Theses Doctoral

When Language Fails: Tragedy and Thucydides

Ianni, Emma

In this study, I challenge previous assumptions on Thucydides’ silence on gender in the History in order to understand this erasure as a central component of the historian’s attempt at asserting authorial control over a narrative of crisis. My project investigates the gendered strategies employed by Attic tragedy and historiography to represent defiant speakers – characters who challenge traditional speech, like Antigone or the Corcyreans, or those who speak ambiguously, like Cassandra and Alcibiades – in the context of 5th century Athens. Rather than offering a historical reconstruction of the relationship between Thucydidean historiography and drama, my project presents a theoretical reorientation of how the two genres can and should be read in parallel.

Methodologically, I integrate close readings with the insights afforded by Anne Carson’s creative engagements with antiquity in order to analyze how gender structures the meaning-making systems in these narratives. Following a chronotropic trajectory, this dissertation investigates how gender refracts through the ways in which the tragedians and Thucydides represent issues of time, space and place, and perception; it then ends by returning to time to offer a critical re-evaluation of the receptions and afterlives of Greek tragedy and history.

Ultimately, this study offers a methodology that helps us model a parallel reading of Attic tragedy and Thucydidean historiography; not in order to “test out” the historicity of tragedy against Thucydides’ account, but rather to use tragedy to fill the gap of gender in the History. Probing this dialogue – a dialogue informed as much by silence and omission as by contact and shared vocabulary – among ancient and modern, tragic and historiographic, originary and receptive models of literary entanglement challenges us to rethink the political potential of transgressive speakers within canonical narratives, and to reflect on the role that gender has in shaping these discursive tensions.


  • thumnail for Ianni_columbia_0054D_18561.pdf Ianni_columbia_0054D_18561.pdf application/pdf 1.62 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Worman, Nancy
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 26, 2024