The Drama of the Fall

The Fall was a tragedy: a conflict of irreconcilable cosmic and moral imperatives, binding upon all the actors, that can find its final resolution only at final consummation of the eschaton, when Christ shall be all in all, and Lucifer and his minions damned forever in virtue of their own incorrigible permanent decision.

What can we learn from this about the dramatic form of tragedy? What, then, do we learn about drama in general? Tragedy is both root and summit of drama, and its apotheosis. Comedy is a type of tragedy; it is tragedy writ small, and only trivially injurious (it is funny when Buster Keaton falls down; it would not be funny if he fell upon a spike and bled there to death, pinned and writhing).

The pitiless cruel fate of Greek tragedy is the inexorable logic of theological metaphysics. That logic is mysterious, and so apparently arbitrary, ergo capricious and fundamentally unjust, only on ignorance of theology and of metaphysics. Once you get the theological metaphysics, the dooms of Oedipus, of Prometheus and of the Argives are all no more than foregone conclusions. Given what they had all elected freely to do, nothing else could possibly have happened. What is more, on a proper understanding of theological metaphysics, their mundane dooms do not then spell the ultimate ends of any of the protagonists of those tragedies, or for that matter of their antagonists. On theological metaphysics, all shortcomings in the mundane lives both of protagonists and of their antagonists are at the eschaton made up, and reconciled, and healed, and indeed transfigured into exquisite beauties – provided that they themselves rise and humble themselves to allow and enable and accept their redemption and rescue.

Tragedy is tragic then only on the mundane perspective. On the transmundane perspective – on, that is to say, the correct perspective – mundane tragedy is a story of transmundane triumph, and of everlasting solace, and indeed of rejoicing. As actors all gather for a dram or a pint after a successful production, so shall we all – with Oedipus and Agamemnon, with David and Saul, gather all together at Valhalla, again and yet again. There shall we reenact our play, again and again, and then at each daily evening of all things again rise and rejoice together, and laugh at the absurdity inherent in conflict per se.

Tragedy after all is conflict of goods. On omniscience, and indeed on mere logical coherence, there can in the final, ultimate analysis be no such thing as conflict of goods – as, likewise, there can be no conflict of truths, or aye therefore also of beauties. All goods are reconciled necessarily in the Good himself. Nothing else is possible.

Tragedy is painful then only insofar as we find ourselves unable to transcend our mundane perspective. But the whole rhetorical point of dramatic tragedy is to engender that transcendence. Drama per se wants us to rise above our quotidian predicaments, with all their harrowing desperate tragic aspects, so that we can understand them under the terms of the everlasting triumph that necessarily awaits all goodness.

Drama then wants to encourage us. It wants us to confront our predicaments squarely, honestly, and rightly, and so to transcend them – and, so, to meet them more capably. And so it more or less succeeds in doing. This is why we seek it out. Drama settles our guts for the coming fight, and consoles us. The coming fight looms before us all, always. So drama is to us all ever useful, and generative, and regenerative.

This is why thespians suffer and travail in order to play for nothing to soldiers at the front line. To what other audience could their magic be so salient, or so important? What, indeed, could be more angelic to a young man in the trenches than the vision of a beautiful girl? What could be more encouraging to him, than the portrayal of an heroic man – even, perhaps especially, a tragic hero such as Oedipus, or aye as Achilles, or a fortiori as Hector?

Hector is I think the archetypal hero. He gives his life for his people, to overwhelming, unsurpassable Death.

Is all drama about that sort of sacrifice, when push comes to shove? Not just tragedy, but drama per se? I do not know enough about theater to have an opinion on the matter. But I would not be surprised to find that it was so. Greek theater began, after all, as a sacrificial ritual.

17 thoughts on “The Drama of the Fall

  1. Pingback: The Inexorable Internal Logic of the Fall – The Orthosphere

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  4. ‘Tragedy is tragic then only on the mundane perspective.’

    No. Tragedy is tragic on the cosmic perspective.
    Why? Because it is final. When men die, they stay dead.
    As dead Achilles lamented to Odysseus: better to be a living farmer
    than a dead king or hero, a voiceless shade, in Hades halls.
    The gods, who cannot die, cannot be tragic. They are playing at it.
    Men have only one life to live or lose. Tragedy belongs to them alone.

    Such was the perspective of those that wrote (and watched) the plays.
    It took the radical change brought by Christianity to break this pattern
    and offer hope to Man.

    • It does not seem that you disagree with me. The shade of Achilles gives voice to precisely the intramundane perspective. And again, the gods cannot be tragic, as you say, precisely because their perspective is supramundane, supracosmic.

      Nor do we disagree that Christianity rent asunder the veil that prevented the pagans from seeing their way clear to the transmundane perspective, and turned their prior pessimism about their prospects to guarded careful hope.

      Perhaps you disagree with me that the rhetorical objective of pagan Greek tragedy was to furnish the audience with a view of the human predicament from a transmundane perspective. I grant of course that probably few among the audiences of the tragedians would have articulated the effect that tragedy had upon them in this way. To that I can respond only that when I read the Greek tragedians, my overwhelming impression is of Divine immutable Justice pressing down upon men inexorably – a consideration that, at least, softens the blows of fate that all men suffer, and that – as referring all things ultimately to Justice – furnishes to poor man some solace.

      • When I read the Oresteia of Aeschylus to its end, my overwhelming impression is of Divine Justice muted; muted and replaced with Law. Clytemnaestra is unavenged and the Erinyes are unhappy. Orestes, of course, was egged on by Apollo – who (being a God) cannot be punished in any real sense commensurate with the crime which he incited.

        The point Aeschylus is making, I think, is that in this world Justice cannot be unbridled. If it were, the Erinyes would never have rest as one act of tit-for-tat vendetta would follow another endlessly. In the end all civilisation and society must collapse in a welter of blood. Therefore we need law to control the process and stop it getting out of hand. In some instances, Justice may be had, but purely as a by-product. In others, justice may be subverted, usually by the rich to the detriment of the poor. Such systems may work for a time, but eventually all are subverted to the point that Law is what the rich and powerful say it is and the poor are stuffed.

        In the end, Law is not and can never be enough. The missing ingredient (which Aeschylus does not provide) is forgiveness – which lesson was offered to us by Jesus Christ in practice in the example he set on the cross and in theory through the prayer which he taught us.

      • An insightful comment.

        Law alone is incomplete – ergo inadequate – and must be; for, no consistent logical calculus can be complete. Mercy, too, is needed, in order to arrive at completion – at Justice, krasis. I’m no expert, but I have read that mercy was a notion utterly foreign to the ancient pagan Greeks.

      • ‘…no consistent logical calculus can be complete.’

        Not necessarily. What is logic but the science of: ‘if this, then that’.
        If ‘this’ can be specified completely and accurately, ‘that’ can be known.
        Unfortunately, in our contingent world, it can’t.
        There are simply too many variables.
        Hence ‘that’ remains a mystery until it occurs;
        which is why we all (even atheists) need faith,
        faith in the regularity of events in our world.
        We cannot function without it.

      • I was adducing Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. It is a stretch to treat human law as a consistent logical calculus, to be sure. It is cobbled together on the fly. But, having said that, it is cobbled together on the fly *as informed by a vision of a consistent logic,* and hoping to approach the implementation of that vision asymptotically,

      • ‘I have read that mercy was a notion utterly foreign to the ancient pagan Greeks.’

        Orestes got mercy. But in his case it was a by-product of Law. Athena might just as easily have handed him over to the Erinyes and then introduced her legal system. Mercy would have been recognised as having occurred – but recognised as an uneasy compromise in which Clytemnaestra was denied Justice – not perfect, but the best that could be done.

      • The finest literary exposition I know of the futility expecting Justice from Law, and the necessity of Forgiveness before Resolution can be achieved is contained in the Icelandic Saga of Burnt Njal. To settle a fifty year blood-feud which neither began, Kari Solmundarson and Flosi must make peace. Kari must abjure full vengeance for the burning of Njal, the Njalssons and his own son by the burners led by Flosi, while Flosi must reject all claim for revenge for the bloody swathe allready carved through his kin and retainers by Kari. Both men have to decide individually that: ‘the buck stops here, the pain stops here with me and goes no further’ – and they do. Normal life can resume.

  5. In Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus calls for two witnesses to testify at his trial. One is the shepherd who can say whether the exposed child was rescued and delivered to be adopted by King Polybus of Corinth. The other is the man who saw the murder of Laius at the crossroads and can say whether his murderer was one or, as murderers, many. As Oedipus himself says, If the murderers were many, they could not have been I, for I am but one. The first witness shows up to testify, not so the second, whose potentially exculpatory (the word which that woman, though a PhD, did not know) attestation is never heard. Yet even Oedipus joins in the unanimity that condemns him. The Passion delivered us from that, which Sophocles perhaps dimly fore-discerned, and maybe too Plato in representing the trial of Socrates. The Passion delivered us from the immolation of the innocent victim, enfleshed in Christ. The Passion resembles Greek tragedy ninety-nine per cent, but it is the one per cent difference that counts. The Left wants to drag us back to the pre-Christian dispensation, when human sacrifice was the answer to the social crisis. May all false witnesses be damned…

    • From the beginning, many Christian theologians have considered Socrates and Plato to have been protoevangelists for the Gentiles, preparing the nations for the reception of the Gospel by explicitly articulating the Good, who had in any case been always implicit in the paganism of their forefathers. They and their ideas were famous enough in Periclean Athens that the comedians could entertain a popular audience by poking fun at them. So the Ultimacy of the Good, and of his Justice, were notions that were in the air when the contemporaneous tragedians were writing.

      • Augustine avers in his Confessions that Plato was the halfway-house between his cynicism-cum-Manichaeism and Christianity. Plato’s death of Socrates is the most Christian story before the Passion. The Death of Socrates is defective in comparison with the Passion, but it comes very near the Story of Christ.

      • And the Neo-Platonist Philo Iudaeorum of Alexandria saw in Pythagoras and Plato students of the Hebrew prophetic schools of Syria and Egypt.

    • Yes. And the Angelic Doctor Aquinas, who called Paul The Apostle, who referred and deferred again and again to Augustine and Dionysius, and whose Grand Synthesis has been by Papal authority declared the palmary (albeit, not the only, nor the all sufficient) interpretation of the theological metaphysics of the Church, called Aristotle – the greatest Platonist of all, who corrected and so perfected and thereby magnified (and indeed glorified) his master’s doctrine – simply, The Philosopher.


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