Classical Mythology Images and Insight, Third Edition

Following is an outline of the chapter along with the main learning objectives.  To help coordinate your studies, this outline and the learning objectives are organized to match your textbook.  This organization is also utilized in the chapter review section.

Part 1:  Key Themes 

  1. You should be aware of the advent of Greek Tragedy, roughly separated from the earlier Greek myths by 300 years (the earliest play at about 472 BC), and be able to discuss the legacy of the ancient myths to later Greek authors of tragedy (as well as satyr plays and comedies) such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. 

  2. You should be able to discuss the cultural evolution from the Dionysian dithyramb (an ecstatic choral song) and rituals to the competitive events in the City of Dionysus, to the development of tragedy, with it celebration of the God Dionysus, God of life's irregular cycles of joy, grief, death and rebirth.


Part 2: The City of Dionysus 

  1. You should be able to discuss the other forms of Greek performance theater such as satyr plays and comedies in terms of narrative motifs, functions and place within the Dionysian Tragedy cycle, including the concepts of: tragedy to provide extreme emotion and a cathartic release; the satyr play's exuberant celebration of life; comedy's reintegration of disparate elements. 

  2. You should be able to discuss other dominant elements in the worship of the God Dionysus, such as parades, wild dancing and intoxication, phalluses and effigies, as well as ritual sacrifice and animal motifs (such as the panther). 

  3. You should be able to discuss performance innovations that separate drama from their precursor myths -- such as the lack of a omniscient narrative voice; adding an actor to speak opposite the chorus; the evolution of multiple perspectives (via several characters).


Part 3: Tragedy 

  1. You should be able to discuss the cultural implications of a shift from a hero of divine (semi) parentage to one of aristocratic parentage; the kind of heroic endeavor depicted (relating stories of moral courage and integrity rather than that of prowess and courage); stories about other topics than the God Dionysus and themes that depict domestic violence rather than military battles and confrontations with monsters. 

  2. You should be able to discuss the tension in a culture which would align itself with the moderation, rationalism and enlightenment of Apollo, while still favoring myths of Heroes with their extreme drives and potential violence that offer as much threat as protection. 

  3. You should be able to discuss the cultural implications of the tragic Hero who must suffer to gain wisdom, concepts that include the doubtful blessings of gifts form the Gods and Goddesses that both get a Hero in trouble and then allow him to escape; the role of scapegoat to suffer the communal suffering; the double-edged attribute/threat of breaking down barriers of social habit, convention and illusion and the ever-increasing knowledge that his best traits prove the most self-destructive. 

  4. You should be able to discuss the cultural significance of the universe as it appears in Greek Tragedy in terms of the God Apollo and the God Dionysus in their symbolic roles -- restraint versus freedom, instinct versus taboo, instinct vs civilization, internal psychological needs versus external social responsibilities. 

  5. You should be able to discuss the cultural implications of the "tragic mystery" in terms of a "universe that is not morally neat", the fallibility of divine law (the Gods and Goddesses do not always reward the good and punish the evil; they are unpredictable), and the significance of a Hero tries to find the rational, moral universe the more he suffers, and invariably fails. 

  6. You should be able to discuss the concepts of moral freedom, the responsibility for one's own actions and their consequences, rejecting the role of victim, defining oneself as a free moral agent (regardless of any interference of the Gods and Goddesses) and the role of the Hero who achieves a moral transcendence through is suffering that validates the struggle.


Part 4: "The Bacchae": Euripides' Tragic Vision 

  1. You should be able to recognize the "Bacchae" as the only surviving tragedy that features the God Dionysus as a leading character, written in 406 BC; its mythic theme of the God Dionysus returning home, bringing destruction on his birthplace in retribution for denying his divinity and the worship of his cult.

  2. You should be able to discuss the role of women in this play as representing the instinctive passions of a divine power (the God Dionysus) in conflict with the social taboos and the rigid cultural relationships within the ancient Greek patriarchy.

  3.  You should be able to discuss the cultural implications of the cult of the God Dionysus as the thematic continuity of the early myths and later evolution of Greek tragedy, and its significance to the "Bacchae" in terms of the conflict between rigid concepts of power and sexuality and the divine imperative of change -- unpredictable as nature in its "beauty, power and cruelty".

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