Sunday, October 06, 2013

Unbound

When I learnd about Greek drama in college it was easy enough to remember who wrote the plays.  There were seven by Aeschylus, seven by Sophocles and nineteen by Euripides.  That's it.  Other tragedians were known by name, but none of their plays survived except in fragments. (Comedy was even easier, since only Aristophanes' work survived from that golden age.) There was some question over the attribtution of Rhesus to Euripides, but I hadn't heard about any other problems.

It's not a coincidence these were the only three who made it.  They were, presumably, the best at their craft, and after their deaths their plays continued to be performed, thus their texts survived.  In fact, I believe the three's most popular plays were collected in one book and many copies were made, so we have the best of the best--plus a partial compendium of Euripides, which explains why he's got more than the other two combined.

But now I hear--though the debate has been going on for years--that scholars have great doubt that Aeschylus created Prometheus Bound.  I'm surprised, since it's known to be part of a related trilogy, which was Aeschylus's specialty. (All the tragedians wrote trilogies plus a satyr play for competition, but they weren't always about the same subject.)

Apparently the weight of scholarship is now claiming the play, rather than being an early work from Aeschylus, might have premiered much later, and been written by his son. This also strikes me as odd since the stagecraft seems a bit older (if I recall), without the innovations Sophocles and Euripides brought to tragedy.  What's their evidence?  First, Zeus is treated differently here from how he's treated elsewhere in Aeschylus. Not that impressive.  Second, and here I can only take their word, more and more scholars are claiming, based on meter and diction, this doesn't seem like Aeschylus.

I guess we'll never know.  The real question is does it matter who wrote a play, or signed a painting, or directed a fim, etc.  It shouldn't, but somehow, it does.

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