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The Politics of Greek Tragedy in 'Samson Agonistes'

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-260
Number of pages21
JournalSEVENTEENTH CENTURY
Volume31
Issue number2
Early online date30 Aug 2016
DOIs
Accepted/In press9 May 2016
E-pub ahead of print30 Aug 2016
Published2016

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Abstract

This essay charts Milton’s engagement in Samson Agonistes with Greek political thought as critiqued in Athenian tragic drama, particularly that of Euripides. In early modern Europe, Euripides’ plays were not only understood to denounce tyranny but also to remain rigorously sceptical about the workings of Athenian democracy (in itself a highly limited kind of representational politics). Milton knew well the commentary tradition that framed Euripidean tragedy in such terms, and found a corollary to his own political views within it, most notably in the writings of Gasparus Stiblinus whose prefaces are included in the 1602 Stephanus edition of the playwright’s works, which he used heavily. Stiblinus shows how Euripides relentlessly scrutinizes corruption, which his tragedies reveal to be not only characteristic of tyrants but also to pervade democratic systems. Milton’s allusions to Euripidean tragic form in Samson Agonistes evoke these commentaries to denounce political corruption.

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