The Phoenician Women Characters


Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

A Chorus of young women

A Chorus of young women, maidens from Phoenicia dedicated to the service of Apollo. They have stopped in Thebes and have been detained by the war of the Seven against Thebes. They provide the historical perspective necessary to see the duel between the two sons of Oedipus as the last link in a long chain of Theban misfortunes.


Eteocles (ee-TEE-oh-kleez), the king of Thebes, the son of Jocasta and Oedipus. He and his brother Polynices had agreed to rule the city of Thebes in turn, but Eteocles has refused to give up the throne and Polynices has appeared with an Argive army to claim his right. Jocasta tries to reconcile the two brothers, but without success. Eteocles believes that might is right and will fight rather than give up his power. He is, as he admits, the typical dictator; at the same time he is young, rash, and ignorant in warfare. Creon, Jocasta’s brother, helps him plan the defense of the city. In that defense he fights bravely, challenging his brother to single combat. The brothers kill each other. Eteocles’ only affection, his love for his mother, is expressed in his dying moments.


Polynices (pol-ih-NI-seez), the exiled brother of Eteocles who, when Eteocles refuses to allow him his period of rule, marches against Thebes. He has justice on his side, as the Thebans and even Eteocles recognize, but he has allowed his wrongs to lead him to the unpardonable sin of attack on his homeland. Speaking to Jocasta before her attempted reconciliation between the brothers, he reveals that he still loves his country; his mother, sister, and...

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The Phoenician Women Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Collard, Christopher. Euripides. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1981. A short overview of textual and critical scholarship of Euripides’ work, with the emphasis on directing attention to bibliographical resources in each area; written for high school students.

Euripides. The Phoenician Women. Edited with translation and commentary by Elizabeth Craik. Warminster, Wiltshire, England: Aris & Phillips, 1988. The most recent edition of Euripides’ play contains the Greek text, a literal English translation on facing pages, more than one hundred pages of detailed textual commentary, and an excellent, up-to-date introductory essay.

Melchinger, Siegfried. Euripides. Translated by Samuel R. Rosebaum. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1973. A clearly written introduction to Euripides’ work. Includes brief summaries and interpretations of all the extant plays.

Vellacott, Philip. Ironic Drama: A Study of Euripides’ Method and Meaning. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1975. This important study of Euripidean drama as veiled social criticism deals with all the extant plays and offers interpretations of them in the context of Athenian civic and military history from approximately 438 b.c.e. to the posthumous production of The Bacchae in 405 b.c.e.

Webster, T. B. L. The Tragedies of Euripides. New York: Methuen, 1967. A study of the development of Euripides’ career as an artist through a detailed study of the complete plays and of the existing fragments. The most complete work of its kind. Summaries and interpretations of every piece of Euripidean text that has survived.