Mnema and Forgetting in Euripides' The Bacchae


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Recent approaches to Euripides' The Bacchae (407 B.C.) have generally concentrated on "Dionysiac poetics." Since Dionysus is the god of theater, they have used the play 's inclusion of him to explore its relationships to the theater and to theater's function in Athenian society. Their efforts have, in part, been built on Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy (1872) and its embodiment of formal aesthetic forces in the idea of coexisting, contending Apollonian and Dionysian drives. They have also employed the views of Eric Havelock's Preface to Plato on theater as a way "in a preliterate society" of "maintaining the apparatus of ... civilization"-a role that functions by contributing to a "tenacious and reliable ... collective social memory." Like Havelock, they have acknowledged in their discussions Plato's views of theater's "way of reliving experience in memory instead of analyzing and understanding it" as "the enemy" of philosophical reasoning.1 Adding Victor Turner's work on liminality and recent discussions of ritual, Charles Segal and Helene Foley, its leading voices, have characterized the poetics as creating a "space between," where "order and disorder" and the various contradictory impulses associated with the god "lose their familiar clarity of definitions[,] and energies are released to combine in new ways." Relying on "precoded patterns of the social norms," the poetics brings "out something that was not in the code." It threatens thereby "to destroy the code itself' by bestowing "a fresh vision of a hitherto concealed reality, a vision that may either be enlightenment or (as in Pentheus' case) delusion."2

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