Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Tell Me About Your Mother: Oedipus, Female Archetypes, and Parallel Versions of The Phoenician Women

Bethany Thomas, Dr. Linda O. Valenty.

The current research concentrates on Euripides’ The Phoenician Women and Seneca’s Phoenissae, each a unique version of the Oedipal saga. We employ these parallel versions of the “myth” to reveal key aspects of the evolution of socio-political notions of positive and negative femininity from Ancient Greece to Rome. We address the following questions: In which ways do Euripides’ The Phoenician Women and Seneca’s Phoenissae reinforce society’s expectations and conclusions about the role of women within each culture and during the relevant era? How does the tragic form relate to the depiction of the female in ancient Greece and in Rome? And, in what way do the archetypal images of women evolve from Greek to Roman literature?

Both plays concern a period of extreme antiquity—the period known as the Homeric Age--and yet bear the distinctive marks of the later eras in which they were composed. For example, Seneca’s Phoenissae illuminates the famous Oedipus myth, but is filled with his own Stoic philosophy developed in the wake of the reign of Augustus Caesar. Each version of the play is useful in determining the role of women in the mythos of society as well as within the relevant political framework. The Oedipal narrative, via Sigmund Freud, remains a major psychological image in contemporary culture, a metaphor for sexual dysfunction and a major component of the androcentric bias of Freud and his contemporaries; accordingly, it is an ideal literary construct in which to re-interpret the feminine role. We seek to illuminate those who have been ignored in the elevation of Oedipus to the status of vivid symbolism – that is, Jocasta, Antigone, and the Phoenician women themselves.

Within the context of the two versions of The Phoenician Women, we re-examine the classic myths and archetypal images of the Oedipus narrative – the wicked mother, the rebellious daughter, and the priestess. These women, often lost in the dominant construct of strong male archetypes, illuminate key aspects of the play and demonstrate the level to which the contribution and participation of women was acceptable to Greeks and Romans.


Bethany Thomas  (United States)

Dr. Linda O. Valenty  (United States)
Asst. Professor of Political Science
Department of Political Science
California Polytechnic State University

Dr. Linda O. Valenty holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Davis. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She has published three edited books on the topic of political psychology as well as several book chapters and journal articles on the topics of political psychology, political behavior, political theory, and public policy. She is a member of the Executive Board and Vice-President of the Psycho-Politics Research Committee of the International Political Science Association.

  • The Phoenician Women
  • Ancient Greece
  • Ancient Rome
  • Archetype
  • Women
  • Classical Theatre
  • Drama
  • Oedipal Myth
Person as Subject
  • Euripides / Seneca

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)