First Advisor

Tim Nidever

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Philosophy and University Honors




Pathos in literature, Catharsis -- Philosophy, Greek drama (Tragedy) -- History and criticism, Aesthetics -- Philosophy, Dionysus (Greek deity) -- In literature, Emotions (Philosophy)




This project is bound up with the old question of what gives tragedy its lasting appeal. The majority of contemporary criticism on tragedy focuses on aspects having to do with the democratic polis. Many of these studies take this musical genre as primarily a means for exposing Athenian civic ideology and norms in social behavior. But this does not account for continued interest in Greek drama. To answer the question at hand, more attention needs to be paid [to] pathos and katharsis, by students and critics of Greek tragedy, as these are vital aspects of the tragic experience, both within and without performance. Over the last 40 years there has been a wealth of insight brought forth from many studies looking at the god of drama, Dionysos, in relation to tragedy. The connection between these two is shown to be strongest in their simultaneous, constant embodiment of coincidentia oppositorum (coincidence of opposites). Throughout the course of the essay it is shown that katharsis, the characteristic affect of Dionysos, operates by means of the same contrariness. Katharsis therefore deserves increased attention as its proximity to the tragic phenomenon is defined. This argument is also coupled with evidence such as Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, in which katharsis is given preferential placement. Because of the subjective nature of aesthetic experience, no treatment can exhaustively deal with katharsis and aesthetic emotion (pathos), which does not align with contemporary findings in several fields. It is for this reason that this project is carried out by means of a multi-disciplinary approach, taking into account classics, aesthetic philosophy and neuroscience. The inquiry concludes with an examination of contemporary neurological understanding of aesthetic experience, which supports the claims of the contrariness of katharsis as well as the immense human aptitude for pathos as a result of aesthetic perception.


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