Thespis: Ritual, Myth, and Drama in the Ancient Near East

By Theodor H. Gaster | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
THE COMPONENTS OF DRAMA

Drama evolves from seasonal rituals. Seasonal rituals are functional in character. Their purpose is periodically to revive the topocosm, that is, the entire complex of any given locality conceived as a living organism. But this topocosm possesses both a punctual and a durative aspect, representing, not only the actual and present community, but also that ideal and continuous entity of which it is but the current manifestation. Accordingly, seasonal rituals are accompanied by myths which are designed to interpret their purely functional acts in terms of ideal and durative situations. The interpenetration of the myth and the ritual creates drama.

Mimicry and the mimetic representation of life are among the most ingrained and persistent features of human behavior, and it is therefore generally held that they provide in themselves a sufficient explanation of the origin of Drama.1 The fact is, however, that Drama is everywhere more than mere mimesis. In whatever form and at whatever level we encounter it, it consists essentially not in a single mimetic act but in a series of acts, arranged in a specific pattern and manifesting a specific "plot." Any inquiry into its origin must therefore start from the question: What conditions this pattern? What is it that leads men to exploit the instinct of mimicry in just this fashion? The answer will come from a study of Drama's most primitive forms.

All over the world, from time immemorial, it has been the custom to usher in years and seasons by means of public ceremonies. These, however, are neither arbitrary nor haphazard, nor are they mere diversions. On the contrary, they follow everywhere a more or less uniform and consistent pattern and serve a distinctly functional purpose. They represent the mechanism whereby, at a primitive level, Society seeks periodically to renew its vitality and thus ensure its continuance. These seasonal ceremonies form the basic

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1
Cf. Aristotle, Poetics, ch. vi: "A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions" (tr. Ingram Bywater). In preceding chapters, Aristotle refers all poiēsis to imitation [mimēsis], and defines comedy as "an imitation of men worse than average . . . the ridiculous, which is a species of the ugly" (ch. v). The notion that Drama is fundamentally imitation has informed (and distorted) almost all subsequent study of the subject. OED thus defines it as "a composition in prose or verse, adapted to be acted upon a stage, in which a story is related by means of dialogue, and action is represented with accompanying gesture, costume and scenery, as in real life; a play." As we shall see, this confuses the applied form with the real essence; it is like defining Music in terms of operas or Medicine in terms of prescriptions.

-3-

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Thespis: Ritual, Myth, and Drama in the Ancient Near East
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Author's Preface ix
  • Table of Contents xiii
  • Part One 1
  • Chapter One - The Components of Drama 3
  • Chapter Two - The Seasonal Pattern in Ritual 6
  • Chapter Three - The Seasonal Pattern in the Ancient Near East 34
  • Chapter Four - The Seasonal Pattern in Myth 49
  • Chapter Five - The Seasonal Pattern in Literature 73
  • Part Two 109
  • Canaanite Texts 113
  • Appendix - Unplaced Fragments 223
  • Introduction 225
  • Introduction 257
  • Hittite Texts 315
  • Appendix 336
  • Introduction 337
  • 3. the Myth of Telipinu 353
  • Egyptian Texts 381
  • Introduction 405
  • Act One 407
  • Act Four 409
  • Act Six 410
  • Hebrew Texts 413
  • Greek Texts 429
  • The English Mummers' Play 439
  • Appendix - Philological Notes 445
  • Index of Motifs 461
  • Index of Subjects and Authors 467
  • Bibliography 483
  • Abreviations 497
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