Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Naomi Liebler

Committee Member

Adam Rzepka

Committee Member

Lee Behlman


This thesis will compare the role that queens in failing nations, motivated by revenge, play as tragic heroes in Classical tragedy. Focusing on the classical tragedies of Euripides’ Medea and Hekabe to Seneca’s Medea and Trojan Women, this thesis compares the roles that these queens play as tragic heroes in both the Greek and Roman renditions. As politically significant characters and tragic heroes, Medea and Hecuba both operate as both poison and cure, representing nations and houses that are failing, on the basis of their identity and their actions. I have focused on how Euripides and Seneca offer queens and tragic heroes, ultimately creating a similar outcome--they nobly face dilemmas, for which there is no “easy” or “right” choice, and that they attain magnificence through the endurance of their unique plight.

In their respective tragedies, Euripides and Seneca explore the boundaries of female agency, particularly in the sense that the Euripidean Hekabe actively resigns to her fate as a barking dog, explaining to Polymestor that “paying you back is my only concern” (1244); Seneca’s vision for Hecuba and Andromache is much more passive. Seneca’s queens suffer simply because they are mothers; instead of being the source of life for Troy and tasked with extending Troy’s legacy, they are forced to witness the destruction of their kingdom and sacrifice the last of their children in the process.

Ultimately, the aftermath of nations that have fallen is a liminal state. The queens who live in these in-between places face the question of how to endure life as the consequence. For queens like Medea and Hecuba, endurance is synonymous with suffering; suffering is synonymous with mothering children and mothering the nation that defines their authority. In essence, classical queens achieve tragic heroism because they suffer as women in the state of motherhood, both poison for the grief that comes with losing children, losing husbands and monarchs, and the very land in which the nation sits, and cure in their ability to perpetuate a nation through childbearing, or even through a queen’s dignity and ability to negotiate with their captors.