theory of ‘secondary trauma’, and Shay’s theory of ‘situational recognition’ frame my investigation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Wiles, David, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 9 Jan 2015


  • Greek Tragedy
  • Gender
  • War
  • Healing
  • Trauma

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