Thursday, December 6, 2012

St Perpetua and Polyxena

Peter Habermehl myBlog wrote that the emphasis on the modesty of St Perpetua in the frame story was influenced by  the description of the death of Polyxena in Euripides' famous play Hecuba written 424 BC.  This seems quite possible especially when we consider the other examples of heroic deaths in Graeco-Roman world mentioned in the frame text. Polyxena's noble death was probably quite well known and admired by the people of Carthage, the city of Queen Dido.

Such possible influence must, of course, be taken into account when one considers the historicity of the frame story describing the death of the martyrs in the arena.
Some claimed Polyxena committed suicide after Achilles' death out of guilt. According to Euripides, however, in his plays The Trojan Women and Hecuba, Polyxena's famous death was caused at the end of the Trojan War. Achilles' ghost had come back to the Greeks, demanding that the wind needed to set sail back to Hellas was to be appeased by the human sacrifice of Polyxena. She was to be killed at the foot of Achilles' grave. Hecuba, Polyxena's mother, expressed despair at the death of another of her daughters. (Polyxena was killed after almost all of her brothers and sisters.)
However, Polyxena was eager to die as a sacrifice to Achilles rather than die as a slave. She reassured her mother, and refused to beg before Odysseus or be treated in any way other than a princess. She asked that Odysseus reassure her mother as she is led away. Polyxena's virginity was critical to the honor of her character, and she was described as dying bravely as the son of Achilles, Neoptolemus, slit her throat: she arranged her clothing around her carefully so that she was fully covered when she died.

No comments:

Post a Comment