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The Literature of Antiquity

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1 The Literature of Antiquity
Greek Drama: Oedipus Rex

2 Learning Objectives Learn about the elements of Greek theatre.
Explore Aristotle’s contribution to our understanding of Greek drama. Understand Nietzsche’s viewpoints on the Apollonian and Dionysian influences in Greek culture/theatre. Learn about the tragic story arc. Get the background knowledge about Oedipus and his family that we need to know to understand the action of the text.

3 Greek theater arose from the worship of the god Dionysus
Greek theater arose from the worship of the god Dionysus. Religious songs called dithyrambs attempted to reenact Dionysus’ life, death, and resurrection. These songs, performed by a chorus, became the first plays.

4 Tragedy – comes from the Greek word tragoidia meaning “goat-song
Tragedy – comes from the Greek word tragoidia meaning “goat-song.” It is considered the highest form of drama. Comedy Also called satyr plays. It is considered the lowest form of drama due to bawdy or vulgar content.

5 Chorus Chanted dithyrambs in unison. Men only – no females performed.
Meant to provide commentary on the actions of the actors. Show audience how to react. Lead by the choragos

6 Thespis Introduced the first actor apart from the chorus – someone who played a role other than himself. Where the word thespian comes from.

7 Aeschylus Introduced a second actor 2 actors allowed for conflict between characters (and the beginnings of tragedy).

8 Sophocles Introduced the third actor Reduced the importance of the chorus – focused on plot. Most famous & successful tragedian

9 City Dionysia Religious festival held annually in Athens to honor Dionysus. The best playwrights performed their tragedies and comedies in hopes of winning the prize.


11 Mask with built-in megaphone in the mouth aperture for increasing the volume of the voice. Korthornoi Raised shoes to increase the height of tragic actors in order to show their importance.

12 Aristotle’s Poetics: 335 B.C.
The very first bit of literary theory! Hurrah! Vocabulary Mimesis – imitation/representation Catharsis - purgation Peripeteia - reversal Anagnorisis - recognition Hamartia – miscalculation/flaw Catastrophe – final tragedy

13 Six Elements of Tragic Drama:
Plot – complex, yet realistic (3 unities) Character – good, but flawed, and consistent Thought – should be spoken aloud Diction – elevated and poetic, but simple Melody – chorus should be integrated well Spectacle – costumes, backdrop, special effects should blend well

14 The Three Unities: Unity of Time
Play must occur within a single day. Tragedy strikes quickly.

15 Setting will be in one place
The Three Unities: Unity of Place Setting will be in one place

16 The Three Unities: Unity of Action
There are no subplots– the plot will drive consistently to its tragic end.

17 The Tragic Hero Must be noble and honorable
Must suffer a downfall due to an error in judgment or character flaw (hamartia) Usually lives in order to learn from his/her mistakes Downfall evokes pity and fear in audience Francis Fergusson: Greek tragic theatre is “a solemn rite of sacrifice that purges the community of its collective guilt by punishing a scapegoat, one man who perishes for the good of the people.”

18 Map of Tragic Action Aristeia = moment of greatness
Hubris = pride and arrogance Hamartia/Ate = fatal mistake/flaw Peripeteia = reversal of fortunes Anagnorisis = understanding Catharsis = emotional cleansing Catastrophe = final tragedy

19 N I E T Z S C H E The Birth of Tragedy Written in 1886
A work against nihilism and pessimism Tragic drama allowed the Greeks to see themselves as worthy—it reaffirmed existence and meaning. The universe understood in terms of the Apollonian vs. the Dionysian. Man must be able to participate in art

20 Dionysian Apollonian chaos music destruction intoxication
sexual license group mentality / loss of individuality / mob fragmentation / dismemberment Nature / Wilderness Non-reality emotional/intuitive/ecstatic unpredictable / absurdity/meaningless order sculpted/plastic arts creation sobriety chastity individualization wholeness/sanity city / civilization Reality rational / logical / calm pattern / meaning

21 According to Nietzsche, the ancient Greeks used tragic theatre as a safe way of experiencing the ecstasy and abandonment of the Dionysian with all the built-in safety/sanity features of the Apollonian.

22 Oedipus Rex Sophocles, 429 B.C. Wins first prize at City Dionysia
Considered by Aristotle to be the prime example of tragic drama.

23 Oedipus Rex King Laius and Queen Jocasta learn from
an oracle that their newborn son will one day kill Laius. To prevent this fate, Laius orders the baby’s ankles to be bound and for the child to be exposed. A shepherd finds the child and pities him. He takes it to his king and queen in Corinth for protection. Since they were childless, they decide to adopt the boy as their own. They name him Oedipus or “Swollen Foot.”

24 Oedipus Rex At a dinner party, a drunken guest taunts Oedipus, telling him he is a bastard child—not really son of the King of Corinth. Oedipus sets out to ask the Oracle at Delphi the truth. The Oracle tells him he is destined to “mate with his mother and kill his father.” To avoid this fate, Oedipus leaves Corinth. On the road, Oedipus kills an impudent man who refused to give him right-of-way (Laius).

25 Oedipus Rex Later on, Oedipus answers the riddle of the Sphinx and kills the monster laying siege to Thebes. As reward for saving the city, Oedipus is made king (since the last one mysteriously died) and married to the existing queen – Jocasta. When Apollo sends a plague upon Thebes, Oedipus vows to root out the source of the god’s displeasure… which ends up being himself.

26 Sigmund Freud’s theory:
Children are torn between feelings of love for one parent while feeling a sense of competition with the other. According to Freud, this tension is one possible cause of neuroses in later life. According to Freud, the boy wishes to possess his mother and replace his father, who he views as a rival for his mother's affections. desire for mother / jealously and anger towards his father.

27 Themes and Motifs in Oedipus Rex
Freud: “The lesson which, it is said, the deeply moved spectator should learn from the tragedy is submission to the divine will and realization of his own impotence.” Robert Fagles:“Terror of the unknown future which we fear we cannot control—our deep fear that every step we take forward on what we think is the road of progress may really be a step toward a foreordained rendezvous with disaster.” Sophocles: “Count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.” To what extent is man responsible for his own actions? How do we reconcile a need for divine order and meaning with our need for individuality and free will? Sight, blindness, vision, hunters, plowmen, sailors, detectives, prophecies

28 Literary Terms to know:
Dramatic Irony

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