The Tragic Nightingale Between Lament and Revenge

  • Alessandra Abbattista
Keywords: Nightingale, lament, revenge, Procne, Electra


The analysis of the nightingale theme in ancient Greek tragedy sheds fresh light on the emotional contradictions present in female laments. Classical scholars have traditionally interpreted the tragic nightingale as a symbol of ritual lamentation. In light of its use in the myth of Procne, Philomela and Tereus, they tend to emphasise its association with grief, loss and mourning. They have overlooked, however, the nightingale’s dramatic connection with vengeance. I argue that Attic dramatists reproduce the call of the nightingale during key moments of their revenge plays and use it to create an effect of high suspense for their audiences. Through a reversal of the mythological transformation of Procne, they capture the tragic heroines in their dramaturgical passage from lament to revenge. This is particularly striking in the metamorphosis of the Sophoclean Electra, who caught between grief and anger performs the vengeful lament of the nightingale.


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