From Homer to Menander: Forces in Greek Poetic Fiction

By L. A. Post | Go to book overview

VI
Propaganda, Idealism,
and Romance

IN GREEK plays of pity and terror the strongest influence comes always from Homer Iliad. In political plays, which inevitably contain propaganda of some sort, the role of Athena in the settlement at the end of the Odyssey, and the use of a theatrical Athena to promote civil peace after the victory of Peisistratus, provide a basis of growth. We have seen that Aeschylus in all extant plays is concerned somehow to uphold an ideal of civilized living. Since in political plays characters must represent either ideals or opposition to the political interest that is dear to the heart of poet and audience, there is little scope for variety in plot or character unless striking incidents are introduced. Hence political plays are particularly likely to be episodic and to include characters who devote themselves to the success of the state or to some other ideal. The two purely political plays of Euripides, Suppliants and Heracleidae, consist chiefly of conventional scenes loosely strung together. The state of Athens gives aid to suppliants, defeats persecutors, and receives undying gratitude for her noble idealism. The pattern of the Suppliants of Aeschylus is so similar that we may safely assume that Euripides was in these plays reworking old stories. Certainly the plays themselves show that he was not much interested in the result. The pattern of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus is the same again, but Sophocles had the constructive imagination and poetic vigor to elevate the old story into one of the great masterpieces of drama.1

Before attacking these three plays, which are wholly political

____________________
1
For notes to chapter vi see pages 298-302.

-156-

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From Homer to Menander: Forces in Greek Poetic Fiction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • To Five Great Teachers v
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1- The Pattern of Success 1
  • II- The Tragic Pattern of the Iliad 27
  • III- The Social Consciousness of Aeschylus 56
  • IV- Sophoclean Tragedy 88
  • V- Euripidean Tragedy 122
  • VI- Propaganda, Idealism, and Romance 156
  • VII- Vacillation, Burlesque, and Variety 186
  • VIII- The Comedy of Menander 214
  • IX- Aristotle and the Philosophy of Fiction 245
  • Notes 271
  • Index 323
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