Jay PatelMything Links Professor Massey & Ponzer12-12-17Aristotle’s poetics has been known to give good examples to follow to make a good play; specifically tragedies. Tragedy types of plays or any play for that matter have been huge to the ancient greeks, it was an even that everyone had to see and after talk about. One of the plays that the greeks have made famous was The Bacchae. The Bacchae was a greek tragedy and is famous for a reason, it wasn’t like the tragedies that we see in the movies.
Some people have questioned if The Bacchae was a successful greek tragedy through the eyes of Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle wrote about “poiesis” and specifically how and what makes a successful one. In the eyes of Aristotle, the Bacchae is a successful tragedy. This is proven through the characteristics of a successful tragedy described in Aristotle’s poetics and shown of said characteristics in Euripides play “The Bacchae”.
According to Aristotle, there are many moving parts to a successful tragedy. He starts with how poetry is a form of representation. He argues that there are three main elements of representation, the first being medium , then objects and finally mode. (P17) With medium he says that there are three different things that make medium; these are rhythm, melody and language. In the Bacchae in the part of the “Parados” there is music with a drum that looks like a tambourine. The music hit both points of rhythm and melody, Aristotle says that style is essential to a good plot.
Being that there are characters in this play that speak, there is some form of dictitation that will fill in the requirement for language. Next is the idea of object that is mainly the idea of a plot, character and thought. Aristotle says that ” tragedy is not a representation of people, but of action and life and happiness and unhappiness consists in action”. (quote where) This is the base of greek tragedy it means that morals is what makes a character the way he is but it has nothing to do with the plot it is the actions that decide the character’s fate. In the Bacchae, the main character pentheus is the king and is calling all of the bacchic women in the forest out and is calling dionysus mortal and not a god.
Dionysus tells him there is one last chance to stop this madness and pentheus doesn’t agree. It was his actions that lead him to his demise not his morality. He is a person who is trying to protect his home and be a good king. He is a bit hard headed, but as a king you have to be you can’t be made a fool in public. “Who falls into adversity not through vice or depravity but he errs in some way”. (Aristotle, p.32) According to Aristotle, the way that Penthius didn’t want to accept Dionysus as a god is the err that lead Penthius to his own demise. Another way that Aristotle describes a successful greek tragedy was how “expressing what is involved”.
This is basically how the play is written, and Euripides wrote it in a way that was an “orator” (aristotle,P25). This basically means that characters said lines like there was in The Bacchae. Also, there was a sense of thought that was in this play, Dionysus said his thoughts out loud so that the audience could follow. This is the typical for any greek play, this makes it easier for the audience to follow the plot. In the Bacchae there is a define beginning, middle and end that made for another reason for a good plot through Aristotle’s eyes. There was a prologue in The Bacchae, there were episodes that seperated the Aristotle also said that there should be some type of scale and the scale should be of length that the audience or a reader can remember. This means that at the end of the play the audience should be able to remember significant events that happened in the beginning.
This is prevalent in The Bacchae, the audience can remember what happened in the beginning while being long there were separations in the episodes that happened. It is also easy enough to remember what happened in the beginning. Aristotle also says that there should be a sense of unity and necessity.
This means that it’s not the poet’s job to tell the history of a given event but things that could happen; within probability and necessity. There should be one central theme that is related to what could happen to the main character, within reason. In the Bacchae this is shown through the central theme of pentheus and his family not believing in dionysus. He mocks dionysus saying that he isn’t a god, chains him up , and leaves him there. The central theme is that Pentheus doesn’t believe in dionysus and will be punished for it within reason.
So since Dionysus is a god he punishes him in a godly fashion. He uses some kind of mind control to take over Pentheus’s mother and make her rip him apart. There was a point in The Bacchae were Dionysus said to Pentheus “My Lord, there is still a chance to end this calmly”. If pentheus would have taken this offer it would have ruined the unity of the play and ended what would have been a greek tragedy.
Aristotle shows this in his poetics by saying “that the displacment or removal of nay one of them (actions) would dislocate the whole.” (aristotle, P27) One of the main points in a Greek tragedy is the idea of Catharsis. Catharsis is the idea of trying to get your audience to feel pity and fear. (quote notes )This is an essential part to any greek tragedy. This is a huge part of the appeal to the Bacchae. This is shown through a series of events . It starts with how Pentheus is a king who just wants safety for his people and how he just wants the crazies to leave.
When Dionysus tells him that he is a god , penthis didn’t believe him . This is relatable to joe everyman, if somebody tells you that they are a god you’d probably just laugh at them. Fast forward, Penthius then goes to hunt the Bacchic women in the forest. He’s told he would be concealed through women’s clothing, but was lied to. Then when he is found he tries to show his mother that it is him in order for some type of mercy, he is killed viciously killed by his own mother.
Aristotle shows this through by saying: ” Namely pity has to do with undeserved misfortune, and the other namely fear has to do with someone who is like ourselves”. (Aristotle P.32)The pity aspect has everything to do with this play, as an audience we relate to Penthius at least as mortals with undeserved misfortune. Euripides makes it seem as if Penthius does not deserve this misfortune. Who would believe a random person is a god, when they look the same as them? While Penthius was being a being a bit ignorant when he hears about the Bacchic women, he is really just trying to protect his town. The fear aspect is found in a lot of places but namely when Penthius goes to hunt the Bacchic women and is almost pinned down by his mother and he showed his face to her. Everyone would expect pity from their mother in this situation and the fact that she destroyed him anyway evokes fear. This is because this person is just like us , they are mortal, have a mother and everyone expects their mother not to kill them.
Aristotle also argues that: “the story should not be put together in such a way that even without seeing the play a person hearing the series of events should feel dread and pity”. This is shown in by Euripides by having Pentheus’s own mother rip him apart, not knowingly. Agave then finds out that the only son she had was killed by none other than herself and pretty brutally at that. At the very least if this were true and not fiction, would make people feel pity.
Aristotle also argues that “it should be meaningful relationships that sufferings occur” which is shown above. This is important to greek tragedy because in greek tragedy it’s the way the character acts will govern how the character receives their judgement. In greek tragedy it’s typical that the main character will not make it out without adversity and that is what us shown here. Aristotle talks about reversal and discovery and in a tragedy is essential. Reversal in Aristotle’s Poetics is the moment when everything changes contrary to what the character thought was going to happen.
He defines it as ;”Reversal is a change of direction in the course of events already stated taking place as we insist in accord with probability or necessity. This is shown in The Bacchae when Agave is being told by Cadmus that she had killed his only offspring to the throne is when the theme of reversal kicked in. Agave was in a Bacchic rage and during this time she had no idea who she had killed and claimed as a prize. Cadmus had to show her, or in Euripides’s words make her come to light.
She had realized what she had done and she had changed the place we were in. When she had realized what she had done she hit another point in Aristotle’s poetics, that being discovery. Discovery is when a character finds out what they have done and they finally “come to light”.
Aristotle defines it as “is a change from ignorance to knowledge.” Cadmus explains to Agave that she had killed her son , and brought his head back as a trophy. Agave had asked to even have a funeral or rites for Penthius, she asked ” where’s the body of my dearest son”. This discovery is essential in greek tragedy, to bring Catharsis to the audience. The last thing that any parent would want to know is that they killed their child in a wicked madness. Aristotle mentions that some people that criticize tragedies make the common mistake of saying that tragedy does not follow the plot.
He argues that the best tragedies follow the plot, especially the some of the works by Euripides. Aristotle says ” the best evidence for this is the fact that on the stage, such as plays, if well performed are the most tragic”. In the Bacchae, there is astounding amount of tragedy, the fact that Dionysus lead him to his death, his mom killed him brutally or the fact that she realized after is the essence of tragedy. The fact that Euripides did not change the outcome to help Pentheus in anyway shows a way of unwarranted violence and shows that this is in fact a tragedy. According to Aristotle then, should be that this is an excellent tragedy. Greek tragedy was the event of the summer in their times, almost like the movie everyone has to see now and feels the compulsive need to tweet about. Although their tragedy differs from ours, our tragedy usually includes a hero with good morals.
The person is usually has to go through a good amount of adversity to come out on top and have a happy ending. Let’s be clear, in Greek tragedy there was no happy endings. (For example, Oedipus Rex fulfilled the prophecy that he was destined to, found out that he did so, and clawed his eyes out.) The reason why this is a part of tragedy is because of action.