Metaphysical roots of the drama; Aeschylus & Origins of Greek Ritual
From Cincinnati who we present the first in the 1968 series of six Frank L. Y O Institute lectures delivered at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. The lecturer is Dr Robert Bruce Dean Dean of the Yale School of Drama who is general topic is the metaphysical roots of the drama. These lectures are released through the University of Cincinnati station WG you see the title of this program is. ESCALUS and the origins of the Greek ritual. Here is Dr Robert Bruce Dean. It's my pleasant task to try to. Establish for you a connection between religion and belief. But in a sense this is a very easy task. There isn't really a connection between religion and belief. There is an identity between them because theater is by far the most religious of all the arts and certainly the most
metaphysical. It's commonly assumed that theatre began in magic just as religion began in matter of primitive people. We learned and tried to control events in the future. Through some form of imitation. This is the notion of my misses that Aristotle speaks about in another context an imitation of an action and the imitation of an action is of course central to the drama. Now think of a primitive man who is trying to induce rain into an inn for a barren season. He performs a rain dance hoping that by imitating the coming of rain he will influence the heavens to produce that rain. Think of the warrior who is about to go out to war and is trying to influence the future of the war trying to influence a victory. People
forms a war dance in an effort to recreate that future victory for himself and thus ensure himself not of defeat but of victory. Oh think of the hunter who goes out to shoot buffalo with an arrow. Before he goes he will draw on the wall of a cave. A picture of a buffalo with an arrow through its side thus ensuring himself that when he goes hunting he will have produced the marksmanship in advance that will bring that buffalo down and provide him with meat and nourishment. Now this whole business of imitation among primitive people is allied to the entropy of a logical notion of sympathetic or as it's sometimes called homeopathic magic. And I think that's most directly indicated by the effigy notion that by sticking a pin in a little figure of your enemy you will destroy your
enemy. And did I suppose that notion is still with us of someone who hates us enough you begin to feel that hate in your very bones. You begin to deteriorate or almost disintegrate under that paper. Now on the more positive side. The notion of homeopathic magic helps primitive people in the control of fertility. And since the greatest The problem of primitive people is the continuation of of the race and the provision of nourishment. These are very important considerations indeed. Now in the ancient anthropomorphic view of nature we have parallel developments between man. The animals the gods and nature. They all follow a form of a parallel development. Follow along parallel lines. And it's interesting that there is one religious myth that central to the Greeks to the Egyptians to the Jews. And so the Jewish Christian tradition a myth which explains the
changes in seasons and tries to justify fertility tries to bring about fertility and tries to bring about sufficient nourishment for the tribe. Now what is this. This central myth. It's this. There is a guy off the God of life. God of Life grows prop his chest pops out he commits. Hubris is the Greek term as a sin of pride. And in so doing is destroyed by his enemy dismembered torn apart and thrown to the wind as he is drawn to the winds. Winter comes. Cold weather the end of abundance leaves fall from the trees the grass ceases to grow. Now through divine assistance or through some miracle this god of life comes back to life. He's resurrected the mutilated pieces the dismembered pieces are found and put together again and he is resurrected and spring
comes and fertility comes to the land and two women as well. Now this is the story that we find as the central story justifying and explaining the history of the gods of all the great religions. It's the story of Di and I says. It's the story of the Egyptian god of Cyrus. And it's the story of Christ. And interesting you know they're all the same story in different guise. By the way and interestingly enough for our purposes this story in a hidden form is the story of the great central heroes in all the Greek drama. It's the story of Oedipus as we will see in suing. It's the story of Prometheus. It's the story of Orpheus and it's a story of Pentheus and a play by repeaters called back are now in the myth of Zion I says for example this story emerges and watch the parallels with the story I just related to this is the story despite many variants in the in the myth of Zeus come
in the skies as a lover to a lady named simile. He has a wife though and her name is here. She's very jealous of his extramarital adventures and as a result advises Semele to find out who her lover is she doesn't know who's been in disguise and who denied him her bed. Well as soon as somebody asks this question Who are you. Gets angry throws a thunderbolt at Semele which consumes her while she's pregnant with a child. A child by Zeus. That child is dying I say. Now Hermes the messenger of the gods takes pity upon the dead Semele and saves this child a premature son she's only six months pregnant and keeps him alive for three months by sewing him inside of Zeus. So Diane I says his name dial which means twice is twice born he's born from Similarly up to six months and is born after nine months. From Zeus
therefore he is called the child of the double door. And this explains the origin of the word the RAM which means the song of the double door and which is a song exalting diaries. I was more of the story. The Titans who are Zeus as enemies throughout the fall. Because he eventually has to overthrow them and establish his own kingship. They seize this child by an I says and they tear him to shreds boiling to shreds in a cauldron. During the seven years of winter and notice winter is upon us when dying ices is dismembered and ices is then rescued and reconstituted by his grandmother Rhea. And it comes to life again as spring and fertility follow. Now that's the story of Don and I says and it's paralleled by the Egyptian Story of O Cyrus. Or Cyrus is also the God the God of the Nile.
And he suffers exactly the same fate. He was defeated and killed by his brother Sep who dismembers him and scatters the remains to the four winds. I says who is both his sister and his grieving widow. Because as you probably know in primitive Egyptian times it was all right to marry your sister and quite often you did. I just picked up the remains and pieces them together or Cyrus revives the Nile overflows again and fertility and abundance comes to the land and to the women. The final myth of course is the myth of Christ and the Easter season follows a very similar pattern. Christ too is mutilated or crucified. He suffers a restoration and he ascends to heaven through divine intervention and you'll notice during exactly the same period spring when the other gods are reconstituted and the crops begin to grow and nature is being regarding all of these lines. Now this myth the myth of Christ is accompanied by an
even more primitive myth. But you also find in Greek mythology the myth of a primitive rite of cannibalism eating the flesh and blood of Jesus as represented in the wine and wafer in the mass. For the mask assumes the same proposition as cannibals do namely that by eating the body of your enemy or of your God you will assume the best characteristics of that enemy. There is a there's an idea behind cannibalism which transcends simple hunger. Now just as Western theatre was laid to grow out of the re-enactment of the myths of Christ in the passion of all Western theatres development out of the queerness and the mystery plays and were out of place so the crucifixion remains by the way the climax of the mystery series. So the Greek Theater grows out of the reenactment of the fate of Diane and I says with a death for a mutilation as the climax of most of these tragedies.
In fact violence murder cannibalism mutilation these remain the constituent qualities of the drama the great drama but the drama of this to follow is a decent drama and indeed much of our drama culminating in the works of geoengineering. In fact these are the constituent qualities of the world's religions if you'll notice excluding the religions of the east which remain much more passive and inactive and physically the same time. Why you resume looking at things that don't concern you. Spectator ism if you like is becomes the animating instinct of both the drama and the religion. Looking in on some action that doesn't belong to you but then becomes part of you through your spectators. Empathy. Now it's interesting that the first fully formed theatre that we know about in great times consists of three basic areas the scheme from which we get the word
scene where the action takes place. That's where the actors act the theatrical as it's call where the spectators sit and where they observe the action and the orchestra where the chorus dances and sings around an altar. I notice that you don't sit in the orchestra until religion leaves the drama. That orchestra represents the religious aspect of the drama. That's where the chorus sings and the courses are intimately identified with religion. That's where the altar is placed. And it's not until Roman times that the area of the audience goes right through that choral area you don't need the chorus anymore because there's no more identification between the drama and the religion and religion and isn't for another eight or nine hundred years now lacking a church. The Greeks have a bid and there's no question that the audience is there at the theater to participate in the religious right. The playwright
functioning as a myth maker because he's taking inherited myths and remaking them for the audience out of his own philosophical drives as an evangelist because he's trying to stir up in the audience even deeper religious responses. And as a High Priest I try to suggest some of this quality. Of the early primitive drama. And its peril and its contrast with the modern drama in the opening pages of my book the theatre of revolt when I try to contrast the classical and the modern. It is in a pair of images and with your indulgence I'll just read that section to give us an introduction into what I call the theatre of communion. First imagine an open temple of classical proportions surrounded by rising tears gathered on separate levels are artisans citizens nobility divided into classes but forming a unified congregation of spectators in front of the temple is an altar before which
stands a high priest in hieratic robes beyond the temple is a city beyond the city. The celestial spheres moving steadily in their orbits. The priest conducts a ritual ceremony by mining a myth of heroism and violence. The congregation is startled by the growing frenzy of the action. The atmosphere grows taut and strange. The high priest concludes his service with a ritual sacrifice and blood pours from the altar. The congregation screams as if it were the victim. Some spectators fall from their seats. The Temple cracks the city begins to crumble. The sphere is thought wildly from their course at the point when total dissolution seems imminent. The scene freezes the spectators file out their anxiety mingled with the material calm. Now imagine a perfectly level plane in a desolate land. This is the second image in the foreground an easy crowd of citizens huddled together on the ruins of an ancient temple. Beyond them a broken altar
bristling with artifacts. Beyond that empty space and emaciated priest in disreputable garb and stand before the ruined all to level with the crowd glancing into a distorting mirror you can see what's grotesquely before inspecting his own image in several outlandish positions. The crowd mutters ominously and partially disperses. The priest turns the mirror on those who remain to reflect them sitting stupidly on the rubble. They gaze at their images for a moment painfully transfixed. Then horror struck they run away hurling stones at the altar and angry imprecations at the priest the priest shaking with anger futility and irony turns the mirror on the boy. He is alone in the void. The first is an image of the theatre of communion the second for the fear of revolt. And by theatre of communion I go on to say that I mean the theatre of the past the theatre dominated by Sophocles by Shakespeare and rest scene where traditional moves were enacted before an audience of believers
against the background of a shifting but still coherent universe by theatre of the theatre of the great insurgent modern dramatists where myths of rebellion are enacted before a dwindling number of spectators in a flux of vacancy bafflement and accidents. The theatre of communion reaches its historical climax with a premonitory glimpse into the disintegration of the traditional world order the drama of the Western world like the drama of the Greeks describes a trajectory which arches from belief to uncertainty to unbelief always developing in the direction of greatest scepticism towards temporal and spiritual laws. Tragedy for example moves from the religious piety of Escalus to the tragic ambivalence of Sophocles to the angry agnosticism of Europe it is finally dissipating itself in the spiritual indifference of man and new comedy. And Western drama develops from the religious certainty of the medieval playwright to the doubts and hesitations of the Stewart
dramas where the characters of Webster and Middleton look up to him empty heavens and Shakespeare's tragic heroes peer into a vast abyss. A growing sense of futility and despair infects both Hellenistic culture and the culture of late Renaissance Europe which is reflected in certain naturalistic philosophies. Calling everything in doubt. But what I'm suggesting here is that the arc of theatrical history traces the break and ultimate disintegration of religious values. But although it does this it never loses its religious concern. It never loses its religious and metaphysical immediacy so that even when it's dealing with the loss of God as it does in the Greek drama as it does in Stuart drama even when it deals with the disappearance of the hero because the hero in a sense you can't have a hero without a god and has belief in God disappears belief in the hero disappears and you
begin to get the anti-hero or the hero. Even when this is happening it's dealing with first principles and ultimate values. It's dealing with the question. Religion now in a sense religion is being questioned and put to the task. In all the great drama and playwrights assume that they must either justify the ways of God to man. To use Milton's phrases and to use the kind of assumption that Escalus have. All art that they must justify the ways of men to God. Structurally we can see the growing loss of religious consciousness in Greek drama in the diminishing role of the chorus. You may know that the chorus at the beginning of Greek drama is all there is drama arises out of choral O's. We've seen that the did the rest of the song of the double door with something sung and danced by a chorus. There was no one to question that chorus. In early great times and it was only when an active
attack until night for us the drama began. But even when he did the chorus for a long time was soon the paramount position in the drama because it was the chorus that enunciated the hymn to the gods. It was the chorus that was the religious focus of the play. Now in the Greek tragedy the chorus eventually evolves into an actor as it does in the aura style as we'll see the development of the chorus or simply an onlooker an observer a pious religious organ into something which is central to the drama and actor in the play no longer enunciate ing anything as a chorus but rather. As a character. Now. But even even in its acting function it remains lyrical it universalized and philosophizes and offers these continual in vocations and supplication to the god. Now with Despres the first act. Pulled away from the chorus that I'm tired of working with a group I want to have a little I
want to have a little solo now a little are a. Problem so out of the chorus and began talking to it he introduced the notion of a chart to be introduced to and more importantly complex because as soon as you have two entities you barely have conflict between them and conflict itself implies rebellion against or battle with the gods. This is illustrated by fastnesses title. What dialogue or conflict with the course. And in fact the essential tragic action is basically Promethea. It's reflected in Prometheus Bound Man trying to preempt the place of the god huffing himself up as the God of life puffed himself up with hubris and reaching beyond himself trying to take over roles that don't properly belong to him. In fact the power Muncy of hubris or the sin of pride suggests this impertinence on the part of mankind as reflected in the central
tragic hero and the mutilation that concludes tragedy whether it's in a staring out his eyes or it's Pentheus being pulled apart by his mother who thinks he's a wild bull or its or its apologises being torn apart by its horses those horses that have been frightened by a monster from the sea. This mutilation is the punishment of the hero for his half free and puffery for his hubris. Now obviously rebellion is not limited to mankind. The rebellion of the hero is really a kind of parallel to the rebellion of the god because you should know that Zeus himself achieved his rule only by overthrowing his father Cronus king of the type. Castrating in them and taking his place. Now a committee has bought Promethea this down to Iraq suffering for the sin of stealing fire for mankind having a vulture annoyed at his vitals. Previous foresees a time because he is called
Prometheus the forces when Zeus himself will be overthrown. And the heavens will be dotted with a continual round of rebellions and new regimes the overthrown person and the overthrow of himself being overthrown then the overthrow again being overthrown. Add in tonight. How Promethea is a tragic hero because he has rebelled against Jews not for himself but for the sake of man he is a thief for man. You stall in divine fire and even more than this he has given the man blind hopes in the face of an awful assessable. Now this introduction of blind hope into man's heart is something without which tragedy would not exist because a tragedy a great tragedy like Elizabeth and Stuart tragedy is based on this need to hope after everything tells you that life is hopeless and it's for this reason that nature the great German or Swiss philosopher says that the
Promethean legend establishes the necessity for crime. How the development of drama in each of its great periods shows a process of breaking away from religious roots. There is a constant attempt to secularize the drought to replace the gods with men to replace the old orthodoxies with new ones new ones supplied by the playwrite. Now this process is repeated in the drama. A perfectly an after. We find it in the drama of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. We find it in the drama of Golden Age Spain and we even find it in the drama of the modern period. There was a questioning of the values supplied by the previous generation the generation of priests or philosophers or parents or what have you by the newer generation. The playwrights are questioning the older playwrights. There's
a constant attempt to replace all dogma with new dog to reject what has now become conventional wisdom and substitute unconventional experience. Of course this too is a continual cycle. What is unconventional today becomes conventional tomorrow. And it too must be questioned examined and replaced. Now Greek drama demonstrates this most forcibly. It's very lucky for us in a sense very lucky for a sense of symmetry that only three provinces. Three tragic promises from the Greek Period come down to us in anything more than fragments. This is lucky for the history of literature because they beautifully demonstrate a process of religious development from passionate piety and Escalus through impartial excepting in Sophocles and finally to the angry rejection of your pretties who seems to alternate between atheism and a kind of manic he has them where he sees nothing but
darkness and evil in the heavens. Now ask us writes a rebellious play in repin Promethea is bound. It's a very on Haskell in play and there's a question over whether he wrote it at all because. ESCALUS who is worshipped Zeus throughout his career here seems to be questioning Zeus very severely. But we must remember the Prometheus Bound is only part of a trilogy as the Eskimos wrote and I think the trilogy is three plays at a time and the other two plays are lost so we don't know what attitudes might have changed in the other two. But what he does in the first play is foretell the end of this tyranny of Zeus. But if this came to pass in the other two plays then we must assume those plays were not by asking us to go. ESCALUS is the great God love his choruses are always still with him in vocation loving pious. Statements supplication to the god.
Whether Aphrodite or Apollo or Athena but a bubble Zeus Zeus is the center of rescue esis universe and throughout the aura Star for example are the chorus. It does nothing but speak in praise of service the unnameable the obscure Zeus whatever he may be. If this name pleases him in vocation Thus I call upon him. I have pondered everything yet I cannot find a way. Only Zeus to cast this dead weight of ignorance finally from out my brain. He who in time long ago was great throbbing with gigantic strength shall be as if he never were unspoken. He who followed him has found his master and is gone. Cry aloud without fear the victory of Zeus. You will not have failed the truth. Zeus who guided men to think. Who has laid it down but wisdom comes along. Through suffering.
This indeed is the great wisdom of Escalus that wisdom comes along through suffering. And a lot of things lyrical way in which the name of Zeus is in town is only to be duplicated I guess by the intoning of the name of Jesus in the New Testament. Only Zeus to cast this dead weight of ignorance. Finally from out my brain. Nor is this the only indication in the in the Agamemnon the first play The chorus is continually speaking of Zeus in the most pious terms. Oh Zeus Odin night beloved the stover of power and beauty use one of the bastions of Troy the binding net but none neither great nor young might out leave the gigantic toils of enslavement and final disaster. I gaze in are on Zeus of the guests who are running from Alexander such fame. He bent the bow with slow care the Knight of the shaft might hurdle the stars nor fall spent to the Earth's shore driven. They have the stroke of Zeus to tell us the thing
is clear and you may trace it. He acted as he had the creed. A man thought the gods day not to punish mortals who trample down the delicacy of things inviolable. That man was wicked. The curse on great daring shines clear. It brings the town men from those high hearts to drive to evil from houses blossoming to pride and peril. Let there be wealth without t is enough for the wise men who will ask no further. There is not any armor in gold against perdition for him who spurns the high altar of justice down to the dock. The man who aspires high will be laid low if he aspires against Zeus and there is no armor for him who goes against the just heart of Zeus. Now the honest I am. This great play of Escalus exists for one moral purpose and one moral purpose only and that is to justify the celestial order of Zeus to a questioning man. Time. You know the story
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