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Exchange and the Maiden

Exchange and the Maiden
Marriage in Sophoclean Tragedy

Insights into how Athenians thought about the institution of marriage, gleaned from the plays of Sophocles.

January 1999
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231 pages | 6 x 9 |

Marriage is a central concern in five of the seven extant plays of the Greek tragedian Sophocles. In this pathfinding study, Kirk Ormand delves into the ways in which these plays represent and problematize marriage, thus offering insights into how Athenians thought about the institution of marriage.


Ormand takes a two-fold approach. He first explores the legal and economic underpinnings of Athenian marriage, an institution designed to guarantee the legitimate continuation of patrilineal households. He then shows how Sophocles' plays Trachiniae, Electra, Antigone, Ajax, and Oedipus Tyrannus both reinforce and critique this ideology by representing marriage as a homosocial exchange between men, in which women are objects who may attempt—but always fail—to become self-acting subjects.



These fresh readings provide the first systematic study of marriage in Sophocles. They draw important connections between drama and marriage as rituals concerned with controlling potentially disruptive female subjectivities.


  • Acknowledgments
  • Journals and Their Abbreviations
  • Introduction. Marriage and Tragedy
  • Chapter 1. The Semantics of Greek Marriage
  • Chapter 2. Male Homosocial Desire in the Trachiniae
  • Chapter 3. Electra, Never a Bride
  • Chapter 4. Family Matters in the Antigone
  • Chapter 5. The Ajax, or Marriage by Default
  • Chapter 6. Nature and Its Discontents in the Oedipus Tyrannus
  • Epilogue. Exit to Silence
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • General Index
  • Index of Passages Cited

Kirk Ormand is currently a Solmsen Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University.