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The Greek Theater

Paper Two


The Greek Theater

Spring 2014

 Paper #2 – due: Wednesday, March 19 (by 4 pm)

Choose one of the topics below and write a 5-7 page, double-spaced paper.  Make sure to follow the style guidelines (available on Blackboard).  The plays themselves and the archaeological record are still the primary sources for this paper and should remain your most important evidence, but you must also investigate secondary sources; some suggested bibliography is provided, but your are strongly encouraged to do additional research for your specific topic.  You must use at least 4 sources (not counting the plays themselves).  Make sure to include a works cited or bibliography page with your paper (not included in the page count).


The broader focus of this paper is to consider how we interpret the different types of primary sources available to the study of the ancient theater and what these sources tell us about Athenian, Sicilian, and/or Greek society, politics, and culture.  As you write your paper, keep the following questions and problems in mind: How does understanding the historical context impact our reading of the plays? What is at stake in a “democratic” reading of tragedy? How does the intersection of religion and politics play out in the architecture of the theater and the content of the plays?  Make sure to be clear about the particular context of your topic – don’t elide the Athenians with all of the Greeks, for instance, and think about chronology.  When was the play performed, where was it performed, and what was happening around the same time and in the recent past?


1.  Evaluate the figures of Theseus and Creon from Sophokles’ Oedipus plays.  How does the characterization of these men map onto constructs of Athenian democracy, subvert democratic ideals, or reflect issues pertinent to Athenian democracy?  For this topic, you may also consider the figure of Antigone.

             Cartledge, P.  1997.  “’Deep Plays’: Theater as Process in Greek Civic Life.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy, ed. P.E. Easterling, Cambridge, pp. 3-35.

             Goldhill, S.  1990.  “The Great Dionysia and Civic Ideology.”  In Nothing to do with Dionysos?  Athenian Drama in its Social Context, eds. J.J. Winkler and F.I. Zeitlin, Princeton, pp. 97-129.


 2.  Consider the place and impact of Greek – and specifically Athenian – theater in the Greek West (Southern Italy and Sicily).  What is the function of theaters (architecturally speaking) and the performance of tragedy in the western cities?  You may choose one particular city as a case study, or evaluate a broader corpus of examples.


            Denard, H.  2007.  “Lost Theater and Performance Traditions in Greece and Italy.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Theater, eds. M. McDonald and J.M.  Walton, Cambridge, pp. 139-160.

             various essays in: Bosher, K., ed.  2012.  Theater Outside Athens: Drama in Greek Sicily and South Italy, Cambridge.


3.  What is the role of the Homeric past in Greek tragedy?  Consider how Athenian plays manipulate, build on, and deal with the issues of the Trojan War.  For this paper, you can focus on the issue of xenia, nostos, general problems of warfare and destruction, or some combination thereof.  You must consider more than one play, but do not feel that you need to address every play we have read so far.  It helps to be familiar with the Iliad and Odyssey for this topic.


            Anderson, M.J.  1997.  The Fall of Troy in Early Greek Poetry and Art, Oxford.

            Anderson, M.J.  2005.  “Myth.”  In The Blackwell Companion to Greek Tragedy, ed. J. Gregory, Oxford, pp. 121-135.


    4.  The appearance of a divinity during the performance of a play is a somewhat common occurrence in both Aeschylos and Sophokles.  Evaluate the effect of this use of the divine as a tragic figure, either in epiphanic moments or as a prominent character.  Make sure to consider the religious content of the play(s) in terms of divine apparition, the setting of the sanctuary, and the overarching role of the City Dionysia festival.


            Graf, F.  2007.  “Religion and Drama.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Theater, eds. M. McDonald and J.M. Walton, Cambridge, pp. 55-71.

             Mikalson, J.D.  1991.  Honor Thy Gods: Popular Religion in Greek Tragedy, Chapel Hill.