Introduction: The Search for Origins
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Introduction: The Search for Origins Greek drama demands a story of orIgms. The most seductive of these, and the one that has persistently attracted scholarly adherents in the history of European drama, begins with an act of transcendence . In this anthropological narrative, dramatic mimesis has its primeval ancestor in early cult or ritual practices in Greece in which some form of mimetic enactment is preparatory to the taking on of a new identity. 1 Less seductive, but also focused on what might be called a consummate moment of transformation, is the story of drama's formal origins in which earlier modes of cultural production, in particular choral lyric and the Panhellenic epics, evolve into a new kind of civic performance-one that exemplifies the political and artistic values of the Athenian democracy. 2 Each of these stories demands 1. See Seaford 1981, 259, for a discussion of the origin of drama in rites that "function to deprive the initiand of his previous identity so that he may assume a new one." More recently, see Seaford 1994, esp. chaps. 7 and 8. Else 1965, chap. 1, gives a good overview of the scholarly tradition that finds tragedy's origins in ritual and cult practice. See also Burkert 1966. Foley (1985, 52-64) discusses the theories of Gerard and Guepin. Nietzsche's Birth afTragedy must also be mentioned in this context, on which see Silk 1981. The formal or literary antecedents to Greek drama are discussed by Hall (1989, 63); see also Herington 1985. On the "bourgeois esthetics" that has been dominant in the study of dramatic texts, see Longo 1990, 15. 2. Easterling and Kenney (1989, 87-88) epitomize this teleological narrative of Greek drama: "we have inherited from late antiquity and Byzantium a selection from the work of three tragic poets which represents, all too inadequately , the splendid flowering of this native Athenian art in the great period of imperial democracy." Cf. Else 1965, 24: "Tragedy was a peculiarly and uniquely Athenian invention, from Thespis to Theodectes." But that Attic drama is the product of a pure or unambiguous Greek imagination, what Burkert (1966, 94) refers to as the"autochthonous origin of tragedy in Attica," begs more questions than it answers. Complex cultural artifacts-especially those that develop during times of cultural dissemination and expansion (like that of Greek colonization ca. 750-550)-are not likely to be sui generis. 2 Acting Like Men our attention precisely because the historical, political, and social processes by which ritual mimesis evolved into dramatic mimesis or by which preexisting genres evolved into a new genre continue to elude us; moreover, the relationship between the institution of the Athenian theater and the emergence of Athenian democracy is not easily explained.3 The search for the origins of drama-as for any form of cultural production-necessarily involves a kind of myth making, one in which there is an a priori assumption that the myth is "isomorphic with [a] purported reality."4 In the originary stories of Attic drama, this purported reality is embedded in hypothetical, fragmentary , late, or internal evidence (i.e., internal to the dramatic texts themselves) for actual religious or performance practices that predate the plays; as a result, the truth-value of these accounts is compromised by their own built-in burden of historical or empirical evidence . This compromise does not mean, of course, that attempts to understand the processes by which Athenian drama came into existence should be abandoned; it means only that the search for drama's origins reduces the scope of that attempt and limits the usefulness of its conclusions. Another kind of origin story takes Aristotle's Poetics as its principal text and regards Aristotle as what Foucault calls the "author of a tradition" whose works-like those of Homer, Freud, and Marxgenerate an inevitable necessity for a return to the origin.5 The search for what in this case might be called the formal origins of drama-or, more precisely, for its aesthetic first principles-has a different trajectory than the search for its ritual or generic origins but serves a similar function and raises similar questions. To establish the Poetics as a prescriptive template for what constitutes the best sort of tragedy, the critic must paradoxically confer authority on a text that is itself "disjointed , full of interruptions, of digressions, and of failures in connec3 . Griffith 1995 provides an analysis of the positivism that characterizes the scholarship on Greek drama. 4. The quote is from...


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Subject Headings

  • Nostalgia -- Greece.
  • Men -- Greece.
  • Nostalgia in literature.
  • Gender identity -- Greece.
  • Masculinity -- Greece.
  • Men in literature.
  • Greek drama -- History and criticism.
  • Literature and society -- Greece.
  • Gender identity in literature.
  • Drama -- Psychological aspects.
  • Masculinity in literature.
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