chapter  2
36 Pages

Tragedy and Athens

Aeschylus and Sophocles
BySophie Mills

In the introduction to Chapter 2, the function of tragedy in Athens is explored, with particular emphasis on how Athens in tragedy could be portrayed to Athenian citizens as well as the non-Athenians who attended the Dionysia. I argue that Athens was generally portrayed both positively in tragedy and also in a way that conformed to the images of Athens discussed in Chapter 1. This is not to say that it is not possible to find more ambivalent readings within the plays that discuss Athens, but the playwrights always offer spectators the option of interpreting the portrayal of their city in a favourable manner. This is to be expected, given the conditions under which tragedy was written and given the way that tragedy works on its audiences, since some distance is necessary for the audience of tragedy to appreciate the play emotionally and aesthetically, and that element of distance enables audiences to have “escape routes” from any aspect of the portrayal of Athens that they might find displeasing or disturbing. The rest of the chapter discusses Aeschylus’ Persians and Eumenides and Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus in the light of these insights about tragedy and in the light of the influence of Athenian imperial rhetoric upon them.