Repressing the mythic and letting it go again: reinterpreting Aristotle in 18th-century France

When opera was first produced in France it drew unfavourable reactions for, among other things, its wholly unrealistic gods and monsters.  In contemporary tragic criticism similar demands applied: certain events and types of subject matter were to be avoided for plausibility’s sake.  In asking for rationalism and repressing the mythic critics believed they were following the highest classical standards; closer inspection reveals that Aristotle, for one, was not the rigid lawgiver his 17th-century interpreters deemed him to be.  By the beginning of the 18th century, a more flexible attitude, particularly towards opera, emerged, sometimes in the same writers who elsewhere had taken a more severe stance.  What this suggests, however, is not the demise of classicism but a move away from neo-classical rigour towards a reading of Aristotle that is closer to his original intentions.

Rowena Harrison
Symposium Title: 
Gods, Men and Monsters – 2001
Author affiliation: 
Independent scholar, UK