In the past fifteen years or so, several studies attentive to the performative context of Athenian drama have highlighted a number of elements thought to support the authority of dramatic choruses. It has been pointed out, for instance, that the social importance of melic choruses likely influenced the perception of their dramatic counterparts (Bacon 1994/5; Gruber 2008: 28–43); that dramatic choruses were central to the organization of the dramatic contests (Wilson 2000); that as ritual performers dancing for Dionysos, the choreutai mirrored the experience of the audience celebrating the god's festival; and that the chorus’ function as an internal audience further replicated the spectators’ position. Even though tragic choruses often took the identity of marginal groups like slaves, women, or foreigners, their special status outside the fiction could foster some form of identification with the audience. What happened, however, when the chorus impersonated characters who did not belong to the realm of myth but to the historical reality of Athens, and more precisely to the most dangerous people that the Athenians ever had to face – i.e. Persians? In spite of the unexpected and spectacular victory over Persia at Salamis and Plataea, Persia was not a dead issue even after 480 bce (Pelling 1997: 12); in fact the very foundation of the Delian league assumed that the Greek states still needed to join forces to repel the enemy. In that tense context, Aeschylus’ display of an Athenian chorus dressed as Persian males right at the opening of his 472 bce play was a daring and, as far as we know, unparalleled gesture. The chorus of Phrynichus’ 476 bce Phoenician Women, on which Persians was partly based, was probably made of Phoenician widows or slaves at the Persian court. In addition, Phrynichus’ play did not start with the Chorus wondering about the outcome of the war, but with a eunuch reporting Xerxes’ defeat.
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