Similar to a mass event in pop culture w/ high poetic text “high
culture” or football game.
Includes spectacle sight & sound, dance, extravagant costumes,
Takes place in a large theatre.
3 play wrights competing at one time.
a. Spectators very engaged: would boo, cheer, throw food, etc.
Religious festival in honor of the God Dionysus
Orchestra (place for singing & dancing)
Skene (similar to backstage. Where actors can change)
2 types of performers
a. Actors – speeches. 3 at most
b. Chorus – singing & dancing
o Collective individual (are characterized as “old men”
collective group identity)
o Belong to a marginal group.
o Become vehicle for larger speculations about the way
the world is.
1 play of a trilogy called an Oresteia (Orestes is Agamemnon’s
Central themes –
i. human justice, divine justice, relationship between god’s
& mortals, human nature – moral responsibility, freedom,
b. Place of individual in society
i. family, larger society, parent child relations, relationship
of ruler to people, gender issues, power in society,
responsibility to me VS responsibility to society
c. Nature of warfare
i. justification of Trojan War
Justice of the talio (retaliate) – repayment in kind.
Example: Book of Exodus (eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc)
Revenge = personal
Impersonal force -- pray to the Gods, go to court
“The doer must suffer” the justice of Zeus
Example 1: “with the sword he struck, with the sword he paid” Example 2: “Here is anger for anger between them who should judge
lightly…” (Line 15-16)
The House of Atreus
Ultimate dysfunctional family – takes expression in 2 main areas (food
Represent essence of what it is to be human (need to feed & breathe)
Food of the gods is nectar & ambrosia. Symbolize immoral life.
Reproduction for a way for humans to have immortality through family
Every culture has stated or unstated rules about food (symbolic
significance for structure in society, what you eat, where you eat,
where you sit to eat)
Tantalus: son of Zeus. Served up his son to the gods (to see if the
gods knew what was going on – was testing them) Gods brought
Pelops back to life. Tantalus could not eat or drink (he was tantalized
in the underworld) His punishment fit the crime.
Pelops: Killed someone who cursed him and his family line.
Thyestes: seduces wife of his brother. “Feast of Thyestes” eats his own
children served up by his brother.
“The meat their father tasted” – Cassandra’s vision about Feast of
Aeigisthus: seduced another man’s wife. Helps Clytemnestra kill
Agamemnon. He is feminized.. Why isn’t he at Troy fighting with other
Agamemnon: kills his daughter, brings home a mistress, walking on
the tapestries, when sacking Troy the army is extremely excessive,
impious, and brutal. Sacking Troy is part of Zeus’ justice HOWEVER it
is not okay to cause so much unnecessary suffering. Walking on the
tapestries is a symbolic act (he was not killed for walking on them. It
symbolizes that he is a person of bad judgment, his wife is smarter
than him.) He brings home Cassandra (mistress) you should not bring
home a mistress and bring her into the home as if she is your wife’s
Lots of collateral damage. Example: Ipigenia (Agamemnon’s daughter)
Helen one of the very few exceptions. Was not punished or killed for
he sexual transgression.
Ipigenia: put in position of food animal. Violates appropriate
relationship between gods, humans, and animals.
Human beings are responsible for their actions even when the gods
put pressure on them.
Oedipus the King Playwrights put in metaphors because they give access to meaning
– that literal text could not give.
Late century 5 century – around time that Athens was being
plagued by war & plagues.
People have argued that Thebes is a mirror image of Athens – would
have resonated with audience.
Audience is familiar with the stories.
Interpretation in popular culture/high schools is owed to Sigmund
Freud – believed it related to primal urges in mankind.
a. There are many ways to interpret a play/text.
b. Ancient Athenians would have interpreted differently.
Play begins in front of palace
Metaphor of the Earth
a. Line 25 – extended description of Thebes. Lack of fertility
extending to all of Thebes crisis (animals, humans, earth,
plants) Bodies & the land are co-extensive to one another.
What happens to one happens to another.
i. Hephaestus pursued Athena (virgin warrior God.)
Attempted to rape her. In the process, he has ejaculated
on her thist. The ground become impregnated. She gives
birth to 1 Athenian child. Believe lineage came from
Earth. Connection between women and the Earth. Sex is
ii. Line 1121 – “how oh how have the pharaoh’s…”
iii. Line 1257 – Jocasta’s wounds “field of Devil’s sowing”
b. Oedipus is a big part of the problem. On a literal level, he is
the king & most important man. BUT on a metaphorical level,
it is telling us something is wrong – something rotten in
Theme of Riddles
Access of wisdom to truly understand. Kind of speech does
not mean what it seems to mean on the surface.
Oracles delivered in riddle form.
o Riddle of Oedipus “what walks on 4 legs in the morning,
2 legs in the afternoon, 3 legs in the evening” MAN.
Proving his worthiness to rule – showing Spinx & other
citizens that he understands mankind on this higher
level. Essentially savior of the city as stated in the text.
Big question in the play: Oedipus trying to figure out who he
is/what he has done. Action of his self-discovery mirrors the
original riddle. The paradox/thing that does not make sense is
Oedipus himself. o Fact that in opening lines of play, he is hailed as city’s
savior literally but metaphorically, there is a crisis of
fertility that Oedipus is at the root of.
o Oedipus is both father and brother to children. Both son