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This chapter uses archival material connected to the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain to reconstruct three performances of ancient tragedy in the first decade of its existence, from 1963 to 1973. The productions of Sophocles’ Philoctetes (1963), Seneca’s Oedipus (1968), and Euripides’ Bacchae (1973) each highlight different elements of the British theatre company’s investment in performing ancient Greek and Roman tragedies in this period. Archival material allows the researcher to plot performative trajectories which combine the personal investments of world-renowned artists and theatre professionals like Ted Hughes, Peter Brook, and Wole Soyinka with the angry responses of audience members and the anxious fears of the theatre company. By bringing to light a body of ephemeral evidence including letters, memos, accounts of meetings, telegrams, theatrical programmes, production notes, and stage managers’ reports, the resulting performative reconstructions go beyond the text of the play and bear vivid witness to the powerful emotions and cathexes that ensure the continued popularity of ancient tragedy on the modern stage.
This concluding chapter theorises the implications of Dionysus after Nietzsche for the discipline of Classics, and argues for a reorientation towards a less historicist understanding of the ancient past in the spirit of Nietzsche’s Greeks.
The introduction explores the genesis of Dionysus and the Greeks in Nietzsche’s thought, from their initial appearance at the publication of The Birth of Tragedy in 1872 until his breakdown in Turin at the dawn of 1889. It argues that one of the central elements of their appeal to later authors is that Nietzsche used the Greeks to develop an innovative way of speaking about modernity. It was this explosive mixture of the archaic and the present that encouraged authors to consider the way that the example of classical antiquity could help them think through the rapidly changing conditions of their contemporary era. By examining different approaches to the temporality of antiquity and to ancient works of art, the chapter argues that Kracauer and Bloch’s idea of the ‘contemporaneity of the uncontemporaneous’ captures the way that classical antiquity exists in the present, as one obtrusion among many within a confusing fabric of competing times and experiences. This is also linked to the aesthetic and literary movement of modernism and to the vogue for tragedy that sprang up in the twentieth century.
This chapter explores the postcolonial resonances of Nietzsche’s Greeks by focusing on their appearance in the writings of the Nigerian political activist and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. Soyinka encountered Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy as a student of G. Wilson Knight at Leeds in the 1950s; this experience was part of the syncretic vision of dramatic traditions that he developed and which he later theorised in his essay ‘The Fourth Stage’ (1969). In this essay Soyinka argues for a globalised understanding of tragedy that does not rely solely on an exclusivist narrative of its ancient Greek origins, such as can be found in Nietzsche’s invocations of Aryanism in The Birth of Tragedy, and which can incorporate his own Yoruba identity. Soyinka draws links between Dionysus and the Yoruba god Ogun, and he later weaves these into his adaptation of ancient Greek tragedy, The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (1973). The postcolonial ambivalence that Soyinka writes into this adaptation is the subject of the final section of this chapter, as is his amalgamation of contemporary discourses of heroic black nationalism such as négritude in the character of the Slave Leader.
This chapter examines the antagonistic relationship with Nietzsche’s Greeks that was managed by one of the main writers of modernism, D. H. Lawrence. By thinking about the position of Nietzsche in the British intellectual climate of the early twentieth century, and in particular his association to the anti-Germanic feeling surrounding the First World War, this chapter contextualises the tension between Lawrence’s antipathy towards Nietzsche and the clear resonances between the two authors’ attitudes towards the irrational nature of ancient Greece. The chapter examines the differing attitudes towards tragedy that Lawrence puts forward across his voluminous writings, including especially his 1920 novel Women in Love, his critical-theoretical essay ‘Study of Thomas Hardy’ (written 1914/1915, published posthumously in 1946), and his travel writings about his visits to Etruscan tombs. It uses the idea of the ‘gay science’, which Lawrence took from Nietzsche’s work of the same name from 1882, to situate Lawrence’s desire to establish an anti-tragic form of art and literature with a genealogy that stretches back to antiquity.
The focus of this chapter is the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. It focuses on Heidegger’s changing attitude toward Presocratic philosophy in works surrounding his involvement with the National Socialists during the Second World War. It is particularly concerned with the shifting temporalities of Presocratic philosophy in Heidegger’s thinking: from representing a rupturous, revolutionary force in his ‘Rektoratsrede’ of 1933, it becomes a long-lost, cyclical mode of thinking in his 1946 essay ‘The Saying of Anaximander’. The chapter examines the links between Heidegger’s articulations of this particular archaic era of philosophy and a contemporary discourse of responding to the National Socialists by means of the Presocratics both positively, in the work of critics like Antony M. Ludovici, and negatively, in the writings of Georges Bataille. Furthermore, it connects Heidegger’s attitude towards the significance of the Presocratics to Nietzsche’s writings about Greek philosophy both in The Birth of Tragedy and in other works of the same time, such as his unpublished tract Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks.
Though the main figure of this chapter is the American theatre director and theorist Richard Schechner, it ranges widely in its attempt to understand the philosophical implications of the irrationalism that Nietzsche makes a central part of his vision of ancient Greece. Focusing on Dionysus and Oedipus in The Birth of Tragedy and beyond, it argues that the latter mythical hero represents the negative and harmful consequences of irrational, ecstatic knowledge and experience. After a detour through writings of Freud, Lévi-Strauss and Derrida on this subject, the chapter returns to Schechner and to his iconoclastic production Dionysus in 69. The version of Dionysus that emerged from this performative experience was connected to the contemporary discourse of the Dionysiac that expressed so many of the revolutionary and counter-cultural tendencies of the 1960s. In this way the chapter explores the way that Nietzsche’s Greeks underwrote some of the major symbolism of this significant cultural moment.
This chapter is concerned with the British classical scholar Jane Harrison. Harrison is most commonly invoked in contemporary classical scholarship for her part in the controversial ‘Cambridge Ritualists’ movement of the early twentieth century. Harrison was a central part of the intellectual genealogy of modernism, and a central reason that so many modernist authors made use of parallels with antiquity. This chapter suggests that by studying the changing valence of Nietzschean antiquity across her intellectual project it is possible to discern her altering attitude towards the value of the past in the present. After discussing the connection between anthropology, primitivism and Classics that yokes together the understandings of ancient irrationalism in both Nietzsche and Harrison, the chapter proceeds to consider the connections with James Frazer’s The Golden Bough as well as Wittgenstein’s critique of that work. The final sections focus on two of Harrison’s main works, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903) and Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion (1912), and the confluence of Dionysus, satyrs and religious belief in these works.
Dionysus after Nietzsche examines the way that The Birth of Tragedy (1872) by Friedrich Nietzsche irrevocably influenced twentieth-century literature and thought. Adam Lecznar argues that Nietzsche's Dionysus became a symbol of the irrational forces of culture that cannot be contained, and explores the presence of Nietzsche's Greeks in the diverse writings of Jane Harrison, D. H. Lawrence, Martin Heidegger, Richard Schechner and Wole Soyinka (amongst others). From Jane Harrison's controversial ideas about Greek religion in an anthropological modernity, to Wole Soyinka's reimagining of a postcolonial genre of tragedy, each of the writers under discussion used the Nietzschean vision of Greece to develop subversive discourses of temporality, identity, history and classicism. In this way, they all took up Nietzsche's call to disrupt pre-existing discourses of classical meaning and create new modes of thinking about the Classics that speak to the immediate concerns of the present.