An Audience in Athens During Agamemnon by Aeschylus, Sir William Blake Richmond 1884
Today’s sharings from the Blue House of HYGEIA is a excerpt from Athenaeus’s ‘Learned Banqueteers or Deipnosophists’, Book VI opening. Loeb Classical Library. 2008. Edited and translated by S. Douglas Olson.
In this excerpt, we see two comical poets, Antiphanes and Timocles, appraise, in a semi-serious manner, tragedy as a tool for the arising of collective (and self-) consciousness. Tragedians wrote expositions and led healing processes of traumatic and trans-generational abuses and their mythical stories catalog offered powerful catharsis and atonement momentums.
In therapy, there is a saying: ‘Seeing is half of the healing’. But it is not only about seeing the problems, it is also about letting the power of words do their reaching and grasping work. They provide through the workings of the archetypal myths they manifest, an elaborated story-line displaying individual and collective therapeutical value.
Aeschylus’ “Oresteia’ is an example of how his trilogy, through his art and craft, could prevent a civil war and establish a model (in French, un etalon) for the separation of powers of the young Athenian Democracy of his time. A miracle upon a miracle.
‘Tragedy’s a thoroughly enviable type of poetry! The plots, first of all, are familiar to the audience before anyone speaks a word: So, all the poet has to do is offer a reminder. Because when the narrator says: ‘Oedipus’, they know everything else: his father’s Laius, his mother’s Jocasta; who his daughters and his sons are: what’s going to happen to him: what’s he’s done. Again, if someone mentions Alcmaeon. He’s as good as named all his children, plus the fact that he went crazy and killed his mother, and that Adrastus is going to get annoyed and come straight home and go off again…Then, when they run out of anything to say and have totally collapsed from exhaustion in their plays, they raise the theatrical crane like a white flag (egg. the ‘deus ex machina intervention of a mythological god solving in top-down way a situation or a problem) and the audience is satisfied! We (the comical poets) don’t have these advantages, so we have to invent everything: new names; and then what happened previously, the current situation, the conclusion, and the introduction. If some Chremes or Pheidon (typical comical characters) omits even one of these points, he’s hissed off the stage; but they let Peleus and Teucer (two typical tragic heroes) get away with this.’
‘Listen, my dear, and see if what i say makes sense to you. Man’s creature doomed to trouble by his very nature, and his life brings many griefs with it. He therefore invented these ways of distracting himself from anxious thoughts; because after your mind forgets its own problems and gets entranced by someone else’s suffering, it leaves happy, plus educated. Consider first, if you will, the benefits the tragedians bestow on everyone. One guy, who is a pauper, find’s out that Telephus was poorer than he is, and immediately he has an easier time putting up with his own poverty. The man who’s a bit unstable thinks of Alcmaeon. Someone has an infected eye; Phineus’ sons are blind. Someone’s child has died; Niobe cheers him up. Someone’s crippled; he sees Philoctetes. An old man’s down on his luck; he finds out about Oineus. Because when a person considers all the bad luck even worse than his own that’s hit other people, he complains less about his own troubles.’
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