The Great Dionysia and civic ideology

Journal of Hellenic Studies 107:58-76 (1987)
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Abstract

There have been numerous attempts to understand the role and importance of the Great Dionysia in Athens, and it is a festival that has been made crucial to varied and important characterizations of Greek culture as well as the history of drama or literature. Recent scholarship, however, has greatly extended our understanding of the formation of fifth-century Athenian ideology—in the sense of the structure of attitudes and norms of behaviour—and this developing interest in what might be called a ‘civic discourse’ requires a reconsideration of the Great Dionysia as a city festival. For while there have been several fascinating readings of particular plays with regard to thepolisand its ideology, there is still a considerable need to place the festival itself in terms of the ideology of thepolis. Indeed, recent critics in a justifiable reaction away from writers such as Gilbert Murray have tended rather to emphasize on the one hand that the festival is a place of entertainment rather than religious ritual, and on the other hand that the plays should be approached primarily asdramaticperformances.

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