Keywords: suicide, Ajax, Heracles, Sophocles, Euripides, solitude, the Peloponnesian War, self-reliance, friendship, Theseus


This paper analyzes attitudes towards suicide in ancient Greece as presented in Greek tragedies. Although suicide as a social phenomenon was a common motif in various ancient plays, the focus here will be on two tragedies, Sophocles᾿ Ajax and Euripides᾿ Heracles, in which suicidal tendencies motivated by a loss of honor are most clearly depicted. In these plays, the two heroes are faced with a dilemma: choosing between an honorable death or a life spent in shame. In accordance with the ideals of his creator and the strict heroic code, Sophocles’ Ajax decides to commit suicide. Euripides’ Heracles, however, broken and devastated, chooses life by relying only on himself and his friendship with Theseus.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

GORDAN MARIČIĆ, University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy

University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy

ŽELJKA ŠAJIN, University of Banja Luka, Faculty of Philosophy

University of Banja Luka, Faculty of Philosophy


Euripides, Medea and Other Plays: Medea, Hecabe, Electra, Heracles, translated with and Introduction by Ph. Vellacot, Harmondswoerh-Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd, 1971.

Sophocles, Electra and Other Plays: Ajax, Electra, Women of Trachis, Philoctetes, translated by E. F. Watling, Harmondswoerh-Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd, 1973.

Arjava, A. Women and law in late antiquity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Adkins, A. W. H. Merit and responsibility: A study in Greek values, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960.

Battin, M.P. Ethical issues in suicide, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1982.

Bremmer, J. The early Greek concept of the soul, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Burkert, B. Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

Cooper, J. M. Reason and Emotion: Essays on ancient moral psychology and ethical theory, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.

David, E. ῾Suicide in Spartan society᾿, in: Spartan Society (ed. T. J. Figueira), Glasgow, Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2004, 25−46.

De Jong, I. J. F. Homer: Critical Assessments, II vol. London/New York: Routledge, 1999.

Diels, H. Kranz, W. Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, Griechisch und Deutsch, Zurich: Weidmann Verlag, 1985.

Dover, K. Greek Popular Morality: In the Time of Plato and Aristotle, Oxford: Blackwell, 1974.

Dukat, Z. Sofoklo: Ogledi o grčkoj tragediji, Rijeka: Izdavački centar Rijeka, 1981.

Faber, M. D. Suicide and Greek tragedy, New York: New York Sphinx Press, 1970.

Frejdenberg, O. M. Mit i antička književnost, Prevod Radmila Mečanin, Beograd: Prosveta, 1987.

______. Image and Concept: Mythopoetic Roots of Literature, London: Routledge, 1997.

Frey, R. G. ῾Did Socrates commit a suicide?᾿ in: Philosophy Vol. 53, No. 203, 1878, 106−108.

Garrison, E. P. Attitudes towards suicide in ancient Greece, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 121, 1991, 1−34.

Garrison, E. P. Groaning Tears: Ethical and dramatic aspects of suicide in Greek tragedy, Leiden/New York: E.J. Brill, 1995.

Hall, E. Greek Tragedy, Suffering Under the Sun, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Henry, A. S. ῾Bios in Sophocles᾿ Philoctetes᾿, The Classical Review 24, 1974, 3−4.

Hirzel, R. Der Selbstmord, „Der Selbstmord“, in: Archiv für Religionswissenschaft 11, Leipzig, 1908, 243–417.

Van Hooff, A. J. L. From Autothanasia to Suicide: Self-killing in Classical Antiquity, London: Routledge, 1990.

Jouan, F. Ajax, d᾿Homère à Sophocle, Information Littéraire 39, 1987, 67−73.

Katsouris, A. ῾The suicide motif in ancient drama᾿, Dioniso 47, 1976, 5−26.

Kitto, H. D. F. The Greeks, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Knox, B. M. W. ῾The Ajax of Sophocles᾿, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 65, 1961, 1−37.

______. The heroic temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy, Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1964.

Loraux, N. Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Maričić, G. Sofokle i njegova Antigona: stvaralac i tragedija kroz vekove, Beograd: NNK Internacional, 2020.

Mikalson, J. D. Honor Thy Gods: Popular Religion in Greek Tragedy, Chapel Hill/ London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Naiden, F. S. ῾The sword did it: A Greek explanation for suicide᾿, The Classical Quarterly 65, 2015, 85−95.

North, H. Sophrosyne. Self-knowledge and self-restraint in Greek literature, New York: Cornell University Press, 1966.

Ringer, M. Electra and the empty urn: Metatheater and role playing in Sophocles, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Ryzman, M. ῾Heracles’ destructive Impulses: a Transgression of natural Laws (Sophocles᾿ Trachiniae)᾿, Revue belge de Philologie et d'Histoire 71/1, 1993, 69−79.

Segal, C. Sophocles᾿ tragic world: divinity, nature, society, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Sorum, C. E. ῾Sophocles᾿ Ajax in context᾿, Classical World 79. 6, 1986, 361−377.

Sicherl, M. ῾The tragic issue in Sophocles᾿ Ajax᾿, Yale Classical Studies 25, 1977, 67−98.

Sourvinou-Inwood, C. Tragedy and Athenian Religion, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2003.

Suvak, V. (ed.), Care of the Self: Ancient problematizations of life and contemporary thought, Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2017.

Stalley, R. F. An Introduction to Plato᾿s Laws, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983.

Škiljan, D. Aktualnost grčkog teatra nekad i sad, Latina et Graeca I, Zagreb: Liber, 1973.

Tzanetou, A. City of Suppliants: Tragedy and the Athenian Empire, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012.

Yoshitake, S. Disgrace, Grief and other Ills: Heracles᾿ Rejection of Suicide, Journal of Hellenic Studies 114, 1994, 135−153.
12. 11. 2020.