Classical Tragedy, CLST 273    .
MWF 11:30-12:20 Damen 430 
Patricia Graham-Skoul, Ph.D.;
Office: Crown Center 551; 773-508-3657 (LSC)

Required Texts: Greek Tragedies 1, David Grene and Richard Lattimore, ed. (GT 1 in syllabus) 
Greek Tragedies 2 (GT 2 in syllabus)
Greek Tragedies 3 (GT 3 in syllabus)
Recommended: Greek Tragedy: An Introduction, B. Zimmerman
Images of the Greek Theater, R. Green and E. Handley
History, Tragedy, Theory: Dialogues on Athenian Drama, B. Goff
Personality in Greek Epic, Tragedy, and Philosophy, C.. Gill 
Female Acts in Greek Tragedy, Helene Foley
Household Interests: Property, Marriage Strategies, and Family Dynamics in Ancient Athens, Cheryl Anne Cox
The Play of Space, Rush Rehm
When a Gesture was Expected, Alan Boegehold
Spoken Like a Woman, Laura McClure

Table of Contents: Projected Schedule, Consultation, Prospectus, Procedures, Grading


Projected Schedule: This schedule is tentative and may be amended as the course proceeds.  Please check on-line course syllabus for modifications.
August 26, 28,30 Introduction to the myths, rituals, and politics of the Greek tragedies performed originally in honor of the god Dionysos in the city of Athens during the fifth century BCE: benefactors, actors and chorus, audience; setting and props; Literary and political traditions

Introduction to the Aeschylean play Prometheus Bound, (GT 1), the story of a god who first helps but later opposes Zeus in order to benefit men. 

Discuss the setting and background: Why is Prometheus at “the ends of the earth”?

September 04, 06 Continue discussion of Prometheus Bound: What do we learn about Prometheus as he interacts with other characters: Might and Violence, Hephaestus, the Oceanids, Oceanos, Io, Hermes? 

How is his passion justified or not?  What end will there be to suffering: When, Why, through Whom? 

September 09, 13 Introduction to Euripides, Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and an Amazon (GT1).  Devoted to the virgin goddess Artemis, he offended the goddess Aphrodite, who made him suffer through the love of Theseus’ wife Phaedra. 

Discuss the heroism, the victimization, and the culpability of Hippolytus, Phaedra, and Theseus.

September 16, 18, 20  Conclude discussion of Hippolytus: What is the significance of divinities in this drama? 

Introduction to Euripides, Bacchae, the story of Dionysos who comes to avenge the wrong done his mother and to establish his power in Thebes (GT3).  Discuss the god’s blessings and the curses that led to a mother’s delusion and murder of her son, Pentheus, king of Thebes. 

What is the significance of the “Deus ex Machina”?

September 23, 25, 27 Conclude discussion of Bacchae and the rewards for or possibility of goodness.  Review Prometheus Bound, Hippolytus, Bacchae

Test on plays and dramatic background.

September 30, October 02, 04 Must a tragedy end tragically?  Euripides’ Alcestis (GT 3) gave up her life so that her husband Admetus could live--after Apollo tricked the Fates, but Admetus’ friend Heracles then fought for her

Sophocles’ Philoctetes (GT 3), was wounded in a god’s sanctuary, abandoned by Agamemnon’s command, and betrayed through the advice of Odysseus, but he was redeemed because of friendship with Achilles’ son Neoptolemus and the legendary Heracles.


October 07, 09, 11 What price heroism?  The Trojan War was one of Greece’s proudest victories yet many suffered, both Greeks and Trojans. 

Euripides’ Trojan Women (GT 2), highlights the nobility and pathos of the defeated Trojan women and suggests the underside of Greek victory--with cameo appearances by Cassandra, the 
prophetess no one believed, and Helen, the woman for whom the war was fought.

Electra (GT 2) and Iphigenia in Tauris (GT 2) attest the sufferings of the Greek commander Agamemnon’s family back home: Iphigenia, sacrificed by her father, became a priestess of Artemis in far-off Tauris; Electra was married off by her mother 
to a commoner in order to make sure she bore no noble children.

October 16, 18 Review Alcestis, Philoctetes, Trojan Women, Electra, Iphigenia in Tauri


October 21, 23, 25 Introduction to the Oresteia by Aeschylus, the trilogy that dramatizes the evil, the suffering, and the heroism of the family of the king who won the Trojan War. 

The Agamemnon (GT1) sets the scene for the return of the conquering hero Agamemnon with allusions to the wrongs done to and by the Greeks, demonstrations of the citizens’ loyalty but also criticism, and intimation of evil that still must be avenged. 

Clytaemestra gives her husband the welcome she think he deserves while Cassandra provides a panoramic view of this household’s bloody history.

October 28, 30, November 01 The Libation Bearers (GT 2) provides an account of how Agamemnon and Clytaemestra’s son Orestes, compelled by the god Apollo and urged by his sister Electra, the chorus of slave women, and his friend Pylades, avenges the death of his father by killing his mother and her consort Aegisthus.
November 04, 06, 08 The Eumenides (GT 3), tells how Orestes goes to Athens where, supported by Apollo, he pleads his case in a trial presided over by Athena against the Furies.  These goddesses act vengefully on behalf of the slain Clytaemestra, but finally they are persuaded to bring good to those who do good.  Review Oresteia. 


November 11, 13, 15 Sophocles’ Antigone (GT 1), daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta.  She opposed the king by burying her brother slain in fratricidal combat.  She won honor but lost her life. 

ID Term Paper/Project

November 18, 20, 22 Oedipus the King (GT1), seeing, he did not see: his identity, family, curse. 


November 25, 27  “Do not go gentle into that good night”: Oedipus at Colonus: led by Antigone, Oedipus found sanctuary from Theseus near Athens in the sacred precinct of the Eumenides

Apocalypse now. 

December 02 Last day of class.  Review
December 11 Final Exam on Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone  10:20 A.M.-12:20 P.M. 


Consultation: I shall be available for consultation on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00-11:20 and at other times by appointment.  My office (CC 551) phone number is 773-508-3657; the secretary’s (CC 575) number is 508-3650 (with voice message); my E-mail is pgraha1; and my home phone number is 847-251-0769; please call before 10:00 P.M.

Prospectus:  This course, which provides credit as core literature, will examine plays originally composed and performed during the fifth century BCE  in the democratic city state of Athens for festivals in honor of the god Dionysos.  The plays dramatize legendary events in the lives of heroic characters who make decisions and undertake actions that lead frequently to a reversal in their fortunes.  The audience will feel pity and fear as they witness the enactment of these stories set in the distant past but dealing with universal experiences: aspiration,
conflict, loss.

The dramatic characters are intelligent individuals who cared passionately about what they did
with their lives.  They were deeply concerned about how other people valued them, but they acted, nonetheless, according to their own standards, regardless of the effect on themselves and on others.  They believed they could have acted in no other way and hoped, at best, to be proven right in the end.

The dramas raise questions of personal identity, familial and political allegiance, and the need for but fear of that higher power we call god.  They provide entertainment and also a serious means by which to consider the basic truths of our human existence and the world of which we are a part.

The performance of these dramas at festivals in honor of Dionysos has been argued to hold particular significance because this god was seen to embody the dynamic process by which people chart the path from ignorance to knowledge, deception to revelation, and misunderstanding to recognition.  In his person were substantiated the paradoxical confusions, tensions, and ambiguities, the multiple dimensions and shifting planes of the reality we call life.

Procedures: BE SURE TO READ THE ASSIGNED MATERIAL BEFOREHAND AND TO BRING YOUR TEXT TO EACH CLASS.  I shall provide background information and bring up possible interpretations or problems to be considered but I expect students to contribute in writing as well as orally to textual exegesis.  We also have available a number of filmed versions of the plays which we may view and I am planning on taking a group to see the performance of Racine’s Phedre, a play influenced by Euripides’ Hippolytus.

Because this is a Writing Intensive course, students will write weekly essays.  These essays may be assigned for a future class or may be begun while a class is in session.  Assignments may include plot outlines and analyses of characters and values, such as justice or friendship.  Other topics include the importance of dramatic setting and paraphernalia, such as masks, costumes, and props.  Equally significant is consideration of the literary, social, and religious traditions with which the author was working and which may have influenced the audience’s
reception of a performance.  Examination of these topics will lead us to question the similarities and differences between ancient and modern performances and the relevance of the ancient drama for our contemporary audiences.

While students must hand in individual essays on their interpretations, sometimes they will work during class in groups.  For these assignments, each individual in the group must write down his or her interpretation and then share the results with first the group and then the rest of the class.  Students must complete the assignments and contribute to group work as assigned for full credit.

The tests will consist of short objective and essay questions with a longer essay that may be taken home and returned the next class.  The final will follow the same format and cover the plays read since the previous test; its long essay may be assigned prior to the final exam date.  The term paper, 5-7 typed pages, may be on a topic of the student’s choice but must center on the plays read this semester and include footnotes and bibliography for our literature as well as the secondary sources.

In addition to the writing exercises students may be required to act out before the class at least one scene from a play.


Grading: Mid-term and final grades will be determined from the accumulation of points obtained from the tests (usually 50-60 points each), the term paper/project (50 points), the final exam (50-75 points), and short writing assignments or group exercises (5 points each).  The grading scale is as follows: A=100-93%; B=92-85%; C=84-70%; D=69-60%.  B+, C+, and D+ grades may be assigned to those at the upper register of each grade level.