22nd February 2021

Featured Review

Instances of Death in Greek Tragedy

We are delighted to share a new review of Instances of Death in Greek Tragedy, the debut monograph from emerging Classics scholar Sorana-Cristina Man. Our thanks to Serena Ferrando, who has kindly agreed for us to publish the review in full.

Serena Ferrando: Sorana-Cristina Man, Instances of Death in Greek Tragedy, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2020, pp. 261

Developing a theme in an original way within the colourful and in-depth panorama of Greek tragedy is not simple. And then, addressing the substantial argument of the concept of death in an innovative way, in Greek Society and above all in classical tragedy, is perhaps even more difficult. On the other hand, it is with great pleasure that I present here the fruit of a serious, scrupulous and decidedly convincing work by the scholar Sorana-Cristina Man, which concerns precisely the world of tragedy and the theme of death and has succeeded in this double, difficult aim. The book is divided into seven parts, which we will now investigate in order.

There is firstly a very necessary introduction - decidedly original compared to many other introductions, since it does not limit itself to anticipating some aspects of the question to be studied, but guides its reader to the heart of the problem, with the intention of giving a flavour not only of the complexity of the theme from the beginning but also of the pleasure and satisfaction of going into such a fascinating investigation with the author.

The second chapter is dedicated to violence and death, in particular to the concept of violence itself, in its particular and collective dimension, above all introducing a very relevant bibliography, always cited appropriately and probed with the need to follow a path of study that does not neglect any area or any aspect of the Greek world of tragedy, including cultural anthropology and a certain attention to the study of the psychological component of violence.

The third chapter, really fascinating, is dedicated to the psychoanalytical and philosophical aspects of death in tragedy, with persuasive considerations regarding sacrifice - a central theme in this book - and the implications of death and violence in Greek tragedy, of the individual and of the community.

The fourth chapter is dedicated to symbols and to the prediction of death, where also well-known situations, such as the red carpet of Agamemnon awaiting the victorious sovereign on his return home after the end of the Trojan war, a sinister omen of death, are analyzed in the light of new perspectives, and presented with serious considerations, a scholarly approach and constant attention to the interpretative theories of other scholars. Sometimes the author disagrees with these, but always with well-managed arguments, supporting instead different points of view that perfectly offset the arguments on the subject and provide a very clear picture of the ongoing debate on the problem of death in Greek tragedy.

A specific attention to the world of women could not be omitted, and therefore an all-female perspective is the subject of the fifth chapter, in which the single-collective dualism in Greek tragedy in relation to death and sacrifice returns. New perspectives are introduced and are carefully argued.

The conclusions, which form chapter 6, are followed by a detailed chapter entirely devoted to the bibliography, which demonstrates a depth of study, correctness of information, and the willingness to share one's work, which is always presented by the Author with intellectual honesty, explaining why that is not a point of arrival, but always a starting point for further debate.

Personally, after having dealt with ancient Greek tragedy since the time of my graduation thesis, I can say that up to now I have read few essays that have been able to suggest new ideas on the problem of death in tragedy. This work guides the reader to tackle the problem with the will to approach the episodes studied with a whole new attention to detail that may, perhaps, suggest some new path to take in order to understand better the ancient Greek world. This is a world that, especially when we approach the gloomy and dark universe of death in tragedy, never ceases to amaze us for the aspects that are yet to be thoroughly explored, and for the extreme depth of the perspectives it presents to us. These perspectives we can never separate from the concept of Greek collective society, of the social and religious function of Greek theatre, or of their psychological, or even psychoanalytical implications. Indeed, these perspectives are not only within the theatre, but involve the problem of death itself, especially in the ritual dimension of sacrifice, and they are presented to us here with a renewed and far-sighted dynamism.

Serena Ferrando was born in Genoa, Italy in 1972, and graduated in Ancient Languages and Literatures (Greek Tragedy) at University of Genoa. She teaches Italian and Latin and has a large experience in Academic courses of formation for teachers. She is the President of C.L.I.L.C. (Coordinamento Ligure insegnanti lingue classiche) and the representative of this association in Euroclassica (Federazione internazionale Insegnanti di Lingue classiche). She has given many lectures and conference presentations on the classical world, and is the author of many academic publications on Greek and Latin culture and languages.

In some versions of the myth, Iphigenia was due to be immolated by her father on Artemis’ altar before the beginning of the Trojan War, but was replaced by the goddess with a deer, at the last moment. This is the most staggering, and perhaps best-known, rite of sacrifice in Greek tragedy. Perfectly symmetrical, the end of this war is marked by another human tribute, Polyxena. Some of the topics investigated in this volume include whether these sacrifices, as well as similar ones such as those of Macaria and Menoeceus, the husbands of the Danaides, the hero Pentheus, and Aegisthus, are all a way to balance things out, or whether they cause an even greater unbalance.

Sorana-Cristina Man holds a PhD in Classics and a five-year degree (MA equivalent) in Philosophy from the University of Bucharest. She has translated several books of philosophy from Latin and English, and has published numerous cultural studies, including a number of academic articles. The University of Bucharest awarded her a prize for one of her literary works.

Instances of Death in Greek Tragedy by Sorana-Cristina Man is available now. To access a 30-page sample free of charge, please click here.