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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Whittington

Is validation valid?

When I first read these texts, I was mostly thinking about violence depicted on stage, particularly violence toward others. I wrote a short paper on that subject for a theater history class about a year ago, and that’s what I was somewhat familiar with. Self-violence specifically wasn’t much on my mind, nor was the concept of validation. But now I’m keen to explore the question Andrew and Jeffy have given me: “In what specific ways can striving for validation (in terms of gender, career, activism, etc.) result in self-violence?” To a degree, I think this actually reorients me to Aristotle’s characterization of the tragic hero and destruction via fatal flaws. Back to the basics, so to speak.

I think the first challenge this question presents is breaking down its terms. What do we mean by validation? By self-violence? And does self-violence have to mean something literally violent, or can it be as mundane as depriving yourself of sleep or a meal? Gender, career status, and activism are all extremely complicated things on their own. I would argue that they also play heavily into one another. Gender expectations inform career expectations and so on. Just think about the idea of a male breadwinner. For now, I think the way we handle these terms will become clearer once we have a first draft from Jeffy to help contextualize them.

Still, regarding this question specifically, I’ve started my research with The Monster in Seneca’s Hercules Furens 936-929, by Anna Lydia Motto and John R. Clark. In this article, Motto and Clark address Hercules’s self-violence as it manifests in his inability to calm down. He is so eager to keep fighting and proving himself, he is set up to become his own enemy as Hera wanted. “[Hercules] announces that if any monsters are to be forthcoming, they appropriately are his responsibility[...] Hercules in a trice becomes himself the very monster he has been asking for" (Motto & Clark 270). At this moment in the play, Hercules has already secured victory. He has completed his labors and removed the threat from his home. Hercules should be content now, but instead desires further glory, and this flaw causes his great reversal of fortune.

Hercules is a symbol of idealized masculinity–from his physical prowess to his great labors– Hercules is totally oriented toward masculine concepts of success and triumph. In Euripides’s and Seneca’s texts, these are the traits and values that undo him. He is always impatient for the next fight or conquest. "Furthermore, he announces that if any monsters are to be forthcoming, they appropriately are his responsibility... Hercules in a trice becomes himself the very monster he has been asking for" (Motto & Clark 270). Part of the Aristotelian structure of tragedy is that the hero has one fatal flaw that ironically leads to their downfall which is usually hubris. Yes, Hercules clearly has hubris, but I also start to wonder about the weighty expectations and insecurities that also drive him.

Because Hercules’s embodiment of masculinity is so intertwined with his notion of self as it relates to his "career" and status, it is arguably one of the roots of his self-destruction. Hercules ultimately demonstrates that extreme devotion to those cultural ideals is not only damaging to the self, but to loved ones as well. I can see where this could be one of the more relatable facets of this drama. Everyone struggles with their gender expression and identification. Everyone struggles with career growth and expectations. And everybody sacrifices rest or well being for success at some point in their lives. You only have to look at students to see that much. Overall, I’m very interested to see what Jeffy might want to do with Hercules's performance of masculinity.


Finally, to my own question: In both versions of this play, we see the Chorus, Amphityron, and Theseus struggle to reconcile with their inability to prevent catastrophe. How do bystanders and witnesses of traumatic events affect how such a tragedy is processed? This question was niggling at me, I think, because of the current political climate. Most of us are bystanders and witnesses to events that we see on the news, and when bad things happen, that can be an incredibly difficult role to contend with as a citizen or community member. In the face of tragedy and violence, I think a lot of people wonder how they can react in more active ways.


Motto, Anna Lydia, and John R. Clark. “The Monster in Seneca’s Hercules Furens 926-939.” Classical Philology 89, no. 3 (1994): 269–72.

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