The Politics of Youth in Greek Tragedy:
Gangs of Athens
Matthew Shipton
Bloomsbury
208pp
Hardback, £91.80

With 'youthquake' proclaimed as Oxford Dictionaries' 'Word of the Year' for 2017 and terms such as 'millennials' and 'gen y' proliferating in pages of social commentary today, it is easy to see how intergenerational relationships are ever-present issues. In The Politics of Youth in Greek Tragedy: Gangs of Athens, Matthew Shipton shows that the same was true in Greek tragedy and for wider 5th-century Athenian society.

In tragedy, viewers often encounter conflicts within opposing pairs, including the tensions between the older and younger generations; these appear in works by Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles. The relationship dynamics between young and old can be used to express concerns about independence and authority, and in the case of the image of youth gangs, it can reflect a general anxiety in society. The tension can manifest itself between parent and child, but the generation gap is not only the concern of mortals. In Aeschylus' Oresteia, for instance, the Olympian goddess Athena is youthful compared to the older deities, the Erinyes, and both are involved in disputed authority.

An important question raised in the thoughtful discussions here is to what extent can we use tragedy to study ancient Athenian politics and society. Shipton charts the progress of the youth of Athens across the 5th century, from the works of Aeschylus produced at a time of relative stability, to the later works of Sophocles and Euripides, when war, revolution and counter-revolution rocked Athenian democracy.

This is an in-depth work that draws on current theoretical scholarship beyond the world of Classics, and makes insightful use of sociological research.

Lucia Marchini

 

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