Aias Mastigophoros: Divine Ostentation within a Play
In this paper, I analyse a short scene that forms part of the opening of Sophokles’ Aias (66-133): Aias, suffering from madness, that was inflicted upon him by Athena, is displayed by the goddess to Odysseus. In the corpus of extant ancient drama, this inset appears to be unique; its expressive power seems to be derived from the scene's specific structure that in many important ways doubles integral elements of theatre. I rationalize the reasons why the scene has been often labelled “a play-within-a-play”, describing and illustrating elements that can be paralleled with structural components of theatre. Taking as a basis some concepts and ideas proposed by modern theatre theoreticians (Anne Ubersfeld, Tadeusz Kowzan, Umberto Eco), I argue that the essence of the performative dimension of the scene is to be found in the phenomenon of “ostentation act” as first described by Umberto Eco. Tracing the meaning of the inset within the tragedy as a whole, I lay great emphasis on the fact that the “ostentation” in Aias is a divine creation, and examine how Odysseus, who is a privileged recipient of the spectacle, reacts to the display of Aias' shameful condition.
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