Tragedy According to Jacobus Pontanus and the Tradition of Antiquity

Iwona Słomak


Tragedy According to Jacobus Pontanus and the Tradition of Antiquity

The aim of this study is to present the findings of a comparative analysis that covers—on the one hand—the theory of tragedy presented in Poeticarum institutionum libri III by Jakob Pontanus (Spanmüller), the classical and Renaissance poetics and commentaries on which he based his work, as well as the ancient tragedies that belonged to the literary canon in Jesuit colleges, and—on the other hand—Pontanus’s theoretical approach mentioned above and his tragedy Elezarus Machabaeus.

The works of Pontanus have previously been discussed by Joseph Bielmann. However, Bielmann did not present them against the background of the Greek and Roman tragedies or the statements of the ancient theorists on drama, the Renaissance theoretical reflection on tragedies, or the playwriting practice resulting from this reflection. Consequently, his characterisation of the Elezarus Machabaeus is untenable, and his comments on Pontanus’s theory of drama need reviewing. Determining whether Pontanus respected the rules of ancient tragedy or whether he openly violated them is important because he was one of the most outstanding Jesuit humanists and a person of authority in his community. If we take into account the fact that Elezarus Machabaeus was the first tragedy printed by the Jesuits, the Poeticarum institutionum libri III was one of the first printed Jesuit textbooks of this kind, and Pontanus himself was also the author of other books recommended for reading in Jesuit colleges and participated in the work of the committee for the evaluation and approval of the Jesuit school act, his views on the imitation of ancient models should be considered influential at least to a moderate degree and at least in some literary circles of his time. This matter is addressed in the introductory part of this paper. It also contains a short presentation of Pontanus’s textbook against the background of other Jesuit poetics, as well as of his main sources in the field of drama theory. Subsequently, the author presents Pontanus’s concept of drama and then discusses his piece taking into account the context of ancient and contemporary drama theory and practice of writing.

In the light of this comparative reading, Eleazarus Machabaeus seems to be generally based on ancient models despite certain peculiarities, such as the composition and absence of choruses, which may be surprising at first. Both Pontanus’s tragedy and his theoretical approach should be regarded as classical in nature.

Słowa kluczowe: Jesuit drama theory, Jesuit tragedy, reception of ancient tragedy, Jakob Pontanus, Eleazarus Machabaeus

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