In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche describes Euripides’s unique place in the history of Greek thought. This thesis considers the implications of Nietzsche’s case by analyzing Euripides’s fifth-century tragedy Herakles. It argues that, for Euripides, the Heracles figure characterizes the shift from a mythic to a tragic worldview. As Heracles’s role in myth suggests the struggle of an individual repressed by society, Euripides’s use of allegory, which he sharply contrasts with tragic realism, reveals the consequences of an increase in self-consciousness. This shift from myth to tragedy suggests the importance of René Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry and a scapegoat mechanism, the efficacy of which is shown by comparing Heracles and Job. Because an elevated figure is disgraced in both literary works, the comparison is illustrative of foundational anthropology. Job and Heracles, in their respective traditions, represent the central position of a virtual scapegoat onto whom communal violence is directed, displaced, and even transcended.
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Thesis advisor: Mirhady, David
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