Greek tragedy: Why we need it today?

Why Greek tragedies still matter? What is the importance of tragedy? What are we looking for in those plays? The questions stuck with me throughout the time I read the three Theban plays. I found myself many instances that show why tragedies are a part of our lives. I want to start with something a bit dry and fundamental: the origin of the Greek drama. There are many different theories out there for the origin of drama, but there is no controversy that Western drama came from Greek tragedies. Looking back to Aristotle’s seminal work Poetics, Aristotle used the word “Catharsis” to describe the effects of tragedy. Some people interpret katharsis as purification, some understand it as intellectual clarification. To answer the question, Greek tragedies matters because our soul is looking for catharsis. Some of you might be thinking I sounded like a pedant, and what does catharsis relate to your life anyway. Well, Greek tragedies are just like the dramas we see on TV. Tragedies were merely are a form of entertainment to Greeks,  and they are nothing different than a good TV show. When you felt the sharing of pity and terror and joy with all and was so fascinated that you had to watch another episode of the TV show, you already felt the catharsis Greeks felt.

But why we seek catharsis from Greek tragedies? Wouldn’t show on Netflix better than the ancient Greek plays? English playwright Edward Bond wrote: “A dramatist who writes about society must write about the future. The present is too close to be written about knowingly. The future is the hidden purpose of drama, of all art. A dramatist has only two subjects: the future and the past which is the origin of the future.” I think the future here is not the literary meaning of future, but to make futurity resonance his life experience with the social issues the play is tackling. To me, Greek tragedies are future proof. The scenes in the tragedies might seem shocking and unimaginable, but they will become more recognizable when we relate to our era. Because the topics Greek tragedies tackle are the fundamental human motivations, and the conflicts in plays are created by underlying human motivations are shared by people of different races, nationalities, and times.

In lieu of what is happening now in Washington, I was struck when I saw the moment when two women confronted Senator Flake in the elevator. The outcome of the vote for Judge Kavanaugh to join the Supreme Court seemed like a foregone conclusion when we all got the message that Flake was supporting Kavanaugh. But this two women, Archila and Gallagher, both are victims of sexual assaults, took off after Flake and stopped him in the elevator. Senator Flake, awkwardly standing in the side of the elevator, fidget, nodding, and break eye contact with the two women and the media crowd. Archila’s voice broke and filled the space with sudden emotion.

“You have children in your family. Think about them. I have two children. I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?”

And then Gallagher took over.

“I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what you are telling all women in America, that they don’t matter.”

Flake’s head lowered and slightly nodded.

After seeing this news, I realized this could be an example of how Greek tragedies relates to our life and a possible answer to the initial questions. Archila and Gallagher are like the Antigone, who has befallen to calamities caused by the fate beyond her control. But they tried to overcome the situation and approach the situation in a favorable way. The author of the play Sophocles was visionary in term of introducing a major female character into the play as the protagonist. This arrangement makes the play Antigone tackles the gender equality and women’s right. The antagonist in the play, Creon, was a male character repeatedly shows signs of power hunger and ignorance of the suggestions form people around him. Moreover, he treats women as they have less power than men. When Antigone defied his order, he says, “Now if she thus can flout authority Unpunished, I am woman, she the man. (Antigone p. 201 Kindle Edition)”

In the world today, we are enjoying the technology and innovation and anyone seems able to change the world. But things like #meetoo moments and Kavanaugh hearing slapped so hard on our face telling us we are still struggling about basic human equality. We still ironically fall into Greek wrote thousands of years ago. Women still make less salary than average, and we again repeatedly hear they were being ignored. It may be difficult to relate ourselves to the groups who suffer from those consequences. But tragedies provide examples of characters’ lowest moments for us to expand our perspectives on life. To see the black and white, good or bad, unfortunate consequences but more importantly, the hope characters like Antigone brought us. We need the Greek tragedies to arouse the spirit of ego and revive humanity spirits. Tragedies pushed things to extremes, and by doing this, they were showing us what we are doing in our in our earthly world.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.