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Sunday, July 23, 2017

050 - Early Tragedy and Aeschylus

In this episode, we discuss what is known about the lives and works of the earliest tragic poets that set the stage for the first great Athenian playwright, Aeschylus, to make all sorts of theatrical innovations at the onset of the Classical Period; and the historicity and some of the major themes of his seven surviving plays, which include The Persians, Prometheus Bound, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, and the trilogy known as The Oresteia (whose three plays includes Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides)

534 BCTragedy competitions began at the Dionysia; Thespis is first victor (unknown work)
524 BCChoirilos competes in his first Dionysia (unknown work)
ca. 520-500 BCChoirilos, Pratinas, and Phrynichos are "big three" playwrights at Dionysia
511 BCPhrynichos wins his first victory at the Dionysia (unknown work)
499 BC - Aeschylus competes in his first Dionysia (unknown work)
493 BC - Phrynichos produces a tragedy on the Capture of Miletus (lost work), which chronicles the fate of Miletus after it was sacked by the Persians during the Ionian Revolt; the Athenian authorities ban the play from further production on the grounds of impiety
487 BC - Chionides stages the first comedic play, The Persians (lost work), which may have been a funny dig at the customs of the Persians, who the Athenians had just recently defeated at Marathon; henceforth, comedy would have its own competition at the Dionysia
484 BC - Aeschylus wins his first victory at the Dionysia (unknown work)
476 BC - Phrynichos' Phoenician Women (lost work) is more successful as he uses the tragedy to celebrate the Greek defeat of Xerxes at the Battle of Salamis; Themistocles provided the funds as the choregos, and one of the play’s objectives was to remind the Athenians of his great deeds in defense of the city
475-473 BC - Aeschylus travels to Sicily and produces The Women of Aetna (lost work) in honor of the new city of Aetna that was founded (atop Katane) by the Syracusan tyrant Hieron
472 BC - Aeschylus wins first prize at the Dionysia with his trilogy whose theme centered on divine retribution; a young Pericles provided the funds as the choregos; the first play, Phineus (lost work), presumably dealt with Jason and the Argonauts' rescue of a Thracian king named Phineus who was being tortured by the monstrous harpies at the behest of Zeus; the second play, The Persians (the oldest surviving ancient Greek play), focuses on the hubris of Xerxes and his loss at the Battle of Salamis; the subject of the third play, Glaukos (lost work), was a mythical Corinthian king who was devoured by his horses because he angered Aphrodite
471 BC - Phrynichos' son, Polyphrasmon, competes in his first Dionysia (unknown work)
ca. 470-430 BC - Either Aeschylus or his son, Euphorion, stages a trilogy called the Prometheia; the first play, Prometheus Bound, survives in full, but the other two, Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, survive only in fragments
468 BC - Sophocles wins his first victory at the Dionysia (unknown work) over Aeschylus; unusual in that Kimon and the other strategoi served as judges; Aeschylus and Sophocles dominate the dramatic competitions as rivals for the next decade
467 BC - Aeschylus wins first place at the Dionysia with a connected Oedipus trilogy, called Oedipodeia, which tells the tragic story of Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who unknowingly killed his father, married his own mother, and had two sons and two daughters with her; the first two plays, Laius and Oedipus, have few surviving fragments, but the third play, Seven Against Thebes, has survived intact and tells the fratricidal struggle for the throne of Thebes, waged by the two sons of Oedipus after his voluntary exile; Polyphrasmon took third place with his Lykourgeia (lost work), a trilogy based  on the story of Lykourgos, a mythical king of Thrace who banned Dionysos and his followers, the Maenads, from his kingdom, and as punishment, he was driven mad by Dionysos
ca. 465-460 BC - Aeschylus stages a Danaid trilogy; the first play, The Suppliants, survives in full, but the second and third, The Egyptians and The Danaids, are lost
458 BCAeschylus wins first place at the Dionysia with his trilogy known as the Oresteia (the only complete trilogy that has survived); comprising of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides, the trilogy tells the bloody story of the House of Atreus, the royal family of Mycenae, following the events of the Trojan War
458-456 BC - Aeschylus travels to Sicily for a second time
456 BC - Aeschylus dies outside the Sicilian city of Gela

Primary Sources:
Text/Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound
Text/Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes
Text/Aeschylus' The Suppliants
Text/Aeschylus' Agamemnon
Text/Aeschylus' The Libation Bearers
Text/Aeschylus' The Eumenides
Text/Aeschylus' Fragments

Monday, July 10, 2017

049 - Theater and the Dionysia

In this episode, we discuss the origins of drama in the Attic countryside, its relation to the cult of Dionysos, and its introduction to Athens in the late 6th century BC; its evolution from a chorus of satyrs singing dithyrambs to the addition of actors (aka Thespians from the first one, Thespis); the Dionysia festivals celebrating the cultivation of vines, both "Rural" throughout Attica during the month of Poseideon (late December/early January) and "City" in Athens during the month of Elaphebolion (late March/early April), as well as the Lenaia in the month of Gamelion (late January/early February); the physical space and early evolution of the theater in the sanctuary of Dionysios Eleuthereos on the southern slope of the Athenian acropolis; the various roles of the actors and the chorus and their costumes; the components of tragic and comedic plays; and drama's civic importance in 5th century BC Athens

Sunday, July 2, 2017

048 - Food, Wine, and the Symposium

In this episode, we discuss how, when, and where different subgroups of ancient Greeks consumed food each day; what particular foods were part of each's diet; some famous early cookbook authors; viticulture and the economic, religious, and medicinal role of winethe festival of Anthesteria in the month of Anthesterion (late February/early March), which celebrated the beginning of spring and marked the ceremonious opening of the wine jars from the previous autumn's harvestand the symposium (drinking-party), an aristocratic social event which included philosophical/light-hearted discussions, musical performances, song-singing, storytelling, flirting, and competitions (such as kottabos, aka ancient wine pong)

Primary Sources: