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The A. Owen Aldridge Prize Citations 2011

2011 Prize Winner:

The 2011 Aldridge Prize for Best Comparative Essay by a Graduate Student is awarded to Michelle Jansen of SUNY ­ Binghamton for her essay “Exchange and the Eidolon: Analyzing Forgiveness in Euripides’s Helen.”

Jansen’s essay focuses on one of the oddest of all tragedies in the classical Greek canon, the Helen of Euripides (ca. 412 B.C.E.) in which the basic story of Helen’s abduction is countered by the revelation that the “person” Paris abducted to Troy was actually an image or eidolon and not the real Helen, who has been whisked away to Egypt where the play takes place. The triggering event occurs when Helen’s husband Menelaus washes up  shipwrecked on its shores, and the play ends with husband and wife sailing home together. In a sense, Euripides provides here the first in a long series of Doppelgänger narratives in the Western tradition, and as in many later narratives (e.g., The Sandman, R.U.R.), the phantom creation takes on a life and mind of its own and evokes the sympathy of both the other characters and the reader. By skillfully blending her own close readings of the text with examination of Euripides’s sources, with a distillation of previous critical readings of the Helen, and with contemporary gender theory, the author reveals how Euripides’s play instantiates the gender differential of transience vs. permanence, as well the role of women in the preservation and elevation of men. Though the eidolon Helen “dies,” she is preserved through Helen’s skillful deception as the means to create a topos in which Menelaus may be reborn a hero.

Michelle Jansen richly deserves the Aldridge Prize for having shown not only how Euripides’s Helen “works” in exquisite detail but why it should still matter to us today.

2011 Aldridge Prize Committee:
Helmut Muller-Sievers, Northwestern University (Chair)
Cesar Salgado, University of Texas at Austin
Azade Seyhan, Bryn Mawr College