Volume 25, Issue 2, Spring 2021
Metamorphoses of Shamed Bodies
Sexual Violence in Euripides’s Helen
In this paper I explore the connections between shame and embodiment in Euripides’s play Helen. The paper focuses on the play’s underlying theme of sexual violence and rape, and on the descriptions of metamorphoses that the mythological female victims often undergo in the face of rape. In my analysis on shame and embodiment I apply two insights from Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of the phenomenon of victim shame in The Remnants of Auschwitz. These are, first, the definition according to which shame is “to be consigned to what cannot be assumed”—that is, to be consigned to one’s self, being and physical body—and second, the claim that in shame one is affected by one’s own (bodily) passivity. Building on these definitions, I explore the intimate connection between shame and embodiment at work in Helen. As a result we can see how the female metamorphoses before or after sexual violence—in Euripides’s play and in Greek mythology in general—can be read in terms of victim shame. Furthermore, I suggest that this shame of the victims of sexual violence originates from the very nature of the crime itself: from being forced to experience the body’s abject passivity.