Conferencia "Money and Greek Tragedy"

22/06/2015 - 19:00
In this lecture I summarise a new theory of tragedy that I have been developing in recent years.



Dr. Richard Seaford
(University of Exeter)

lunes 22 de junio - 19 hs. 
Sala del Consejo Directivo
Puan 480 - 2o piso


In this lecture I summarise a new theory of tragedy that I have been developing in recent years.

The origin of most poetic genres goes back into the prehistoric past. Epic, dithyramb, wedding-song, dirge, paian, bucolic poetry, etc., were sung on specific occasions, well before the invention of writing. But tragedy was invented, in Athens towards the end of the sixth century BCE.  And it was entirely new kind of performance: the elaborate representation of myth by action with no ritual function. What were the conditions that allowed this momentous invention - of the first drama in history? Even more revolutionary was another invention, in the eastern Greek world at the beginning of the sixth century BCE: the invention of coinage, making the Greek polis the first thoroughly monetised society in history. Coinage arrived in Athens in about the middle of the sixth century BCE, not long before the birth of tragedy.

In my book Money and the Early Greek Mind (2004) I explained how the invention of money created a revolution in thought. And in my book Cosmology and the Polis (2012) I explained how the advent of money in Athens had certain practical consequences that contributed to the birth and to the form of tragedy. Today I want to talk about the effect of monetisation on the content of tragedy, in three tragedies in particular: Euripides Bacchae, Sophocles Antigone, and Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus.

The words 'tragic hero' are misleading. The suffering individuals of tragedy are called not 'heroes' but turannoi. In Greek historiography and philosophy the turannos abuses the sacred, kills member of his own family, and is obsessed with money; and the same is true of the turannoi of tragedy. Money isolates the individual, and at the heart of tragedy is the complete isolation of the individual, from his own family and from the gods.  This is unprecedented in literature.

In Bacchae the obsession of the turannos Pentheus with money, and his isolated imperviousness to advice, contrast with the ecstatic group consciousness of the Dionysiac chorus (based on mystic initiation).

In the Antigone the turannos Kreon is also isolated, impervious to advice, and obsessed with money. Here too there is a contrast with the chorus' invocation of the Dionysos associated with mystic initiation.

In Oedipus Tyrannus Oedipus too is isolated, impervious to advice, and obsessed with money. I argue that his incest represents the strange new phenomenon of money generating itself within the ownership of a single individual (interest, tokos).  Oedipus, like other tragic turannoi, is the new, isolated man of money. As for the chorus, I compare their reflections on Oedipus' downfall with the myth of Midas, the man of money, confronted by the wisdom of the Dionysiac mystic initiate and man of nature, Silenos.  The new man of money, whether Midas or Oedipus, should not have been born - or should have died as soon as possible.


Richard Seaford es profesor del Departamento de Clásicas e Historia Antigua de la Universidad de Exeter. Para más información sobre su obra, ver su página personal.