Tuesday, February 12, 2019

'The play speaks to the polis' - Goldhill

From Simon Goldhill, Aeschylus: The Oresteia, 18-19 (pdf of entire book here):

What of the audience of the drama? The spectators perhaps as many as 16,000 - were ranged in wedge-shaped sections in the amphitheatre. The front seats were reserved for dignitaries. It is also likely that the seating was arranged by tribal division, with each tribe seated in a particular wedge. The theatre thus mapped the city in its space as it addressed the city in its plays. Over the years, foreigners attended the Great Dionysia with increasing frequency, and, after the transfer of the treasury from Delos, the ambassadors who brought the tribute to Athens sat in the theatre to watch its display. Unfortunately, we do not have any decisive piece of evidence that can demonstrate whether women were allowed in the theatre. Scholars debate the issue at length, but without a consensus. One thing is clear, however: if there were any women there, they were in the vast minority and were not the 'proper or intended' audience (Henderson). Greek tragedy, with its all-male cast, all-male producers and writers and male audience, remains a citizen affair.

Orestes, Elektra, Pylades - Campanian 330 BC
With masked male actors, a singing, dancing, masked male chorus, a vast audience seated according to the formal sociopolitical divisions of the state, in a five-day festival in honour of the god Dionysus, a festival whose ceremonies are replete with social and cultural significance ... the contexts of Greek tragedy are far removed, indeed, from Western bourgeois theatre, tragedy's heir.

So, then, Greek tragedy should not be viewed simply as an aesthetic, emotional or ritual experience (although it is all three of these). It is also an event that places the tensions and ambiguities of a rapidly developing political and cultural system in the public domain to be contested. What is more, the Oresteia itself ends, unlike all other extant tragedies, in the centre of the democratic polis of Athens, its law-court. The play speaks to the polis. The Oresteia is in the full sense of the term apolitical drama; and awaits your — our — verdict.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

From Simon Goldhill, Aeschylus: The Oresteia, Cambridge University Press, 1992:

Burial in Greek society was traditionally a family affair. But in Athens from at least around the 470s those who had died fighting for the city received a collective burial, carried to the grave, tribe by tribe, on wagons. The markers raised over the graves listed the bare names of those who had fallen and did not give the father's name or deme name, those usual markers of identification. The dead lay just as Athenian citizens. The whole population was allowed to attend the burial, and an orator chosen by the city addressed the people.

The most famous surviving example of such a Funeral Oration is Pericles' Funeral Speech as represented in the work of the historian Thucydides (II. 35-46), and it is a speech that has been repeatedly used to demonstrate the public projection of the ideals of democratic ideology. Certainly when Pericles says of Athenian citizens that 
'all of us are fit to judge ... each of us is willing to fight and die', 
he resoundingly enforces the democratic rallying cries of Assembly, law-court, navy and army that I have been discussing. So too he proclaims that 
'We give our obedience to those whom we put in positions of authority and we obey the laws themselves' 
and that 'when it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law',  just as 
'no-one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty'. 
Indeed, the requirement of participation is such that 
'we do not say that a man who takes no interest in the affairs of the polis minds his own business; we say he has no business here at all'. 
Pericles' speech thus praises the Athenian system as 'an education for all Greece', and goes on to contrast it at length with that of their enemies the Spartans. In Pericles' whole speech, however, no individual is mentioned; no individual feat of valour singled out. The speech praises the whole city as a collective, engaged in a collective enterprise: 
'this, then, is the kind of city for which these men, who could not bear the thought of losing her, nobly fought and nobly died. It is only natural that everyone of us who survives them should be willing to undergo hardships in her service.' 
Both the institution of the collective burial of those who died fighting for the polis and the speech celebrating their burial thus project and promote the collective ideals of democratic Athens.

It is in Athenian democracy alone that tragedy develops in the fifth century.