Drama and Democracy                     UHC 397 Colloquium                       Spring 2018

Edwin Carawan, Siceluff 115 Office Hour: 1:15 M-F

phone: 836-4831.... ECarawan@missouristate.edu


mage result for Athena "arms of Achilles"

Athena presides at the balloting

Ancient drama was a communal ritual in honor of Dionysos, the god that binds or liberates us. The play was valued as training for the active citizenry (all male) in the bonds of group identity and self-awareness. Funding was assessed from wealthy individuals, and the performance involved a chorus of citizens enlisted for that duty. A stipend was provided from the city treasury so that all men could attend, constituting much the same citizen body that met regularly to debate issues of war and peace, finance and public interest. The older men served as juries in a court system that often passed judgment on legislation as well as assessing public officials; and drama often mimicked that consummate social ritual, the trial. Whether women had access to dramatic performance remains doubtful, though their plight was often at the focus of drama, as it was sometimes taken up in court or assembly (ordinarily, women could not speak for themselves in those venues).  That disparity between the genders is one of the features of this culture that often calls for deeper self-awareness in drama—as in Antigone—though rarely remarked in the political realm. 

            Objectives — This course is an investigation of the ancient interaction between theater and community, with these  two aims. (1) To gain an in-depth understanding of ancient drama and its social context at Athens—how it worked and what it meant.  (2) To use that ancient paradigm for perspective on our own democracy and its evolving expression in the arts: Is there, for instance, a particular genre or medium of social expression that is formative, shapes our culture in a definitive way, as Athenian drama did, for better or worse?

            At our focus are three features of ancient society that seem worlds apart from ours but may be not so different: (a)  the struggle for self-knowledge by the heroic individual; (b) the forging of group identity (clan, tribe or state) around that archetype; and (c) the precarious balance between male dominance and “hidden figures,” the way female roles guide that process of discovery.

Requirements —Readings are taken from online sources linked to this syllabus and uploaded on Blackboard.  If you prefer hardcopy, check out online vendors: (e.g.) Sophocles, Four Tragedies (Ajax etc.), Meineck & Woodruff trans.; Aristophanes I Clouds, etc. Meineck transl.  See Policy for rules on Academic Integrity, measures against discrimination, etc.

This course is designed as a colloquium (in the best sense): daily discussion, focused on readings in (1) drama, (2) the rise and fall of democracy—and its restoration, (3) theoretical perspective on ancient drama. Your contribution to this weekly ritual will count as much as 25% of the course grade. And you will be asked to draw upon that discussion for 3 “essays”  or creative exercises, 25% each. These involve comparison of themes and characters with some historical or theoretical perspective on what the plays tell us about the evolving community; you are encouraged to draw upon modern or historical parallels.

            The creative options venture into drama or fiction: short story, screen play (or key scenes), or other genre. Feel free to use modern or other historical setting, but be sure to show meaningful parallel (perhaps with ‘epilogue’ on how your characters and plot compare). The key to either exercise is to find a problem or puzzle in citizen character or profile of the community that can be captured in fiction. We will discuss a few ‘for instances’ the first week (and as the due dates approach).

            Syllabus — most readings can be found at https://bacchicstage.wordpress.com






Theatre and Stage: profile of Athenian society; excerpts from Suppliants

Aeschylus  Prometheus Bound

(drama & democracy timeline)



Aeschylus Agamemnon

reforms as backstory? Orestes acquitted

Winkler ‘Ephebes’ Song’ excerpted

(full text)  A choral dedication, ca. 400

Jan. 30-


Sophocles Ajax (Meineck’s version?)

fragment of song: from a classical chorus

Sophocles Women of Trachis



Sophocles Antigone

Aristotle Poetics (excerpt)

focus on reversal and recognition)



Oedipus Tyrannus

(aka ‘Oedipus Rex’)

Pericles and the Idealized Community

and Pharmakos



Euripides Medea  

(who is the ‘hero’ here?)

Hippolytos (where is the recognition?)


Fate of Mitylene Review Discussion

(Henderson, ‘Drama & Democracy’)

Essay or Creative Project: 2-3 plays and (at least 1) theoretical perspective



Introduction to Comedy:

Acharnians excerpts

Aristophanes’ Wasps

(Meineck’s translation with notes)






Aristophanes Birds, discussion queries

(Birds translated, part 1; part 2)

Sicilian Debate

(focus for discussion)

Mar. 27

Tragic interlude:  Sophocles Electra

Timeline: Electra to the End

Mar. 29, Spring Holiday



Lysistrata  (and the revolving revolution)

Arginousai Trial and Fall of Democracy

focus for discussion


Aristophanes Frogs

Apr. 12, No meeting.

 Essay 2: Comedy as democratic ritual



Euripides Bacchae

Euripides Cyclops : Meet the Satyrs



Aristophanes Clouds

Historical context for the comedies

Democracy Redux:

Plato’s Apology of Socrates (Jowett trans.)



Aristophanes Congresswomen  (Parker’s lark)

Democratic Reform on ... Estrogen?

Aristophanes Ploutos (‘Wealth’)

Another model of Redistribution



Menander Dyskolos (‘The Grouch’)

Roman Comedies for Comparison

Review and Discussion: How Drama Saved Democracy? (Mendelsohn)

Tues. May 15 Essay 3 (or Final Exam, 11am or as arranged)  )