M.J.O. (Michiel) Verheij

  • PhD student

Fields of interest

  • Greek tragedy
  • Greek epic
  • Ancient philosophy
  • Classical literary criticism
  • The application of modern literary theory to classical texts


The figure of Orestes in Greek Literature

In the ancient Greek world, the story of Orestes provided a major source of creative inspiration for poets and thinkers. Especially his potential for the tragic stage turned out to be remarkable: in no less than a quarter of all Greek tragedies that have come down to us, Orestes appears as a character. Uniquely, the story of his revenge received adaptations by all three of the great Greek tragedians – Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. What were the reasons for the enduring appeal of Orestes for Greek tragedy? How do the different depictions of his story relate to each other? My research project aims at providing an analysis of the various treatments of Orestes in Greek literature of the archaic and classical periods. By comparing the different representations of this mythological figure, we can achieve insight into the ways in which (tragic) poets utilized their traditional material in order to address contemporary concerns of their society.

It will be shown that the story of Orestes has been appropriated by the tragedians in a variety of different ways, each with their own emphases and perspectives. It provided the poets with an opportunity to reflect critically on a large number of social customs, beliefs, and institutions. As a result, the function of Orestes in Greek literature changed accordingly, as different value systems and cultural contexts were explored and problematized. For us, this means that Orestes can be considered as a focal point of the ancient Greek imagination: the various dramatizations of this figure offer us a unique vantage point from which to look at several social issues that were of central importance to Greek culture as a whole.

The different literary adaptations of Orestes’ story will be studied with an eye to these larger cultural concerns, adopting an approach that is thematic rather than chronological – the research will be arranged around a series of recurring thematic issues, instead of addressing the different versions one after the other. In this way, it will become clear that all of the various aspects are inherent in the basic myth of Orestes, but receive a different emphasis and articulation in each literary representation. In other words, Orestes’ story had great potential to be treated in a variety of different manners, employing a variety of different discourses. Here we have a figure that was exceptionally ‘good to think with’ for ancient Greek poets.

This research project will throw light on the central position of a mythological and literary figure within a culture, and further our understanding of the ways in which Greek tragedy attempted to deal with man’s place in a changing world on the basis of traditional material. By bringing together discussions of various literary texts within a central thematic framework, it will also address the intertextual links between different plays and playwrights, as well as their relation with the genres of Homeric epic and the choral lyric of Pindar.

Teaching activities

Beginning February 2013, I will be teaching a BA1 course on Greek tragedy, together with dr. A.M. Rademaker.

Curriculum vitae

Full name: Michiel Johannes Orestes Verheij
Born: 15 July 1983, Delft

2002–2007: BA Classics at Leiden University (cum laude)
2007: BA Thesis "The Opposite Strikes Back: Tragic Dialectic in Euripides' Bacchae"
2007–2011: Research MA in Literature at Leiden University (cum laude)
2011: MA Thesis "The Ancient Art of Living: Foucault's 'Care of the Self' and the Ethics of Antiquity"
2012–present: PhD Student in Classics, Leiden University (Supervisor: prof. dr. I. Sluiter).

Key publications

with I. Sluiter, B. Corthals and M. van Duijn, "In het hoofd van Medea: Gedachtenlezen bij een moordende moeder", Lampas 46.1 (2013) [forthcoming]

Last Modified: 10-12-2015