November 21, 2003

Tragedy & Mummies

This is the sort of thing that David of the excellent Cronaca is usually the first to unearth, so forgive me if I try to copy his style:

A Greek play believed lost when the Library of Alexandria is said to have burnt down in 48 BC is to be revived after fragments of text were found in an Egyptian mummy.

Papyrus inscribed with excerpts of Aeschylus's Trojan War trilogy Achilles were found by archaeologists.

Cyprus's national theatre company, Thoc, is planning the world première in Cyprus and Greece next summer.

Although historians questions the existence of the Alexandria library, the play is very real.

The plays have been reworked using the original extracts and drawing on references in texts like Homer's Iliad.

The story revolves around Achilles, the supposedly invincible warrior who was killed by Paris with a poisoned arrow at his only vulnerable spot, the heel.

From the BBC.

Thinking of Aeschylus reminds me of a passage from Borges' essay, The Modesty of History, which can be read several places (I'm quoting it from Other Inquisitions):

The phrase aroused my interest because of its enigmatic quality: "He brought in a second actor." I stopped; I found that the mysterious subject of that mysterious action was Aeschylus and that, as we read in the fourth chapter of Aristotle's Poetics, he "raised the number of actors from one to two." It is well known that the drama was an offshoot fo the religion of Dionysus. Originally, a single actor, the hypokrites, elevated by the cothurnus, dressed in black or purple, and with his face enlarged by a mask, shared the scene with the twelve individuals of the chorus. The drama was one of the ceremonies of the worship and, like all ritual, was in danger of remaining invariable. Aeschylus' innovation could have occurred on but one day, five hundred years before the Christian era; the Athenians saw with amazement and perhaps with shock (Victor Hugo thought the latter) the unnanounced appearance of the second actor. On that remote spring day, in that honey-colored theatre, what did they think, what did they feel exactly? Perhaps neither amazement nor shock; perhaps only a beginning of surprise. In the Tusculanae it is stated that Aeschylus joined the Pythagorean order, but we shall never know if he had a prefiguring, even an imperfect one, of the importance of the passage from one to two, from unity to plurality and thus to infinity. With the second actor came the dialogue and the indefinite possibilities of the reaction of some characters on others. A prophetic spectator would have seen that multitudes of future appearances accompanied him: Hamlet and Faust and Segismundo and Macbeth and Peer Gynt and others our eyes cannot yet discern.

I tend to think that Aeschylus, who wrote as many as 90 plays--of which only a few are extant--knew what he was doing.

Posted by Ideofact at November 21, 2003 11:41 PM