Ancient Greek Tragedy and Multidimensional Society - Fragments of the Last Five Decades

By Petcu, Ioana | Review of Artistic Education, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Ancient Greek Tragedy and Multidimensional Society - Fragments of the Last Five Decades


Petcu, Ioana, Review of Artistic Education


When George Steiner asserted in 1961 that the spirit of tragedy had died, he was definitely talking from the writer's perspective, and especially from the theologian's perspective, but watching the stage of the world, we have reasons to contradict the French-Angle-American author's pessimism. The fate of the Greek tragedy has been unequal along the centuries. Its success from the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. was partly blurred especially by Seneca's Latin rephrases from the 1st century A.D. Being a remote source of inspiration for the medieval and Renaissance drama, the Greek tragedy and the ancient fervor find themselves renewed in a new living light in the French Classicism, in whose eye - nonetheless - a few changes must be made as regards the verisimilitude and the natural flow of events. The faces of the ancient heroes glow or become clouded in a completely different way under Corneille or Racine's pen and new perspectives replenish the moral and the topic of Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides in the times of absolute monarchies. Taking another step in time, we can see that the Romantics did not hesitate for a moment either to mirror their wishes, beliefs, indignation or meditations in the topics offered to them by their ancestors from the amphitheatres. We have testimonies in Percy Bysshe Shelley's Prometheus Unbound (1820) or Oedipus the King (1820), or Iphigenia in Taurida (the first version was performed in 1779) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Then from the symbolist-vanguardist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who composed the libretto Electra in 1909, to the revisions from the modem drama of the 20th century - Bertolt Brecht (Sophocles' Antigone), André Gide {Oedipus), Jean-Paul Sartre {The Flies), Gerhart Hauptmann {The Trilogy of the Atreids), Jean Giraudoux {Amphitryon 38, The Trojan War Will Not Take Place, Electra), Jean Cocteau {Antigone, Orpheus, Oedipus the King, Infernal Machine, Bacchus), Jean Anouilh (Antigone, Oedipus), Eugene O'Neill {Mourning Becomes Electro) or, closer to the present, Margueritte Yourcenar {Electro or The Dropping of the Masks) - we can clearly see how the archetypes and myths of the ancient times recover different shapes in the imagination of the preand post-war society.

Going from literature to directing, from text to performance, ancient tragedy is present quantitatively as well as qualitatively in the repertoires of the current institutions and artists, and as Edith Hall mentioned in the preface to Dionysus since 69124 it is a communication bridge between art and history, a cupel in which the pluri-identity society can invert its image, conception, dogmas, traditions, knowing that it will find a correspondent in the end product that comes out of the cupel like vapour. The agitated world in which many times the gods turn their backs to the mortals, in which war devastates cities and people, in which the individuals seem often damned to unhappiness, in which solitary characters abound, in which two brothers fight each other for illusory power, or in which a sister alienates herself and repudiates the other sister, is our world, where we are living in the 20th and 21st centuries, but whose echo reflects itself back in time, reaching the ancient patterns. The two world wars, the Vietnam conflicts, the separation of Europe by means of the Iron Curtain are replicas from a familiar reality of the "fabulous" happenings from the ancient myths. The research carried out in the 20th century in the area of ethnology, ritualism, and mythology produced innovative ideas for and prepared the new exploitations of staging. An example is the well-known staging by Klaus Michael Grüber and Peter Stein of the Antiquity Project (1973), which had started from the observations related to the sacrifices made by Walter Burkert in the book Homo Necans a year earlier, in 1972. Equally, a thesis such as the one stated by René Girard in La violence et le sacré / Violence and the Sacred, along with Grotowski's tendencies in vogue in the '70s represented for a long time the golden formula for some stage creators. …

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