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THEA 204 Frogs Agon

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James McKinnon

on 15 March 2016

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Transcript of THEA 204 Frogs Agon

Golden Age of ATHENS (approx dates BCE)
Improvisational beginning by leaders of the phallic songs
COMEDY
Improvisational beginning’ by ‘those who led off the dithyramb’
TRAGEDY
According to Aristotle:
Chronology
Note the BELATEDNESS of Poetics!!
"Birth of the sitcom"
Menander is the only surviving example
Chorus of Approval
24 members in comic chorus
(so twice as expensive to train and costume)

Tragic chorus declines faster
Aeschylus chorus = 48.5 % of lines
Euripedes chorus = 8.5%
Aristophanes’ plays ~24%
Choruses even more important to comedy
(Source for both image and text: Oxford Illus., p. 16)
‘An early tragic chorus. Painted in Athens about 490 BCE, these six young soldiers sing and dance in unison (note the identical masks).

They are presumably part of a tragic chorus, and are probably raising a ghost from the tomb on the left.’
Serves as a
character
Establishes
the ethical or social framework
by
which actions are judged
Serves as an
ideal spectator
Helps
set the mood & tempo
Connects fiction to reality
Adds
movement, spectacle, song and dance
Important
rhythmic
function

(Source: Brockett 9th ed., p. 23)
The chorus links the religious & aesthetic functions of drama

Bierl, Anton. 2009. Ritual and Performativity; The Chorus of Old Comedy. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Brill’s Companion to the Study of Greek Comedy. 2010. Gregory W. Dobrov, ed. Leidin: Brill.

Brockett, Oscar. 2003. History of the Theatre, 9th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Oxford Illustrated History of Theatre. 1995, reissued 2001. Oxford: Oxford Uni. Press.
Bibliography
Theatre of Dionysus, 5th century BCE
One interpretation by Richard Leacroft (Theatre and Playhouse)
(Source: Anthology, p. 14)
Theatre of Dionysus located next to Acropolis
(Source: Oxford Illustrated, p. 14)
Politics
War
Theatre
Frogs
 
535 Thespis’ 1st play; competition of Dionysus
525
birth of Aeschylus
510 Athenian democracy established
495
birth of Sophocles
490 Marathon (defeat of Persians)
485
birth of Euripides
/
Aeschylus’ 1st victory/
first comedy performance
480 Salamis (defeat of Persians)
* Aeschylus = soldier // Sophocles = boy trumpeter //
Euripides = kindie)

470 Sophocles’ 1st victory
455 death of Aeschylus
The Acropolis,
Leo von Klenze
Thespis -- the first actor? (Possibly...)
Aristophanes
Frogs
: Attic "Old Comedy"

The Theatre of Dionysus
The Ancient (Mediterranean) World
Ancient "Greece" ca 450 BCE
Key:
Peloponnesian
War
This is Sparta!
 

450 (447 or later) birth of Aristophanes
440 Euripides’ 1st victory
430
King Oedipus
/

Peloponnesian war
425
Acharnians
, Aristophanes’ 1st surviving play
411 Aristophanes’
Lysistrata
/
Oligarchic Coup

406 death of Sophocles & Euripides
,
Battle of Arginusae
405 Aristophanes’
The Frogs

404 Sparta defeats Athens /
End of Democracy
404-336 MIDDLE COMEDY
336-200s NEW COMEDY
330s Aristotle’s Poetics
406 -- Athenians win (?) at Arginusae
Sparta offers peace... Athens refuses
Post-404, comedy becomes apolitical.
Write down one question about:
Conventions or origins of Greek drama and theatre
Purpose/function of Greek theatre
Aristophanes
Frogs
What is Old Comedy?
Aristophanes plays are the only surviving examples.
‘expanded gradually’ in its complexity until attaining its full 'natural' growth
‘because it was not taken seriously, the origins of comedy have been forgotten’
"Comedy ... is a
representation of inferior people
, not indeed in the full sense of the word bad, but the laughable is a species of the base or ugly.

It consists in some blunder or ugliness ... an obvious example being the comic mask which is ugly and distorted but not painful."
"When tragedy and comedy came to light, poets were drawn by their natural bent towards one or the other. Some became writers of comedies... , the others produced tragedies...; the reason being that the
former is ... a higher kind of art and has greater value."
Why?
"Comedy aims at representing men as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life."
2nd Century CE Roman representation of tragic & comic masks
Acharnians
Knights
Wasps
Clouds
Peace
Birds
Lysistrata
Thesmophoriazusae
Frogs
Ecclesiazusae
Wealth
Topical
Political
Religious
"Obscene"
Meta-theatrical
Musical
Responds to current events and people
Critical of state and public
Performances & festivals are part of religious observance
Bawdy, overtly sexual and scatological content
Characters address audience; contains "parabasis," an entire choral ode that mocks the audience & the citizens
Comedy used bigger chorus than tragedy & maintained it longer.
The Dramaturgy of Frogs
Prologos
(before the chorus appears):
1) Establish characters & relationships

2) Establish problem
in dramatic space
in relation to reality
Where do we recognize these guys from?
Comic "double act"
These roles may be exchanged in any given episode
One "straight man":
reasonable, serious

One "funny man":
goofy, hysterical
First action: Visiting Herakles
Herakles' first "Labour" was to slay the Nemean lion...
...his 12th was to dognap Kerberos.
Old Comedy is meta-theatrical: characters know they are characters.
Setting established as immediate present (by references to Arginusae, Euripedes' death)
Stakes connected to Athens
XANTHIAS

Why do I get to carry all the heavy baggage
if I can’t tell the usual porter jokes—you know,the ones Ameipsias and Phrynichusand Lycias, too, in all their comedies
provide the slave who carries all the bags.




XANTHIAS [striking a heroic tragic pose]
Alas, for my neck beneath this triply damned yoke.I suffer all this pressure and can’t tell my joke.
"Bad playwrights are derivative/recycle their material"
"Tragedy takes itself too seriously."
Herakles is a familiar character and a physical foil for Dionysus.
Putting the "real" Herakles next to the fake one makes Dionysus look more fool-ish.
The episode w/ Herakles also justifies:
More satire!
More metatheatrical comedy!
More dick jokes!
DIONYSUS
I was on board with Euripides' Andromeda,
reading to myself aloud, when suddenly a huge urge seized my heart.
HERCULES
An urge? How big was it?
DIONYSUS
The size of Molon—tiny.
HERCULES
An ancient sailor takes you for a fee—
two
obols
.

DIONYSUS
Two
obols
? It’s amazing what two
obols
can buy anywhere
"Two obols" is a reference to Athens, so Athens = Hell.
Chorus (first ode)
Next Episode
Dionysus and Xanthias reunite, encounter the horrors of Hades!
}
Part One: The Quest
}
Part Two:
The Trial
The Chorus
Part 1 concludes with a ritual beating...
... which purifies Dionysus for his "serious" role as judge.
Highlights examples of bad politics in Athens
Establishes the criteria for and significance of the agon:
"Athens needs people who serve the city before themselves"
1. Entrance invocation
"It’s just and proper in this city
our sacred chorus give advice and teach..."
Thesis
"Give amnesty to the disgraced oligarchs!"
"If we make slaves into masters for fighting one lousy battle, shouldn't we give our most dignified families a chance to redeem themselves?"
Making slaves into citizens = debased currency
2. Parabasis
Episode
"The 400" -- leaders of the 411 coup
Let all those stand in silence here
and keep their distance from our dance—all those who have no sure command of ritual words and purposes,who have not purified their hearts,
[or those who] like words fit for foolish clowns
when such words are not suitable—or anyone who just can't turn away from fights and hateful party strife,who cannot be a genial citizen,
[...]

CHORUS OF INITIATES
Would you like to join us now in making fun of
Archedemos
, who [isn't even Athenian] And now he plays big shot in politics among the dead above—the best there is at double dealing and corruption.

And
Cleisthenes
, I hear, still picks his ass and rips his cheeks apart among the tombstones, blubbering over his dead lover Sabinos.

And
Callias
, they say, son of the man who used to bugger his own horses, has fights at sea, naval entanglements,his arse hole covered by a lion skin.
}
Aristophanes mocks "private politicians"
Episode: Xanthias & Servant
Ode: Chorus Parodies Tragic bombast
Episode: The Agon!
Comedy reveals the SERIOUS insight that tragedy is just a way to use fancy language to manipulate people.
1. Stock slave comedy -- Xanthias is now separated (physically and symbolically) from Dionysus

2. Exposition for the rest of the play -- the feud between Aeschylus and Euripides
How are A and E different?
Aeschylus
is...
Bombastic
Alternates restrained & unrestrained fury
Old-school: honour, valour, religion, patriotism
Euripides
is...
more realistic, clever, theatrical
Loquacious
New school: philosophical, individualistic
Foreign? Blasphemous?
What do they say about...
...Alkibiades?
Alcibiades
Defects to Sparta ca. 414
Defects to Persia ca. 412
Recalled to Athens ca. 411
Dismissed ca. 406
Assassinated ca. 404
Conclusions
:

1. The Trial is about the future of Athens and its drama ... a totally different play

2. Comedy teaches critical thinking -- tragedy tells us to shut up and do as we're told

3. Euripides is perhaps the better artist, but...

4. ... he is too "theatrical" and so Aristophanes picks the more sincere, conservative, religious Aeschylus

"Why is the chorus so important?"
Is the play
Frogs
about frogs?
Why have many different choruses in frogs?
(Perhaps we'll never know.)
In official terminology ‘chorus’ stood for the entire drama
Many spectators would have been participants in previous choruses
Theatrical Functions
Clouds
(The Bacchanals 2013)
"Now where have I seen that before?"
Let's all go to Hades. (It is a silly place.)
Character
in agon w/ Dionysus
Establishes an
ironic
heroic
framework
Ideal
spectator
-- views Dionysus as a schmuck
Sets the
mood
& tempo
Spectacle
Connects fiction to reality
Brekekekex koax koax
Brekekekex koax koax.
Children of the marsh and lake
harmonious song now sweetly make,
our own enchanting melodies
koax koax.
The songs we sang for Nysa’s lord,
for Dionysus, son of Zeus,
in Limnai at the Feast of Jars
as people in their drunken glee
thronged into our sanctuary.
Brekekekex koax koax.
Refers to Anthesteria Festival -- basically a drinking party in a swamp near Athens.
Dionysus & Xanthias
Meta-theatre
DIONYSUS
Piss off—and take that koax koax with you.
Nothing but koax koax.

CHORUS OF FROGS
Yes, and for us that’s fine
you meddling fool—so asinine.
Music-loving Muses love us too
as does goat-footed Pan
playing music on melodious pipes.
(i.e., the audience)
DIONYSUS
All right, what have we got?

XANTHIAS
Nothing but
filthy muck—mud and darkness
.

DIONYSUS
Did you see the men who beat their fathers

or perjurers—the ones he mentioned?

XANTHIAS
You mean you don’t?

DIONYSUS
By Poseidon, yes I do!
Now I see them
. So what do we do next?
Choral performance is even connected to military training!
Phalanx tactics hinge on precision and coordination. Song & rhythm helped maintain battlefield discipline.
Athens ca 405 BCE
has problems
Political problems
Oligarchs & Democrats struggle for power
Internal
External
Peloponnesian war now in 3rd decade
The return of Alcibiades
Alcibiades
Complicated by...
Social Problems
Drift away from traditional Athenian values:
Civic unity disturbed by individualism & factions
Private drinking clubs (
hetaireiai
) "short-circuit" both democracy AND patriarchy
Deaths of Euripides & Sophocles weaken the central role of theatre in political dialogue
Socrates
Defects to Sparta ca. 414
Defects to Persia ca. 412
Recalled ca. 411
Dismissed ca. 406
Assassinated ca. 404
Dionysus' clever disguise backfires...
AEACUS
O you abominable, you shameless reckless wretch—
the man who made off with Cerberus my dog!
You grabbed him by the throat and throttled him,
then took off on the run, while I stood guard.
Now you’re caught—black-hearted Stygian rocks,
and blood-dripping peaks of Acheron
will hold you down. ... The Tartesian eel
will chew your lungs, your kidneys bleed
from entrails Tithrasian Gorgons rip apart.
I’ll set out hot foot in their direction.
... repeatedly.
DIONYSUS
All right then, since you’re so brave, so valiant,
you can be me. Take this club and lion skin.
If you’re got the guts, I’ll trade places with you.
I’ll carry all the baggage.

XANTHIAS
All right.
I’ve got no choice. Quick, give me that.
[in the grand style]
Now gaze upon the Xanthian Hercules—
see if I turn coward and act like you.

[Dionysus starts to pick up a few of the smaller pieces. A Servant enters through the door]

SERVANT
Have you come back, my dearest Hercules?
Come on in. Once the goddess heard you’d come
she had us baking bread loaves right away,
boiling up pea soup—two or three cauldrons full,
roasting an entire ox, baking honey cakes
and cookies. So do come in.
AEACUS
The man’s a saint. All right, now this one’s turn
.
[Aeacus strikes Dionysus, again much harder than before]
DIONYSUS
Oooowww! Ahhh!!
AEACUS
What was that cry?
DIONYSUS
I see men on horseback.
AEACUS
Why are your eyes full of tears?
DIONYSUS
I smell onions.
AEACUS
You didn’t feel a thing?
DIONYSUS
No, nothing— nothing that bothered me.
"Now where have I seen that before?"
"Now where have I seen that before?"
CHORUS
[in a parody of the tragic style]
Now the
loud-roaring hero
feels in full his fury

that
valiant vehemence
which surges up within,
when he confronts his rival in poetic craft
sharpening smooth-talking tusks, just like a boar.
His frenzied passion's going to
make those eyeballs roll
.

The battle’s here at hand—helmet-glancing war,
horse-crested words, while splintered axles break apart,
as the subtle chisel-worker tries to push and parry
steed-prancing phrases from the man who builds our minds.
The bristling crest erect there on his shaggy neck,
his
natural hair
, a fearful scowl upon his brow,
and bellowing, he’ll launch his language fixed with bolts,
like planking for a ship, he’ll rip the words apart,
blasting with his giant’s lungs.
The other man,
the one who works his mouth, who tortures every word,
unrolling his smooth tongue and shaking envy’s rein,
will dissect and parse those words, and, splitting hairs,
refute all that large labour of the former’s lungs.
(Euripides)
Aristophanes wants to revive traditional politics & civic affiliations.
How is this relevant to the agon between Euripides & Aeschylus?
The
polis
of Athens' democracy are like a
jury
: they adjudicate politics, but do not participate directly.
Trials and debates are therefore central to Athenian political life.
(Who really IS on trial!)
Aeschylus
Euripides
In reality, Euripides is
original
amoral/objective
formal innovator
interested in
affect
, not message
a
manipulator
, or sophist
In reality, Aeschylus is
conservative
moral critic
interested in
communicating
a message
EURIPIDES
I know the man—and for a long time now
I’ve studied him. He makes crude characters with stubborn tongues. As for his own mouth, it’s unrestrained and uncontrolled, unlocked, no proper discourse, bombastiloquent.

(Euripides is comparable to the 19th century Naturalists in his use of realism for shock value...
AESCHYLUS

O Demeter,
who nourishes my mind, make me worthy
to be there in your mysteries.

DIONYSUS [to Euripides]
It’s your turn—
take some incense. Make an offering.

EURIPIDES

All right—
but I pray to different gods.

DIONYSUS
Personal ones?
Your very own? Freshly minted?

EURIPIDES

That’s right.


DIONYSUS
Then pray away to those private gods of yours.

EURIPIDES
O air, my food, O pivot of my tongue,
O native wit, O nose that smells so fine,
whatever words I seize upon, let me
refute them—let the victory be mine.
EURIPIDES
He talked on about Scamanders, trenches,
shields with bronze enamelled griffon-eagles,
in horse-cliffed phrases hard to comprehend.


DIONYSUS
Yes, by god, one long night I got no sleep
from worrying what kind of bird was called
the tawny clear-voiced horse cock.

AESCHYLUS

You idiot!
It was a symbol painted on the ships.
What sorts of plays did you create?

EURIPIDES

None like you—
no horse-cock monsters or goat-stags, by god,
the sort they paint on Persian tapestries.
When I first took this art of plays from you,
crammed with bombast to the gills, fustian stuff,
at first I made it slim, reduced its weight,
with vesicles, and walks, and laxatives.
AESCHYLUS
Because you helped persuade the noble wives
of well-born men to drink down hemlock,
ashamed of those like your Bellerophon.

EURIPIDES
My Phaedra story—did I make that up?

AESCHYLUS
No—it was there.
But it’s a poet’s task
to conceal disgrace—not put it on parade
front and centre and instruct men in it
.
AESCHYLUS
What crimes is he not guilty of?
Did he not put up on display
pimps and women giving birth
in holy shrines and having sex
with their own brothers, and then claim
that living is no life? So now,
because of him our city here
is crammed with bureaucratic types
and stupid democratic apes
who always cheat our people.
Nobody caries on the torch—
no one's trained in that these days.
DIONYSUS
I came here for a poet.

EURIPIDES
What for?

DIONYSUS
So
I might save our city
and let it keep its choruses.
Therefore whichever one of you will
give our state
the best advice
, well, that’s the man I’ll take.
EURIPIDES
If we removed our trust from politicians
on whom we now rely, and used the ones
we don’t use now, we could be saved. It’s clear
we’re not doing well with what we’re doing now,
if we reversed our course, we might be saved.
AESCHYLUS
When they consider their foe’s land their own
and think of their land as the enemy’s,
and when they look upon their ships as riches
and see their wealth as wretchedness . . .
(i.e. "Take to the seas and destroy Sparta!")
Dionysus likes Euripides as a poet, but chooses Aeschylus for advice.
Aeschylus stands for the power of communal order to dominate both Sparta and internal threats.
"F*ck tha
polis
!"
AESCHYLUS
Is that so, you garden-goddess child?
You say that of me, you gossip-monger,
a beggar’s poet who picks and stitches rags?
You’ll regret those words.
... and Aeschylus sounds like their critics.)
Is Euripides' drama to blame for Athens' decline -- or is he just showing what he sees?
40 years later, in
The Republic
, Plato calls for the poets to be expelled.
So first, a question for each one of you—
What’s your view of
Alcibiades
?
This issue plagues our city.
Full transcript