Article Title

Φόβος φυτεύει τύραννον:The Tyrant's Fears on the Attic Tragic Stage


The Attic tragic stage is crowded by many “tyrannical,” or supposedly so, figures. Scholars have generally devoted their attention to the behavioural and psychological phenomenology of these characters, and have focused on their relationship with Herodotus’s, Plato’s, Aristotle’s, and Xenophon’s writings on the origin and features of tyrannical governments, or with contemporary or preceding historical autocratic regimes in the Greek world. No specific attention has been devoted so far to the “tyrant’s fear” motif which should be interpreted in its twofold subjective and objective meaning. This article aims at mapping out a significant, if not complete, synoptic chart of the tyrannical figures on the Attic tragic stage by concentrating on the well-known Aristotelian and specifically tragic passion of phobos, in order to investigate how it is dramatized on stage. It argues that tragic playwrights often tend to emphasize the transformation of their characters into tyrannical figures, rather than introducing them on the stage as stark autocrats. Thus, the despotic traits of political and military leaders get progressively accentuated, until their inevitable final personal catastrophe (see, for instance, the case of Creon in Antigone and of Oedipus in Oedipus Rex). On their route towards ruin, fear plays a fundamental role, precisely because of the downfall it eventually causes. As the tyrant’s authority begins to crack, he stops striking fear into others and ends up by becoming a victim of that same passion, being afraid of losing his power, of having to pay for his own mistakes, etc.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.