The Nurse from Narrative to Drama: Euripides and the Tragic Deviations of an Ancient Anthropological Figure


  • Anna Beltrametti Università di Pavia



The essay investigates some figures of nurses in Greek tragedy, highlighting their difference in order to elicit the transformations required by the dramatic reshaping of the ancient folkloric and epic figure of the character. Starting from Eurycleia, the archetypical figure of the nurse in the Odyssey, the study first focuses on Cilissa, the nurse of Orestes in Aeschylus’ Libation-Bearers, then analyzes the very different Euripidean figures of Medea’s Nurse, of Phaedra’s Nurse in Hippolytus and of Hermione’s Nurse in Andromache, highlighting their noble or high origin in contrast with a conventional line of study that classifies them among the humble characters of tragedy. Minor though not humble characters, the tragic nurses interpret from time to time the strong distinctive features of the Homeric Eurycleia: a good substitute mother is Cilissa, in conflict with the bad natural mother of Orestes in Aeschylus; the critical intelligence, almost a dramatic split of the protagonist, is the dominant trait of Medea’s nurse; the self-denial of unrequited maternal love connotes Phaedra’s nurse; the ambivalence bordering on servile duplicity distinguishes Hermione’s nurse. Introducing into tragedy now the language of feelings and bodies, now the voice of the shared and collective ethos in contrast with the passions of the main characters, the Nurses incarnate in the great texts the feminine dimension and, better than the Pedagogues, recall the common feeling with its principles and its gnomai, often overcome or transgressed for political reasons.

Keywords: humble characters vs minor ones; body language; critical intelligence; Homer; Aeschylus; Euripides


Keywords: humble characters vs minor ones; body language; critical intelligence, Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides






Monographic Section