September 11 at the Movies

Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Review of Books:

Mendelsohn_1By coincidence, the way in which what happens becomes the story of what happens—another way of putting this is to say, the way in which history becomes drama—had been much on my mind earlier that morning, because the play I was going to be teaching on Thursday that week was a work I typically teach when introducing students to the subject of Greek tragedy, Aeschylus’ Persians. First produced in the spring of 472 BC, Persians is noteworthy in the corpus of the thirty-two extant Greek tragedies in that it is the only classical Greek drama that dramatizes an actual historical event. That event was the improbable and glorious defeat, by a relatively tiny force of Greek citizen-soldiers, of the immense expeditionary force sent by the Persian monarch Xerxes to conquer Greece: the first global geopolitical conflict between East and West that the world would see.

This remarkable event had taken place a scant eight years before Aeschylus’ drama was staged, and it is tempting to wonder just what the Athenian audience was expecting, that spring day, as they walked in the pre-dawn light to the theater of Dionysus. The treatment of historical material on the tragic stage had, after all, brought disaster to playwrights in the past.

More here.