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Supporting Materials for Lectures

Lecture 7: The Theatre of the Dispossessed

This is the title of a book by Augusto Boal about theatre in Peru, but it accurately describes the relationship between politically dis-empowered groups in the Attic theatre: (i) women, (ii) children, (iii) foreigners. I do not intend to betray the leftist ethos of this work by including a fourth group-(iv) the dead.

  1. Women
    In contrast to their limited role in contemporary Athenian society (secluded in the house by purdah, their sphere of action being limited by the house-door, so that in Soph. El. 329-30 Electra is rebuked for appearing out of doors, not citizens, but perpetual minors, all governed by a male kurios, given in marriage by the kurios at a ceremony of betrothal that they themselves did not attend, and supposed to be mentioned neither in praise nor blame [Thucydides 2.46], expected willingly to sacrifice themselves for the good of the state or family), women were of great importance in the world represented on the tragic stage. Discuss this fact and the concept of the "female intruder" such as Clytaemnestra, Medea, and Lysistrata. Consider that the roles of women were played by men, the words they spoke were written by men. Especially interesting for this topic is Aesch. Eum.


    • A. W. Gomme, "The Position of Women in Athens," Classical Philology 20 (1925) 1-26 = Essays in Greek History (Oxford 1937) 89-115.
    • D. C. Richter, "The Position of Women in Classical Athens," The Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 6 (1975) 153-70.
    • R. Just, "Conceptions of Women in Classical Athens," The Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 6 (1975) 153-70.
    • M. Shaw, "The Female Intruder: Women in Fifth-Century Drama," Classical Philology 70 (1975) 255-66.
    • E. Lévy, "Les femmes chez Aristophane," Ktèma 1 (1976) 110.
    • D. Schaps, "The Woman Least Mentioned: Etiquette and Women's Names," Classical Quarterly 27 (1977) 323-30.
    • F. Zeitlin, Dynamic Misogyny in the Oresteia," Arethusa 11 (1978) 149-84.
    • J. P. Gould, "Women in Classical Greece," Journal of Hellenic Studies 100 (1980) 38-59.
    • A. H. Sommerstein, "The Naming of Women in Greek and Roman Comedy," Quaderni di storia 11 (1980) 393-418.
    • M. Gilleland, "Female Speech in Greek and Latin," American Journal of Philology 101 (1980) 180-3.
    • H. P. Foley, "The Conception of Women in Athenian Drama," in Reflections of Women in Antiquity, ed. H. P. Foley (New York 1981) 127-68.
    • H. P. Foley, "The 'Female Intruder' Reconsidered," Classical Philology 77 (1982) 1-21.
    • R. P. Winnington-Ingram, "Sophocles and Women," in J. de Romilly ed. Sophocle = Fondation Hardt, Entretiens 29 (Geneva 1982) 233-57.
    • C. Nancy, "Euripide et le parti des femmes," Quaderni urbinati di cultura classica 17 (1984) 111-36.
    • J. Assaël, "Misogynie et f&eacuteminisme chez Aristophane et chez Euripide," Pallas 32 (1985) 93ff.
    • S. Wiersma, "Women in Sophocles," Mnemosyne 37 (1984) 25-55.
    • J. Henderson, "Older Women in Attic Old Comedy," Transactions of the American Philological Association 117 (1987) 105-29.
    • P. E. Easterling, "Women in Tragic Space," Bulletin of the Institute for Classical Studies 34 (1987) 15-26.
    • M. La Matina, "Donne in Aristofane: Appunti per una semiotica della esclusione," 84 in J. Vibaek, ed., Donna e società (Palermo 1987).
    • G. Clark, Women in the Ancient World (Oxford 1989).
    • D. Cohen, "Seclusion, Separation and the Status of Women in Classical Athens," Greece and Rome 36 (1989) 3-15.
    • A. Powell, ed. Euripides, Women and Sexuality (London and New York 1990).
    • A. J. Podlecki, "Could Women Attend the Theater in ancient Athens? A Collection of Testimonia," Ancient World 21 (1990) 27-43.
    • S. de Bouveis, Women in Greek Tragedy (Oslo 1990).
    • R. Seaford, "The Imprisonment of Women in Greek Tragedy," Journal of Hellenic Studies 110 (1990) 76-90.
    • J. Henderson, "Women and the Athenian Dramatic Festivals," Transactions of the American Philological Association 121 (1991) 133-47.
    • N. Loraux, "Aristophane, les femmes d'Athènes et le théâtre" 203-44 in J. M. Bremer and E. W. Handley, edd., Aristophane = Fondation Hardt Entretiens 38 (Geneva 1991).
    • C. Cox, review of R. Just, Women in Athenian Law and Life in Ancient History Bulletin 6 (1992) 177-86.
    • R. E. Harder, Die Frauenrollen bei Euripides (Stuttgart 1993).
    • L. K. Taaffe, Aristophanes and Women (London and New York 1993).


  2. The Theatre and the Male Gaze
    Recent feminist theory, inspired by Freudian sex-based psychology, argues that VISION is a male prerogative, an expression of sexual aggression; the female conversely, is designated by what is VISIBLY lacking by male, phallocentric standards. This can change the way in which the theatre is perceived. Consider this perspective in the light of the Greek theatre (theatron, literally a "place for watching" from the same root as "theory"; contrast Latin AUDITORIUM, "a place for hearing") with its sexually charged space of the scene-building with its women's area (the muchos or gynaikonitis, Ltn PENETRALIA) and the stage (for men). Consider other aspects of sight, e.g. [1] blinding as pseudo-castration (Oedipus, Cyclops, Thamyras, Glouchester), [2] voyeurism (Actaeon, Pentheus in Eur. Bacchae, Gyges in the anonymous Gyges-Tragedy [fr. adespoton 664 TrGF, published by D. L. Page, A New Chapter in the History of Greek Tragedy [1953]) note that while Phaedra and Eurydice in Soph. Antigone are eavesdroppers, Hippolytus is a voyeur), [3] exhibitionism (Candaules), [4] the reversal of sex-roles (Clytaemnestra's "man-counseling heart" and Lady MacBeth's line, "unsex me now"), and [5] transvestism (Pentheus, Achilles on Scyros, Euripides' cousin in Ar. Thesm.); the theatre as a whole with all female roles played by male actors is transvestite. Note that many forms of sexual deviance that do not involve sight are ignored by tragedy (e.g. pedophilia, necrophilia, which figures in Herodotus, sadism, masochism, etc.). Discuss scoptophilia.


    • S. Freud, "The Uncanny," Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works vol. 17 p. 231.
    • J. Merleau-Ponty (trans. A. Lingis), The Visible and the Invisible (Evanston 1968).
    • J. Lacan (trans. A. Sheridan), "The Split between the Eye and the Gaze," in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (New York 1977) 67-78.
    • L. Irigaray in E. Marks and I. de Courtivron, New French Feminisms: An Anthology (Amherst, Mass. 1980) 101.
    • J. Gallop, Feminism and Psychoanalysis: the Daughter's Seduction (London 1982) 58.
    • T. Moi, Sexual/ Textual Politics (London and New York 1985) 134, summarizing L. Irigaray, Ce sexe que n'est pas un (Paris 1977).
    • N. Loraux (A. Forster trans.), Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman (Cambridge, Mass. 1987).
    • P. Dubois, Sowing the Body (Chicago and London 1988).


  3. Children
    Children tend to be portrayed as mindless idiots on the Greek stage: relevant to this is the fact that the Greek word for idiot" n-epios, literally means "in-fant", i.e. "not speaking", so too in Modern Greek "baby" is moro, literally a "moron"; Creon prevents Oedipus at the end of Soph. Oedipus the King from giving advice to his children, saying that they have no wits. The Greeks felt no nostalgia for childhood; gods grow up very fast (Hermes steals at three days, Heracles strangles snakes in his cradle). Were the roles of children performed by midgets (nanoi), adult actors speaking form the wings or on stage (as in Eur. Alcestis; see A. M. Dale's commentary, page xx), by real-life children (maybe apprentice-actors, the sons or nephews of adult actors; acting like most professions ran in families; actors enter Noh theatre at seven years and the Elizabethan theatre at ten) or by a child miming while an actor sings? For the (atypical) affectionate treatment of childhood, see the speech of Cilissa in Aesch. Cho. and of Strepsiades in Ar. Clouds. Did children attend the theatre (Ar. says in the parabasis of Clouds that the comic phallus serves to arouse boys and Plato in the Republic says that children should be excluded from the theatre)?

    Relevant passages include, speaking parts: Astyanax in Eur. Andr. 504ff, Eumelus in Eur. Alc. 393ff, Supp. 1123ff and Med. 1271ff, silent parts: Eurysaces in Soph. Aj., the daughters of Oedipus in Soph. Oedipus the King, the children of Heracles in Eur. Her., the children of Jason in Eur. Med.; choruses: Eur. Suppl. and Ar. Wasps.


    • P. Masqueray, "Euripide et les enfants," Revue des études anciennes 8 (1906) 85-92.
    • G. M. Sifakis, "Children in Greek Tragedy," Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 26 (1979) 67-80.
    • A. R. Rose, "The Significance of the Nurse's Speech in Aeschylus' Choephori," Classical Bulletin 58 (1982) 49-50.
    • R. J. Rabel, "The Lost Children of the Oresteia," Eranos 82 (1984) 211-3.
    • T. A. Tarkow, "Tragedy and Transformation: Parent and Child in Euripides' Hecuba," Maia 36 (1984) 123-36.
    • M. Golden, Children and Childhood in Classical Athens (Baltimore 1990).


  4. Foreigners
    Consider the role of foreigners, meaning "Non-Greek" (barbaros) as distinct from "Non-Athenian Greek" (xenos) of whom the archetype on the Greek stage is the Persian; they exist in the space between male and female (this is especially true of Dionysus and the Phrygian Eunuch) and exemplify what is undemocratic and unfree (especially the chorus of Aesch. Persians). Characters of note are everybody in Aesch. Persians and the sons of Aegyptus in Aesch. Suppliant Maidens, Tecmessa in Soph. Ajax, Medea in Eur. Medea, Dionysus in Eur. Bacchae, the Phrygian eunuch in Eur. Orestes, and the Triballian god in Ar. Birds.


    • H. H. Bacon, Barbarians in Greek Tragedy (New Haven 1961).
    • O. Reverdin, "Crise spirituelle et évasion," in H. Schwabl ed., Grecs et barbares = Fondation Hardt, Entretiens 8 (Geneva 1962) 83-120.
    • Baldry, The Unity of Mankind in Greek Thought (Cambridge 1965) 8-51.
    • T. Long, Barbarians in Greek Comedy (Carbondale and Edwardsville 1986).
    • C. Brizhe, "La langue de l'étranger non-Grec chez Aristophane," in R. Louis ed., L'étranger dans le monde Grec (Nancy 1988) 113-38.
    • E. Hall, Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition Through Tragedy (Oxford 1989).
    • E. Hall, "The Archer Scene in Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae," Philologus 133 (1989) 38-54.
    • C. Segal, "Violence and the Other: Greek, Female, and Barbarian in Euripides' Hecuba," Transactions of the American Philological Association 120 (1990) 109-31.
    • W. Burkert et al. edd., Hérodote et les peuples non-grecs = Fondation Hardt, Entretiens 35 (Geneva 1990).
    • J. R. Porter, Studies in Euripides'Orestes (Leiden 1994) 173-213.


  5. Slaves/Servants
    Many plays, both tragic and comic, give surprisingly touching portraits of members of the lower classes, often carefully drawn as individuals (while many a Creon [= "ruler"], by contrast, is but a mere cipher). A special category is the messenger, whom we have already considered (lecture #1 7D). In only one surviving play is a slave the main character, viz. Plautus The Savage Slave. Consider the following types:
    • Inside slaves:
      1. nurses and tutors including Cilissa in Aesch. Libation Bearers, the bawd in Eur. Hippolytus, the fretting nurse in Eur. Medea
      2. man-servants and pupils: as the little tramp character (bomolochus), they often get the best laughs in Old Comedy; e.g. the Trochilus-bird in Ar. Birds, the flatulent Xanthias in Ar. Frogs, and the self-satisfied pupil of Socrates in Ar. Clouds.
    • Outside slaves:
      1. heralds including the bully in Aesch. Suppliant Women, or the liar Liches in Soph. Women of Trachis, and
      2. guards, watchment and herdsmen including the garrulous but sadly stifled character in Aesch. Agamemnon, the apologetic Might and Violence in [Aesch.] Prometheus Bound, the terrified guard in Soph. Antigone and the equally terrified herdsman in his Oedipus the King


    • D. Bain, Masters, Servants and Orders in Greek Tragedy = Publications of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Manchester 26 (Manchester 1981).


  6. The Dead
    How do ghost-scenes relate to other supernatural scenes in the plays, e.g. deus ex machina-scenes? Do ghosts in Roman drama differ in nature or function from those in Greek tragedy? The ghost-scene is related to the Greek concept of the hero and the Christian notion of a "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12.1). Ghosts normally problematize normal-seeming situations with their demands for burial or vengeance (this makes them the opposite of the deus ex machina). The exception to this is Darius, who serves more as a god than a ghost. They serve also to expose crimes. Ghosts are frequently recorded in the theatre (apart from performances): R. L. Brown, Phantoms of the Theater (Nashville 1977). Are there any ancient examples?

    Relevant passages: Aesch. Pers. 681-52, Lib. Bear. 306-462, "the binding-song", Eum. 94-139 (for ghosts in the lost plays, see O. Taplin, The Stage-Craft of Aeschylus [Oxford 1974] 447), Soph. Polyzena fr. 522-8 TrGF (the ghost of Achilles, see W. M. Calder III, "A Reconstruction of Sophocles' Polyxena," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 7 [1966] 31-56), Eur. Hec. 1-58 (ghost of Polydorus, ghost of Achilles reported); Pacuvius Iliona i.145-7 = Cicero Tusc. Disp. 1.106, Sen. Thy. 1ff, Agam. 1-56, Tro. 164-202 (reported in messenger's speech), Plaut. The Haunted House (is a fake ghost).


    • L. Collison-Morley, Greek and Roman Ghost Stories (Chicago 1912).
    • F. L. Lucas, Seneca and Elizabethan Tragedy (Cambridge 1922).
    • R. Flatter, Hamlet's Father (New York 1949)
    • R. J. Edgeworth, "The Eloquent Ghost; Absyrtus in Seneca's Medea," Classica et Medievalia 41 (1990) 151-61.

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