Ritual and Performativity: The Chorus in Old Comedy

  Bierl, Anton. 2009. Ritual and Performativity: The Chorus in Old Comedy. Hellenic Studies Series 20. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Bierl.Ritual_and_Performativity.2009.

Foreword to the First Edition

[In this on-line version, the page-numbers of the printed version are indicated within braces (“{” and “}”). For example, “{69|70}” indicates where p. 69 of the printed version ends and p. 70 begins. These indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made elsewhere to the printed version of this book.]

This book is a partly revised and updated version of my Habilitations-schrift, which I presented to the Philological Faculty of the University of Leipzig in the summer semester of 1998.

This wide-ranging and interdisciplinary work represents in many respects a new scholarly genre. The chapters on the chorus of the Thesmophoriazusae and on the phallus songs present a new and distinctive interpretation in the body of the text as well as an extensive commentary in the detailed footnotes, which take into consideration not only the general concept of the comic chorus, as does the Introduction, but also the entire context of the Greek choral culture, while treating even more extensive questions. The subject matter determines the complex and partly intertwined arrangement, which is designed to help the reader. The extensive introductory chapter can stand alone as a comprehensive study of the Greek chorus, but may also be read from the particular perspective of comedy. The chapter on the Thesmophoriazusae (chapter 1) begins with lines 947–1000, a choral dance song long considered to be irrelevant to the plot, but in which the twofold construction of the comic chorus with its opening onto the extradiscursive level can be shown in exemplary fashion. I use this as a point of departure from which to move both forward and backward in the play. The second chapter looks at the findings on a diachronic continuum: the comic chorus and phallus songs represent interim stages between literature and ritual.

I have been working on Aristophanic comedy since March 1992. Many experiences and positions in my academic life have converged in this work. My study of the history of scholarship with William M. Calder in 1990–1991 sharpened my awareness of my place within certain scholarly traditions. Bruno Gentili, with whom I studied in Urbino from 1982 to 1983 and whose ideas on orality in early Greek lyric would simply not let go of me, was a key figure. Likewise, the findings of my dissertation on Dionysus and the studies in my book on the performances of the Oresteia on the modern stage have also contributed to this interest. It was through my involvement with modern stag- {vii|viii} ings that the performance character of ancient theater really became clear to me. Here I should like to thank my Doktorvater, Hellmut Flashar, for his scholarly company both during my time in Leipzig and during the course of this work. Claude Calame’s dissertation, which was also begun under Gentili, gave me the impulse to extend the Sitz im Leben of choruses as a place of initiation to the comic chorus as well. One of my theses is that the comic chorus partly reworks rites of this type in symbolic fashion.

The present project was helped by a DFG Habilitation grant extending from February 1994 to January 1996, during which time I was at Harvard University. I am grateful to the Department of the Classics there for their hospitality. Harvard’s genius loci has overseen among many other methodological inspirations John Austin’s speech act theory, which he developed there in a lecture series some forty years before. A high point in my stimulating stay was Albert Henrichs’ seminar on the Greek chorus, which I attended together with Greg Nagy, Paola Ceccarelli, and two graduate students, Fred Naiden and Tim Power. There and on other occasions I was given the opportunity to present various works in progress. I thank these συγχορευταί for stimulating discussions and the exchange of work not yet published at the time, and especially the χορηγός, Albert Henrichs. I owe a great debt, too, to Greg Nagy’s interdisci-plinary meetings at the Center for Cultural and Literary Studies and his brilliant contributions to discussions on various occasions. I owe equally much to my fruitful exchange with Charles Segal, who at that time was the third member of the constellation of Hellenists at Harvard.

I count myself especially fortunate that Albert Henrichs and Claude Calame as experts in the material very kindly read parts of the book with close attention. Albert Henrichs discussed the second chapter with me and subsequently sent me further important comments. Claude Calame also read through the second chapter and the introduction critically, and I was able to incorporate some of his valuable suggestions.

For help with reading the proofs I thank Judith Habazettl, Sabine Vogt, Max Braun, and Christian Käßer.

I further thank the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft for the Habilitation grant and the assistance given for printing and publication of the book.

I am also grateful to Ludwig Koenen, who accepted the work for the series Beiträge zur Altertumskunde quickly and with a minimum of red tape, and also gave me useful suggestions. I thank Frau Elisabeth Schuhmann of the Saur Verlag for the care and attention with which she saw the book through publication.

Leipzig, June 2000 {viii|}