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Procne, Philomela and the Voice of the Peplos

Stamatia Dova

Hellenic College Holy Cross

This paper examines the role of the peplos (robe) as a signifier of female identity in Sophocles' lost tragedy Tereus (ca. 430 BCE) and its reception from Euripides' Medea and Demosthenes' Funeral Oration to Ovid's Metamorphoses and Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Clitophon (Gantz, Liapis, Salzman-Mitchell, Segal).  According to Sophocles' treatment of the myth, Tereus, king of Thrace and husband of Procne, one of the daughters of Pandion, king of Athens, raped Procne's sister Philomela, cut her tongue, and told his wife that her sister had died.  Philomela, however, wove a peplos and sent it to Procne.  The robe, embroidered with Tereus' crimes, became the voice of the raped and mutilated young woman.  Denouncing the outrage committed by the barbarian king against the two Athenian princesses, the peplos also enabled their anagnorisis (recognition of each other) and revenge: they killed Procne's and Tereus' son Itys, cooked his flesh and served it to his father.  In horror, he tried to kill them, but the gods intervened and turned them all into birds – Tereus became a hoopoe, Philomela a swallow, and Procne a nightingale.   Praised by Demothenes as a model of honorable Athenian conduct (60.28), the revenge of the two sisters may have inspired Medea's infanticide (and evokes her use of the peplos to kill Kreusa) in Euripides' Medea (Burnett, Fitzpatrick, March 2003 and 2000). Described in a magnificent ekphrasis by Achilles Tatius (5.3.4), Philomela's peplos resonates with the trauma of the voiceless victim (Heath, Witmarsh); not only does it implicitly lament the garment's unfulfilled social function of embellishment and marital adornment (Lee 2015 and 1999), but it also tells the story of a woman who, though deprived of physical and social voice, managed to break the silence (Ahl, Elmer, Frontisi-Ducroux).

Session/Panel Title:

Material Girls

Session/Paper Number

30.1

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