'The flower of suffering' : a study of Aeschylus' Oresteia in the light of Presocratic ideas
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My PhD thesis, The Flower of Suffering, offers a philosophical evaluation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia in light of Presocratic ideas. By examining several aspects of the tragic trilogy in relation to some of Aeschylus’ near-contemporary thinkers, it aims to unravel the overarching theological ideas and the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions underpinning the Oresteia’s dramatic narrative. My aim is to bring to relief those aspects of the Oresteia which I believe will benefit from a comparison with some ideas, or modes of thought, which circulated among the Presocratic philosophers. I will explore how reading some of this tragedy’s themes in relation to Presocratic debates about theology and cosmic justice may affect and enhance our understanding of the theological ‘tension’ and metaphysical assumptions in Aeschylus’ work. In particular, it is my contention that Aeschylus’ explicit theology, which has been often misinterpreted as a form of theodicy where the justice of heaven is praised and a faith in the rule of the gods is encouraged, is presented in these terms only to create a stronger collision with the painful reality dramatized from a human perspective. By setting these premises, it is my intention to confer on Greek tragedy a prominent position in the history of early Greek philosophical thought. If the exclusion of Presocratic material from debates about tragedy runs the risk of obscuring a thorough understanding of the broader cultural backdrop against which tragedy was born, the opposite is also true. Greek tragedy represents, in its own dramatic language, a fundamental contribution to early philosophical speculation about the divine, human attitudes towards it, indeed, the human place in relation to the cosmic forces which govern the universe.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy