Apotropaia and Phylakteria

Conference Paper

Literary evidence: On ritual practices
Thursday 2021-06-24
09:00 | 10:30
Place: Swedish Institute at Athens & Zoom

Female Tragic Choral Apotropaic Songs in the Context of Domestic and Civic Disharmony

Vasia Kousoulini, 2021-06-24, Time: 10:05 - 10:25


The use of apotropaic prayers or wishes by female tragic choruses has not been left unnoticed by contemporary scholars. In Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes, the members of the female chorus sing apotropaic prayers for the salvation of the city (lines 104-80, 219-22, 251). In Euripides, there are many examples of apotropaic songs performed by female choruses (Med. 632-52; Hipp. 364-5, 525-9, 1111-9; Andr. 469-70; Hel. 361-2; I.A. 554-7, 785-6). In most of these cases, the members of the female chorus contrast their situation with the main hero or heroine who suffers, according to them, from excessive or manic love. They explicitly express their wish that they will be spared from this malady that is capable of causing mental confusion, domestic conflict, sorrow, and destroying their lives. As apotropaic songs face an inherent contradiction in that one must name the thing to be averted even though speaking words of negative meaning may be dangerous, these tragic passages are imbued with the language of lament or the language of curses, as we encounter it in literary curses and erotic defixiones. The aim of this paper is to construct a reading of these tragic passages within the context of attested real-life apotropaic prayers (such as apotropaic paeans) and recited or sung verse (apotropaic iambics and hexameters), as well with ancient Greek laments for fallen cities and erotic defixiones. More specifically, I suggest that these passages are examples of tragedy’s religious exploration and question the normative engagement of religious issues relating to apotropaic song.

About the Author(s)

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens 


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