HUM 1101 Greek Tragedy Notes: Part 2 including Apollonian and Dionysian
Technical Conventions in Greek Drama and Tragedy:
As noted in the textbook, Aristotle insisted that a plot should stand on its own as a powerful narrative, so that even without seeing the play, readers would be affected by the story. Also, the play should have a simple, elegant unity of action, place and time. This means that the action unfolds in a single location and that it is a continuous narrative within a short space of time. Any references to events in a previous time were recalled by a character in the present. Also, graphic violence was never represented visually on stage and always reported by a messenger or character. Two mechanical devices which were part of the ancient Greek theater deserve mention. One device is the ekkyklema ‘a wheeled-out thing’, a platform on wheels which rolled out onto the stage on which a tableau was displayed representing the result of an action indoors (e.g., a murder) and therefore was unseen by the audience, preserving the societal code of avoiding graphic violence depicted in a direct, visual way. The other device is called a mechane ‘theatrical machine’, a crane to which a cable with a harness for an actor was attached. This device allowed an actor portraying a god or goddess to arrive on scene in the most realistic way possible, from the sky. The Latin phrase deus ex machina ‘the god from the machine’ is often used to refer to the appearance of gods by means of this device in tragedy. This phrase is also employed in a pejorative sense in modern literary criticism to refer to an improbable character or event introduced to resolve a difficult situation, and is where we get the phrase “out of the blue.”
Apollonian and Dionysian:
The Apollonian and Dionysian is a philosophical and literary concept, or dichotomy, based on certain features of ancient Greek mythology. Several Western philosophical and literary figures have invoked this dichotomy in critical and creative works, including Plutarch, Friedrich Nietzsche, Robert A. Heinlein, Ruth Benedict, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, literary critic G. Wilson Knight, Ayn Rand (who rejected it in favor of mind-body integration), Stephen King, cultural critic Camille Paglia and Iggy Pop. In Greek mythology, Apollo and Dionysus are both sons of Zeus. Apollo is the god of the Sun, lightness, music, and poetry, while Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, and intoxication. In the modern literary usage of the concept, the contrast between Apollo and Dionysus symbolizes principles of individualism versus wholeness, light versus darkness, or civilization versus primal nature. The ancient Greeks did not consider the two gods as opposites or rivals.
Apollo (Apollonian or Apollinian): the dream state or the wish to create order, principium individuationis (principle of individuation), plastic (visual) arts, beauty, clarity, stint to formed boundaries, individuality, celebration of appearance/illusion, human beings as artists (or media of art's manifestation), self-control, perfection, exhaustion of possibilities, creation.
Dionysus (Dionysian): chaos, intoxication, celebration of nature, instinctual, intuitive, pertaining to the sensation of pleasure or pain, individuality dissolved and hence destroyed, wholeness of existence, orgiastic passion, dissolution of all boundaries, excess, human being(s) as the work and glorification of art, destruction.
Nietzsche found in Greek tragedy an art form that transcended the pessimism and Nihilism one might find in a fundamentally meaningless world. The Greek spectators, by looking into the abyss of human suffering and affirming it, passionately and joyously, affirmed the meaning in their own existence. They knew themselves to be infinitely more than the petty individuals of the apparent world, finding self-affirmation, not in another life, not in a world to come, but in the terror and ecstasy alike...
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