Chapter

What Good Is Innocence?

J. Peter Euben

in In Search of Goodness

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780226306834
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226306858 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226306858.003.0005
What Good Is Innocence?

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This chapter investigates Euripedes' Bacchae and Herman Melville's Billy Budd. In Bacchae, which expresses the story of the god Dionysus returning to Thebes disguised as a human, initially asking, then demanding, acknowledgment of the divinity of his mother, Semele, Dionysus transforms the hypermasculine young king into a coquettish “girl.” In Billy Budd, the practice of impressing and oppressing sailors heightens the fear of mutiny, which in turn produces an atmosphere fraught with secrecy, fear, and conspiracy. Both of these texts display a troubling dialectical link between innocence and violence, sacrifice, and evil. The chapter concentrates on the pivotal incident in Billy Budd: Billy's lashing out at Claggart when Claggart slanders him in front of Captain Vere. “Vere” would mediate in the world and soul as he does in the novel. But for reasons adduced before, his claim to do so is suspect.

Keywords: innocence; Euripedes; Bacchae; Herman Melville; Billy Budd; Dionysus; violence; sacrifice; evil; Claggart

Chapter.  8916 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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