Humanity’s Many Wonders: Reading Tragic Choruses Online

Sophocles, Antigone 332-341

“There are many wonders and none
is more awe-inspiring than humanity.
This thing that crosses the sea
as it whorls under a stormy wind
finding a path on enveloping waves.
It wears down imperishable Earth, too,
the oldest of the gods, a tireless deity,
as the plows trace lives from year to year
drawn by the race of horses….”

?Ο. Πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀν-
θρώπου δεινότερον πέλει·
τοῦτο καὶ πολιοῦ πέραν
πόντου χειμερίῳ νότῳ
χωρεῖ, περιβρυχίοισιν
περῶν ὑπ’ οἴδμασιν, θεῶν
τε τὰν ὑπερτάταν, Γᾶν
ἄφθιτον, ἀκαμάταν, ἀποτρύεται,
ἰλλομένων ἀρότρων ἔτος εἰς ἔτος,
ἱππείῳ γένει πολεύων.

RGTO Chorus

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ with discussion and interpretation during our time of isolation and social distancing. As Paul O’Mahony, whose idea this whole thing was said in an earlier blog post, Since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen. This process is therapeutic for us; and it helps us think about how tragedy may have had similar functions in the ancient world as well.

This week is dedicated entirely to the chorus, that most challenging of features of ancient Greek tragedy for modern stages. The chorus was not restricted to the dramatic stage in Ancient Greece. Ritual singing and dancing in groups seems to have been widespread: we find choral activity in Homer (Odyssey 8.264) and the Homeric hymns as well as Hesiod where the Muses are said to perform as Apollo plays the lyre. Indeed, several genres of Greek poetry where choral in structure and performance (including Epinician poetry like Pindar’s or the fragmentary poetry of Alcman).

The traditional story is that Greek tragedy developed out of Choral performances in honor of Dionysus. Over time, the performances grew more elaborate and as they told the stories of gods and heroes parts were individuated. While this traditional account is not certain, it is certain that the chorus was one of the most important parts of the performance of tragedy in Athens. It was the responsibility of an archon each year in Athens to choose the choregoi to select, finance, and have the chorus trained. The chorus was the central spectacle of tragedy in the beginning, with 12-15 performers singing and dancing in the orchestra in front of the stage and rarely leaving the scene.

In modern performances, the music and dance of the chorus often take a back seat to the poetry. The choral odes are where we find much of the most memorable poetry from ancient tragedy. But we often forget that these were songs too. So today we are going to take a look at the chorus and some different ways of conceiving it on the small screen.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 176-183

“[Zeus] puts mortals on
The journey of comprehension.
And made this the powerful law:
We learn by suffering.
Pain-recalling trouble trickles
Through the heart in sleep—
And wisdom comes just so
To the unwilling.
The gods seated on their sacred seats
Bestow a hard grace I think.”

Ζῆνα δέ τις προφρόνως ἐπινίκια κλάζων
τεύξεται φρενῶν τὸ πᾶν,

τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ-
σαντα, τὸν πάθει μάθος
θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.
στάζει δ’ ἀνθ’ ὕπνου πρὸ καρδίας
μνησιπήμων πόνος· καὶ παρ’ ἄ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.
δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος
σέλμα σεμνὸν ἡμένων.

Scenes

  1. Parodos from Antigone, 101-163
  2. Parodos from Agamemnon, 40-263
  3. “Ode to Man” from Sophocles, Antigone 377-416
  4. 5th Stasimon from Euripides’ Medea 1251-1292
  5. 5th Stasimon from Sophocles’ Antigone 1115-1154
  6.  Binding Song from Aeschylus, Eumenides 307-396

Sophocles, Antigone 141-145

“The seven leaders appointed to their seven gates
dedicated their bronze arms
to Zeus who turns the battle
except for only those two born
of a singer mother and father
who faced each other’s spears
each with a share of victory and death.”

ἑπτὰ λοχαγοὶ γὰρ ἐφ᾽ ἑπτὰ πύλαις
ταχθέντες ἴσοι πρὸς ἴσους ἔλιπον
Ζηνὶ τροπαίῳ πάγχαλκα τέλη,
πλὴν τοῖν στυγεροῖν, ὣ πατρὸς ἑνὸς
μητρός τε μιᾶς φύντε καθ᾽ αὑτοῖν
δικρατεῖς λόγχας στήσαντ᾽ ἔχετον
κοινοῦ θανάτου μέρος ἄμφω.

Performers

Hannah Barrie

Bettina Joy de Guzman

Tim Delap

T. Lynn Mikeska

Evelyn Miller

Paul O’Mahony

Sara Valentine

Special Guest: Anna Uhlig

Dramaturgical assistance: Emma Pauly

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support: Lanah Koelle, Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone

Euripides, Medea 1261-1270

“Pointless was the labor for your children
pointless when you raised dear offspring,
woman who escaped the Symplegades’ clash
of their dark cliffs in those straits
most unwelcoming to strangers.
Wretch of a woman, why does irrational rage
overcome you and one cruel murder answer another?
Mortals find the pollution from family’s blood overwhelming–
Grief from the gods stalks murderers equal to their deeds,
falling upon their houses.”

μάταν μόχθος ἔρρει τέκνων,
μάταν ἄρα γένος φίλιον ἔτεκες, ὦ
κυανεᾶν λιποῦσα Συμπληγάδων
πετρᾶν ἀξενωτάταν ἐσβολάν.
δειλαία, τί σοι φρενοβαρὴς
χόλος προσπίτνει καὶ ζαμενὴς <φόνου>
φόνος ἀμείβεται;
χαλεπὰ γὰρ βροτοῖς ὁμογενῆ μιά-
σματ᾽, ἕπεται δ᾽ ἅμ᾽ αὐτοφόνταις ξυνῳ-
δὰ θεόθεν πίτνοντ᾽ ἐπὶ δόμοις ἄχη.

Upcoming Readings (Go here for the project page)

The Chorus, July 29th [Special 10 AM time]

Sophocles, Antigone August 5

Sophocles, Electra, August 12

Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris, August 19th

Videos of Earlier Sessions (Go here for the project page)
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th
Euripides, Orestes May 6th
Aeschylus, Persians, May 13th
Euripides, Trojan Women May 20th
Sophocles’ Ajax, May 27th
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th

Euripides, Ion,  June 17th

Euripides, Hecuba June 24th

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound June 30th

Euripides, Andromache 

Aristophanes, Clouds July 15th

Euripides, AlcestisJuly 22nd

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