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A female friend recently saw a video of pretty old movie, “The Last Station” (directed by Michael Hoffman), which illustrates the struggle of Leo Tolstoy (the Russian author) to balance fame and wealth with his commitment to a life devoid of material things.

She said that in the movie, Tolstoy declares “You don't need a husband, you need a Greek chorus!” to his wife, who growls back “I’m gonna be Anna Karenina by being buried under a tramcar. See how the papers will like that!”

My friend asked me what “You need a Greek chorus” meant.

I haven’t seen that movie, therefore I have no idea regarding the meaning of that line.

Does “Greek chorus” have a specific, figurative meaning in this line, or does it simply mean that his wife was more interested in the notion of having a Greek chorus than on having a husband?

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I am pretty sure that this must have some figurative meaning, but it escapes me just right now. –  tchrist Jun 28 at 1:37
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My guess is that it is Tolstoy's way of saying that his wife is so in love with drama that she casts herself as the main character in a greek tragedy. She doesn't want a husband as an actual conversation partner, but rather a background character who will move the drama forward as needed. –  Jason M Jun 28 at 2:00
    
2009 is an old movie now? :) –  mmyers Jun 28 at 2:01
    
What did you mean by 'indulged' in the phrase "his wife was so much indulged in Greek chorus"? –  Erik Kowal Jun 28 at 2:21
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IMSDB has the full movie script here. The scene in question is number 60. –  mmyers Jun 28 at 4:24

3 Answers 3

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I saw the trailer for 'The Last Station' which has the line. A very materialistic Helen Mirren says to a very ascetic Christopher Plummer (Tolstoy) 'I hate what you've become!'. Tolstoy then delivers the 'Greek chorus' line. Without going into deep analysis of the role of the chorus in ancient Greek drama, which I'm both unwilling and unable to do anyway, it looks like this: Tolstoy is calling his wife a 'Drama Queen' who seeks to incite an emotional reaction from her husband. Does this sound familiar to anyone? One of the roles of the Greek chorus is to react as the general community might to actions and speech of the actors which is always an emotional reaction. So Tolstoy is calling his wife's histrionics the emotional outpourings of a 'drama queen' which seek an emotional reaction from him. Tolstoy's reference to 'a Greek chorus' is contemptuous of his wife's histrionics.

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According to Wikipedia, "a Greek chorus [...] is a homogeneous, non-individualised group of performers in the plays of classical Greece, who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action".

Unfortunately, I haven't seen the film The Last Station either, so the main thing that seems clear from your friend's description of that scene is that relations between Tolstoy and his wife Sofya were not harmonious at that point in the movie plot. We really need a bit more context from the scene in question to confidently make sense of that segment of dialogue.

However, the suggestion above by Jason M that Tolstoy thinks his wife "doesn't want a husband as an actual conversation partner, but rather [as] a background character who will move the drama forward" sounds like a pretty plausible explanation.

Incidentally, Anna Karenina (the lovelorn heroine of Tolstoy's novel of the same name) commits suicide by throwing herself under a train. The fact that Sofya envisages a fate for herself which parallels that of Anna suggests that Tolstoy had made a valid point with his reference to the Greek chorus.

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A Greek chorus aka known as a "homogeneous non-individualized group of performers" is an "echo" to the main character. An American term might be "cheering section." In the context of a single individual, the term would be "yes man."

An "echo," "cheering section," or "yes man" is specifically what a husband is not supposed to be.

So Tolstoy is saying that his wife needs/wants a "yes man" for a spouse, not a real husband.

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