Gangs of Athens
: An investigation into political representations of youth in Greek tragedy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Classical scholarship makes frequent reference to presentations of youth in ancient Greek literature, most often in relation to characterisations and themes in Greek tragedy. And yet no rigorous study has to date been undertaken solely on these presentations within the genre. This dissertation addresses the gap in the scholarship, offering a comprehensive assessment of tragic presentations of youth. Moreover, this original contribution demonstrates how tragic presentations are a cultural response to the political context in which tragedy was produced. Evidence is offered to support the argument that contemporary social constructions of youth appear clearly in tragedy and that, as the material base for these conceptualisations changes, in relation to a dynamic political climate, so too do the tragic presentations. Each chapter focuses on a specific play and a theme relating to youth within that play. The investigation will move chronologically, beginning with the (undated but, I believe, pre-mid-century) Aeschylean Prometheus and ending with Euripides’ Bacchae, allowing comparison of different presentations over a well-defined historical period. Underpinning this methodology are a number of theoretical strands. First, I argue that themes in the plays reflect in some way the material reality of the social and culture milieu of which they are a product. This view ultimately derives from the Marxist model of the relationship between ideology and the material base, but I argue that the model needs to be flexible and open to alternative explanations of the content of literature. In support of this refinement, more recent sociological theory on the construction of popular conceptions of youth is employed to help establish how actualities of intergenerational anxieties are transformed through the thematic presentations of tragedy. Reference will also be made to psychoanalytic theory on relations between generations where arguments are made that youth in tragedy offers a local variant on a more universal anxiety about youth and ageing. These arguments, in turn, are informed by classical scholarship that focuses on anthropological explanations for the culturally specific yet universal nature of attitudes towards social groups. The final two chapters deal exclusively with how youth is represented in times of the most acute political crisis, as evidence for the link between the political and literary, before the concluding section which offers a view on what further research is required to embed a ‘youth studies’ within classical scholarship.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorEdith Hall (Supervisor) & Ismene Lada-Richards (Supervisor)

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