The time is long gone when literary men were happy to treat literature, and tragic poetry in particular, as something which exists serenely outside time, high up in the empyrean of unchanging validity and absolute values. Nowadays it is conventional, and seems natural, to insist that literature is produced within a particular society and a particular social setting: even its most gorgeous blooms have their roots in the soil of history. Its understanding requires us to understand the society which appreciated it, and for which it came into existence. In the particular case of the tragic poetry of Athens, the most influential body of recent criticism focuses on the relation of the drama to the realities of political and social life.
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