|Dionysos mask, found in Myrina (now in Turkey). |
Terracotta, 2nd–1st centuries BC.
Louvre Museum Myr 347.
© Joseph Jastrow 2005 / Wikimedia Public Domain
Recently I am enjoying the company of a new book, entitled Greek Tragedy: Suffering under the Sun (OUP 2010) by the eminent scholar Edith Hall. There is an extensive amount of books discussing the term and concept of ‘tragedy’. To name few, I will start with the introductory titles by Adrian Poole’s Tragedy: A Very Short Introduction, (OUP, 2005) and Rebecca Bushnell’s Tragedy: a short introduction (Blackwell, 2008); extensive collection of articles and authors are present in the two ‘companion’ titles, of Easterling (ed.) (The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy. CUP, 1997) and of Gregory (ed.) (A Companion to Greek Tragedy. Blackwell Pub., 2005). More detailed studies of the context of tragedy in relation of the Athenian life and intellectual thought could be suggested to be Kaufmann’s Tragedy and Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 1992), David Wiles’ Tragedy in Athens: Performance Space and Theatrical Meaning (Cambridge University Press, 1999) and Nothing to Do with Dionysos?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context by John J. Winkler (ed.) (Princeton University Press, 1992). Of course the list does not stop there; there are interesting and innovative studies on ancient Greek tragedy (namely the Athenian). Religiosity is always part of such studies; taking for instance to eminent examples by Jon D. Mikalson’s Honor Thy Gods: Popular Religion in Greek Tragedy (UNC Press Books, 1991) and by Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood’s Tragedy and Athenian Religion (Lexington Books, 2003). Hall’s title, however, offers a straight forward and accessible view to the Athenian tragedy.
Edith Hall’s title, thus, could be recited as an introductory material for students; the first part of the book presents the socio-political and factual elements of the Athenian tragedy, followed by the second half which examines all the surviving to us today thirty-three plays. Hall’s perception of the Athenian tragedy is exactly what her sub-title states: suffering and death (p.11). The Sun plays an important role which defines the conceptual opposition of life – death / death – life hierarchy. Thus, the speciality of the Athenian tragedy establishes the boundary between the living and dead.
What makes, also, important Hall’s view of the Athenian tragedy is the well written and clearly stated importance of this genre of Greek play making for the conceptualization of every-day’s religious and ritual praxis in ancient Athens. Hall states that all performativity elements were indeed derived from the “world of collective ritual” (p.44). Choral song is a hymn of thanksgiving (the Chorus in Antigone, 110-148); the dithyrambic hymn is a hymn of praise or invocation prayer in terms of tragedy’s performativity of ritual praxis. For example the hymn to Zeus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (160-183) and the invocation with the common phrase “ἔλθετε καὶ νῦν” in Oedipus Tyrannus (151-215), they both have the common format of ritual prayer as in Elean women prayer to Dionysus (PMG 871 = Carmina Popularia frg. 6). It is also important to note that the Chorus’ choral or dithyrambic hymns and of paeans have been both melodic and choreographic. In this point I will point to Lawler’s The dance in Ancient Greece (Adam & Charles Black, 1964), forthright statement, “that the Greek almost never sang or chanted verse without using an accompanying movement of some part of his body” (p.98). It is almost inconceivable to withdraw our attention from the Chorus’ importance as a depiction of ancient Greek, Athenian, religiosity.