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Lecture 5: Birth of Tragedy

COMM 301

David Tarvin

on 18 February 2018

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Transcript of Lecture 5: Birth of Tragedy

Lecture 5
The Birth of Tragedy
COMM 301: Rhetoric in Western Thought
Great events require great art to disclose their meaning.
According to Aristotle, tragedy should:
(1) evoke pity and fear on the audience
(2) have a hero that is admirable and good
(3) have the hero’s demise be the result of his/her own error
"tragedy as a medium for drama, rather than narrative."
compassion for characters
Quick history lesson
Cyrus the Great
Achaemenid Empire
largest empire world had seen at time
547 BCE, Cyrus the Great conquers Ionia (Greek-inhabited)
Quick history lesson
But Greeks are independent-city-state-minded, not empire-minded, and won’t be subjugated so easily
Achaemenid Empire
Persians appoint tyrants to rule each city in Ionia
“simply referred to anyone, good or bad, who obtained executive power in a polis by unconventional means.”
Quick history lesson
Ionian Revolt, 499-493 BCE
Greco-Persian Wars, 499-449 BCE
In 491, demands earth and water as token of submission
the Great
Battle of Marathon
192 Greeks
6,000 Persians
Death Toll:
Quick history lesson
Quick history lesson
In 486, Darius dies and his son takes over
Xerxes demands earth and water as submission from Greeks except Athens and Sparta
Greece start to rally around these two city-states
Xerxes the Great
Quick history lesson
Achaemenid Empire
In 480 BCE, Xerxes returns to Greece with larger army
Hellespont Narrow
Xerxes builds a bridge of boats
(it takes a whole week for army to cross)
Athenian women & children flee
Quick history lesson
Persians navy goes after Athenian navy at Bay of Salamis
Bay of Salamis
Athenian Trireme
Bronze beak
“Sons of Greece, come on, free the temples of your Gods and the graves of your ancestors, free your children and your wife, now in the name of freedom, fight for them all”
The Persians by Aeschylus
The setting takes place in Susa, a capital city of the Persian Empire
Performed only 8 years after the Battle of Salamis (472 BCE)
Aeschylus defended Greek in the Battle of Marathon (and perhaps, Salamis, also)
The Persians by Aeschylus
Queen Atossa
the ghost of Darius the Great
the messenger
the chorus
Queen Atossa has a bad dream, and is anxious to hear of her son’s expeditions
She knows nothing of Athens and asks the Chorus for answers
A messenger arrives, detailing the battle of Salamis and the Persian loss, but says Xerxes is alive
Atossa has the Chorus summon the ghost of her husband, Darius
Darius condemns Xerxes’ hubris to invade Greece
He thinks building a bridge over the Hellespont angered the gods
Xerxes finally arrives torn and tattered
He and the Chorus lament over their defeat
How is the Persians' defeat tragic for the Greeks?
Xerxes' choices:
(maintaining his empire, but be a coward)
(conquer Greece at the risk of losing it all)
Greece's choices:

(become subjugated to the Persian Empire)
(defend Greece at the risk of losing it all)
These choices lead to RHETORIC
new medium of power
Rhetoric’s relationship to tragedy is two-fold:
Rhetoric reacts to tragic events by using new-found wisdom to chart new courses of action toward higher values and ends
Rhetoric is the necessary impetus to tragic actions insofar as it opens up new possibilities that inevitably exceed the limits of convention and habit
"From now on, power will not come from a monarch who monopolizes the tools of violence and forces his subjects to hold their tongue and prostrate themselves before authority; power will come from the free speech of citizens standing on their own feet and deliberating over how to act in concert in pursuit of possibilities."
Crick states:
That is, the Greeks will develop power through the medium of RHETORIC
Athenians found silver a few years before, and made them wealthy
Silver paid for Triremes:
172 oars men
Bronze beak
“Tragedy arises when the spirit of poetry meets the spirit of inquiry”
= particular past
= universal possibility
Kenneth Burke
“one learns by experience”
such that “the suffered is the learned”
Greek tragedies are created to understand the true nature of power and its relationship to justice
written documents upheld by a court
Inquiry into justice by dramatizing the motives of the powerful as they exceed the conventional limits of human action
Aeschylus knew that pride was not the property of the barbarian, but of all those with power
Aeschylus hoped to gain wisdom rather than satisfaction so that Greeks could learn from the suffering of their enemies about the relationship between power and justice in the new order
A Whole New World
revealed through an inquiry into Logos
1. Announce traditions no longer work
2. Seek to articulate higher values
3. Bring wisdom through suffering
Essential question of tragedy: why is suffering necessary?
Releasing strong or repressed emotions
The removal of the fatal flaw or immoral action of the hero
(which was the cause of disharmony)
“medical interpretation”
so that the audience can purge their pity
(for the hero)
and their fear
(this could happen to them)
by finally seeing the situation with clarity
“medical interpretation”
Medical interpretation of the Persians:
Turn of fate, falls from glory
Immoral action of the tragic hero, Xerxes, shows his excessive pride
Reaffirms the moral order (Darius laments mortals should not be so arrogant)
Cathartic by showing the audience all is restored to order
Aristotelian Tragic Catharsis
The purging of the pity and fear we experience in the sufferings of the characters produces illuminations to truth.
Ladder of Knowledge
“one learns by experience”
such that “the suffered is the learned”
Rhetorical Function of Tragedy:
by giving purpose to our pain
reminding us that suffering is inevitable
to push past appearances
in search of some Logos
Esteem error
In tragedy, the bounds of hubris are not known until crossed, and are thereby revealed through the suffering either of the heroes themselves or those around them
past the limits of the known
in search of the unknown
excessive pride or self-confidence
an illegitimate crossing of boundaries, such as the unauthorized taking of someone’s life or property, which demanded dikē to restore balance
the spirit of justice
moral rightness
Provides the courage to endure suffering in the faith that the wisdom gained will compensate for the battles lost
Tragic Rhetoric
Reveals the nature of dikē that appears through the suffering of others in the faith that coming possibility will be more just than just vanishing actuality
Reminds us that not all is lost, despite suffering
Rhetoric steps forward to chart a path that opens up new possibilities and legitimates the suffering that comes with choosing one or the other seemingly impossible course of action.
How is the Persians' defeat tragic for the Greeks?
Xerxes' choices:
(maintaining his empire, but be a coward)
(conquer Greece at the risk of losing it all)
Greece's choices:

(become subjugated to the Persian Empire)
(defend Greece at the risk of losing it all)
The Homeric heroes had shown the possibility of eloquence to reveal the strength of character and to embody the virtues of an oral culture.
The Persians & other tragedies =/= works of rhetoric
Serve rhetorical function: the emotional consummation of tragedy (tragic catharsis)

The Persians: rhetorical significance: the impulse to flatter power and the need of the powerful to be flattered
Heraclitus had challenged this order with the aphorism, which paralyzed action and liberated the mind to dwell upon the nature of Logos through thinking.
The accomplishment of Aeschylus is to unite these two tendencies in Greek culture into a single aesthetic form.
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