Research Programs: Awards for Faculty

Period of Performance

9/1/2017 - 6/30/2018

Funding Totals

$42,000.00 (approved)
$42,000.00 (awarded)

Facing Death in Ancient Greek Tragedy

FAIN: HB-251108-17

Karen Bassi
Regents of the University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA 95064-1077)

Research and writing leading to publication of a book on attitudes toward death in ancient Greek tragic drama.

Studies of death in Greek tragedy have a long history in Classical scholarship, complemented by anthropological and archaeological work on ancient Greek views of the afterlife, death rituals, and funerary monuments. Although the idea that Greek tragedy offers readers and viewers insight into how to live with the knowledge that they will die seems obvious, there is no sustained treatment of the ways in which tragedy both exposes and responds to the contingencies of human mortality. Imitating the Dead: Facing Death in Ancient Greek Tragedy will be the first book to make the link between these contingencies and the emergence of tragic drama in Greece. It will also be the first to bring Greek tragedy to bear on questions of prolonging life in contemporary American culture. Positioning Greek tragedy within the long history of confronting death as a "condition of national life," and intended for a broad, educated audience, the book is inspired by the NEH Initiative on the Common Good.

Associated Products

Morbid Materialism: The Matter of the Corpse in Euripides' Alcestis (Book Section)
Title: Morbid Materialism: The Matter of the Corpse in Euripides' Alcestis
Author: Karen Bassi
Editor: Melissa Meuller
Editor: Mario Telo
Abstract: Scholarship on Euripides' Alcestis has been principally concerned with genre and characterization. Attention to material objects in the play has focused on Admetus' infamous vow to have a likeness made of Alcestis' body so that he can embrace it in his bed (d?µa? t? s?? e??as???, 348-349). In this chapter, this likeness initiates a reading the play that exemplifies what I am calling tragedy's morbid materialism. The argument is indebted to two recent and related theoretical positions: Jane Bennett's defense of vital materialism on the one hand and Bonnie Honig's critique of mortalist humanism, on the other. The former introduces an argument for the singularity of the human corpse as an inanimate or post-animate object; the latter situates this singularity in terms of the shared finitude of living humans and non-living things. Together, these positions provide a theoretical basis for understanding the material, ontological, and epistemological effects of Alcestis' death and improbable return to life.
Year: 2018
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Publisher's website
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
Book Title: The Materialities of Greek Tragedy
ISBN: 978-1-3500-287

Mimêsis and Mortality: Re-performance and the Dead among the Living in Hecuba and Hamlet (Book Section)
Title: Mimêsis and Mortality: Re-performance and the Dead among the Living in Hecuba and Hamlet
Author: Karen Bassi
Editor: Anna Uhlig
Editor: Richard Hunter
Abstract: Abstract (148 words): This paper focuses on the ghost in tragedy as a singular instance of re-performance. The argument starts from two related premises. First, that as an embodied specter the tragic ghost emphasizes the temporal and ontological contingencies that define the relationship between a dramatic actor and his character. Second, that the tragic ghost is a figure for disavowing, i.e., both acknowledging and resisting, the finality of death. Following a discussion of dramatic imitation (µ?µ?s??) as a means of "leading souls" (???a????a) in Plato and Aristotle, I argue that re-performance is exemplified in the tragic ghost's uncanny return from the dead. Here re-performance is not a matter of theater history or reception but of dramatic µ?µ?s?? as the visible and audible return of the dead among the living. The chapter ends with an examination of this conclusion in a comparative reading of the ghosts in Euripides' Hecuba and Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Year: 2017
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Publisher's website
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Book Title: Imagining Reperformance in Ancient Culture
ISBN: 9781316597798