Recent work on trauma, especially in the field of Holocaust studies, has tackled the question of how the “generation after” relates, and relates to, the trauma of its immediate ancestors as it navigates between the poles of remembrance and appropriation. Other studies have shifted focus towards the effects of trauma upon narration, in part through critiquing the prevailing psycho-analytic model of trauma as an unrepresentable event that evades/forecloses language. Aeschylus’ Suppliants, with its chorus of fifty female Danaids who react to their traumatic present by recourse to tales of the traumatic past of their ancestor Io and her son Epaphos (“Touch”), offers a productive stage for testing the applicability of these theoretical frames to the genre of ancient Greek tragedy. The Danaids’ turn to the past explores the agency of an ancestral trauma that reaches into their present, and in doing so highlights the unsteady inheritance of trauma both for those who relate and for those who witness these acts of testimony. The act of supplication itself is defined in part by physical contact between the suppliant and the supplicandus, yet this ritual emphasis on touch is amplified by the play’s consistent focus upon a series of real and hypothesized touches, from the traumatic to the salvific. Through this engagement with the haptic context of trauma and traumatic recall, Aeschylus’ play proposes an enlarged aetiology of touch—across cognitive, affective, and physical registers—for the ritual of supplication itself.
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Research Article| April 01 2021
Touched by the Past: Trauma, Testament, and Postmemory in Aeschylus’ Suppliants
Classical Antiquity (2021) 40 (1): 1–44.
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Richard Ellis; Touched by the Past: Trauma, Testament, and Postmemory in Aeschylus’ Suppliants. Classical Antiquity 1 April 2021; 40 (1): 1–44. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ca.2021.40.1.1
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