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Aristoteles' plot and character

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Aristoteles' plot and character

Postby GJCaesar » Thu May 15, 2014 12:33 pm

Hey everyone,

I'm currently writing about characterization in Euripides' Iphigenia among Taurians and I'm having some problems. I can't see clearly anymore, and have difficulties with defining terms like 'plot' and 'character'.

There has been written a lot of stuff about Medea, Agamemnon, Clytaimnestra etc., but for some reason the IT has been a minor work in the eyes of a lot of critics. This makes it even more difficult.

Kyriakou has recently (2006) written a commentary on the tragedy in question, and she writes the following words about characterization:

''Characterization, roughly in the sense of presenting a fictional hero with a unique mind, psychology or idiosyncrasy and personal history, including circumstantial details, is notoriously not a (major) concern of Greek literature in general and Greek drama in particular ... IT is not untypical in these respects, but its characters, especially that of Iphigeneia, are sufficiently delineated as so not the be the product of a mere dramatic distillation of mythic figures and literary precedents or mere examples of standard moral types. Euripides' decision to handle a particular moment in a very popular myth by introducing various innovations probably dictated many of his choices in the presentation of character but it is far from clear or self-evident whether or not the plot could not work with fewer or other details. If so, then the characterization seems to have been pursued, to some extent at least, for its own sake and may be counted among the play's innovations and peculiarities.''

(some examples of such well-chosen but not necessarily plot-dictated details are Iphigeneia's magnanimity toward her father, and her respect for Thoas' life, Orestes' concern for Electra, Pylades' fear of public slander, and Thoas' esteem for the priestess. Also, and in a similar vein, most of the plot-dictated details, e.g. Iphigeneia's dismissal of the escorts of the captives of Iphigeneia's change of heart after her declaration of ruthlessness, are not particularly surprising or impossible to explain in psychological or characterological terms.)

Now, to come down to my question in general: how does one decide what and what isn't part of the plot? If I am able to show what the plot of the story is, then I'm also able to show what these idiosyncrasies of certain characters are, right? I'm kind of stuck here and really having problems with these kind of vague terms. I have read the Poetics several times, made use of Freytag's pyramid etc., but am still in the dark. Especially the use of the term plot-dictated is very confusing to me. Which details are plot-dictated and which aren't?

Any comments are very much appreciated.

Best wishes,

GJCaesar
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Re: Aristoteles' plot and character

Postby daivid » Sun May 18, 2014 8:04 pm

GJCaesar wrote:(some examples of such well-chosen but not necessarily plot-dictated details are Iphigeneia's magnanimity toward her father, and her respect for Thoas' life, Orestes' concern for Electra, Pylades' fear of public slander, and Thoas' esteem for the priestess. Also, and in a similar vein, most of the plot-dictated details, e.g. Iphigeneia's dismissal of the escorts of the captives of Iphigeneia's change of heart after her declaration of ruthlessness, are not particularly surprising or impossible to explain in psychological or characterological terms.)

Now, to come down to my question in general: how does one decide what and what isn't part of the plot? If I am able to show what the plot of the story is, then I'm also able to show what these idiosyncrasies of certain characters are, right? I'm kind of stuck here and really having problems with these kind of vague terms. I have read the Poetics several times, made use of Freytag's pyramid etc., but am still in the dark. Especially the use of the term plot-dictated is very confusing to me. Which details are plot-dictated and which aren't?


I have only today read Iphigenia among Taurians so I may have missed alot but it doesn't seem to me Iphigeneia's magnanimity toward her father is unrelated to the plot. Were Iphigeneia burning with hatred for her father she would sympathise with her mother for avenging her mistreatment and so would have little sypathy for her brother's murder of her mother. This would make it imposible for the two agree to their joint escape.

And does Euripides really explain why Iphigeneia is able to be magnamious towards the man who attempted to kill her?
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Re: Aristoteles' plot and character

Postby GJCaesar » Mon May 19, 2014 6:33 am

That's a good point you make. It seems to me that in the beginning of the play, she does not feel this magnanimity towards her father. Nowhere does Euripides or Iphigenia explicitly state that she feels a rancour towards him. Only later in the play (ca. 900 or so) she explicitly says she doesn't. But this doesn't have to be the case all play long, does it? Maybe her feelings towards her father and the Greeks in general changed because of the recognitionscene? She, again, looks at ''the bright side of life'', since she now sees the opportunity to escape the Taurian land and reunite with her brother.

The problem is that she does use terms as ''the fatherly disgrace'' and so on. Only after she found out he is actually dead, those terms disappear and she actually feels sorry for Agamemnon. It's a case of ''I hate you for what you've done, but being killed by your wife isn't even something I would want YOU to go through''.

Her character is very complex, that's for sure. But you see, this ''open to interpretation'' character of Iphigenia makes it an even more interesting topic to look into more.
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Re: Aristoteles' plot and character

Postby mwh » Wed May 21, 2014 6:15 pm

"Now, to come down to my question in general: how does one decide what and what isn't part of the plot?"

For Aristotle, anything you can take away or change without affecting the basic story-line is not part of the plot. ("Plot" is "muthos," the story.) So if it's necessary to the plot for characters to act a certain way (and therefore to have certain "characteristics") I guess that could be said to be plot-dictated. Tragedians (more than comedians) tend to motivate their characters' actions, whether consistently or not.
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