The Function of the Greek Chorus

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As man conquers the natural forces of the world, his mental focus shifts from simply surviving to answering humanity's enduring question: Why? Writers are inspired by the fabric of their society—current events, historical milestones, and popular morality. The Greeks' skill in weaving stories and imagery was so intricately powerful that a complete universe was created in their legends. The chorus was one of the primary tools for elegantly setting the stage for such detailed works. In Mythology, Edith Hamilton exalts the works of Aeschylus, which heavily employ the chorus for context, saying “With Homer, they are the most important source for our knowledge of the myths.” (17) The chorus provides insight to classicists, and it can inspire audiences as well. The chorus in Greek drama provides vital information, establishes tone, and serves as a mirror for the moral ambit of the audience that allows for relatively short works containing dense moral content.

The typical chorus consists of mortal citizens, but a preface to this tool is seen in Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. As the saga opens, the Olympian gods are gathered in an assembly that is mimicked in later dramatic works. Not only do the gods provide information about Odysseus's plight, they discuss Orestes's vengeance for his father and facilitate the introduction of young Telemakhos. In Agamemnon, Aeschylus uses a gathering of old noblemen to fill that role. Before Agamemnon's climax, the audience is fully prepared for Clytaemnestra's actions by the combination of learning about Iphigenia's death and of hints of Clytaemenstra's infidelity. The allusions as sometimes symbolic, but sometimes the chorus's understanding of the complexities of the situation are all to clear: “B...

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Hamilton, Edith. Introduction. Mythology. Edith Hamilton. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 1998. Print.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1984. The Oresteia. Print.

Muller, Karl O. History of the Literature of Ancient Greece. Vol. I. London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1840. 308. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. .

Schlegel, August W. Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature. Trans. John Black. 2004. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. Web. 2 Apr. 2012. .

Weiner, Albert. "The Function of the Tragic Greek Chorus." Theatre Journal 32.2 May (1980): 212. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. .

Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1984. The Oresteia. Print.
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