While the topic of beautiful death in ancient Greece (that is the heroic death of the warrior on the battlefield), has been examined through the works of Homer and those of archaic elegiac and lyric poets, there is very little scholarly research about the stance towards this ideal that emerges from Euripides’ plays. Indeed, the noble death, which ultimately is the sacrifice of an individual for the love of the fatherland, is displayed not only from the perspective of a male character dying on the battlefield or self-sacrificing for his city, but also from that of a female character self-sacrificing for her community.
The present paper, analysing the way Euripides treats Iphigenia in Iphigenia at Aulis and Macaria in The Children of Heracles, will demonstrate that in these plays the intentional death of the sacrificial virgin appears to be not unlike that of the warrior on the battlefield. In fact, Euripides tends “to masculinise” the courage of the two maidens through the same estheticizing lexicon traditionally used to describe the beautiful death of a hero or a citizen-in-arms on the battlefield. In any case, the peculiar way Iphigenia and Macaria die still confine them to the female area, drawing an insurmountable line between sexes. Thus, being the civic role of women eminently religious (in Athens they could be priestess of important civic cults, first and foremost that of Athena), they could die a beautiful death and gain a perennial glory only turning themselves into sacrificial victims and being immolated on the altar of the god. In this way, they could seal their fate in perfect alignment with their social position, just like the male soldier did by losing his life in battle. This event is part of the Work in Progress seminar series