Persuasion: Greek Rhetoric in Action

By Ian Worthington | Go to book overview

9

Tragedy and rhetoric

Victor Bers

If we could witness an Attic tragedy as it was first presented in the context of the city’s dramatic festivals, we would probably find it a ‘preposterous entertainment’, to borrow Shaw’s description of grand opera. Peculiar ceremonies preceded the drama itself: an announcement of the play’s subject by its author, with members of the cast, not yet concealed by the masks and costumes they would wear during the performance, standing at his side, and the purification of the theatre by the sacrifice of a piglet. 1 Each author’s set of three tragedies was followed by a satyr drama, a shorter play of a genre hovering between tragedy and comedy. 2 After the full programme of tragedies was performed, jurors selected from each tribe voted first, second, and third prizes; these amateur critics announced no reasons for their choices, and since the process was in part regulated by sortition, the gods, or maybe Dionysus himself, honorand of the festival, might be thought to determine the outcome of the competition. 3 Moreover, the play itself was a medley of speaking, chanting and singing in a variety of verse forms, using a type of Greek never heard in everyday use in Athens or anywhere else. Stage movement was, almost certainly, restricted to a small repertory of gestures, and facial expression was precluded by the masks. The chorus, drawn up in a rectangle, danced (we know not how) as it sang lyrics of considerable complexity to the accompaniment of a flute. 4

These alien strains can be understood, even prized, by regarding the dramatic festivals, in an anthropological vein, as expressions of a culture different from our own. And generations have read and enjoyed the tragedies quite unaware of these curiosities, regarding the plays as establishing the norms for western drama, in other words, as ‘classical’. But obvious even from the bare texts that

-176-

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Persuasion: Greek Rhetoric in Action
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface viii
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Part I - Communicating 1
  • 1 - From Orality to Rhetoric: an Intellectual Transformation 3
  • 2 - Rhetorical Means of Persuasion 26
  • 3 - Probability and Persuasion: Plato and Early Greek Rhetoric 46
  • 4 - Classical Rhetoric and Modern Theories of Discourse 69
  • Part II - Applications 83
  • 5 - Power and Oratory in Democratic Athens: Demosthenes 21, against Meidias 85
  • 6 - History and Oratorical Exploitation 109
  • 7 - Law and Oratory 130
  • Part III - Contexts 151
  • 8 - Epic and Rhetoric 153
  • 9 - Tragedy and Rhetoric 176
  • 10 - Comedy and Rhetoric 196
  • 11 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 222
  • Notes 242
  • 12 - The Canon of the Ten Attic Orators 244
  • Bibliography 264
  • Index 274
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