The Mourning Voice: An Essay on Greek Tragedy

The Mourning Voice: An Essay on Greek Tragedy

The Mourning Voice: An Essay on Greek Tragedy

The Mourning Voice: An Essay on Greek Tragedy

Synopsis

In The Mourning Voice, Nicole Loraux presents a radical challenge to what has become the dominant view of tragedy in recent years: that tragedy is primarily a civic phenomenon, infused with Athenian political ideology, which envisions its spectators first and foremost as citizens, members of the political collective. Instead, Loraux maintains, the spectator addressed by tragedy is the individual defined primarily in terms of his or her humanity, rather than in terms of affiliation with a political group. The plays, she says, involve the spectators in the emotional expressiveness of tragic suffering, thereby creating a theatrical identity. Aroused by the experience of suffering, the audience is reminded that it is witnessing a theatrical representation of the instability of the human condition-a state that Loraux asserts tragedy is uniquely suited to convey.

Excerpt

In the spring of 1993 Nicole Loraux delivered the annual Townsend Lectures at Cornell University. The title of her lecture series was “The Voice of Mourning in Attic Tragedy.” In 1999 Gallimard published the French version of these lectures under the title La voix endeuillée. Essai sur la tragédie grecque, and it is the text of the French book, with some emendations conforming to the original typescript of the lectures, that now appears in English translation by Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings.

Loraux's appeal to a renewed Nietzschean reading of Greek tragedy appeared then, as it appears now, as a polemical manifesto against some of the main tendencies of criticism. She emphasizes the paramount importance of the chorus, of the music, of the phonē at the expense of the logos, and of the political, ethical, and religious contexts, a direction that certainly challenges a large part of contemporary criticism. One need only read essays of the 1990s, often published as collective works, to find an almost unilateral chorus of voices insisting on “the communitarian character of the Athenian scene, ” on the expectation of the polis and of the theatrical audience for works that “consolidate the social identity and maintain the cohesion of the community” (O. Longo in the programmatic piece opening Froma Zeitlin and John Winkler's collection of essays Nothing to Do with Dionysus?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context [Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 13—14]). In the opening pages of the collection titled Theater and Society in the Classical World (University of Michigan Press, 1993), the editor, Ruth Scodel, emphasizes the power of dramatic rituals to achieve “social integration” (p. 2). Analogously, in History, Tragedy, Theory: Dialogues on Athenian Drama (University . . .

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