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The Function Of The Greek Chorus

1006 words - 4 pages

As man conquers the natural forces of the world, his mental focus shifts from simply surviving to answering humanity's enduring question: Why? Writers are inspired by the fabric of their society—current events, historical milestones, and popular morality. The Greeks' skill in weaving stories and imagery was so intricately powerful that a complete universe was created in their legends. The chorus was one of the primary tools for elegantly setting the stage for such detailed works. In Mythology, Edith Hamilton exalts the works of Aeschylus, which heavily employ the chorus for context, saying “With Homer, they are the most important source for our knowledge of the myths.” (17) The chorus provides insight to classicists, and it can inspire audiences as well. The chorus in Greek drama provides vital information, establishes tone, and serves as a mirror for the moral ambit of the audience that allows for relatively short works containing dense moral content.
The typical chorus consists of mortal citizens, but a preface to this tool is seen in Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. As the saga opens, the Olympian gods are gathered in an assembly that is mimicked in later dramatic works. Not only do the gods provide information about Odysseus's plight, they discuss Orestes's vengeance for his father and facilitate the introduction of young Telemakhos. In Agamemnon, Aeschylus uses a gathering of old noblemen to fill that role. Before Agamemnon's climax, the audience is fully prepared for Clytaemnestra's actions by the combination of learning about Iphigenia's death and of hints of Clytaemenstra's infidelity. The allusions as sometimes symbolic, but sometimes the chorus's understanding of the complexities of the situation are all to clear: “But Justice turns the balance scales, sees that we suffer and we suffer and we learn. And we will know the future when it comes.” (250-52) Choral passages allows the audience to feel like a member of the community by providing historical context and referencing events that occurred outside the setting of the drama.
The transference of the choral function from the gods in The Odyssey to men in Agamemnon evidences a shift in the focus of Greek literature. While Odysseus's story examines a man's spiritual journey, Agamemnon presents questions that delineate morality and religion. The shift from a religious basis of introduction to the more common scheme of a collection of mortals might also be attributed to the more relatable nature of drama. In both cases, the chorus sets the mood for the story that follows by serving as an indicator of emotional climate. In History of the Literature of Ancient Greece, Karl Muller says “The action that forms the basis of every tragedy of those times is internal and spiritual; the reflections, resolutions, feelings, the mental or moral phenomena, which can be expressed in speech, are developed on the stage.” In contrast to the action-oriented, prop-laden spectacle of many modern dramatic...

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