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The Evergreen State College

Last Updated: 03/29/2008

Apollo and Dionysus

Knowing Nature

2007 - 08

Please see this page for detailed assignments.

Andrew Reece
Apollo and Dionysus: A Study of Greek Tragedy

Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is admirable, complete and possesses magnitude; in language made pleasurable, each of its species separated in different parts; performed by actors, not through narration; effecting through pity and fear the purification of such emotions. Aristotle, Poetics.

The genesis of tragedy cannot be explained by saying that things happen, after all, just as tragically in real life. Art is not an imitation of nature but its metaphysical supplement, raised up beside it in order to overcome it. Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Zeus has led us on to know,
The Helmsman lays it down as law
that we must suffer, suffer into truth. the Chorus of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon

Twenty five centuries ago, on a hillside in Athens, Greeks would gather excitedly to watch men and women murdered, maimed, and driven to madness on the stage. They did this in religious festivals dedicated to their gods. Tragedy was for these Greeks a spectacle, a rite, and a source of wisdom. It helped them figure out who they were: it showed them situated precariously between civilization and savagery, between the bestial and the divine. In the theater, Greeks confronted their aspirations for nobility and justice and their despair at their all too human fragility. Occasionally they saw themselves triumph, beyond all expectation.

Twenty five centuries later, on the other side of the world, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides still invite us to suffer into truth, alongside Orestes, Oedipus, Jason, and the other doomed heroes. The centuries have scarcely dimmed or softened the harsh light to which, and by which, we are exposed by theater’s first masters.

In this course, we study these playwrights’ tragedies partly in order to learn about ancient Greek views about fate, human nature, and divinity, among other themes. We also study them in order to face up to the hard teachings that the poets offer us about the same. We want to learn what tragedy is and what it can do for us. In these ambitions we will be helped by two profound interpreters of Greek tragedy, Aristotle and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Students will participate in seminars on the readings, stage scenes, and write interpretive and imaginative responses to the tragedies.

Texts to purchase: (see books page for required editions)

Friedrich Nietzsche et al. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings

Aeschylus. The Oresteia: Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers, the Eumenides

Sophocles. The Three Theban Plays: Antigone; Oedipus the King; Oedipus at Colonus

Euripides. The Complete Greek Tragedies: Euripides I

C K Williams and Martha Nussbaum. The Bacchae of Euripides: A New Version

Aristotle. Poetics