Greek Tragedy

Course No. 217
Professor Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
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Course No. 217
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Course Overview

Two-and-a-half thousand years after they were written, ancient Greek Dramas such as Eumenides, Oedipus the King, and Trojan Women retain a compelling, almost incantatory power. These plays have attracted focus and reflection from Aristotle, Freud, Nietzsche, and others who Professor Vandiver observes early in the course:

"It is a notable paradox that Greek tragedy, a dramatic form that flourished for less than a full century, a dramatic form that began in a particular religious festival of a particular god some 2,500 years ago, remains vibrant, alive, and productive today.

"It seems that there is something about tragedy that lifts it out of its particular circumstances and beyond its particular gods, social issues, and political concerns to give a kind of universality that is, in the last analysis, very surprising."

The great tragedies shed light on the extraordinary time, place, and people that produced them.

And they may help us—as perhaps they helped their original audiences—to grasp a fuller sense of both the terror and wonder that life presents.

A Rounded View of a Grand Art Form

Professor Vandiver has designed these lectures to give you a full overview of Greek tragedy, both in its original setting and as a lasting contribution to the artistic exploration of the human condition. There are three main points to the course:

First: The Plays in Their Context. You learn to see Greek tragedy as a genre in its cultural context. Why did this powerful art form flower in the Athens of Pericles and the Peloponnesian War? What is tragedy's deeper historical background? Did it grow out of rituals honoring the god Dionysus, as is so often said? What role did it play in Athenian civic and religious life? How was it related to earlier performance traditions such as bardic recitation? How did Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides each make unique contributions to tragedy's expressive power?

Second: The Plays on the Stage. Too often, the surviving tragedies are seen purely as texts to be read, rather than as scripts to be played. Hence the second aim of Dr. Vandiver's course is to teach what scholarship can reveal about the performance of tragedy, including its physical and ritual settings, actors and acting methods, conventions of staging and stagecraft, and even how productions were financed.

Third: The Plays in Rich Detail. Third, you explore with Professor Vandiver a broad group of tragedies in close detail. In particular, you will ask how individual tragedies use traditional myths (often tales from the Trojan War), and what Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides intended to accomplish by changing or adding to the basic story. You examine what certain tragedies imply about the world of 5th-century Athens, and the importance, in turn, of the cultural background for explaining those tragedies.

Surveying Key Scholars and Critics

While Professor Vandiver frequently refers to modern critical approaches and theories to help illuminate the tragedies, she has chosen not to adopt any one theory as a framework for the lectures. Accordingly, you will find that she carefully and fairly discusses a number of views of tragedy, including those of Aristotle, Nietzsche, Freud, the Cambridge Ritualists, and even Aristophanes, who included the tragic stage in his wide-ranging satires of Athenian institutions, mores, and personalities.

Three for the Ages

Perhaps one of the most intriguing opportunities this course offers, even if you are a seasoned lover of literature and the classics, is the chance to compare and contrast the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

Aeschylus (525–455 B.C.)

Lectures 5 through 9 focus on Aeschylus, the eldest of the three. The plays and themes discussed include The Oresteia (a trilogy about the accursed House of Atreus in the aftermath of the Trojan War, it includes Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and Eumenides), as well as the earlier plays Persians, Suppliant Maidens, and Seven Against Thebes.

Sophocles (496–406 B.C.)

Lectures 11 through 14 and 22 are devoted to Sophocles. He is well known for creating heroes such as Oedipus, Ajax, and Philoctetes, who are characterized by intense isolation. In his Poetics, Aristotle credits Sophocles with introducing the third actor (not counting the chorus) and the use of scenery.

Euripides (484–406 B.C.)

Lectures 15 through 21 concentrate on Euripides. The most overtly political and least traditional of the three, he wrote plays featuring an especially vivid array of strong, disturbing female characters, including Medea and Phaedra. Two other plays with female protagonists, Hecuba and Trojan Women, paint harrowing portraits of the horrors of war and were written while Athens was locked in a deadly struggle with Sparta and her allies.

The course moves toward a finish by examining the revivals of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides put on in the Hellenistic theater, and then briefly discusses Roman adaptations and later "revivals" of Greek tragedy, from the Renaissance to modern times. It closes with Professor Vandiver's reflections on how the characteristic themes and tone of the Athenian tragic stage continue to inspire audiences and artists in a variety of media today.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Tragedy Defined
    What is tragedy? What are the issues to grapple with if we are to understand it? What was it like to live in 5th-century B.C. Athens, the time and place that saw tragedy's birth? How and why, precisely, did tragedy originate? x
  • 2
    Democracy, Culture, and Tragedy
    What cultural developments are reflected on the tragic stage? Is tragedy imaginable apart from Athenian democracy? What was the character of the festivals at which tragedy was performed? Can the handling of female characters in tragedy teach us anything about women's place in Athens? x
  • 3
    Roots of a Genre
    Dionysus is the god at whose festivals tragedies were performed. Did tragedy grow out of rituals in his honor, other types of rituals, or from some other source? Are there other reasons for the link between Dionysus and theater? x
  • 4
    Production and Stagecraft
    If you could go back to 5th-century Athens to attend a tragic performance, what would you see and hear? x
  • 5
    Aeschylus—Creator of an Art Form
    Aeschylus made huge contributions to the artistic development of tragedy. How have his seven surviving plays come down to us? How can we study his three earliest surviving plays to grasp not only his awesome gifts, but the staging and theatrical traditions he was building? x
  • 6
    The Oresteia—Mythic Background
    In this lecture, you examine the two stories that lie behind Aeschylus's trilogy. The tales of the Trojan War and the accursed House of Atreus were part of the cultural coin of 5th-century Athens, and are essential to understanding The Oresteia and other extant tragedies. x
  • 7
    The Oresteia—Agamemnon
    Can guilt be inherited? How does Aeschylus use the characters of Cassandra and Clytaemestra to set up images and themes that will recur throughout the trilogy? x
  • 8
    The Oresteia—Libation Bearers and Eumenides
    How does Aeschylus carry the major themes of justice, blood-guilt, vengeance, and conflicting moral duties through Libation Bearers, and how does he finally resolve them in Eumenides? What seems to be Aeschylus's final word on the gender issues raised by these plays? x
  • 9
    A Master of Spectacle
    Aeschylus's stagecraft in the Oresteia included the skene building, chariots, royal purple tapestries, a remarkable device known as an ekkyklema, and the actors playing the Furies to create theatrical effects that left his audiences powerfully moved. x
  • 10
    The Three Electras
    Each of the two younger tragedians wrote a play called Electra, and Aeschylus treated the same material in Libation Bearers. The way is open for a fascinating three-sided comparison. x
  • 11
    The Sophoclean Hero
    Sophocles is famous for creating isolated heroes. What is known of his life and contributions to stage art? What can we learn from a close examination of Ajax, perhaps his earliest surviving play? x
  • 12
    Antigone and Creon
    Why is Sophocles's Antigone, like so many other surviving Greek tragedies, set not in Athens but in Thebes? What does Sophocles reveal about conflicts between family and city, divine and human law, human greatness and human finitude? x
  • 13
    Oedipus the King, I
    How does Sophocles handle the well-known story of Oedipus, king of Thebes? How is the work patterned to enhance the sense of inevitability? Can we apply "realistic" standards of plausibility to the actions of Oedipus and Jocasta? x
  • 14
    Oedipus the King, II
    Oedipus the King has inspired influential and distinct readings by Aristotle, Freud, and others. Is this drama about fate versus free will? Is it about the human search for knowledge—a theme perhaps suggested to Sophocles by the Sophists? Here's a chance to weigh the several views. x
  • 15
    Two Tragedians, One Hero
    Both Women of Trachis by Sophocles and Heracles by Euripides take the greatest of all Greek heroes as a subject. How does each depart from the "usual" version of the Heraclean story? Is Heracles a "likely" candidate for tragic treatment? x
  • 16
    Greek Husband, Foreign Wife
    One of Euripides's most famous tragedies is Medea. Is it significant that Medea is not a Hellene? What does her story, in the hands of Euripides, imply about Athenian views of sexuality and reproduction? x
  • 17
    Phaedra, Hippolytus, and Aphrodite's Wrath
    In Hippolytus, why does Euripides invert the story of the household of Theseus? What does this say about Athenian attitudes toward sexuality, and about the role of the gods in human life? x
  • 18
    Euripides on War and Women
    In Hecuba and Trojan Women, Euripides paints harrowing portraits of war's awful toll. The Peloponnesian War was in full swing when these plays were performed. How does Euripides treat the conquered women of Troy? Why did he take the experience of the Trojans as his subject? x
  • 19
    Euripides the Anti-Tragedian
    Written late in both the Peloponnesian War and the life of their author, Iphigenia in Tauris and Orestes differ in tone, but resemble one another in their reversal of many standard aspects of tragedy. What should we make of these "anti-tragic" tragedies? x
  • 20
    The Last Plays of Euripides
    In the late Iphigenia at Aulis, how does Euripides modify his earlier treatments of the old Trojan War narrative? Bacchae, his final play, is the only Greek tragedy to feature Dionysus. It emphasizes the terrible price one man must pay for resisting the power of this latecomer among Hellenic gods. x
  • 21
    Euripides and the Gods
    This final lecture on Euripides turns to one of the most vexing critical questions about him: What was his attitude toward the traditional gods? x
  • 22
    The Last Plays of Sophocles
    In this lecture we return to Sophocles, who died a few months after Euripides. Philoctetes is especially remarkable for its portrayal of Odysseus and its "happy" ending. Oedipus at Colonus casts Oedipus in the role of tutelary hero and also paints a portrait of Athens in 406, the year Sophocles wrote the play. x
  • 23
    Other Tragedians and a Comedian
    Prometheus Bound is a famous tragedy often attributed to Aeschylus. Rhesus, far more obscure, is sometimes said to be by Euripides. Both are worth learning about, whoever wrote them. Also worthy of consideration as a source on tragedy are the comedies of Aristophanes. x
  • 24
    The Tragic Legacy
    The product of a very specific time and place, tragedy has had an extraordinary history. Highlights include the Roman plays of Seneca; tragedy's influence on Italian opera, Shakespeare, and Racine; and the amazing modern revival of classical Greek tragedy since the 19th century, which continues into our own day. x

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Your professor

Elizabeth Vandiver

About Your Professor

Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Texas at...
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Greek Tragedy is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 62.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gets right to the point. I've listened to, or watched, all of Professor Vandiver's courses. She is one of the "greats" in the Teaching Company roster. This is both an excellent introduction to greek tragedy, and informative and stimulating for those knowledgeable on the subject.
Date published: 2018-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I learned a tremendous amount from this course, about not only Greek Tragedy itself but about details of many myths, the character of the individual Greed Gods, and ancient Greek history. Dr. Vandiver's presentation style is friendly and even-minded but also quite scholarly. I really appreciate how she often discusses controversies among scholars about how to interpret the meaning of certain plays or events in plays, or the intentions of the playwright, often giving her own opinion but adding that other students/scholars disagree with her. Her mastery of the ancient Greek language is especially important in understanding the meaning, or common misunderstanding, of terms used to discuss Greek tragedy, such as hamartia.
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very helpful I highly recommend this course to any serious student. It is well worth the time and money. Don't get the DVD, just the audio. I read the course guidebook one lecture at a time first, then audited the lecture in order to be prepared what to look for when I read the play. I actually read 14 of them. Ms Vandiver's comments were very helpful. The works of the Greek tragedians are very meaningful; however, I found no speeches in any that I read that compare to the great Shakespearean speeches of plays like Hamlet and Henry V.
Date published: 2017-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of Greek Tragedy The course is a great overview of Greek Tragedy. It goes into a lot of detail, but I wish the course was expanded for more in depth analysis of the major works. Professor Vandiver is does a wonderful job as always and provided the background information need for a deeper understanding of the work.
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So far, superb I have listened to only three of the lectures thus far and have found the presentations to be superb. I think the remainder will be just as fine and I look forward to it very much. Professor Vandiver has a very fine speaking voice and her presentation is at just the right pace. Many unfamiliar perspectives on tragedy and its origins are introduced right at the beginning. My attention was arrested and sustained, and I awaited more revelations as she proceeded. For those who learned something of the classics and ancient religion and mythology in college, this course is ideal for filling the inevitable gaps and the fading of memory. The Professor also presents conflicting critiques and interpretations in this field where there are apparently quite a few uncertainties that remain. I will give a fuller report when I have completed the course. Thus far I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2017-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well, Clytemnestra, what can I really say? I used to think that I was living a Greek tragedy, but after listening to this course and learning a few things, I now know that I'm not living a Greek tragedy. For one thing, the staging is totally different. For another, I don't live in ancient Greece. For one more thing, my life doesn't really compare to people like Oedipus, Orestes, Electra, Clytemnestra, or Agamemnon. I would also like to point out that this is the fourth set of episodes from Elizabeth Vandiver that I have listened to. All of them have been excellent. There are a couple of more sets I still need to purchase. I was a little worried at the start of these episodes that the focus seemed to be on the more technical aspects of ancient Greek theatre. I was more interested in analysis of the actual plays, which came a bit later and did not disappoint. So, these episodes contain a full look at theatre -- from literary to dramaturgical to cultural analysis. I also recommend Classical Mythology by Professor Vandiver -- it goes nicely with this set. The guidelines indicate that I should focus on my "individual experience" -- well, I listened to many of these episodes while cooking -- mostly tomato-based recipes. As a result, not only did I learn something, but I think my recipes actually tasted better -- almost as if the excellence of these episodes made their way into my pasta sauce. I would have liked more on Aristophanes, but since he is actually a comedian and not a tragedian, I should just be quiet and be grateful for what I got. Audio was fine for me.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All Professor Vandiver's classes are excellent She is incredibly knowledgeable and very clear in her lecture style. For those interested in the classics I highly recommend her courses.
Date published: 2017-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from And they are still being staged.... Amazingly, these plays, which are hundreds of years old, are still being staged, as Prof. Vandiver points out. I had a chance to learn more about plays I read many years ago and about some I had never read, a most enlightening experience. She made the interesting point that many of the gods were embodimentss of natural phenomena, which explains why they were believed in even though we sometimes think they are not credible. A most satisfactory course, to my way of thinking.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Puts you in the front row of ancient Greek tragedy I had read about ancient military history, and was curious about other aspects of ancient life & civilization, so I started listening to this course. It was incredible. The descriptions and explanations of ancient Greek tragedy by Prof. Vandiver create a vivid picture of what it was like to attend, and the context of the issues. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who is even remotely interested in anything related to the ancients.
Date published: 2016-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth it This is an excellent, clear presentation of the development of Greek tragedy and I recommend it to any serious student of literature.
Date published: 2016-08-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommended Course Greek Tragedy is the second course I have "taken" from Professor Elizabeth Vandiver (the other was Classical Mythology, which I also highly recommend). She is a fantastic presenter--clear, good pace, good sense of humor, neither too complex nor too simple. The content is extremely interesting to me even though I don't normally spend much time with ancient history or literature (I tend to prefer U.S. history and British and American literature). The course makes me want to see performances of Greek plays and to learn more about Greek history, mythology, and literature. Greek mythology (an essential background to the tragedies) is such a rich world--providing a never-ending supply, it seems, of interesting characters and episodes (and creatively cruel punishments). Understanding the myths and the background of Greek tragedy also helps me appreciate Shakespeare much more. Since the English language borrowed so many Greek terms, any study of Greek culture or literature also helps enrich our understanding of the English language. Vandiver is probably my favorite of all the Great Courses professors, and I hope to "take" all her courses.
Date published: 2016-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Another Winner from Professor Vandiver - Well Done Everytime I purchase a course by Professor Vandiver I end up feeling very satisfied I had invested in it. She always does a wonderful job and though I originally had no desire to check out "Classical Mythology" I am seriously considering it as much because she is teaching it as for the topic itself. Positives: • The professor was easy to listen to (almost every sentence was easy to understand and she made her points fast) • Great information on the origins of Greek tragedy, speculation on staging considerations, historical context in which the plays were performed, mythology background on which the plays’ plots were based, and the summary and critical analysis of the plots Very minor negatives (the positives outweigh these drastically): • At times the professor spoke too fast and almost seemed to rush through some lectures, especially when providing background mythology information which made it hard to follow along with the stories • While it was understandable that the professor could not cover every play in the time allotted, for completeness sake if she at least gave a quick plot summary of the nine Euripides plays she hadn’t discussed it would’ve exceeded expectations • Instead of discussing all of Aeschylus’ works, then Sophocles, and then Euripides, there was some bouncing back and forth between the three tragedians’ works (mainly so as to point out differences and similarities between two plays by two different tragedians that concentrated on the same mythological source material but this made it a little difficult to keep track of how many plays have been covered for each tragedian---if that was what you were doing!) I recommend this play to anyone interested in theater or classical works.
Date published: 2015-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another first class course from Dr Vandiver The twelve hours of lectures provide clear insights into the work of the great tragedians as well as providing essential background information on the staging of the plays. The effects of Greek tragedy on the subsequent history of the theatre are also considered. I have purchased most of Professor Vandivers courses and have yet to be disappointed. Excellent value!
Date published: 2015-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Vandiver Delivers Another Gem This was an outstanding and enthralling course in every respect; I would especially recommend it to anyone with an interest in Greek culture or mythology, or the history of drama. However, Professor Vandiver is such an interesting and engaging lecturer that just about anyone would enjoy the course. No previous experience with the tragedies themselves is necessary in order to learn from and enjoy the course. However, after the course, you will probably find yourself-like me-eager to read and experience them for yourself. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another excellent course All of the courses from Dr. Vandiver are simply excellent. I buy whatever courses she presents because the delivery and the content never falters. RW
Date published: 2015-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greek Tragedies I watched this DVD in order to refresh my memory regarding Greek tragedies and to prepare for a reading of The Tojan Women. Found the instructor to be knowledgable and easy to listen to. She gives a good background to the subject and places it into its cultural context. You do not have to know anything about classical Greek history or society nor do you need to have read any classical Greek dramas/comedies. The accompanying books gives additional books if you want to increase your knowledge. By the end of the course, I felt like going back and re reading the plays mentioned and am considering going over to the Getty Villa which frequently puts on plays (live in Los Angeles). There are excellent films of some of the plays which you could buy or rent.
Date published: 2014-10-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Worthy Course I have taken several of Professor Vandiver's courses and have found value in all of them. This one is no exception. It does what a good course on Greek tragedy should do. Basically, it covers the lives and times of the three major Greek tragedians - Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes - and it covers with some specificity their most significant plays. The professor portrays the arc of Athenian history in the 5th century BCE through her accounts of the work of these three writers. As I will discuss briefly below, i wish she would have gone deeper in this respect. Yet, she makes a good and worthy effort. The professor does her usual good job in setting the stage for study with a clear and concise introduction to the study of tragedy and this particular genre. The core of the course is her quite good treatment of the background, the plot, the character, and the meaning of the plays themselves. For veterans of the plays, I believe there is "value add" here. As a student of these plays many years ago and a frequent returnee, I enjoyed the review and had a new and fresh appreciation of much in them. For newcomers, i think there's even greater value in this course as a splendid introduction. My one criticism of the course is that Professor Vandiver does not dive deeply enough into several important areas that she raises. i realize it's hard to do that in a short course. But I wish that the really good teachers like Vandiver would create more space for depth by shortening their introductions, being crisper in plot accounts, and leaving for another day matters such as set and production details. Two huge issues put into play by the professor were the evolving Greek notions of the gods and the amazingly rich relationship of the drama in these plays to the trauma of the outset, evolution, and culmination of the Peloponnesian War. Yes, Vandiver did give some treatment to these issues, generally adequate treatment. But, in my view, the difference between good and great is the extent, the depth, and the excellence of this sort of exploration and analysis of the most fascinating issues. Perhaps this fine professor will find other venues for taking this worthy discussion to the next level.
Date published: 2014-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr Vandiver is excellent I homeschool my high school son. He had an interest in mythology. Dr Vandiver has spoiled us for any other lecturer. She is an excellent speaker and each lecture is complete with a beginning, middle and end, to which she leads you to the next lecture. Much like a good book or tv series, you want to hear the next lecture. We have done all of her lectures and my son and I have both learned so much and retained the information.
Date published: 2014-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A bit much for this dabbler DVD review. To be honest, Dr. Vandiver's GREEK TRAGEDY was a course I plodded through, more out a sense of duty than pleasure. I was grimly EDUCATING MYSELF with an eye fixed on the finishing line. That said, this is a very comprehensive overview of a literary genre that explored the moral and psychological anguish faced by elite individuals when their "social role" demanded personal sacrifices. This may sound like sociological bafflegab. So let me be more concrete. Athenian society in the 5th Century BCE was a radical experiment in direct democracy for a restricted percentage of the population. Its behavioral ideals nevertheless descended from a not-so-distant aristocratic warrior caste — the Homeric world of the Iliad. The heroes portrayed in that earlier world conformed to certain manly values expected from fighters — a sense of honor, respect for the gods, loyalty to family and peers, and a willingness to bear pain in battle. As literary artifacts in Homer's poems, such characters were simple, "one -piece" creatures; macho warriors head-to-toe, 24/7. Homeric heroes existed somewhere between the fickle, all-too-human gods above, and the lower social layers of women, merchants, slaves and numberless foreign barbarians. Political order depended on rigidly-defined, divinely-sanctioned social hierarchies. ____________________ By the 5th Century BCE, Athenian political reality no longer fit this ideal. And yet the male population of Athens likely to bear arms in times of war still deeply believed in these aristocratic ideals, even though the constant debating and compromises required by their form of democracy contradicted Homer's social vision. These changes affected upper-class women too. Clytemnestra, as depicted in literature, murders her husband in part because he sacrificed her daughter. Antigone and Medea can be seen both as victims or villains depending on which wifely duties they should fulfill. Their moral options, in other words, are more varied and complex than that available to women in Homer's world. At some point, the very public forum that was Greek drama began to explore these tensions. Most of Vandiver's course surveys the Big Three in chronological order —Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides — and the trend through their plays taken as a series is clear. The earlier plays describe heroes moved by half-understood divine impulses. Later plays use more individualized motivations. Similarly, the tragedians gradually shift from calamities ordained by fate to moral questions about why good people suffer while the wicked prosper. The dialogues too change — from impersonal declarations to more psychologically believable exchanges. __________________ OK, so far so good. Vandiver's PRESENTATION is very clear and complete. So is her course guidebook. Audio platforms are all that is required. But here is where she lost me through no fault of her own, and this clearly reflects my limitations. To move me, literature must be immediately understandable at 2 basic levels: 1. The fictional world, must follow clearly-defined, consistent rules. 2. The central characters must enlist my sympathy. Their sufferings and goals must make psychological sense. Despite Vandiver's best efforts, I only understood 50% of #1, and #2 was very spotty. I felt their humanity on-and-off in individual dialogues and scenes, but not in whole plays. This did not happen with her course THE ODYSSEY. I loved Odysseus. So there. I said it. GREEK TRAGEDY left me cold. Recommended if you love ancient Greek literature. Not designed for casual dabblers.
Date published: 2014-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classical Greek Tragedy: Yesterday and Today... Before beginning another course, I feel compelled to comment on the last several lectures all taken with Professor Elizabeth Vandiver. They included Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, Classical Mythology, and Greek Tragedy. From the Fall of Troy onward, I have been WANDERING like Odysseus and WONDERING like the classical tragedians and philosophers. Homer's epics are "the entrance" into the Western literary tradition's epic-poetry of noble warrior codes of existence, extreme passions and violence, the rhetorical art of language, and the quest for heroic honors and immortality at all costs – herein exist the TRAGIC VISION and ETERNAL RETURN of birth, life, death, and re-birth (coming to be and passing away). Classical Mythology is both Homer's muse and song, and Hesiod’s origin and genealogy of the gods which stimulates the essentially tragic and PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES haunting the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (intelligence / brute ambition, moral insight / blind fate, human reason / gods’ decrees), the mythical and historical epic of Virgil's Aeneid for the Roman way, and historically beyond towards--> Dante's middle-ages, Shakespeare's renaissance, the French enlightenment theater, and the CRITICAL MINDS of Nietzsche and Freud who speak to us today incessantly. The "tragic vision" of existence intrudes into our modern consciousness culminating with Nietzsche's "The Birth of Tragedy" (Apollonian-sky-gods / Dionysian-earth-goddesses, rationality / ecstasy) and Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents" (Oedipus’ freedom / determinism, ego / instinct). To experience a noble, moral, and meaningful existential victory (Prometheus) with heightened human emotions in the face of human nature's mortality and eventual physical extinction (the Fates) -- the HISTORICAL, EXISTENTIAL, and PERENNIAL CONFLICTS are dramatically shown to us  yesterday, today, and tomorrow... Thanks to the professor -- the vision is tragic and ambivalent (Apollo’s oracle: dare to KNOW THYSELF), but illuminating and simply beautiful (Socrates: the UNEXAMINED LIFE is not worth living...). In the beginning of our dramatic journey and so in the end, the SPHINX’S RIDDLE (What is man / women?) still echoes loudly throughout existence (paraphrased but stated by other thinkers) – if we rightly understand the NATURE OF MAN, we shall rightly conceive the end for man…
Date published: 2014-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Apex of Greek culture and literature LECTURER: This is my sixth course given by Professor Vandiver, in fact I have enjoyed her courses so much that I have heard all of her titles under the TGC. In this course, she goes over the general narratives of each tragedy, however much of her time is devoted to describing how the Greek contemporaries of the tragedians understood them in terms of interactions with the gods, fate, family honor, and xenia (to name only a few). As I have come to expect, in this course too, her lectures are outstandingly interesting and lead to deep understanding of the course material. CONTENT: Nearly the whole course is given over to discussing the three great tragedians: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and the tragedies they wrote. All of the tragedies are based on Greek myth, and the tragedians always assumed that the audience is well versed in them, so many of the tragedies start from a particular scene of a particular myth and assume that the audience knows well the events that led up to the scene, and more importantly, the inevitable outcome of the tragedy. It is the genius of the tragedians that they were able to take such well known myths, yet still present it to the Greeks every time with a special twist so that they were still surprised and engaged. A prime example: each one of the three presents a totally different character in Electra, daughter of Agamemnon, in the myth of Orestes's vengeance on his mother Clytemnestra who murders his father on his return from the war with Troy. In Aeschylus' play, Electra is but a minor character and does not further the plot line in any great respect. To the contrary, both Sophocles' and Euripides' plays are named "Electra", and in both of them the central theme is Electra and her actions. However, in Sophocles' play Electra is portrayed as a gloomy, neurotic, middle aged woman whereas in Euripides' play she is portrayed as a spoiled young woman. Same myth, yet three totally different interpretations of one of the central characters involved, in fact the very centrality is an object for interpretation. It is no wonder Greek tragedy is to this day staged in modern theaters and is without doubt the most, if not only, form of ancient theater that is still relevant to this very day. The description of the human condition and the extraordinary circumstances that humans must endure resonated with the ancients and resonate with us 25 centuries later. SCOPE: Greek tragedies are almost exclusively based on Greek myth, and in this respect, it is well worthwhile to hear the courses "Iliad of Homer", "Odyssey of Homer" and "Classical Mythology" prior to hearing this course as it will enable getting acquainted with some of the mythical stories that are going to be discussed – much like the ancient Greeks would have been.
Date published: 2014-04-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Vandiver delivers again! Our family has listened to all of Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver's course. We love her! It is true, she does not come across as "dramatic" as others have criticized, but she is passionate and in every word you can hear her dedication to her life's work. She is intelligent and really knows what she is talking about. Dr. Vandiver delivers again!
Date published: 2014-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Relevance of Tragedy Greek tragedy, that is. Professor Vandiver does a great job of presenting an overview of Greek tragedy, covering the three great Tragedians & most of their most famous works. She provides an analysis of their themes and shows how those themes still resonate with us even today.
Date published: 2013-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Yet another winner from Professor Vandiver My only complaint about this course that it was too short. I could easily have listened to another 24 lectures by one of my favorite Great Courses professors.
Date published: 2012-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from captivating, and told with drama I really liked three other courses by Prof. Vandiver, which prompted me to buy this one. It's great -- a thoughtful, insightful and thorough explanation and analysis of Greek tragedy as a whole and of the most famed of the surviving Greek tragedies. Most of the course is spent on Asechylus, Sophocles and Euripides. I liked Vandiver's choices of which plays to cover in great detail and which to cover in less. She deftly ties in elements of Athenian culture and society, and the role of Greek mythology. Hearing the details of these plays in such an intense and focused way reminded me of just how grim -- and so human -- these stories are. The timelessness of the themes comes across, explaining why they are performed now, 2500 years after they were written.
Date published: 2012-09-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Greek Tragedy in Context Due to the indisputable importance and complexity of Greek tragedy, the subject of this course requires lots of vigor and expertise, and Dr. Vandiver, for the most part, delivers on both promises. In terms of content, she provides a thorough historical, social and cultural context in which Greek tragedy thrived (this I consider the main strength of the course), before delving deep into some of the tragedies that have been deemed more "essential" ever since. I found the course's discussions on the technicalities of performance in 5th century Athens, its treatment of the Oresteia, and the bizarre character of Euripidean tragedies especially enlightening. There is a caveat however; As much as the course discusses the historical/mythological background of the tragedies, it barely addresses the artistic/literary significance of the works, and by that I mean discussions that might in some way take aim at questions such as "Why Oedipus Rex still thrills audiences 2500 years later." I realize that this is a tall order, and might require "tragedy appreciation" course of its own. But if this is not Dr. Vandiver's area of expertise, we have seen other courses that successfully benefit from multiple profs. Moreover, the all-inclusive title of the course has the potential to mislead. Regarding presentation, Vandiver knows her topic backwards, and delivers the content with assiduity, an excited voice, masterly finesse and endless patience. The sentences are never convoluted and her voice never monotonous. Those who have heard Vandiver else where can testify that this is not fulsome praise. All in all, I think the absence of any discussion regarding the artistic/literary substance of the tragedies is the only flaw in an otherwise spectacular course.
Date published: 2012-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Enjoyable This is the 3rd of Prof. Vandiver's courses I have completed. All are excellent. Her explanations are thorough and thought provoking. Most modern Americans think the world began with the internet. It is very useful to understand how much "modern" thought was already part of Greek Culture 2500 years ago. I will acquire more of Prof. Vandiver's courses.
Date published: 2011-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from an excellent course Prof Vandiver seems to really be in her element in this course. She exudes excitement, knowledge and makes this course immensely interesting. I only wish she had time to go into further detail on each of the tragedies, but even her cursory review allows us to get a good introduction, so now it is our job to study up!
Date published: 2011-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating! With this course, Ms. Vandiver lives up to her usual standards of excellence. The presentation is well organized, well prepared, well rendered and obviously well polished by years of practice. This course is highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject of Greek theatre, since as Ms. Vandiver explains ‘tragedy’ should be understood broadly in this context.
Date published: 2011-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Winner With every lecture I enjoy Professor Vandiver more and more. As a theatre professional, one of the things I appreciate about this course is Professor Vandiver acknowledges that while there is a great deal to be learned by reading and studying these texts, they are plays. Plays are meant to be performed. She uses what is know about the practice of theatre in the day to uncover new depths of these classic texts.
Date published: 2010-10-17
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