Volume 15, Issue 2, Spring 2011
Parrhesia as Tragic Structure in Euripides’ Bacchae
This paper considers Foucault’s remarks on Euripides and parrhesia in order to reflect on the deeper relation between tragic speech and truth-telling. It argues that: a) tragedy is a privileged mode of truth-telling, since the tragic fall always involves the hero’s passion for truth; and b) parrhesia is inherently tragic, insofar as it endangers its agent. By focusing on the Bacchae, which Foucault sidesteps, I maintain that this play exemplifies the tragic structure of parrhesiastic conduct, while staging the passage of parrhesia from the temple to the city, and thus also from religion to politics and philosophy.