Deianeira’s Dread: Affect and Empathy in Sophocles’ Trachiniae

Thursday,  May 9, 2019
5:00 pm, Rockefeller 003
Melissa Mueller,  UMASS @ Amherst

Deianeira’s Dread: Affect and Empathy in Sophocles’ Trachiniae

Deianeira has harbored fear from the earliest days of her girlhood. In this talk, I explore how Trachiniae depicts Deianeira’s dread as both anticipating and actively generating the actions on which it is founded—an uncanny reversal of cause and effect. Oedipus Tyrannus famously traces the pollution that infects Thebes back to its source, revealing to us in the meantime a hero whose discovery of his father’s killer occurs simultaneously with the discovery of horrifying truths about himself. We anticipate his dramatically delayed self-recognition with dread. In Trachiniae, by contrast, self-recognition precedes both action and knowledge. Deianeira’s persistent dread subsumes dramatic irony, creating a claustrophobic sort of empathy. While the action of the Oedipus Tyrannus thus bores ever deeper into the past and into the recesses of Oedipus’ suppressed memories, the action of Trachiniae spirals forward and loops backward, following the figure-eight-like-movement of dread itself, an emotion that in this play acquires both physical form and agency.

Melissa Mueller is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Objects as Actors: Props and the Poetics of Performance in Greek Tragedy (2016), a co-editor of The Materialities of Greek Tragedy: Object and Affect in Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (2018), and co-editor of the Ancient Cultures, New Materialisms book series for Edinburgh University Press. She will be spending the 2019-2020 academic year at the National Humanities Center as an ACLS Burkhardt Fellow.

Free and open to the public.
Sponsored by the Classics Department