The Influence of the Chorus in Aechylus’ Oresteia : Visualizing ποιητικος & μίμησις
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The Oresteia by Aeschylus is a trilogy of tragedies with a heavy choral focus, not unlike the many plays of ancient Greece. What separates the Oresteia from other tragedies of the time, however, is the unique application of the chorus to the plays Agamemnon , the Libation Bearers , and the Eumenides that make up the trilogy. When studying choral odes and Greek tragedy in general, one must consider the way in which the Greeks interpreted tragedy and literature: the idea of mimesis, as Aristotle describes in his ancient writings, and the Greek concept of poetics . I argue that, in terms of Classical history, poetry was not considered to be a specific genre of literature but, rather, an embodiment of all forms of art that reflected mimesis , i.e., representation through the use of artistic means. The idea of tragedy being a form of poetry is brought forth by Aristotle in Poetics and is supported by the scripts of tragic plays such as the Oresteia , particularly in the poetry of the chorus. It is understood that the chorus provided a great focus of attention for tragic authors like Aeschylus specifically because many of his plays were titled with the name of the chorus (two thirds of the Oresteia ), which was made up of groups of individuals who added their own interpretations of the Greek world into the plays themselves, being everyday, male, Greek citizens. Members of the chorus’ reactions to the situations presented to them depend on their social status within the plot. The chorus’ role in the tragedy demonstrates the influence of epic poems such as the works of Homer on Greek theatre and can be traced back to the roots of art forms like films and modern theatre productions that we enjoy today. 2 Considering the influence that the Homeric tradition of poetry had on the Greeks, it can also be understood how the chorus fulfilled the role of supporting the importance of ceremony and cultural practices. The play the Libation Bearers in particular highlights the importance of lamenting (and avenging) deceased relatives as the chorus themselves play an active role in the plot by encouraging a brother and sister to summon the spirit of their murdered father during a choral ode. The poetic devices used in the songs of the chorus, such as the metre, are crucial in setting the pace for the audience, creating suspense. The chorus also visualizes these emotions as they not only chant in poetic rhythm, but also dance while dressed in costume. All of these elements that make up the chorus of the Oresteia combine to create an impactful performance that showcases Aristotle’s concept of artistic representation and an intense visual portrayal of poetry--a concept that embodies all of literature.