GRE Reading Comprehension
Modern archaeological finds can still contribute much to the study of ancient literature. For example, forty years ago a survey of the early Greek dramatist Aeschylus' plays would have started with The Suppliant Women. Many factors internal to the play, but perhaps most especially the prominence of the chorus (which in this play has the main role),led scholars to consider it one of Aeschylus' earlier works. The consensus was that here was a drama truly reflecting an early stage in the evolution of tragedy out of choral lyric. The play was dated as early as the 490's B.C., in any event, well before Aeschylus' play The Persians of 472 B.C. Then, in 1952, a fragment of papyrus found at Oxyrhynchus was published stating the official circumstances and results of a dramatic contest. The fragment announced that Aeschylus won first prize with his Danaid tetralogy, of which The Suppliant Women is the opening play, and defeated Sophocles in the process. Sophocles did not compete in any dramatic contest before 468 B.C., when he won his first victory. Hence, except by special pleading (e.g.,that the tetralogy was composed early in Aeschylus' career but not produced until the 460's B.C.), the Danaid tetralogy must be put after 468 B.C. In addition, a few letters in the fragment suggest the name Archedemides, archon in 463 B.C., thus perhaps tying the plays to that precise date, almost exactly halfway between Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes of 467 B.C. and his Oresteia.
The implication of the papyrus administered a severe shock to the vast majority of classical scholars, who had confidently asserted that not only the role of the chorus but also language, metrics, and characterization all pointed to an early date. The discovery has resulted in no less than a total reevaluation of every chronological criterion that has been applied to or derived from Aeschylus' plays. The activity has been brisk, and a new creed has now spread. The prominence of the chorus in The Suppliant Women now is seen not as a sign of primitivism but as analogous to the massive choral songs of the Oresieia. Statistics have been formulated,or reformulated, to show that stylistically The Suppliant Women does actually occupy a position after The Persians and Seven Against Thebes, which now become the "primitive" plays, and before the Oresteia. While the new doctrine seems almost certainly correct, the one papyrus fragment raises the specter that another may be unearthed, showing, for instance, that it was a posthumous production of the Danaid tetralogy which bested Sophocles, and throwing the date once more into utter confusion. This is unlikely to happen, but it warns us that perhaps the most salutary feature of the papyrus scrap is its message of the extreme difficulty of classifying and categorizing rigidly the development of a creative artist.
The author of the passage focuses primarily on
- A discussing a series of modern archaeological finds and their impact on the study of Greek literature
- B recounting the effect of one archaeological find on modern ideas concerning a particular author's work
- C giving a definitive and coherent account of the chronology of a particular author's work
- D illustrating the many varieties of difficulties involved in establishing facts concerning ancient literature
- E determining the exact value of archaeological finds in relation to the history of ancient literature
Correct Answer: B