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Greek Tragedy: The Oresteia and Antigone

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1 Greek Tragedy: The Oresteia and Antigone
Unit 2: Greece Honors 2101, Fall 2006 Bryan Benham

2 Classical Greek Drama Written for and performed at dramatic competition during Dionysian festival at Athens. Tragedies: trilogy plus a Satyr play Written and performed at the height of Athenian glory Between end of Persian War and end of Peloponnesian War (5th & 4th cent. BCE)

3 Surviving Greek Plays We posses only 3% of tragic texts (often in fragments), and even less of comedic texts (mostly in fragments). Which amounts to ~10% of all titles ever produced at the Dionysian festival Yet, what survives is the origin and defining ideal of all (Western) drama in terms of its style, structure, and content.

4 The Greek Playwrights Tragedy Aeschylus (525-456 BCE; 7/82)
Sophocles ( BCE; 7/123) Euripides ( BCE; 19/92) Comedy Aristophanes ( ?; 11/50) Menander ( ; ?/?) largest fragments from 63 other names

5 Two Forms of Greek Drama
Tragedy About human suffering. Associated with religious celebrations, thus solemn, poetic, and philosophic. Based on myth or characters from myth. Main character imperfect but admirable and confronted by a difficult moral choice or struggle against hostile forces (human and divine). Main character's struggle ends in defeat and, usually, his or her death; but happy endings not unheard of. Comedy About human comedy. Associated with social commentary by means of outspoken farce and baudy actions (Vaudville?). Based on contemporary characters or events. Main character is parody of contemporary that is being ridiculed. Satyr plays (brief comic parody of myth) New Comedy (a comedy of errors or situation comedy)

6 Origins of Greek Drama Ritual at Rural Dionysia (7th & 6th cent. BCE)
Origins in orations or choral hymns to Dionysis during rural festivals Chorus and Actors (“answerer” to chorus) Religious celebration Performance at City Dionysia (5th & 4th cent. BCE) Lynaias and City Dionysia (Athens) Competition: supported by polis Social-Religious Commentary & Entertainment

7 Orchestra: “dancing space” used by chorus; often included an altar (thymele).
Skene: “tent” or structure behind the stage, with doors and upper levels. Parodos: “passageways” by which the chorus and actors entered and existed the stage area. Theatron: “viewing-place” usually part of a hillside overlooking the orchestra.

8 Parts of a Greek Tragedy
Simple Structure: After a prologue spoken by one or more characters, the chorus enters, singing and dancing with additional scenes that alternate between spoken sections (episodes) and sung sections (choral odes): Prologue: Spoken by one or two characters before chorus appears, usually giving mythological background. (Cf. Shakespearean plays) Parodos: This is the song sung by the chorus as it first enters the orchestra and dances. First Episode: This is the first of many "episodes” (literally “between odes”), when the characters and chorus talk and main action occurs. First Stasimon: At the end of each episode, the actors leave the stage and the chorus dances and sings a stasimon, or choral ode which usually reflects on the things said and done in the episodes. The rest of the play is an alternation between episodes and stasima, until the final scene. Exodos: At the end of play, the chorus exits singing a processional song which usually offers words of wisdom related to the actions and outcome of the play.

9 The Oresteia Aeschylus’ (525-456) trilogy produced 458 BCE
Only extant trilogy Tragedy of the House of Atreus “we must suffer, suffer into truth.” (from Agamemnon) Background: Trojan War Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon upon his return Orestes kills Clytemnestra upon his return 7 years later Orestes on trial by the Furies (w/ Apollo and Athena)

10 The Oresteia Depicts the movement from primitive retaliatory vengeance to a civilized justice. From archaic notions of vengeance to the formation of Athenian public law. Retribution, violence, and the idea of justice But, Aeschylus always calls into question the meaning of each act.

11 Agamemnon Clytemnestra, with the help of her lover Aegisthus, kills her husband Agamemnon (and Cassandra) upon his return after ten years from the Trojan War. She declares it is justice for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia ten years earlier. The people look forward to Orestes’ revenge.

12 Discussion Questions for Agamemnon
What are we to understand from the watchman’s announcement regarding conditions at Argos? (pp ) Are we to understand the Agamemnon made the right decision to sacrifice Iphigenia? (pp ) Why blame Helen for the suffering of the war? With whom should we sympathize? (pp ) How does Clytemnestra justify her killing of Agamemnon and Cassandra to the chorus? (pp )

13 The Libation Bearers Clytemnestra dreams ill- omens and Orestes returns to avenge his father. After revealing himself to Electra, his sister, Orestes kills Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, only to be chased by the terror of the Furies.

14 Discussion Questions for The Libation Bearers
Why does Orestes hesitate to kill Clytemnestra? What spurs him on? (pp ) How does Orestes’ justification for his act of revenge compare to his mothers? (pp ) Discuss the significance of Orestes’ vision of the Furies at the end of the play. (pp. 320) E.g., Why does only he see them? How are they described? Why are they after Orestes?

15 The Eumenides Orestes flees to Athens under the protection of Apollo. The Furies catch up to Orestes, but Athena insists on a trial to determine the propriety of Orestes’ killing of his mother.

16 Discussion Questions for The Eumenides
What function do the Furies (Erinyes) perform? (pp ) Why do the Furies warn that if Orestes wins his case, anarchy will rule? (pp ) What exactly are the competing claims on trial? And why does it come to a tie vote? (Intro & pp ) When Athena transforms the Furies into the Eumenides, does their essential character/function change? What are they now? (pp )

17 General Questions for The Oresteia
What ideas of justice are demonstrated throughout The Oresteia? Are these in conflict? Is Aeschylus claiming that fear of the Furies is essential in making citizens law-abiding? Do you agree? Is the (criminal) justice that is meted out by courts based on vengeance? If not, what is it based on? Consider Salt Lake Tribune story “Orem Horror” (Oct. 18,2006): After witnessing a man kill his mother, “The older boy yelled, “That bastard? He shot my mother in the back. I’m going to kill the son of a bitch,” said neighbor…” (p. A1)

18 More Questions for The Oresteia
Do our mothers and fathers have different claims on us as their children? Does Aeschylus’s trilogy illustrate a type of sexism (or gender identity) in carrying out criminal justice? Is suffering necessary in order for individuals and societies to learn and evolve? What are you led to believe about the view of the killings by the other characters, chorus, or audience? What is your judgment of these various killings? Justified or not? Why?

19 Sophocles (480-406 BCE) Successful Playwright Themes Background
Legend: Antigone reason for election as general. Challenges fundamental assumptions about justice. An interesting tension… Themes Background Structure

20 Themes in Antigone Justice Pride Gender Conflicts
the laws of gods vs. laws of men, individual vs. state authority, reverence vs. obedience. Pride A complex character trait that is both needed and leads to ruin, but requires a certain “wisdom” or sense of judgment. Gender Conflicts Men vs. women, and the proper social position attributed to both.

21 George Steiner (p. 360) [Antigone is the one literary text that exresses] “all the principal constants of conflict in the condition of man. These constants are fivefold: the confrontation of men and women; of age and youth; of society and of the individual; of the living and the dead; of men and of god(s).”

22 Discuss the Encounters
Antigone and Ismene Creon and the Chorus (1st Choral Ode on Man) Antigone and Creon Creon and Haemon Creon and Tieresias Creon and the death of everyone

23 Background to Antigone
Oedipus cycle Story of Oedipus, fate, and hubris Theban civil war Polynices vs. Eteocles Antigone and Ismene Tyranny and State Power End of civil war Needs for order and authority

24 Structure of a Greek Tragedy
Prologue Spoken by one or two characters before chorus appears, usually giving mythological background. (Cf. Shakespearean plays) Parodos This is the song sung by the chorus as it first enters the orchestra and dances. First Episode This is the first of many "episodes” (literally “between odes”), when the characters and chorus talk and main action occurs. First Stasimon At the end of each episode, the actors leave the stage and the chorus dances and sings a choral ode which usually reflects on the things said and done in the episodes. Exodos At the end of play, the chorus exits singing a processional song which usually offers words of wisdom related to the actions and outcome of the play.

25 Structure of Antigone Prologue (p. 360) Parodes (p. 363)
First Stasimon (p. 371) Second Stasimon (p. 378) Third Stasimon (p. 384) Fourth Stasimon (p. 388) Fifth Stasimon (p. 394) Exodus (p. 400)

26 Antigone, Prologue What is the background to the play? Consider the gravity of the situation as the play opens. Who do you most sympathize with, Antigone or Ismene? Consider Ismene’s claim: “Remember we are women…”, p. 362. Why is Antigone so concerned with “glory”? Should she be?

27 Antigone, Parodos through 1st Stasimon.
What is the topic of the Parodos? (entrance song for chorus) Both Creon and Antigone speak of “traitors”. Are they using the term in the same way? Are there other terms they use differently? Why is Creon so upset about the report by the sentry that someone has “buried” Polynices’ body? Reading the First Stasimon, what does it tell us about humans?

28 Antigone, End of 1st Stasimon thru 2nd Stasimon
Describe the conditions in which the sentry reports finding Antigone. Does this mean anything for the play? Describe the dialogue between Creon and Antigone (pp ) How does Antigone respond when Ismene is brought on the scene (p ) Describe the topic of the 2nd Stasimon. What does it tell you about how to react to the play thus far?

29 Antigone, End of 2nd Stasimon thru 3rd Stasimon
When Haemon first comes on the scene how does he respond to his father? What is the gist of the argument that leads to Haemon to leave his father? The 3rd Stasimon (p. 384) talks of “love”. What kind of love: friendship, romantic, familial?

30 Antigone, Through 4th Stasimon
Antigone returns to the stage and pleads with the chorus; what is the gist of their dialogue? How do Antigone and Creon end up arguing? Why does Creon accuse her of loving death? What are the allusions to the various myths in the 4th Stasimon meant to convey to the audience?

31 Antigone, through end of 5th Stasimon
What warning does Tiresias bring to Creon? Why does Creon dismiss it? What changes Creon’s mind?

32 Antigone, End of 5th Stasimon to end
Describe the final scenes of the play. How does it end? Compare the “Romeo and Juliet” image of the death scene with Antigone and Haemon. (See also “Deucalion and Pyrrha,” pp. 759ff, NBCL) Why does Creon blame himself for the death of Haemon and his own wife? Why did this tragedy happen? Should we try to determine responsibility?

33 Antigone, Exodus Wisdom is by far the greatest part of joy,
and reverence toward the gods must be safeguarded. The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty blows of fate, and at long last those blows will teach us wisdom. (Antigone, ) What is the message Sophocles is conveying here?

34 Suggested Paper Topics Note: the following suggestions focus only on the plays assigned, but you may wish to develop a thesis that includes discussion of other texts we have read; you need not limit yourself to just these plays for these topics. Compare Creon’s speech to Pericle’s funeral oration; keep in mind that Creon is represented as a tyrant in the play. What does the speech tell us about the authority and role of the rulers? Both the Oresteia and Antigone deal with notions of justice. What are the conceptions of justice in each play and how, if at all, are they transformed? In the end, what are we, the audience, supposed to understand about justice? Describe the role and representation of women in the plays we have read. Are women heroes in these plays, or something else? How do they compare to the other male characters in this regard? Pride is a predominant theme in Greek drama. What is the nature of pride in the plays. Describe the importance and dangers of pride in these plays. How does this conception of pride compare to modern dramas (plays, TV, movies, etc.)?

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