restricted access 4. The Theater of Tyranny
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4 The Theater of Tyranny As a defining feature in the history of the developing Athenian polis, the Pisistratid narratives represent a transition from primarily mythological or legendary descriptions and explanations of past events to a more recognizably historical account of contemporary people and places. At the same time, the generic differences between myth (or poetry) and history that enable this notion of a transition ultimately fail to conceal the fact that historical narratives, like mythological ones, are "verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found."l We can credit Aristotle with establishing the naturalness of this distinction and for the subsequent and persistent attempt to maintain it in the history of European ideas.2 For the difference between myth and narrative history has less to do with form and content per se and more to do with their reception in which history is subjected to questions of evidence while myth is subjected to questions of transcendent meaning. Indeed, myth and history are created as such by the sorts of questions they elicit. Adopting an approach between these two methods of inquiry-that is, between the search for social reality, on the one hand, and for transcendent meaning, on the other-we can bring the narrative of the Pisistratid tyranny into view as an expression of Athenian political and social ideology.3 This ideological content is the common denominator that transcends the generic differences between narrative history and myth. The Pisistratid narratives in particular are subject to such an approach because, as suggested already, they occupy a middle position in Athenian self-fashioning between a distant mythological past and a more immediate historical past. And while this more immediate past is not strictly mytholo1 . The quotation is from White 1978, 82. 2. Aristotle Poetics 1451a37-1451b32, 1461blO ff. 3. See Ober 1989, 38-43, for an excellent discussion of the meaning of ideology in the context of Athenian social and political life. 144 The Theater of Tyranny 145 gized, it is invented as a series of dramatized, or theater-like, events. The purpose of this chapter is to investigate this representational strategy and to show how the dramatic character of the Pisistratid tyranny-what I am calling the theater of tyranny in Athensillustrates the proposition that gender ideology is a constituent feature of Athenian political ideology. In Plutarch's Life of Solon, Pisistratus is implicitly compared to Thespis, the first tragic actor, whom Solon calls a "deceiver of the people" (29.4). In his 1957 article titled "The Origin of TPArQIMA," Gerald Else argues that the account of tyranny in sixth-century Athens is an account of theater-like events in which the city is a stage, the tyrant is an actor, and the Athenian citizens are his captive audience.4 Else's purpose, as the title of his article makes clear, is to give an account of the origin of tragedy in which Pisistratus' tactics take their place in the early development of the genre. I am interested, like Else, in the tyrant's theater-like activities, but I am not interested in proving their historicity as part of a story of tragedy's origins.5 Rather, I want to show first of all how those activities are productive of a significant feature of the Pisistratid narratives, namely, a persistent ambivalence toward the tyrant's presence and power in Athens. Acquiescence to that power, represented in the Athenians' complicity or complacency, is both implied and resisted in the ancient sources; at stake in this narrative scheme is the validity of competing versions of Athenian political history and identity, both ofwhich are founded on a normative version of Greek masculinity.6 To anticipate my argument, Athens' citizens are positioned as passive spectators in the presence of the tyrant, spectators who risk failing to meet the gender- and culturespecific requirements that guarantee a normative history and identity; in the narrative of the tyranny, they are liable to act more like women 4. Else (1957b,J6 ff.) concludes that "the tragic actor [Thespis] ... brought forth the political actor [Pisistratus]." Cf. Else 1965, 68-69. 5. In the introduction, I discuss the search for drama's origins. 6. McGlew (1993, 5) comes to a similar conclusion but with a different focus: "must as the city's initial complicity with its tyrant established the basis for resisting him, that resistance was the basis of an enduring complicity between the polis and tyranny." Wohl (1996) provides a suggestive discussion of the...


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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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