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Encounters with the Dead in Fifth-Century Drama

Mikellidou, K; (2014) Encounters with the Dead in Fifth-Century Drama. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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The present thesis is concerned with the hermeneutic significance of a recurrent, yet understudied, plot element in fifth-century drama: the staged encounter between the living and the dead. The investigation is organised in three chapters based on the three motifs whereby this encounter is achieved – necromancy, katabasis, and spontaneous ghost-apparition. Each chapter starts with an introductory discussion about the archaic and classical representations of the motif under examination in eschatology, culture, literature, and art, and then proceeds to a thorough study of its dramatic occurrences in tragic and comic plays, both extant and fragmentary. Chapter one focuses on necromancy, namely the practice of summoning the dead temporarily in order to consult them, and examines four of its dramatic treatments: the evocation of the dead Darius in Aeschylus’ Persae, the dramatisation of the Homeric Nekuia in Aeschylus’ fragmentary Psychagogoi (frr. 273-278), the necromantic prayer preserved in Euripides’ fr. 912, and the narrated scene of Peisander’s necromantic experience in Aristophanes’ Birds (1553-1564). Chapter two investigates instances of katabatic journeys, namely infernal descents performed by the living. Katabasis is examined through the dramatisation of Peirithus’ mythical descent in Euripides’ fragmentary Peirithus, as well as its offstage use in Euripides’ Heracles. However, comedy occupies the largest part of this chapter, as the motif is conspicuously treated in Aristophanes’ Frogs, while it also appears in a number of fragmentary plays – Aristophanes’ Gerytades, Eupolis’ Demoi, and Pherecrates’ Metalleis and Crapataloi. Chapter three shifts the emphasis onto the motif of the spontaneous ghost-apparition, which is undertaken by unburied (ataphoi) and violently killed (biaiothanatoi) individuals, as well as cultic heroes. These restless dead, who intrude uninvited upon the territory of the living to communicate claims and desires, are exemplified by Clytaemestra in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, Polydorus and Achilles in Euripides’ Hecuba, and the chorus of heroes in Aristophanes’ fragmentary Heroes. The aim of this investigation is not to offer a commentary on the plays examined; nor does it aspire to reconstruct contemporary eschatological ideas by extracting what seems to be a historic core from the dramatic material. Rather, by employing Greek eschatology as a stepping-stone to literary exploration, it attempts a new reading premised on the fact that the dramatised encounters between the living and the dead are far from decorative and incidental. They are organically integrated into the plays, thematised, and endowed with a significant dramatic role, participating actively in the construction of form, structure, and meaning.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Encounters with the Dead in Fifth-Century Drama
Language: English
Additional information: Permission for digitisation not received.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1417794
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