Reading Greek Tragedy for a World on Fire: Agonies, Ecstasies, and Fates

Plagues, sexual taboo, war, ecstatic violence, and the cost of self-knowledge – this five-salon series with Thomas Arnold will probe the voices and technologies of Greek tragedy for our current moment.

What was Greek tragedy, and how does it speak to contemporary conflicts and societal struggles? From Oedipal romance and Promethean rebellion to Medean revenge and the deus ex machina, Greek tragedy has continued to flow into western culture and beyond.

Cultural critics like George Steiner have wondered if such narratives and their staging can still convey their original force in this modern age, or whether Biblical narratives and scientific ambition had buried the tradition too deeply within history’s labyrinth. Bring your questions, curiosity, and personal perspectives on tragedy as we find our way into that labyrinth. What are these “goat songs” saying to us?

Meets the third Thursday of every month, 1 PM EDT.

Already have a membership? Sign in to get your series ticket!

In addition to series tickets, you will get access to our community Discord (with a channel for this series to chat between events)—as well as free salon tickets each month, discounts, free members-only events, and more.

May 16, 2024Rebellion, Suffering, and Technology: Promethean and Greek Tragedy’s Formation of Self

What were tragedies for, and why did Athenian society stage and judge them? In this first salon of the series we will discuss what associations, experiences, and questions we bring to this form of literature, and talk about its social role for those who wrote, acted, and watched them. Both as ritual and civic formation, tragedies gave voice to struggles that war, political speeches, and philosophers may not have articulated. We will start with “Prometheus Bound” and its portrayal of rebellion against a divine order, its gripping, gruesome look into technology, human ingenuity, and sacrifice.
July 18, 2024Medea and Other Foreign Monsters: Greek Tragedy’s Subversive Voices

Women, foreigners, conquered foes, and villains – the Greek chorus could hear and respond to many voices that sat squarely and frightfully within the Athenian psyche. We will discuss Medea and other tragic characters that challenged the usual Athenian authority figures and their narratives, and reflect on why tragedy (including the chorus) could put so many different voices into play.  
August 1, 2024Oedipus and the Curses of Self-Knowledge

In our present-day quests for being “self-made” (vz. Tara Isabella Burton), what nightsides of knowing oneself does the Sophocles put before us in his depiction of Oedipus? We will look at the mythic Theban legacy of pollution, taboo, and sacrilege in which Oedipus and daughter Antigone find themselves, and ask how collective forces and fates defined Greek tragic heroes as much as individual flaws? What is a tragic flaw, anyway, and why was the same word used by later Greek philosophers to mean “the swerve,” the element of chance and spontaneity in an ordered world?
August 15, 2024Philoctetes and the Deus ex machina: Pain, Technology, and Deception in a Greek Tragedy

The wounded warrior Philoctetes is not only a powerful figure of isolation, suffering, and self-pity for those who have lived through the last several years of pandemic. The play “Philocetetes” also features a deus ex machina. We will discuss the actual “machine” producing that “god,” as well as why, in this tragedy, that “god” may have been an especially devious trickster.
Sept 19, 2024Bacchae Going Berserk: The Struggle for Order and the Irrational

In this play from Euripides, often thought of as a self-conscious coda for the genre, we look at the release of Dionysan force onto a society struggling to preserve order. What is this tragedy warning us to observe about irrationality, deluded attempts at social and political control, and the ways excluded voices can break through with superhuman force?

Already have a membership? Sign in to get your series ticket!