Choral Authoritativeness in Sophocles

Post, Doris Juliane Elisabeth (2018). Choral Authoritativeness in Sophocles. PhD thesis The Open University.



The ‘authority’ of the chorus in Greek tragedy has been a matter of discussion for a very long time. The word authority, however, has two distinct meanings: it can refer to the status of the chorus within the dramatic world and to the truthfulness or reliability of the choral discourse. To avoid this confusion, I use the term authoritativeness in this thesis to indicate the extent to which we can trust what the chorus are saying, chanting, or singing.

In chapter 1, I establish a number of textual and linguistic markers which suggest whether a choral discourse can potentially be regarded as authoritative. One important factor is identifying where the chorus operate as a stage figure and where qua chorus. The subsequent chapters are taken up by case studies in which I closely analyse the language and context of the chorus’s utterances in three of Sophocles’ seven extant tragedies. I have chosen the Philoctetes, the Antigone, and the Electra because, in each, the chorus is used in a different way.

Altogether, my analysis shows how Sophocles constantly experiments with the use of the choral voice: some markers raise the expectations that choral comments and judgements can be taken as a reliable guide for an interpretation of the action. At the same time, however, different devices undermine this potential authoritativeness, making the precise meaning of the discourse ambiguous or multivalent and contributing to the continuing disagreements on the precise interpretation of the tragedies.

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