Music, Ritual, and Self-Referentiality in the Second Stasimon of Euripides’ Helen

The Dionysian Necessity

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies
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Abstract

The imagery of Dionysiac performance is characteristic of Euripides’ later choral odes and returns particularly in the Helen’s second stasimon, which foregrounds its own connections with the mimetic program of the New Music and its emphasis on the emancipation of feelings. This paper aims to show that Euripides’ deep interest in contemporary musical innovations is connected to his interest in the irrational, which made him the most tragic of the poets. Focusing on the musical aspect of the Helen’s second stasimon, the paper will examine how Euripides conveys a sense of the irrational through a new type of song, which liberates music’s power to excite and disorient through its colors, ornament and dizzying wildness. Just as the New Musicians present themselves as the preservers of cultic tradition, Euripides, far from suppressing Dionysus as Nietzsche claimed, deserves to rank as the most Dionysiac and the most religious of the three tragedians.

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