Choral dialectics: Hölderlin and Hegel

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It took a revolution to discredit Aristotle's claim that the tragic chorus should ‘join in the action’ (συναγωνίζεσθαι) and ‘be treated as one of the actors’ (Poetics 1456a). Until around 1800, the distinctive role of the chorus was widely assimilated to that of a character. Though the chorus could be assigned different functions within the plot (the confidante, the ‘man of honour’), it was largely understood by analogy with familiar Aristotelian and neo-Aristotelian concepts of ēthos. In so far as its collective role was recognized, it was seen as the remnant of a long-forsaken origin or an expedient for preserving unities of time and space. Beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century, though, thinkers increasingly sought to formulate the unique role of the chorus, emphasizing its difference from the protagonists, rather than its similarity. Modern efforts to define the chorus – as a ritual body, a democratic collective, a mediating instance – can be traced back to this period, when Aristotle's authority began to diminish after dominating discussions of tragedy for centuries. As the Aristotelian framework became less definitive, the chorus came to appear as essential to tragic representation, the foundation – in an aesthetic as well as a historical sense – of Greek tragedy's specificity as a genre. Anticipating Nietzsche's description of the chorus by nearly a hundred years, Daniel Jenisch writes in his 1786 Agamemnon translation that ‘the τραγικοτατον [sic] of Greek tragedy are the choral songs’. Increasing knowledge of Aeschylus, who was rarely translated before 1770, was an important factor in suggesting new paths for thinking about the chorus. Yet it was most of all the French Revolution that led to the development of theories of the chorus’ unique role, as philosophers and artists associated with German Idealism considered the collective in times of crisis. Finding themselves spectators to violent upheavals across the border, Idealist thinkers became newly sensitive to ‘choral experience’, using it as a means of articulating their own perspectives on tragedy, ancient and modern, real and mythical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationChoral Mediations in Greek Tragedy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781139519564
ISBN (Print)9781107033283
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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