Mosaic depicting a tragic mask in the midst of fruits, flowers and garlands, from the House of the Faun, Pompeii, Naples Archaeological Museum

Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides: Tragedy and Democracy

Instructor: Bruce King
Colors NYC
178 Stanton Street
New York, NY 10002

The plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are contemporary with the formation, flourishing, and fall of radical democracy in Athens. Before the assembled citizenry and the statues of the gods, the heroes of mythological tradition were interrogated from the point of view of the developing democracy, even as the limits of democratic thought and action were tested and explored. Tragedy’s multiple voices—of the hero, of the chorus, of women, of the young, of slaves, and of outsiders to the city—created an exceptionally critical and interrogative art. In its critical engagement with the spectacle of tragic performance, the democratic city came to a more acute knowledge of the sources and limits of its own power.

In this class, we will examine a selection of plays from the three Attic tragedians: Aeschylus’ Oresteia; Sophocles’ Antigone,Oedipus, and Oedipus at Kolonos; and Euripides’ Ion and Bacchae. We will ask why, and in what ways, radical democracy and Athenian tragedy were mutually constitutive as we discuss themes including the ordeals of the tragic hero, the voices and position of women, the relation between the house and the state, the tension between ties of blood and ties of citizenship, and the dialectic of madness and reason. Finally, we will explore the possibility of tragedy as a form of civic education.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
October 18 — November 15, 2016
4 sessions over 5 weeks

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