Drama as sacred ritual
Thu Apr 9 10:46:41 2009
It is easy for us to think of ancient Greek drama as entertainment with our modern theater and movies being the most recognizable and similar parallels. But the Greeks saw them as a sacred ritual and it is easy to forget that they are also related to our religious and liturgical rituals. Holy Week (this week) is a great chance to see those connections as the rituals and services leading up to the Easter celebration are particularly “dramatic.” The various reenactments, ritual retelling of the passion story, responsive reading, chants, hymns and other liturgical rituals have close parallels to Greek dramatic practice and I think preserve some of what might have been the atmosphere of early tragedy.
If you are participating in any Holy Week events, take a quick look at one of the tragedies before you go. I think the ending of Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes is particularly good at preserving its liturgical foundation in a way that is not unfamiliar to us. (You can find a complete English translation here: http://www.theoi.com/Text/AeschylusSeven.html.)
The final stasimon (lines 822-956) where the chorus mourns and reviews the events that lead up to the death of the two brothers, lying dead in front of them, can be very similar to a modern choral antiphon. And the final episode (lines 957-1010) where Antigone and Ismene alternate speaking in very short, rhythmic (possibly even sung or chanted) lines—reacting, responding and imitating the line before it—is very reminiscent of the contemporary practice of responsive reading.
- The Agonistic Dialogical Approach (severalfourmany.wordpress.com)
- Beyond Comedy and Tragedy (severalfourmany.wordpress.com)
- Restrictions on Political Satire (severalfourmany.wordpress.com)