The ancient Greeks understood that there was an intimate relationship between humans and nature, a certain give and take that needed to happen for the humans to get what they needed to survive. For them, appeasing nature so that they could yoke her to their demands of rain when needed and sun when desired also meant appeasing the gods, who represented the different aspects of nature that humans needed to interact with in everyday life. The Greeks also saw nature as a force that acted independent of their desires, with separate rules and patterns that had nothing to do with human culture. This paper will explore the relationship between nature and human culture as depicted in the plays Oresteia, by Aeschylus, and Antigone, by Sophocles.
According to Walter Burkert (1999) the Greeks
created the very concept of "nature." The Greeks had a word for it, physis, . . .physis is a form of "being"--the verbal root is identical with the English "be." The word mainly referred to the growth of plants. . . Growth occurs on its own, undisturbed, but according to a predetermined and repetitive course. Physis is the opposite of "manipulation." It occurs outside the conscious efforts of peoples and nations, their decrees, conventions, actions, and coercions. There exists a basic department of reality which keeps to its course and which develops by its own laws, and which sustains the life we share (p. 185).
The gods were representative of this independent life force. For example, Zeus, besides eventually becoming the supreme god, was also known as Lord of the Sky, Cloud Gatherer, and Rain-god. In the realm of the Greek gods, as in nature, the laws were independent of those set down by man, and did not follow the same moral codes (Hamilton, 1942).
This relationship between nature and humans, or the appeasement of the gods by humans, is what began theater. The theatrical performances and festivals first began with dance troupes who ce...