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Lost Tragedy

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Lost Tragedy

Postby daivid » Sun Aug 04, 2013 12:45 pm

Scribo wrote:I've always disliked Tragedy. From a scholarly perspective we have very little of the good ones anyway, what we have is due to luck or Roman/Byzantine interests so I find them sort of...bleh.


Which prompts me to ask, which do you consider to be the good ones and given that they are lost what is the evidence that they were good.

(The Romans and Byzantines have indeed got a lot to answer for - the sketchy nature of what we know of Hellenistic history to name but one)


This a carry on from a Learning Greek thread http://www.textkit.com/greek-latin-forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=60276as my question is more on topic here
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Re: Lost Tragedy

Postby Scribo » Sun Aug 04, 2013 1:53 pm

Excellent question, I should have been more accurate in my use of such a value driven word like "good". I don't necessarily mean in a qualitative sense as we would understand it, I doubt we would enjoy satire plays more than we do the Medea. I mean in terms of reconstituting classical Athenian culture.

So "good" in terms of what the Athenians themselves voted for, as far as we can tell, or otherwise exerted a significant influence over the development of the genre. The prime example would be Aeschylus' Achilleis trilogy. For Aristophanes' it was the crown jewel in the dramatic crown, it scored first place in its day and was most likely responsible for some of the most important innovations of tragedy: It managed to actually stage the Ilias (more or less); added the second hypokrites, made use of offstaging for the unstageable; making use of the trilology format ktl. Essentially those three would have been amazing to have and would alter our perception of the genre. We only have indirect testimony.

Likewise Phrynicus' play on Miletus was one of extreme literary and historical importance, but then that was always doomed to failure.

I use Medea as a pertinent counter example, it took third prize and was comparatively unimportant in its time, though considerably popular afterwards. Likewise Sophokles' Oedip. Rex. took second prize but enjoyed a good afterlife as a Byzantine school text.

Now that's not to say we don't have lots of first prize winners, we do, or that the prize is the only indication of of worth (it's not). However, the genre is not in as good a condition as one is lead to believe by the handbooks. Its not AS bad as philosophy in which case Christians and Arabs have had too big an effect on our corpus. But still, too often the surviving texts are treated in an over privileged manner for the time period. I don't mean to come down too hard on tragedy and hope it doesn't come across as that.

EDIT: BTW here are the Radt numbers for possible fragments of the trilogy I mentioned: Myrmidons 131-142 Radt; Nereids 150-4; Phrygians 263-72. They're probably online somewhere or in a Loeb, you can check the comparative numeration in the back.
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Re: Lost Tragedy

Postby daivid » Sun Aug 04, 2013 8:11 pm

Scribo wrote:
Likewise Phrynicus' play on Miletus was one of extreme literary and historical importance, but then that was always doomed to failure.

One can but dream that there a copy is waiting to be uncovered in some Saharan cave...

Scribo wrote:I use Medea as a pertinent counter example, it took third prize and was comparatively unimportant in its time, though considerably popular afterwards.

Didn't it go down very well in Syracuse at the time?


Scribo wrote:Now that's not to say we don't have lots of first prize winners, we do, or that the prize is the only indication of of worth (it's not). However, the genre is not in as good a condition as one is lead to believe by the handbooks. Its not AS bad as philosophy in which case Christians and Arabs have had too big an effect on our corpus. But still, too often the surviving texts are treated in an over privileged manner for the time period. I don't mean to come down too hard on tragedy and hope it doesn't come across as that.
.

I have been finding it very hard to find out about tragedy other than written by the big three. Some historians come close to saying that after the end of the 5th century tragedy went into a decline and nothing much was worth preserving. And what of areas outside Athens? Did Thebes not have its own tragic writers for example?
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Re: Lost Tragedy

Postby Scribo » Mon Aug 05, 2013 9:43 am

daivid wrote:
One can but dream that there a copy is waiting to be uncovered in some Saharan cave...


If only! but I doubt a copy was ever made for distribution given the immediate reception.

Didn't it [Medea] go down very well in Syracuse at the time?


Off to the top of my head, not too sure. I don't think so. I think the idea comes from the preponderance of those vases with the image of Medea on a dragon chariot. Its so famous that translators and interpretors have just sort of assumed it was Euripidean, especially given his fame in Syrakousa.


I have been finding it very hard to find out about tragedy other than written by the big three. Some historians come close to saying that after the end of the 5th century tragedy went into a decline and nothing much was worth preserving. And what of areas outside Athens? Did Thebes not have its own tragic writers for example?


This is difficult, some discussion of tragedy beyond the canon can be found in discussions of Athenian "new music" authors like Timotheus but...its rare and necessarily sketchy given the paucity of evidence. As for extra Athenian tragedy not really.
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Re: Lost Tragedy

Postby daivid » Mon Aug 05, 2013 10:08 pm

Scribo wrote:
daivid wrote:Didn't it [Medea] go down very well in Syracuse at the time?


Off to the top of my head, not too sure. I don't think so. I think the idea comes from the preponderance of those vases with the image of Medea on a dragon chariot. Its so famous that translators and interpretors have just sort of assumed it was Euripidean, especially given his fame in Syrakousa.


It was from a talk at the SPHS agm 2 years ago. I shall try and find out who the speaker
was. It's possible I misheard.

Scribo wrote:
I have been finding it very hard to find out about tragedy other than written by the big three. Some historians come close to saying that after the end of the 5th century tragedy went into a decline and nothing much was worth preserving. And what of areas outside Athens? Did Thebes not have its own tragic writers for example?


This is difficult, some discussion of tragedy beyond the canon can be found in discussions of Athenian "new music" authors like Timotheus but...its rare and necessarily sketchy given the paucity of evidence. As for extra Athenian tragedy not really.

Doubly lost then - we don't even know what we've lost.
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Re: Lost Tragedy

Postby mwh » Mon Oct 21, 2013 10:37 pm

"we don't even know what we've lost."

Not altogether true. We have lots of names and titles, both 5th and 4th century. We know we've lost all 240 tragedies of Astydamas the elder. We know we've lost Xenocles' Bacchae, which won 1st prize (beating Euripides) ten years before Euripides' Bacchae -- now that's a play I'd give (to paraphrase Euripides' Pentheus) a load of gold for! We know we've lost his son Carcinus's tragedies, eleven of which won Dionysia victories. Etc. etc.

We also know that the big three dominated, both in their time and subsequently. We know that from the testimonia, and the papyrus finds vividly confirm it. We have only a small proportion of their output, and we know enough to know that it's not altogether representative (esp. in the case of Sophocles); I'd happily swap some of the extant plays for others by the same three. But there was certainly a lot of original 4th-cent. drama, all of it lost except for the Rhesus (if that's 4th-cent rather than late 5th) and papyrus fragments (esp. ?Astydamas' Hector). There's a useful ex-dissertation book on 4th-cent. tragedy by G. Xanthakis-Karamanos. It begins "There is little to encourage us to take an interest in fourth-century tragedy."

I'd give up on getting the Sack of Miletus (though it may have been preserved despite its initial reception) but I still harbor hopes of at least a few scraps of Xenocles' Bacchae. Fourth-cent. tragedy I'm willing to go without.

But when all's said and done, Rumsfeld got it right when he said "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."
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Re: Lost Tragedy

Postby Scribo » Tue Oct 22, 2013 10:35 am

It's interesting that you bring up that book by Xanthakis-Karamanos I actually found that comment really unfortunate. There is much to cause us to take an interest, because we're not a bunch of bloody littérateurs at a salon discussing passages we like! Jesus! That aside it's a good book even with some of the philological and palaeographical qualms noted in reviews like Dawe's.

I actually think it's the only major treatment in book form in English? Have you seen some of her articles? on treatments of myth or language? Much more useful actually and without that...attitude or whatever you would call it.

There's recently been an edited volume by Gildenhard on Tragedy beyond the fifth century btw, unfortunately by that it means until modern day so the ancients get comparatively little space and it veers off into bloody aesthetics but....it's good.

From those lost I would really love the plays of Lycophron....
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Re: Lost Tragedy

Postby daivid » Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:25 pm

Scribo wrote:It's interesting that you bring up that book by Xanthakis-Karamanos I actually found that comment really unfortunate. There is much to cause us to take an interest, because we're not a bunch of bloody littérateurs at a salon discussing passages we like! Jesus! That aside it's a good book even with some of the philological and palaeographical qualms noted in reviews like Dawe's..

Not having read that book I took it that it was a comment on the bad reviews of 4th cent plays that have come down to us. Surely if he devoted a whole book on the theme he could not have agreed with the verdict?
Scribo wrote:From those lost I would really love the plays of Lycophron....

Were I able to choose to discover a lost tragedy it would be from a writer who was completely lost. Or do you believe that the Cassandra poem was not written by him?
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Re: Lost Tragedy

Postby mwh » Tue Oct 22, 2013 7:04 pm

Personally I like the aesthetic turn that contemporary criticism has taken, and thought it was overdue -- not conducted by bloody litterateurs, mind. And the Philodemus treatises on poetics etc., at long last becoming accessible, in particular make this a fascinating field of study.

I agree 4th-cent tragedy is very interesting, and of course it would be good if we had all of it or at least some of it. I quoted the opening of X-K because at the time I read the book I found it just hilarious that she should kick it off in such discouraging fashion. Even if not to be taken entirely at face value (much as daivid suspects), a refreshing change from what we tend to find today, when so many nothing books are touted as game-changers. And to have one or all of the Pleiad tragedies would be if anything even more interesting. As it is, the history of Greek literature is quite impossible to construct, when such huge chunks of it are missing.

Thanks for the ref to the Gildenhard book, which I haven't yet seen.
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