During the Great Dionysian Festivals, hundreds of citizens had to abandon their everyday occupations, their family and profession, etc. and be available to those organizing the events. Their involvement had a similar importance to their participation in Heliaia (the supreme court of ancient Athens) or the Parliament, i.e. a clearly social-political one. (3)
The Greek tragedy is naturally connected to violence (violence, βία, has the same root word with βίος, life), which provides the necessary themes for the tragedy to work. Aristotle said that the purpose of the tragedy was to instill fear and pity. (4) Greek tragedies denounce violence and its destructive consequences. They never present it on stage, they present the process that leads to violence, and the suffering of the victims. The chorus (χορός), which does not take part in the events of the tragedy, contemplates on this process in order to draw conclusions on the subject of violence.
Oresteia is the only trilogy of Greek tragedies to have survived complete, giving us the opportunity to fully understand it as a complete work. (1) Each part of this trilogy is constructed to serve the conclusion. The three parts are combined in two ways, lyrical (strophe, antistrophe, epode) and dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). (1) On Orestis’ shoulders rests the fate of mankind, religion and justice. (1)
Part 1: AGAMEMNON
In Agamemnon we follow the buildup to a murder. Aeschylus is interested in how the process is unfolding, not just in the events.
Clytemnestra is determined and proud of her actions while taking full responsibility for them. She is happy to have murdered Agamemnon, and this is what is terrifying in this tragedy. (1) However, it is far from being an emotional drama because Clytemnestra’s feelings are never analyzed. On its part, the chorus participates with an increasing crescendo in the climax of agony. The chorus sets the context from the outset —justice, Agamemnon as the opponent of Priamos— and assures us of divine justice.
The poet, with unrivaled skill, helps us cross the distance from a Clytemnestra lusting for blood, proud of her actions, to a woman who recognizes herself as part of the horror chain. (6)
Agamemnon, does not offer a solution, it calls for a continuation, a way to judge and end the atrocities, a way to break the murder cycle. This is achieved by the acquittal of Orestes and the emergence of a new justice system.
Part 2: LIBATION BEARERS (Choēphoroi)
In Agamemnon all the details created fear for the expected murder. In Libation Bearers the central idea of the play is quite the opposite (a symmetrical tragedy in terms of violence). Everything in it prepares and encourages the realization of the murder, bringing together the reasons for its acceptance and ultimately its forgiveness. (1) The law of revenge prevails. Just like in Agamemnon, there is an escalation. The chorus welcomes revenge and is willing to help.
Orestes expresses some doubt before the murders. The divine element is described as dark and harsh so that it can be overcome. The phrase «drops of blood spilled on the earth ask for more blood» is there to inspire transcendence.
Crime and punishment inevitably follow each other, creating an unpredictable chain of events. This is clearly expressed by the anapestic verses at the end of Libation Bearers (6)
This tragedy ends leaving the audience with a new drama, a new pursuit, a new problem, a dead end (double bond) that has to be resolved. The solution-continuation is going to be given by the third tragedy, Eumenides.
The third part of the trilogy unfolds first in Delphi and then in Athens (change of context). Orestis’ trial, the foundation of Aeropagus and the transformation of Erinyes to Eumenides all take place in Athens.
The chorus-Erinyes appear as actors.
Athena starts the trial, setting a new context, and talks about the Supreme Court (Areopagus) she has just founded. «Respect and its brother fear will prevent citizens from committing crimes day and night, as long as the law is not distorted by them». Athena combines the two views (as a therapist). Thus we move from the fear caused by the Erinyes to the human responsibility set by the court. Athena defends Orestes (commenting on the context placed by the Erinyes, but with a different content that condemns them) and the other votes are equal, resulting in Orestes’ acquittal. The Erinyes get angry and curse. Athena reassures them (listen and do not take this too seriously, you were neither defeated nor humiliated), she promises that the people of Athens will respect them and together they will protect Athens. When the Erinyes insist, she gives them the choice to stay or leave (she does not want to force them or use violence, even though she knows the location of Zeus’s thunder). They change their minds and start to think about it, she asks them if their decision is without regrets (she wants to make sure whether they truly want this or not). Then they pledge acceptance and she says that without them no household will prosper (excellent reframing!!). After answering in the old context, she changes it in order to persuade them. Her weapon is the synthesis that comes from the dialogue. The dialogue is protected by Zeus of the Agora.
ZEUS, THE GOD OF REASON, HAS WON! (dialogue)
In this phrase Aeschylus refers to and highlights the emergence of the law of man which is also directed by the gods-healers. This new kind of law must succeed the era of bloody revenge. Evil and revenge spawn more evil and revenge. The chain of violence finally comes to an end and a healing as the Erinyes become Eumenides.
As we know, in the work of Aeschylus and especially in Oresteia the chorus plays a very important role in comparison to later works. In Agamemnon, the chorus parts make up half of the work, one third in Libation Bearers and between 1/3 and 1/2 in Eumenides.
The chorus either comments on the events through lyrical verses (stasima) or converses with the actors through a lyrical part (kommos); in some occasions, as in the dialogue between Athena and the Eumenides, the actor talks and the chorus sings. The rhythm of the lyrical parts, which differs from part to part, fits perfectly with each occasion and the feelings that surround it. For example, the fast-paced anapest with its walking-like rhythm is used for strong and confrontational emotions (1). Each rhythm is chosen to convey subtle non-verbal messages. Furthermore, Aeschylus often highlighted the meaning of certain phrases by using only the first member of the chorus as an actor.
The chorus in the ancient Greek tragedy does not interferein the action. It acts though expressing feelings and commenting on the events, shifting the focus of the play to a higher, deeper level of reflection about man and his actions. It does so in a universal way (expanding the boundaries of the play). The team-chorus conveys the “abstract” and the ”general”, while the actor conveys the ”specific” and the ”particular” (two levels) (3). Moreover, the general nature of the play touches and moves both the characters and the audience, the past and the present, and simultaneously evokes and strengthens our sympathy (acting therapeutically in a way). The chorus acts as a reflective team. It also contemplates and judges. However, the questions posed by the chorus and their resonance are more important than the words it speaks. The audience easily identifies with the chorus, which acts as a cogitative and differentiated audience. This is also true in Oresteia, but here the chorus has an additional role. It is all-knowing and has knowledge of the past and the present. It is the only entity capable of connecting various elements and giving a certain unity to the play as the scenes unravel, as well as making time-related connections.(1) Moreover it is equipped with a wise and prophetic sense enabling it to announce, terrified, the upcoming evils.
Peggy Papp in a 1980 article refers to the use of the group behind the mirror as the chorus, that predicts how the family will evolve in consultation with the therapist.(23)
In Agamemnon, when Agamemnon is being attacked and calls for help, the chorus is divided as each member speaks their own opinion, resulting in twelve different voices heard at once. This hesitation and pluralism highlight the ambiguity of this scene, andreveal all the sides in a systemic manner, making it seem like this murder is an unavoidable crime as well as a disaster caused by Agamemnon‘s grave mistakes.
In Libation Bearers the chorus does not have the same role. Electra and Orestes follow the chorus’s advice to the letter and it has the role of an actor, actively directing the action.
In Eumenides, the Erinyes-chorus will become the main face of the tragedy as protagonists. Here the deities of punishment and fear will be transformed into Eumenides by the gods-therapists, Athena and Apollo,aided by the dialogue.
The divine in this trilogy is so present, specific and vivid that we cannot tell whether it consists of real deities or personifications of an ethical reality. Everything around man comes alive with a mysterious power (1). All this is combined with scenes and events of everyday life (scenes with the guard, the preacher and the nurse). The deities can interfere in the events of everyday life (the god of war, Ares, becomes a money changer). Rage, Trial and Ati (goddess of insanity) are personified. The sense of balance in justice, feelings-behavior and in goods are highlighted.
Aeschylus is interested in the human drama as a whole, not as an explanation.(5) He creates the context, while Euripidesadds the content-explanation, investigating the cause.
Aristotle in Poetics writes that poetry is more philosophical than history because it seeks the whole, while history looks into the partial. (10) This realization of the whole is formed for the first time in the 5th century BC. The suggestions in Poetics are not centered around the poet (the ego of the poet is absent in his work), as is the postmodern aesthetic, they center on the work itself. Meaning that the poet is interested in the work and the audience, even though lately the art of performance (performer Marina Abramovic) is more interested in museums that can be factories of positive energy for the visitors. Art and science are the same thing for Aristotle. He was the first to subject art to systematic research. Man is the sole subject of poetry.
Definition of Tragedy by Aristotle
“A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions”.
A work of art is to Aristotle the imitation and the pleasure that results from it (aesthetic emotion). This emotion comes from three sources: (1) rhythm and harmony, (2) recognition of similarity with the object, called learning, and (3) sympathy. Aeschylus was the first to discover that man’s actions are the result of an internal process.(8) Tragedy teaches that man should self-commit to personal decisions.
Greeks had committed violent acts but they also opposed them greatly, and they defended certain values they themselves developed (justice, gentleness, leniency) and expressed them in such clarity and in such a universal manner that we still accept them as if they were contemporary.(4) But what were these powers that resisted violence? They were the strong commitment to the laws of the city, a sense of human solidarity and a deeply rooted and continuous love for life and its beauty.(4) This love for life is an antidote to violence.
Bruno Snell said that without the tragic poets’ belief that each person is responsible for their actions, what we consider today as the essence of western intellectual heritage would not be self-evident.(11) According to philosopher C. Castoriadis, tragedy as a political institution is a self-constricting institution that constantly reminds to the citizens of Athens the existence of not a-priori known limits to the acting subject which acts responsibly, taking on the upcoming risks that no one can predict. It must sense and understand them on its own.(12)
Conclusion – Healing process
First of all, the word tragic comes from the word tragedy, so tragedy enriched the vocabulary related to emotions.
As professor of Archaeology B. Labrinudakis writes in an article about Asclepieia, drama-watching helped both pilgrims and patients, improving their mental health — e.g. Epidaurus (14)
C. Daniel Batson in his recent studies on the cultivation of empathy showed that listening or watching a visual presentation of someone else’s problems causes empathy and leads to supportive behavior (9).
What is ultimately therapeutic in tragedy? Or what therapeutic and systemic concepts emerge? If we assume that this particular trilogy sets violence as a therapeutic-family problem, what does it highlight? Or how does the healing process unfold?As professor of Archaeology B. Labrinudakis writes in an article about Asclepieia, drama-watching helped both pilgrims and patients, improving their mental health — e.g. Epidaurus (14)
In the first tragedy the problem is defined and all its sides are highlighted while it is connected geneogrammatically with the past (through Kassandra) and hope-exit is given through learning by one’s errors. The law of Zeus (law of prudence) teaches wisdom: «He who pours bitter pain in our hearts when we sleep, forcefully makes us conform. It is tough and perfect the gift send by the Gods from their humble throne». Each person is tormented by their own mistakes and sufferings. I should add that the word σωφροσύνη (prudence) means ”to save my mind”, i.e. to preserve mental health and mental balance.
The chorus as a neutral therapist can temporarily take the side of a family member, but generally it must remain neutral. It does not judge the characters but refers to the situations they are involved in.
In the second tragedy, which is symmetrical to the first, the violence and the impasse of revenge is revealed. However, here we get a glimpse of humanity and tenderness as expressed by Orestes’caretaker(6).
The third tragedy will provide the solution through dialogue, through reason on another level. So the call to action will stop and the violence will no longer be necessary.
Other concepts with a therapeutic effect:
Human limits (people are mortal) versus modern omnipotence. Omnipotence is hubris (insult) to life in the ancient tragedy. (15). Moderation is everything.
Heroes in double bond (Agamemnon, Orestes) that decide for themselves and take responsibility for their actions. Agamemnon is in a double bond with a dead end when he decided to sacrifice Ifigeneia. His hesitation is the first real conscience crisis in Greek literature. (2).
The chorus as a reflective team that presents all sides, places questions and leaves them unanswered so that the viewer can answer and relate with them.
Athena as a therapist who combines different views into one (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) and provides the solution to the dead-end.
Cultivating compassion, fairness, catharsis, learning, love for life and beauty and an active stance to life rather than resignation, promoting personal responsibility.
The tragedy has two sources of inspiration, the mythical past and political affairs. Greek myths reflect the first bonds between humans.
Myths are a timeless way for people to organize and understand their experiences (Campbell, 1949) and their roots lay deep in time, in the beginning of the formation of human consciousness (18). Family myths have been used in all thought schools of family therapy (18). Aristotle advised tragic poets to draw inspiration from themes in which suffering is born in affectionate relationships, meaning the family.
Tragedy fuses the primitive with the present and creates the timeless. Its true aspect comes from human acting on the suffering that is being presented (13). The tragedy is a drama (action, not resignation) that touches on fundamental problems of the human condition. Eliciting pity for the victims and mercy for the offenders (this requires empathy). It talks about double causality (divine, or undefined and human), but you can never say that man is not responsible, and there is no doubt that these two causalities are not contradictory. The Greek world is built upon knowing that there is no escape from the world and death and that humans are mortal. Castoriadis, «correcting» Andreas Empirikos, says that the Greek world «turned the knowledge of death to inspiration».(12). Heroes cause fear and pity but they also encourage, excite and support. Campbell refers to the necessity of the viewer’s catharsis from anxiety and intense psychological transitions while watching the drama (17). According to Schelling, who interprets Aristotle, catharsis is learning: if it relieves or makes the insufferable sufferable, it is in order to offer a possibility of understanding what would otherwise be completely incomprehensible for mind and speech. (15). With tragedy we are at no risk of plunging into pessimism because it is based on action, the heroes fight, they try to act correctly, and there is always a hint of innocence in them. Romilly will say that there are no traitors in tragedy. Heroes never lose their glory, even when they are devastated, because their honor is always preserved to the highest degree. Faith in mankind compensates for the horror and bitterness. Tragedy subjects us to a form of reflection, self-examination or self awareness (15). Socrates was quoted saying “life without reflection is unlivable to man”.
1. Η αφήγηση της Ορέστειας (JACQUELINE de ROMILLY, Εκδ. ΩΚΕΑΝΙΔΑ,2008)
2. Η Ελληνική τραγωδία στο πέρασμα του χρόνου. (JACQUELINE de ROMILLY, Εκδ. ΤΟ ΑΣΤΥ2000)
3. Ο Χορός στο αρχαίο Ελληνικό Δράμα (Ν. Χ. Χουρμουζιάδης, Εκδ. Στιγμή 2010)
4. Η αρχαία Ελλάδα εναντίον της βίας (JACQUELINE de ROMILLY, Εκδ. ΤΟ ΑΣΤΥ 2001 )
5. Βάστα καρδιά μου (JACQUELINEdeROMILLY Εκδ. ΤΟ ΑΣΤΥ)
6. H τραγική ποίηση των αρχαίων Ελλήνων(Albin Lesky, ΜΙΕΤ, 2010)
7. Οι ανθρωπιστικές σπουδές προάγουν τη δημοκρατία (Martha Nussbaum, Εκδ Κριτική, 2013)
8. Η ανακάλυψη του πνεύματος (Bruno Snell, ΜΙΕΤ, 2009)
9. Η ηθική του οίκτου (Martha Nussbaum, Εκδ. Ερασμος, 2015)
10. Περί Ποιητικής (Αριστοτέλης, Ακαδημία Αθηνών, βιβλιοπωλείο της Εστίας, ανατύπωση 2008)
11. Οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες και εμείς (Bruno Snell, Εκδ. ΙΝΔΙΚΤΟΣ 2006)
12. Η αρχαία Ελληνική δημοκρατία και η σημασία της για μας σήμερα. (Κορνήλιος Καστοριάδης, Εκδ. ΥΨΙΛΟΝ, 1999)
13. Αρχαία Ελληνική τραγωδία (JACQUELINE de ROMILLY, Εκδ. Καρδαμίτσας, 1997)
14. Υγεία, νόσος, θεραπεία από τον Όμηρο στον Γαληνό (Εκδ. Μουσείο Κυκλαδικής Τέχνης, 2014)
15. Η τραγωδία τότε και τώρα. Πρακτικά διεθνούς συνεδρίου για την τραγωδία και τον Αριστοτέλη (Εκδ. Καστανιώτη, 2002, Επιμ. Ανδρέας Γιαννακούλας, Μιχάλης Χρυσανθόπουλος)
16. Οι τραγωδίες του Αισχύλου (μετάφραση Ι. Γρυπάρη, βιβλιοπωλείο της Εστίας, 2010)
17. Campbell J.S (2001) Painless Pleasure: Catharsis in the Poetics. Lesetudesclassiques (69) 3 p. 226.
18. The use of family myths as an aid to strategic therapy
Stephen A. Anderson* and Dennis A. Bagarozzi Journal of Family Therapy (1983) 5: 145.- 154
19. Tragedy and Enlightenment Athenian Political Thought and the Dilemmas of Modernity Christopher Rocco UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS Berkeley · Los Angeles · London© 1997 The Regents of the University of California
20. APPLIED THEATRE AND DRUGS: COMMUNITY, CREATIVITY AND HOPE A thesis submitted to The University of Manchester for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities
2011 ZOI ZONTOU SCHOOL OF ARTS, HISTORIES AND CULTURES / Drama
21. Believing in Make-Believe: Looking at Theater as a Metaphor for Psychotherapy. Authors¨: Terry MacCORMACK FAMILY PROCESSVolume 36, Issue 2 June 1997 Pages 151–169
22. Family therapy and anthropology: a case for emotions Inga-Britt Krause* Journal of Family Therapy (1993) 15
23. The Greek Chorus and Other Techniques of Paradoxical Therapy
PEGGY PAPP, A.C.S.W. Family Process Vol. 19., March 1980
24. The Politics of the Trilogy Form: Lucía, the Oresteia and The Godfather: PETER w. ROSE. (Professor of Classics in the Miami University at Oxford )(Ohio, USA), ©Film-Historia Vol. V, No.2-3 (1995): 93-116