The Mourning Voice

The Mourning Voice: An Essay on Greek Tragedy

Nicole Loraux
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings
Foreword by Pietro Pucci
Volume: 58
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 142
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.cttq456f
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  • Book Info
    The Mourning Voice
    Book Description:

    In The Mourning Voice, Nicole Loraux presents a radical challenge to what has become the dominant view of tragedy in recent years: that tragedy is primarily a civic phenomenon, infused with Athenian political ideology, which envisions its spectators first and foremost as citizens, members of the political collective. Instead, Loraux maintains, the spectator addressed by tragedy is the individual defined primarily in terms of his or her humanity, rather than in terms of affiliation with a political group. The plays, she says, involve the spectators in the emotional expressiveness of tragic suffering, thereby creating a theatrical identity. Aroused by the experience of suffering, the audience is reminded that it is witnessing a theatrical representation of the instability of the human condition-a state that Loraux asserts tragedy is uniquely suited to convey.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6698-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Pietro Pucci

    In the spring of 1993 Nicole Loraux delivered the annual Townsend Lectures at Cornell University. The title of her lecture series was “The Voice of Mourning in Attic Tragedy.” In 1999 Gallimard published the French version of these lectures under the title La voix endeuillée. Essai sur la tragédie grecque, and it is the text of the French book, with some emendations conforming to the original typescript of the lectures, that now appears in English translation by Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings.

    Loraux’s appeal to a renewed Nietzschean reading of Greek tragedy appeared then, as it appears now, as a polemical manifesto...

  4. TRANSLATOR’S NOTE
    (pp. xv-xv)
  5. [I] GREEK TRAGEDY: POLITICAL DRAMA OR ORATORIO?
    (pp. 1-13)

    On March 10, 1965, Jean-Paul Sartre’s adaptation of Euripides’ Trojan Women was performed by the Théâtre Nationale Populaire, under the direction of Georges Wilson. While this may appear to be an indirect starting point for a work devoted to the mourning voice of tragedy—or rather, the mourning voice within and, as it were, “beneath” tragedy, as if mourning were one of the principal subtexts in a tragic text —I have chosen it not simply because I wish to establish a thoroughly French frame of reference from the very beginning. I also want to begin this study of tragedy by...

  6. [II] THE THEATER OF DIONYSUS IS NOT IN THE AGORA
    (pp. 14-25)

    The theater of Dionysus is not in the Agora. What sounds at first like a simple statement is much more than that when we observe that in the civic space of city-states (poleis), the theater was generally located in the Agora, the most political of public places.¹ By making a distinction between theater and politics in this symbolic way, I wish to indicate from the outset a departure from the wholly political readings that have dominated studies of tragedy for several decades.² The comparison between a contemporary conception of tragedy—in this case the adaptation of The Trojan Women which...

  7. [III] TRAGEDY AND THE ANTIPOLITICAL
    (pp. 26-41)

    Tragedy, as I have said in the preceding chapter, is antipolitical. Let me explain this term, which I felt I needed to coin since the existing term, a-political, conveys a notion of indifference or neutrality rather than one of active opposition to the political.

    In brief, I will argue that any behavior that diverts, rejects, or threatens, consciously or not, the obligations and prohibitions constituting the ideology of the city-state (which in turn creates and maintains civic ideology), is antipolitical. By “ideology of the city-state”¹ I mean, essentially, the idea that the city-state must be—and so, by definition is—...

  8. [IV] THE DILEMMA OF THE SELF AND THE OTHER IN TRAGEDY
    (pp. 42-53)

    In Aeschylus’s play The Persians, the name of the Ionians rang out in the theater of Dionysus like a cry of mourning. In order to understand the reason for this, we must put ourselves in the position of a spectator, because the lamentation will be perceived differently depending upon whether or not vital interests of the public gathered to participate in the Great Dionysia are involved. It so happens that, more than twenty years before The Persians was produced, the name of the Ionians really had resounded in the theater as an intensely lugubrious lamentation. Because the city did not...

  9. [V] SONG WITHOUT LYRE
    (pp. 54-65)

    The proper place for mourning, as I have said, is not in the city-state but on the stage, specifically, in the orkhēstra, when the tragic chorus intones a lamentation, a thrēnos.

    Does the attempt to ascertain the connection between tragedy as a genre and the observances and portrayals of mourning lead us back to an untimely¹—unfashionable if not actually forbidden²—dispute about the origin of tragedy? I don’t think so, despite the fact that the Nietzschean allure—birth rather than origin—of that designation appeals to me. While I see no rationally based obligation to revisit the question of...

  10. [VI] DIONYSUS, APOLLO
    (pp. 66-80)

    Khōris hē timē theon,¹ “separate is the honor due to the gods” or “this celebration is separate from the Olympian gods”: these words prepare us to hear the mournful account of a catastrophe. This is how the messenger, who would have liked to bear only good news on the joyful day of the king’s homecoming to Argus, explains in the Agamemnon his reluctance to describe the storm that destroyed part of the Achaean fleet. Is the messenger asserting with this announcement that each god has a cult, separate from the others, or does he mean to suggest that bearing bad...

  11. CONCLUSION: FROM CITIZEN TO SPECTATOR
    (pp. 81-94)

    I have now come to the end of this study, in which my sole aim has been to make the tragic voice of mourning audible, a voice not usually heard when tragedy is narrowly defined as a political genre. I wished to show that the relationship between voice and discourse, phōnē and logos, as the Greeks thought of it, is more one of contrast than of congruity. It is not easy to conclude, however, because so many of the difficult and important questions I have ventured to raise must be left open.

    This work had its origins in the conviction...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 95-120)
  13. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 121-122)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 123-127)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 128-129)