Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study

Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study

Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study

Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study

Excerpt

A book on Greek Tragedy may be a work of historical scholarship or of literary criticism; this book professes to be a work of criticism. Criticism is of two kinds: the critic may tell the reader what he so beautifully thinks about it all, or he may try to explain the form in which the literature is written. This book attempts the latter task. It is neither a history nor a handbook; it has, I think, a continuous argument, and anything, however important, that does not bear on that argument is left out.

Longinus says, in his fine way, literary criticism is the last fruit of long experience. My criticism is the fruit, if it is fruit, of an experience different from that which Longinus had in mind, the experience of putting awkward questions to a class and having to find answers to them--why did Aeschylus characterize differently from Sophocles? why did Sophocles introduce the Third Actor? why did Euripides not make better plots? This book is nothing but the answers to a series of such questions; the answers may be wrong, but the questions are right.

I make one basic assumption of which nothing that I have read in or about Greek Tragedy has caused me to doubt the soundness. It is that the Greek dramatist was first and last an artist, and must be criticized as such. Many Greeks, like many moderns, thought he was a moral teacher. No doubt he was, incidentally. Many English school- masters assert that cricket inculcates all sorts of moral virtues. No doubt it does, incidentally; but the writer on cricket does well to leave this aspect of his subject to the historian of the British Empire.

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