Jocasta the Name

One of the most widely received figures of the classical tragic myth is undoubtedly Oedipus. A superfluous search on a library shelf or on an Internet archive (even in our Course Syllabus) speaks for the case. In connection to this emblematic figure, we have decided to name our multilateral project on Classical Reception Jocasta after Oedipus’ mother and wife.

Already within antiquity Jocasta has been ceaselessly reconfigured: from a silenced childless Epicasta in Homer’s Odyssey to an unnamed female speaker opposed to prophecies in Stesichorus’ fragmented poetry; from a fearless advocator of random future yet a self-annihilating tragic heroine in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus to a character who succeeds Oedipus in punishing the self while on stage in Seneca’s tragedy. Her portrayal as a motherly caring figure who repudiates interfamilial strife in Euripides’ Phoenician Women is equally important since the latter was a well-received tragedy in the Hellenistic, the Roman period and Late Antiquity.

In early modernity, Jocasta appears to be the title of the first Greek tragedy performed in Britain in 1566, produced by Gascoigne and Kinwelmershe as a version of Ludovico Dolce’s adaptation (via a Latin translation) of Euripides’ Phoenician Women (APGRD). In the neoclassical tragedy Oedipe (1659) by Pierre Corneille, Jocasta is stabbed by Phorbas before killing herself while in Jean Racine’s La Thébaïde she pleads with Antigone for the end of the conflict between Eteocles and Polyneices. In John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee’s Restoration drama entitled Oedipus: A Tragedy (1679), she becomes a Medea-like figure who kills her preposterous sons before committing suicide, suggestive of incestuous overtones, only to become later a young erotic woman in Voltaire’s Oedipe (1718). And as at the turn of the 19th century Oedipus is transformed from an Enlightenment hero in search of reason to a symbol of incestuous desire under the catalytic influence of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Jocasta gives her name to two short stories, one by Anatole France (1879) and one by Guy de Maupassant (1883) to either recount or impersonate a badly-married young girl who experiences guilt for an extramarital affair and successively commits suicide or dies in birth, thus exemplifying the suffering female of the Romantic page and stage.

In the beginning of the 20th century, in Hugo von Hoffmansthal’s Oedipus and the Sphinx (1906), Jocasta is again a secondary figure. In the 1920s the Jocasta complex emerges as a response to Oedipus complex and paves the way for a post-Freudian Jocasta to explore female sexuality in André Gide’s Oedipe (1930), Jean Cocteau’s La Machine Infernale (1934) and Pier Paolo Pazolini’s Edipo Re (1967). Despite her relatively conservative configuration in the postcolonial drama and novel The God’s Are Not to Blame (1968 and 1971 respectively) by Nigerian Ola Rotimi and in the Japanese production of Oedipus (2000 and 2001) by Tadashi Suzuki, Jocasta addresses issues of female identity in Hélène Cixous’ Le Nom d’Oedipe (1978); she also renegotiates the concepts of gender, sexual desire and motherhood within broader sociocultural debates in Steven Berkoff’s English drama Greek (1980) and the American plays Jocasta (1970) and The Darker Face of the Earth (conceived in 1979, performed in 1996) by Philip Freund and Rita Dove respectively. Female subjectivity and agency come in the centre of Jocasta’s reception in 2009 in Nancy Huston’s theatrical play Jocaste reine.

In this longue durée of classical reception Jocasta’s voicedness is not secure. Her uneven representation in relation to Oedipus’ domineering presence within antiquity and modernity intrigues us to use Jocasta as a springboard for the exploration of multiple, diverse and differentiated routes of classical reception history, continuous and discontinuous, direct and indirect, from the perspective of a ‘minor’ figure whose voice elides articulation. We have chosen a female instead of a male figure, a secondary character instead of a protagonist, but at the same time, a sine qua non tragic hero for the implementation of the tragic oedipal myth. Our Jocasta thus unravels the dynamics of Classical Reception in its spatiotemporal contextuality.

In 2009 Panos Koutras’ film Strella further challenged the oedipal myth moving beyond Freud’s groundbreaking and influential analysis. Strella is a transgendered oedipal figure consciously in search of her father, Giorgos, an ex-convict with whom she starts an erotic relationship. Jocasta and Laius are both conflated and reconfigured in Giorgos, bringing according to Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou (2013), gender performativity in the political realm. Jocasta further questions the notion of subjectivity in her instantiation as a homonymous robotic feminine figure in Marvel Comics. In this acute to cultural change medium, Jocasta is built by the villain Ultron to become his bride. For her sentience to be activated Ultron has to transfer the life force of the Wasp, the wife of his maker, Henry Pym, into her, attempting to recreate the double of his ‘mother’. Jocasta does not allow that. In later realisations of the series, Jocasta as a distant member of the Avengers’ community constantly performs and experiences a decentralised notion of self who perpetually dies only to be reprogrammed, re-invented and revived. Inspired by these recent reconfigurations, our Jocasta aims to rethink through Classical Reception the human.

Efstathia Athanasopoulou

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