Rush Rehm, professor of Classics and of Theater and Performing Studies at Stanford University, joins us for a discussion about one of the most pivotal and enigmatic developments in the ancient world: the invention of theater in Athens in the late 6th century BC.

The first plays that were produced in the new Athenian theater were tragedies - famous for their depiction of human suffering. Many of these plays (such as Antigone, Medea, and Oedipus the King) are still studied and performed today. But what are we to make of these wrenching stories? Is this just horror for the sake of horror? Is it extreme pessimism? Or, as some philosophers have argued, is there something cathartic, or even elevating, about these plays?

Furthermore, theater in Athens seems to emerge at the same time that democracy is born. Is that a coincidence? Or is there some deeper connection between the invention of theater and democracy?

In this episode, Rehm shares with us his insights on the origin and nature of Greek tragedy - insights he has acquired from years of engagement with these plays not only as a scholar but also as an actor and director. Our discussion starts with the dawn of theater in 5th century BC Athens. We talk first about what going to the theater was like for the ancient Athenians, and then we delve into some of the deeper issues these plays bring up.

Rehm's recent books include Understanding Greek Tragic Theater as well as Radical Theater: Greek Tragedy in the Modern World. If you would like to hear more of his thoughts on Tragedy, check out the excellent episode on tragedy that he did on the Entitled Opinions podcast.

Finally, for any podcast fanatics out there who would like to learn more about the individual Greek tragedies mentioned in this episode, check out the awesome podcast called "Literature and History”. Not only will you hear these classic stories told in a witty, dramatic way, but you'll also find an exploration of the deeper meanings and historical background of these plays.