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Frogs

May. 7th, 2007 | 02:20 pm
posted by: markagin in democracy105w

Aristophanes’s “Frogs,” like many of his other plays, is a story that uses comedy to mask a deeper, political message. It begins with the god Dionysus and his slave Xantias traveling on a journey to Hades to retrieve Euripides from the underworld. The reason for him talking this is because there are no more great tragic playwrights remaining in Athens, and Dionysus wants to bring the deceased Euripides back. Before reaching Hades, the two travel to the home of Heracles to ask him the easiest way to get there. The rest of their trip is filled with low-brow humor that was common of Aristophanes’ works.

It is during Dionysus’s boat ride to Hades that we first encounter the chorus of frogs. They will be present throughout the play, and their words often carry political messages. Upon his arrival in the underworld, Dionysus learns of the conflict going on involving Euripides. The poet is in the middle of a battle with Aeschylus, the reigning tragic poet laureate or the underworld, over who deserves to be declared the best of the underworld. Dionysus is called upon to judge a poetry contest between the two men. During this contest, Aeschylus makes a fool of Euripides, showing his works to be poorly written and simplistic. A scale is then brought out to weigh the words of the two poets, and the words of Aeschylus are much heavier than those of Euripides. In the end, Dionysus decides that Aeschylus would do much more to help Athens, and takes him from the underworld instead of Euripides. He also names Sophocles as the chair of underworld tragedy in Aeschylus’s absence.

There is much political meaning in Dionysus choosing Aeschylus. The poet Euripides was a poet of the demos. His poetry was portrayed as crude and unskillful. In the play, he prays to mysterious gods and his biggest fans are the lowlifes and criminals of the underworld. In their back and forth arguing, Euripides makes several references to democracy and how his poetry gives the power of persuasion to the common man. Here, as he did in “Wasps,” Aristophanes uses one of his characters to represent the crude, rhetorical culture of democratic Athens. Aeschylus, on the other hands, represents the noble elite. His poetry is beautiful, and does not make use of cheap tactics that appeal to the masses. The chorus of frogs also chime in with subtle shots against the democratic culture of Athens. “Men of rounded education and of sterling worth we scorn…We reject for something trashy, for a half-breed carrot top,” chime the frogs at one point. They follow up by saying, “Pick deserving public servants, as of old, my foolish friends.” It is clear was side the frogs are on. Dionysus’s choice of Aeschylus, the poet whose words are the heaviest, to bring back and help Athens is a telling one. While Euripides would no doubt appeal to the masses, only the noble poet could return it to its past “glory.”

Word Count:499

1. What was behind Aristophanes’ choice to have Dionysus originally seek Euripides from the underworld and not Aeschylus?
2. Why would Dionysus decide to make Sophocles head tragic poet of the underworld in the end instead of just giving it to Euripides in Aeschylus’s absence.

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The Wasps

May. 6th, 2007 | 09:42 pm
posted by: cbarth in democracy105w

The Wasps, written by Aristophanes around 422 B.C.E. is a political comedy with social commentary on the democracy of Athens, and more specifically the jury. The play beings with two slaves, Xanthias and Sosias, standing guard over Philocleon. The audience learns very early in a speech made by Xanthias, that Philocleon is addicted to serving on the jury. His son, Bdelycleon is now keeping him trapped in a net under house arrest to break his addiction. As his father attempts to escape, the two slaves and Bdelycleon are taunting the old man which is of course a source of comedy in the play. Soon the slaves ask Bdelycleon if they can go and rest and he explains to them that soon his father's friends will arrive to claim him and that they are as vicious as wasps when provoked.

The play now moves into the old men, dressed as wasps, attempting to locate and free Philocleon to join them in the jury. The wasps convince Philocleon to escape out the window though his sons and the slaves catch him. After securing his Philocleon, they attempt to drive off the wasps but are entangled in an argument about the significance of
participating in the jury. After much discussion, Bdelycleon convinces his father to stay at home and instead judge the servants. After trying one as a dog who ate a whole wheel of cheese and acquitting him, Philocleon feels week so Bdelycleon assures him everything will be fine and escorts him inside the house, and into a new life.

Aristophanes, as is customary in his plays, uses current events of the time period and integrates them into a comedic drama that will strike a chord with the audience. This time the play write chose to address the subject of the jury within the democracy. Throughout the play there are numerous comments demeaning their significance within the government as well as their nasty disposition. As Bdelycleon tells, "Why, this class of old men, if irritated, becomes as terrible as a swarm of wasps. They carry below their loins the sharpest of stings, with which to prick their foes; they shout and leap and their stings burn like so many sparks." I believe Aristophanes does a great job at portraying the jurors as self-important and arrogant old men living in a society that basically mocks them. By writing The Wasps, Aristophanes is criticizing the elders that constituted the jury, and through this is also criticizing the actual democracy of Athens.

1. Do you think there was an underlying problem within the juries of Athenian democracy or was Aristophanes simply creating one? If so, is there a similar situation in today's government and society?

2. In The Wasps, it is shown that the jury held no true power or authority in Ancient Athens. Within what we know about the democracy of Athens, how is this statement false and what impact did the juries really have upon the government?

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Source Analysis: Aristophanes' Wasps (Starnes)

Apr. 29th, 2007 | 06:30 pm
posted by: treys9785 in democracy105w

In Aristophanes comedy The Wasps, the audience is presented a hilarious criticism of the law courts and jury system in Athens. The play begins with Bdelycleon locking his father in the house so that he won’t be allowed to sit in the jury for the day’s cases. Philocleon, the father, tries many different ways to escape, but ultimately fails. Bdelycleon confronts him and forces him to listen to his reasoning as to why the jury is inappropriate for the life of old men. Philocleon, though very reluctant, realizes that his son his right in saying that the power of a juror is illusionary. Bdelycleon decides to hold a law court of his own to prove his point, with his father as a judge, in effect to show his father that he should have the power of house and home and that sitting on a jury isn’t acceptable.

The play is filled with humorous comments and the constant bickering of old men whom Bdelycleon describes as “wasps.” He says “Why, this class of old men, if irritated, becomes as terrible as a swarm of wasps. They carry below their loins the sharpest of stings, with which to prick their foes; they shout and leap and their stings burn like so many sparks” His arguments are based primarily on the illusion of power that the jurors feel they have. They can acquit and condemn at will, and the politicians of the city encourage them to participate, with very little pay, and usually their opinions and power matter very little in the whole scheme of things. He regards his power by saying “this grand power only resembles an anus; no matter how much you wash it, you can never get it clean.” Bdelycleon wants his father to realize how he is being used and come to his senses about jury courts.

In the final moments of the play, Bdelycleon organizes a home-made court to occupy his father and make him realize how really unqualified, and useless his courts are to the whole. Bdelycleon fashions this court in the manner of two dogs arguing over who ate a hunk of cheese with the grater and other inanimate objects as the witnesses. When it is all over, Philocleon realizes that he has acquitted a guilty “dog” and he gives up his quest to the jury. This comedy pokes fun at the old-men who comprise the jury and addresses the question as to why they embrace this illusion of power for small amounts of pay when they are unqualified to render any decisions at all? Aristophanes, while funny, mocks the Athenian legal system and the old “wasps” who act as judge and jury on all legal matters, when they could be doing something that pays better, and not become slaves to the leading politicians.

Word Count: 468

Discussion Questions:

1) Bdelycleon basically concludes that the power of the jurors is illusionary. He points to many different reasons (financial, political, etc.). What are his supporting points and how do they confirm that the power of the jurors is an illusion and that, in effect, the old men of the city are being used?

2) Bdelycleon decides to hold a court for his father to attend at home. The court is made up of slaves dressed as dogs about a chunk of cheese. What effect did this court scene perpetuate, and how does it support Bdelycleon’s original criticism of the court?

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Cartledge: Deep Tragedy

Apr. 20th, 2007 | 04:00 pm
posted by: elliotfranklin in democracy105w

In this passage, Paul Cartledge explains the role and impact of tragedy and drama in Athens. He points out that Athens throughout much of its history, and particularly its democratic history, tragedy was more that just entertainment for the average Athenian. Athens was a “performance culture”, in which there was a strong connection between the everyday life of a citizen and the theater, causing much of Athenian life to be dramatized in this style. One notable example he gives is the formation of the “resistance” against the 400 meeting in the theater at Piraeus.

Being performed at hundreds of festivals across Attica, most notably the Great Dionysia, these plays represented many things to many people. For the poor, manual workers, they were days of rest from then normal grind of life, but they carried significant religious and political motives as well. The tragedians served as the “teachers of the masses” and were used by politicians for propaganda purposes but also to instill the values and morals of the democracy into the viewers. Starting with the reforms of Ephialtes and the “dole” (allowed for even most poor to attend) was instated, this audience increased by large numbers; to the point that more people attended theater than did the assembly. The influence of the theaters as result of the dole increased greatly and the dole was eventually called “the glue of democracy”. Indeed its influence became so great that even Plato, ever the oligarch, begrudgingly confessed its importance.

Cartledge goes on to show that tragedy played a large part in the shaping and writing of other literature at the time, as well. Herodotus and Thucydides both use tragic structure in each of their respective histories, especially Thucydides. It is pretty ironic that the very form of drama the Athenians became known for throughout “Magna Graecia” would be used in this way to describe their own fall.

The use of women in tragedy had a profound impact on the politics of the state as well: allowing for more measures to be taken in order to protect them and their rights. Plays like “Women in Assembly” and “Lysistrata” presented strong women in a time when women had little to no rights, and were treated as “citizens out of courtesy”. Eventually this would impact the assembly and might have brought about the passage of a law in 451-50 BC which limited the citizenry to people born of only Athenians. This law protected Athenian women in that it forced Athenian men to only seek marriages with them and not any slave/metic/foreign women.

Cartledge brings out many very good and very valid points about the impact of tragedy on Athenians Politics. While at some times it may seem overestimated, it is not hard to imagine any if not all of these ideas to be true.

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Rosenbloom: Scholarship Analysis

Apr. 27th, 2007 | 08:05 am
posted by: mixmastamax in democracy105w

The article presented by Rosenbloom focuses on the effect that Tragedy had on the development of Athenian history and the views that were expressed by the tragedians within their prose or their “ideologies”. He concentrates on the Oresteia in particular, drawing mostly from The Eumenides. Freedom is the foremost ideology looked into and it is considered thus, “Freedom is fundamental but insufficient in the absence of justice” (Myth, History, and Hegemony in Aeschylus, 94). The history of Athens is examined to prove this statement, the Athenians felt themselves free but they in fact were not. Looking into the development of the navy in Athens proves this by showing that they eventually turned into a conquering empire rather than the freedom-fighters that they made themselves out to be. He then leads into the main topic of the article, Tragedy, “A bond existed between tragedy and freedom” (Ibid, 100).

Not just Tragedy, but Tragedy’s role in correctly, or incorrectly, portraying the events of the past. This is where myth comes into play, “history justified myth, and myth lent history the prestige of origins.”(Ibid, 101) Myth is shown in its relation to Tragedy and the emotions are highlighted which Tragedy caters to, “Pity and fear, the canonical tragic emotions, are directly analogous” (Ibid, 102). By deeply inspecting the Oresteia, he discovers that it does not lay claim to either side of the political ideals in Athens. The Oresteia actually finds a middle ground between the two which is finalized by an example of Aeschylus’ loss in competition to Sophocles because of his lack of political bias.

Aeschylus’ Oresteia does hold a harmonic balance in its political syntax. Though, I read it as not having much underlying claims to politics at all. It was simply there as a story to show the justification of morals, not political justification but sacramental justification by the Gods. It had more of a religious or philosophical air to it. The play itself surely had actions that were political in it, yet they were not founded on words, which is really what makes a play.

Word Count: 346

Questions:

What kind of theme did you believe the Oresteia to have had?

Do you believe that Myth, History, and Hegemony had direct relations to each other as Rosenbloom states?

What significance would you say Tragedy had in ancient Athens?

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Aeschylus' Agamemnon

Apr. 18th, 2007 | 02:06 am
posted by: cflong in democracy105w

This play begins with a speech by the Watchman at Agamemnon’s palace. He is watching for a fire signaling the war has been won. He soon sees the signal of the fall of Troy. The Queen, Clytaemestra comes on stage to announce that they have won the war over Troy and comments on how much she has missed her husband, Agamemnon. However, the Chorus is slightly skeptical of the victory because they strongly disliked the war

Not long after, Agamemnon returns from the war in a chariot accompanied by a new woman, Cassandra, a soothsayer. Clytaemestra who keeps trying to get him to enter the house on a red carpet she had rolled out for him greets Agamemnon, excited to praise the gods for his victory in war. He refuses numerous times to do this as he feels it is inappropriate because he is a mere mortal. However, he soon yields to his persistent wife.

Clytaemestra comes back out of the house to invite Cassandra in but she does not respond to Clytaemestra. Once Clytaemestra returns to the house, Cassandra has many visions about the future, including her own death and that of Agamemnon. After she reveals these visions to the Chorus she enters the house because it is her destiny to die there.

Screams come from inside the house and it is soon revealed that Agamemnon has been murdered in the bathtub and Cassandra is dead as well. Clytaemestra reveals all that she has done and does not exhibit a bit of remorse. The Chorus is shocked and completely rejects her as Clytaemestra tries to validate her murders. She feels as though her husband deserved all of this because he sacrificed Clytaemestra’s eldest daughter, Iphigeneia. The Chorus still refuses to accept this and Clytaemestra will not allow a public mourning for Agamemnon

At the end of the play, Aegisthus, Clytaemestra’s lover, comes on stage and reveals that he had a hand in helping to plot the murder of Agamemnon. The Chorus taunts him for having cowardly and womanly ways because he did not execute the murders himself. Clytaemestra tells him that every thing is fine because it is finally the two of them that have all the power and they enter the house and shut the door behind them.


Word Count: 389

Discussion Questions:

1. How does Clytamestra's slaying of her husband relate to the themes of Athenian Democracy?

2. Athenian Democracy is portrayed through the story of Agememnon which begins with the dark overtones of the war with Troy. How does this war with Troy exemplify the use of democracy in Agamemnon's Athens?

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Scholarship Analysis: Rosenbloom, Myth, History, and Hegemony in Aeschylus

Apr. 17th, 2007 | 08:19 pm
posted by: lizbettinger in democracy105w

Questions:
1. Why does Rosenbloom conclude that “the vision of [Aeschylus’] drama implies that naval hegemony, the form of war built upon it, the power derived from it, and most of all, the delusions of conquest and justice it supports, can be deleterious to the polis,” (Rosenbloom, 95)?
2. What do you believe are the connections between history, myth, and tragedy? Was Aeschylus trying to convey a particular message?

Summary and Analysis:

Rosenbloom begins his essay by quoting Geroges Duby who argues that a societies’ mores are built on objective or mythical representations of the past (Rosenbloom, 91). Rosenbloom finds Duby’s point poignant for Aeschylus’ tragedies, in that his tragedies depict the future as resulting from a narrative sense of history. The Athenians created a new mythic tradition for themselves, having been largely excluded from the heroic traditions of the past, in the theater. However, Rosenbloom points out that tragedy distorts history based on its conventions (Rosenbloom, 91).

Rosenbloom asserts that a fundamental ideology and “an inference from history” of the Greeks, and the Athenians in particular, is “the ideology of freedom” and that this ideology is expanded upon in Aeschylean tragedies (Rosenbloom, 91). Rosenbloom see Aeschylus’ tragedies as morality tales in how Athens should function (Rosenbloom, 98). Tragedy in general, Rosenbloom argues, was for the Athenians a means of envisioning themselves as the suffering of others in another time and place (Rosenbloom, 102). However, Aeschylus tragedies also deal with the reality of Athenian imperialism. Therefore, Rosenbloom also sees Aeschylus drama as trying to reconcile freedom with the material values of imperialism.

This leads Rosenbloom into his second point based on Herodotus’ belief that “freedom is a precondition for domination” in that while Athens saw itself as the “liberator of Hellas” it was an imperialist power (Rosenbloom, 92 and 99). In the Persians, Greece must defend itself against invasion by the Persian Empire. However, after the invasion and during the time of the plays performance the Athenians dominated the areas Xerexes failed to control in his naval battles. Thus, the Persians represents the change from military to naval power in Athens (Rosenbloom, 94). Indeed it was after the Persian Wars that Athens began to cement its ideology and tragedy first flourished with the arrival of the empire.

After analyzing various plays by Aeschylus, Rosenbloom ends with the anecdote that Aeschylus left Athens after losing to Sophocles (Rosenbloom, 117). Rosenbloom believes that the generals’ preference of Sophocles over Aeschylus is telling of the tone and messages of his plays which argued against Athenian naval and imperialist power. Rosenbloom devises that with the Eumenides, Aeschylus makes his political point; that the city should seek moderation in its power.

Word Count: 455

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Eumenides

Apr. 17th, 2007 | 07:02 pm
posted by: sarahjane4 in democracy105w

The Eumenides, the concluding scene of the trilogy Oresteia, is a useful tool for demonstrating the relationship between tragedy and the political atmosphere of Athens. The tale of Eumenides involves the seminal case determining the fate of Orestes, who is was condemned for the murder of his mother, Clytaemestra. Orestes was advised to do so by the god Apollo in order to seek avenge for this father, the king, for it was his mother who murdered Agamemnon unexpectedly one evening as he bathed.

The majority of the play takes place before the temple of Athene on the Acropolis of Athens. It is here where Athene judges the case between Orestes and the Furies, who represent the “old gods” and demand justice for the murder of a mother by her own son. Athene uses this opportunity to educate the people of Athens on the litigious process, and calls upon twelve jurors to offer their opinion in this procedure.

A dialogue ensues between Apollo, in defense of Orestes, and the Furies, in which the two debate the meaning of justice and its application to the present case. By a highly slim margin, the court rules in favor of Orestes, which was determined by the vote of Athene, for the jury was indecisive and ruled in a tie. Following the results of the case, the Furies were outraged and accused the people of Athens of being unjust, and for denouncing the opinion of the older generation of gods. Athene attempts to reason with them by establishing a place within Athens in which the Furies can reside without being cast as outcasts, but rather as protectorates of the polis. Regardless of their initial fury and outrage, their discontent is melted by the persuasive abilities of Athene, and the Furies ultimately accept Athene’s offer.

The Eumenides is a prime example of the political function of tragedy within classical Athens. Aeschylus used the role of Athene in order to heighten the awareness among the common citizenry to the litigious procedure of the court. According to Henderson, in his article Drama and Democracy, this was a common function of Athenian tragedy during the 5th century, and like “the orators, and like all the Greek poets before them, the dramatists were expected to inform, to instruct, and within certain bounds even to castigate their audiences” (Henderson 186).

Aeschylus may also have used his characters in order stress the need to establish a balance between the political atmospheres of the present with that of the past. The Furies, representing the older gods who were made outcast by Zeus, have been replaced with a newer generation of gods with new, conflicting philosophies. However, Athene, with her moderate rationale and willingness to negotiate, can be seen as being reflective of the possibility for reconciliation between both spheres of society.

1. What do you feel the significance is of the use of female, protagonist characters? Do you feel this is demonstrative of Greek tragedy as a reflection of the egalitarian principles of democracy?
2. In your opinion, what are the greatest implications of justice found within the play?

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The Libation Bearers

Apr. 16th, 2007 | 11:25 am
posted by: gpolhemus in democracy105w

Drama in ancient Greece was directly tied to the gods. The great Dionysian in Athens was a sort of temple where every play that was performed was in ceremonial tribute to Dionysus. The tragedies that were performed were lessons the art of drama was to evoke a catharsis among the audience. Sitting in the theatron, the citizen of Athens were to learn from the behaviors of the characters. When the tragic hero makes the wrong decision, betrays his fellow man or the gods, he will be punished. Thus, the citizens will not reciprocate these actions in real life out of fear of punishment.
In the Libation Bearers, Aeschylus tells the story of Orestes returning to Argos after hearing of his father’s death. After reuniting with his sister, Electra, at their father’s grave, Orestes and his friend Pylades go into town disguised as travelers in need of rest. Clytaemestra allows them to enter the gates. Once inside, Orestes tell her the false news of his own death. After Clytaemestra and Aegisthus learn this news they feel relief, with Orestes’ death, brings the end of threat to their rule. Aegisthus is murdered first by Orestes. Clytaemestra learning that the traveler is Orestes desperately pleas for her life and for her throne; she tries to persuade Orestes to spare her because she was the one who gave him life and raised him with unconditional love. Orestes drags Clytaemestra over to Aegisthus’ body and proceeds to murder her. Throughout the play the chorus reminds Orestes of the consequences of his actions.
The libation Bearers discusses the issue of one’s birthright. One cannot choose how their life will play out; however, one does have the choice to act in the situations that are placed before them. Orestes is caught between a rock and a hard place; his mother has successfully murdered his father and alongside Aegisthus, now controls Argos. Orestes is bound by the furies to get payment for Agamemnon’s blood; however if he kills Clytaemestra, the Furies will come to collect for her blood as well. The objective is to choose the lesser of the two evils. Apollo grants Orestes his permission for vengeance against his mother, ending the curse upon his house, thus Orestes chooses this route.
The lesson learned is that decisions will not always be easy, life is unfair and unpredictable; one must make the best decision possible, in order to ensure preservation of the laws of men. Also, this tragedy depicts the significance of the gods in mortal’s decisions. Drama is cyclical in that the plays are rituals to the gods, portraying situations where humans get punished for not following the rules of the gods. This play includes both levels, portraying both the laws of the gods as well as the laws of men. Orestes had a duty as a citizen of Argos, as a son of Agamemnon, to take his place as ruler; he also has the duty by the gods to repay the blood of his dead father.

Word Count: 500

Questions:
1. Do you feel as though the citizens of Athens truly did base their actions on the lessons from tragedies?
2. Why is it that Orestes accepted Apollo’s promise of protection over the threat of the Furies?

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Source Analysis: Thucydides 2.49ff

Apr. 14th, 2007 | 07:30 pm
posted by: carlymac in democracy105w

In this excerpt, Pericles is speaking at a funeral for those who have been killed in battle. After praising Athens’s government and people, he addresses the families of the fallen. The dichotomy between his words to the male and female members offers an insightful contrast to the difference between men and women’s place in society.
Pericles first reminds his audience that the man who died did so “gloriously.” The purpose of this is to assuage grief, but more so to honor the dead and call the other men to fight in their celebrated place.
He highlights this obligation for the boys to stand up and fight when he addresses the sons and brothers of the fallen.
His words to the mothers and widows are quite different. He reminded them to be stoic in their grief, telling them that the greatest glory that can come to a woman is to avoid being talked about by the men, no matter what the nature of the talk. He does not allow for any real grieving, at least not open grieving. He tells the women that are young enough that they should simply have more sons so that they will miss the lost sons less. Also, this will provide the polis with more soldiers. Pericles tells the women that they should be proud that they contributed to Athens by providing sons to die defending it.
Pericles speaks with a tone that conveys warmth and sympathy, but really, he is being very cold and harsh. He has no understanding for the plight of the families, especially for the mothers and other women. The purpose of the funeral speech was less to consol and support than it was to rally the troops and remind all of Athens to play their role in the polis.


Word Count: 298

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