The contact of the contemporary audience with the ancient drama often raises questions and concerns about the understanding and interpretation of its existence (as performance) in the postmodern era conditions, causing reasonable doubts about the possibility of its survival in future millennium.
Which are the most likable and meticulous possible readings of dramatic texts of classical antiquity, as constructed within the multiple interpretative possibilities, which either focus their values of interest on the entropy of author’s textual speech or on the hetero-defined perceiving consciousness of the reader / viewer?
What is the timeless perception of ancient drama, within the ethno-racial and socio-cultural contexts which formed individual play-writings historically, particularly during the preceding 20th century and which is its future possible reception by a quality-differentiated audience, within a complex of aesthetic – artistic and cognitive morphemes of the next millennium?
These are only some of the dimensions of the requested issue, which we will attempt to negotiate, focusing our attention on two main keystones:
-the connection of the tragic element with the mythical narrative and myth reduction into “symptom” (the medical sense of the word) of the tragedy, through which this surges into timeless and global boundaries.
-the possible appearance of myth in the newest drama and volatile future restoration of archetypal forms, which are perceived as cloned “syndromes” of a new dimension of tragedy.
- The attempt to give a definition of the myth is extremely difficult, both due to endogenous (form, structure, origin, functionality) as well as objective reasons (analysis methodology, epistemological data, sociological context), so that regardless of our judgment about it, it is limited to individual versions taken in specific societies and geographical areas.
In an effort to define its parameters, we could resort to some pertinent interpretations occasionally attributed to myth, starting with M. Eliade’s view that the myth appears “when the world is created in human consciousness with questions and answers »(Eliade: 1969), or even with J. Servier’s view that “the myth about the consciousness of primitive man constitutes a comprehensive knowledge, able to encompass the whole existence»(Servier: 1978, 41), or finally with that view which talks about formation and onomatopoeia concepts and statements, in their unified expression beyond the fragmentation of the phenomena (Jolles: 1972, Roudhard: 1977, 315).
As it is being understood, already from the beginning, an intrinsic inability to give specific definition to the concept arises, perhaps due to the very nature of the requested: on the one hand we do not have direct experience with the myth itself and on the other hand there isn’t a “first” stable form, but an ever-changing entity, which as a whole constitutes the “myth”. Therefore, trying to restore a truth about the myth and the anxious search of “archetype” and “archegon” proves an illusory false dilemma.
Any a posteriori summation of all forms present within it, fails to capture the diversity of its existence, which necessarily makes the proposal by Cl. L. Strauss that myth is “the set of its versions” (Strauss: 1971, 240), or the view that the listener (or reader) identifies the truth which suits him best, projecting his own feelings and personal crises on the myth, accepted (Ruthven: 1976, 91).
Although this “writing degree zero” is absent, myth over the years has led its former “archetype” forms to divergences and convergences, forms which may recur identically almost at a later time, as an investment of the same mythical figure in a different consciousness and another culture (Durand: 1978, 47-48).
- But since myth ceases to function in its primary oral form and loses its sacred character, it turns into mythology, which is fake or false narrative about the man who now exists in a historical time. Abandoning the literal level, it is transferred to the dimension of literary illustration and understood as a semiotic system of performance and interpretation of the world by the consciousness of the writer – creator. This transition from the archetypal, anthropological significance of myth (revealing, demonic, analogical depiction), to the literary transformation (spring myth for comedy, autumn for the tragedy and winter for satire), has been thoroughly analyzed by N. Frye in the “Anatomy of Criticism (Frye: 1997, 125-242).
Therefore, talking about a “literary” or “theatrical” myth, we mean a dynamic system defined in the field of literary creation consisting of symbols, images and archetypal form issues, which tend to be a narrative under the influence of a shape (Durand: 1969, 64).
This figure may be an “archetype” in the Freudian, jungian or general psychoanalytic meaning, sometimes resulting in a completely personal and mythological universe of this specific creator (Mauron: 1962), the validity and stability of which depends on the referentiality and authenticity of its relation to the actual or potential archetype of the human collective unconscious (Brunel: 1992, 33-34). The writer discovers and creates the literary myth through collective cradle of “super – culture”: words, ideas, themes and motifs of mythical narrative that have been linguistically, semantically and ethnically deposited therein (Dumzil: 1968, 10). The interest of ‘the myth, no longer lies in content as in the form in which it appears in any author’s work every time (Albouy: 1969, 9).
The fact of the loose connection between the “code” and the contents available to the myth every time, combined with the lack of a primal “authentic” form, favors the possibility of morphological and / or conceptual mutation, with a consequent unlimited increase of possibilities of the semiotic, both for the consciousness of the writer who uses it, and the one of the target audience, as French semioticians, especially R. Barthes, J. Kristeva and A. Greimas have talked about it.
Apart from (and simultaneously) the causes which compel the author to select one or another version of the literary / theatrical myth and use it in a specific way each time, the audience is the final recipient who determines the meaning of the myth and contributes to its conceptual definition.
As far as the question “why the meaning of the literary myth changes” is concerned, we can respond as follows: it is not only the nature of myth itself that is changeable, but the audience is changeable as well, thus being the chief responsible for attributing meaning to the literary message which originates from this and varies and differentiates itself equally.
The upcoming change in the traditional mythical narrative and the expressed correspodence between the mythical signifier and literary signified, allow the author to present his personal message through the common communicational code which myth conveys. In this way, on account of a mythical consciousness which “… is a model of all significant human activities because its tells a sacred story » (Eliade: 1963, 15-16), the views of the author are formed as he draws up the rhetoric literary myth within the transition from a meaningful system to another “composing the fragile truth of its creator in a unique –albeit never definite- way” (Siaflekis: 1994).
- The theater, from the first moment of its appearance in ancient Greece, finds its origin and development in myth. Whether it deals with secular narration of human relationships integrated into historic – social frame of reference, as it is indicated in the “Persians” by Aeschylus, or (most commonly) with tales of transcendental events which are dramatically formed pertaining to some obsolete ‘mythological’ time, as it is in ” Bacchae “and” Prometheus Bound, “” Medea “and” Trachiniae “, the theatrical myth constitutes the canvas of ancient Greek tragedy.
Through basic conceptual keystones ( “hubris”, “nemesis”, “ate”, “destiny”) it formulates and expresses graphically the wake of primary existential and metaphysical experience of man, which are visualized variously through the two broad mythological cycles, the Theban and the Mycenaean.
The minimum (compared to the volume of production) completely surviving tragedies of the top three tragic poets, the fragments of others, the scattered lyrics and titles of others (Blume: 1986, 27), are evidence only of what had potentially been received as loans by the dramatic poets of classical Greek antiquity from the rich literary transformative mythological archaic tradition, the epic cycle and the earlier oral tradition of rhapsodists, lyric poetry, but also the contemporary sophistic and rhetoric (Romilly: 1996, 53-54) .
When Aristotle argues that ” The plot should be so constructed that even without seeing the play anyone hearing of the incidents happening thrills with fear and pity as a result of what occurs.” (About Poetry: 1453b, 1) and classifies the myth in “kata poion mere”, that is parts that determine the quality of tragedy, he defines theoretically what was already property by Thespis and their first tragedians, that the “myth” as “subject” constitutes a condition sine qua non of its kind, since, as we know, the Dionysian dithyramb turns into drama and then it becomes theater with the introduction of dialogue and distinction of the hypocrites from the other members of the dance.
But from that initial moment, the myth is nothing but a “story” expressed, since only as such it can be understood by the consciousness that has been removed from the world of the primitive and mythological, and it can only work perfectly trapped, almost like a prisoner, within the logic of spatiotemporal integration. So even though it is the king who unwittingly became incestuous and by realizing it he started blinding himself (Oedipus), or it is the queen who kills her children (Medea), the viewer in the ancient theaters knows well that what he sees is not real but imaginary, not real, but illusory, it is not objectively real, but symbolic mimetic.
Having these as characteristics, theater moved from antiquity to the present day, passing successively from stages when sometimes the real prevailed against the mythological and sometimes the opposite, in a way that, depending on the aesthetic principles and ideological context each time, drama appears more or less facing the realistic drama, with corresponding emphasis on history and myth as thematic or transformative portrayal, with morphological and genre signification of myth as a narrative and symbolism.
This constant tug of war between Myth and Logos leads very often, except for extreme cases of full enforcement of one over the other (theater of classicism vs realism Theatre), to one embodiment and combination of one with the other, in a way that the result is not only a new “fiction” but one that contains elements of both.
It can be realised, in the course of world theater, that Aeschylus and Alfieri, Hofmannsthal and Cocteau, based on the legend, exploit and develop it, differentiate and transform it, each one on their own way, sometimes making it more and sometimes less convincing and plausible, recognizable and readable by the minds of viewers who perceive it as performance. This is because myth, as expressed primarily in ancient tragedy but also in newer projects based on it, keeps the whole conceptual range and morphological meanings that are able to include many potentially disparate elements, to meet needs and non-historical interpersonal demands which exceed the “here” and “now” of this creation. It interprets entities, it refers to general principles that may be given specific form in the individual sphere, but under no circumstance is it based solely on this. [This is also the reason that makes it timeless and universal, since it generally brings individuals and events thereby expressed in representative samples or symbolic patterns, the signification of which exceeds the boundaries of a specific example by which it is displayed]. Quite the contrary: it secularizes the transcendental, it distinguishes the Catholic, it consitutes the generally prevailing, allowing specific symbolisms according to their expectations and perception of the recipient. The persons acting in Greek tragedies are represenetative cases. The specific figures of Iphigenia and Agamemnon, Antigone and Creon do not relate with modern viewer (in such a degree and extent the viewer in the Classical period did), but by those casting features and any ethical behavior, social attitudes, existential response data, which can be possibly perceived acceptable, but not unique, value-standards and attitudes indices, equally recognizable and modern viewer. Such an approach to theatrical myth, and by extension to the tragedy, it extricates us from any rational responses, escaping from the deadlock of the type “why” and “who” did or did not do what the subject of the play narrated thus avoiding bumping into a posteriori questions asked by the viewer from a following era from the emergence of the myth itself.
In this way, as far as the modern spectators is concerned, the dramatic interest shifts from the level of the actors mere participation in the events, to their level of engagement by their conscience and their interpreting the scenes based on their own expectation.
The proposed communication proposal on the part of the author, is now considered to be based on the previous reading experiences of the recipient (readers / viewers) determined by both personal narrative technique of the former, and the expectations of those who are led to the creation of a personal or collective reading of the text of literary fiction, in conjunction with their accumulated experiences of various origin (aesthetic, psychological, social, et. al) (Siaflekis: 1994, 14).
- Consequently, the survival and the future existence of the theatrical myth is not disputable, since, as it has already been defined, it offers an overall reference and a global broadcast which includes the individual element, based on it as “history” but also it transcends it as a non historical reality, thus being an “essential vehicle” functioning in any season and under any conditions. But what is still requested is to identify the nature and character of this myth, the morphological and conceptual framework defining the presence and function of myth in the theater of the next millennium.
For the new questions which keep arising, a new response is required, which may include any individual differences reasonably and convincingly so as to unify any contradictions and to establish a universal entity which may display “this” and the “other”, defined by the cultural creation in the theater. This should be the new form and meaning of myth, close to the archetypal version as much as possible, as the expression of existential and metaphysical human reflection, and consequently the presence of the theatrical myth should be the carrier of a new cosmology and perhaps cosmogony, We can consider concepts and data from the modern theory of text and culture, as intertextuality, as individual readings with advocative and not probative character for this future image of the theater.
- Miller and B. Strauss, St. Berkof and Y. Mishima, as well as I. Kampanellis and A. Staikos, just to name a few exemplary cases of dramatic writers of international and Greek contemporary drama, converse with the texts of the past integrating the creation of not only almost all of the obvious or latent approaches of the archetypal forms of myths that develop in their works, but also their creative consciousness which gets judged instead of being the judge and gets to be the active power instead of being just a spectator.
As the search intensifies and existential anxiety increases, references to theatrical archetypes expand, and the presence of the myth becomes more catalytic. We can point out that Medea and Clytemnestra, Prometheus and Oedipus are raised again at the center of reflection and interest of contemporary theater and thereby in the cultural pursuits of modern man, in any way this can be interpreted by special scholars [emergence, volatility, exaktinosi (emergence) (flexibilit) (irradiation) of the mythical narrative (Brunel: 1996, 72-86).
The authors at the end of the 2Oth century realize, perhaps even more than others that preceded the impasses of civilization, their inability to stay detached judges of the data which myth bears as a dramatic form. They abandon the certainty of the past and get incorporated therein, attempting conversing with persons and situations they experience. They dare to bring texts and forms together from various historical moments and create fictitious compositions which are consolidated only by their personal creative activity. They try to provide answers to hypothetical questions, suggesting thoughts not specific but generalized, since they include experiential and intellectual experience of the collective cultural past in a personal super-individual, localized in time but timeless conception of culture. In this way, theatrical myth, being morphologically refreshed and conceptually renewed, becomes a searching tool and medial communication of modern man which goes back to the past to express it, which is immersed into non-temporal to format the temporal concept, suggesting, perhaps the innovative theater of the future.
- A second equally important indicator of the future course of the theatrical myth, are the notions of ‘difference’, ‘multi’ ‘super’ ‘-culturalism “or whatever the trends of modern theater creators will be, mainly in the directing field, which tend to the study of pre-theatrical expression modes of primitive man, attempting to formulate an opinion about the theater, which is close to the “holy” and “totemic” exceptional space and time of happenings, rather than under the rational response of theatrical representation of the world.
The restoration of these data, which leads to exceeding the Aristotelian theater and vindicates the views A. Artaud, demands new acting codes from young actors and creates a new reality in the directing field, which transcends the specifically defined element of any indigenous culture and diffuses itself in interculturalism with signifiers and signified messages widely known.
Indicative cases are those of P. Brook and A. Mnouchkine, the Eug. Barba and B. Wilson who, through their performances, attempt to couple and homogenize “natural” and “set” disparate elements of European and Asian, ancient and modern world, expressing the human searches in modern time in the best way.
The “postmodern” conditions, the abolition of the “center” and the emphasis on the “periphery” of cultural activity, with the rejection of the “source” as a reference point and signification of artwork and the highlight of the value of the individual example, emphasize the autonomy of artistic / theatrical creation, which ceases to be be interpreted as an irreducible value derived from a “prototype” of the past (Pavis: 1990, 7-26, Patsalides: 1995, 191-224).
This does not mean that the “prototype” does not exist, that the “archetype” continues to act as a catalyst on contemporary dramatic production. Quite the contrary. Just because the needs of the modern public are such, because the distributive messages and values arising from any traditional creation are individual, because intertextual references and often post-theatrical situations tend to become the prime means of searches of expression in contemporary theater, that is the reason why the new version of myth is such that:
The desperate attempt to reconstruct the original image through the fragments of the individual elements. The acrobatic overcome of the deadlock of speech and the creation of a new fiction based on the traditional management of myth either in its narrative – literary or figural – theatrical expression, and its recomposition based on current data.
The unification of contrasts through an heterogeneous composition of heterogeneous signifiers yet homogeneous signified tends to capture all through its prismatic refractions.
All these happen via theater, as an integral unity of the stage-directed message and the dramatic situations that are interpreted by the spectators’ consciousness based on their psychospiritual state and their expectations, which are interconnected inseparably through the myth, under any form or content. This in turn, is product made of data of the cultural heritage of the dramatists and circumstances that have shaped the modern world.
The playwrights of our time make an original composition that is both so old as the tragic myth of the ancient Greek theater, albeit as new as the consciousness of the modern viewer requires. The presence of myth as a condition of ancient tragedy continues exicting uninterrupted. However, the “symptomatic” arousal, has been replaced by an expression, which becomes more general in postmodern versions of drama in the late 20th century.
In this new drama development phase, once again the mythical “geno-texts” come out as the indestructible forces which can ensure the universality of the conceptual reduction, through the diversity of their readings.
As such, the theatrical myths can no longer be nor act as specified expressions in the plays of modern dramatists, as this could happen in the ancient Greek tragedies, but as broad intercultural entities of universal reference, through which attempts can be made to interpret universal timeless questions of existential and metaphysical content.
Under this meaning, ‘hyper-cultural’ myth of future theater can be as much “sacred” (in the meaning of ‘exceptional “the” single “, the” numinous “) with the myths of the ancient Greek theater and the anthropological and psychoanalytical models, regardless of any morphological presence (yet conforming to the analogies).
Thus the creation of new mythologies, even if they claim to be more different and altered, involves the re-emergence of this character of the myth which is repressed and ultimately ignored by the consciousness of modern man.
This may be the first step in a new drama development phase, qualitatively corresponding to what had been launched by Thespis in ancient Greece, and representatively expressed by the title that M. Eliade gave in his work: “The myth of the eternal return ‘.
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