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Guilt by DescentMoral Inheritance and Decision Making in Greek Tragedy$
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N. J. Sewell-Rutter

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199227334

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199227334.001.0001

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(p.49) 3 Curses
Guilt by Descent

N. J. Sewell‐Rutter

Oxford University Press

This chapter investigates the highly charged and emotive utterance that is the tragic curse, and considers its status as a causal factor in those plays in which it is important. It starts by distinguishing the concept of a curse from that of inherited guilt. It then identifies the essence of the tragic curse by means of a thought-experiment involving the substitution of defixiones (the so-called ‘curse-tablets’ or ‘binding spells’) in some tragic passages where in fact we find curses. It argues that the consideration of tragic curses raises a crucial issue concerning the hierarchy of interpretative priorities that we bring to our engagement with these texts. The investigation of curses thus strikes at the heart of the interpretation of tragedy.

Keywords:   Greek tragedy, tragic curse, plays, inheritability, defixiones

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