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Theatre

Wagner and Aeschylus

“In any serious investigation of the essence of our art of the day, we cannot make one step forward without being brought face to face with its intimate connection with the art of ancient Greece. For, in point of fact, our modern art is but one link in the artistic development of the whole of Europe; and this development found its starting point with the Greeks”.

 Thus wrote Richard Wagner in his essay ‘Art And Revolution’ (Die Kunst und die Revolution), published in 1849. Interestingly enough, Wagner’s work was influenced on many levels by Aeschylus. Let’s see how:

Axial Age (Achsenzeit)

The period of ancient history from about the 8th to the 3rd century BCE, is when humans began to conceive and develop theologies of religion and philosophy. The famous German psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers called this period of unprecedented religious and philosophical creativity “The Axial Age”.

Those thinkers that emerged from this “Axial Age” included Classical Greek dramatists and philosophers,  Lao Tze, the Buddha, the Upanishads, Confucius and Hebrew prophets. Aeschylus belongs to this group of thinkers. His theater plays, never ceased to have a profound influence not only to ancient thinkers but also to intellectuals of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Aeschylus: the innovator

Did you know that Aeschylus introduced the concept of trilogies? Think of “Lord Of The Rings”, “Star Wars” or any other set of three theater plays or movies that are connected and can be seen either as a single movie or as three individual movies.

He introduced ‘stochasmos’ and ‘logos’, transforming the plot into a vehicle to explore other concepts and ideas! (The term ‘stochasmos’ can be translated in English as ‘conjecture’. while the Latin term is ‘status coniecturalis’.)

Aeschylus (523-456 BCE)

Influence on Wagner

One of the most loyal fans of Aeschylus was Richard Wagner. On the last day of his life, the great German composer and theatre director said of Aeschylus, ‘my admiration for him never ceases to grow’.

Wagner records in his autobiography, “Mein Leben“, that he then:

‘for the first time . . . mastered Aeschylus with real feeling and understanding’,

and goes on to say that the impact on him of the Orestes trilogy was so great that:

‘I could see the Oresteia with my mind’s eye, as though it were actually being performed; and its effect on me was indescribable.

Nothing could equal the sublime emotion with which the Agamemnon inspired me, and to the last word of the Eumenides I remained in an atmosphere so far removed from the present day that I have never since been really able to reconcile myself with modern literature.

My ideas about the whole significance of the drama and of the theater were, without a doubt, molded by these impressions’ …(!)

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Art Politics Theatre

Did the Athenians have the best tax system ever?

Imagine a system of taxation where only the rich contribute, while middle and lower class citizens don’t have to pay any taxes. On top of that, imagine that in this system, the rich love to pay their taxes and they sometimes compete who’s going to pay more!

Lysicrates monument choragic
Choragic monument of Lysicrates (335-334 BCE)

Sounds crazy? The monument of Lysicratres in Athens, stands as a solid proof that this crazy idea was once a reality! It was erected by a very wealthy citizen of Athens (Lysicrates) 24 centuries ago and he was a sponsor of musical performances at the theater of Dionysus. One of those performances got him the award of first prize.

The way citizens were taxed in ancient Athens was genius! Whenever Athens was in need of cash, the state didn’t have to draw funds from the public treasury. The rich were called upon and they acted as sponsors. This is what the Athenians called ‘choregia’ or as we know it today: sponsorship.

This financial contribution rather than being enforced by the state it was seen as a voluntary gesture that showed that rich citizens did care about their fellow citizens. It showed that the rich were true citizens (polites) and not private citizens (idiotes). And that’s the level of awesomeness that the Athenian democracy reached.

Lysicrates mon 4

Categories
Theatre

Oscar Wilde – Euripides

A Vision

TWO crownèd Kings, and One that stood alone

  With no green weight of laurels round his head,

  But with sad eyes as one uncomforted,

And wearied with man’s never-ceasing moan

For sins no bleating victim can atone,

  And sweet long lips with tears and kisses fed.

  Girt was he in a garment black and red,

And at his feet I marked a broken stone

  Which sent up lilies, dove-like, to his knees.

  Now at their sight, my heart being lit with flame

I cried to Beatricé, “Who are these?”

And she made answer, knowing well each name,

  “Æschylos first, the second Sophokles,

  And last (wide stream of tears!) Euripides.”

Oscar Wilde .  Poems.  1881.

euripides

Euripides. The last of ‘The Marvelous three’ Athenian theatre play writers. The most rebellious one. His criticism on religion -and the Olympian Gods in particular- and his attacks on traditional, social and moral values were infamous, earning the dislike of many of his fellow citizens. Even one of the most open minded audiences of the ancient world, the Athenians, had trouble understanding him.

Later he became immensely popular.  Theatre goers and play writers alike since then, bow before his talent and unprecedented boldness.

As Oscar Wilde explains:

“For though Euripides has not the Titan strength of Aeschylus, that Michael-Angelo of the Athenian stage, nor the self-restraint and artistic reserve of Sophocles, yet he has the qualities that are absolutely and entirely his own. His broad acceptance of the actual facts of life, his extraordinary insight into the workings of the human mind, his keen dramatic instinct for scene and situation, and his freedom from theological prejudice, make him the most interesting of studies. He was a poet, a philosopher and a playwright……..

…….He saw indeed that men and women as they are, are more interesting than men and women as they ought to be. He never tried to make humanity real by exaggerating its proportions. He cared little for giants or for gods. the sorrows of mortals touched him more than all the gladness of Olympus”