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Ah, woe is me! I do repeat; for beside the scenes of woe already enacted I bring tidings of new horror.

September 2, 2013

For every thing there is a season, and the interminable season of reading Greek tragedies has come to an end. I have finished the final Greek tragedy on the Great Books Reading List and, as the title warns, I bring tidings of new horror like the messenger from this play. Read on…

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Euripides was disgusted with Athens

August 26, 2013

Euripides was tired of the decadence of Athenian culture and was either exiled or left on purpose around the time he wrote the play “Orestes.” This play can therefore be considered a pot shot at Athens.

In “Orestes,” the protagonist has already killed his mom Clytaemnestra and is being attacked mentally by the Eumenides. His city has decided both he and his sister Electra should die for committing matricide. When all other options fail, Orestes and his best friend Pylades decide to get even with the world. They try to murder Helen, burn down Agamemnon’s palace, and hold Menelaus’s daughter Hermione hostage on the burning palace’s roof threatening to murder her. This rather dark story suddenly resolves to a happy ending when Apollo arrives on the scene to dole out forgiveness and bright futures all around.

The major takeaway emotion I had after reading this play was confusion. What on Earth could Euripides have been trying to say? I did some online reading for help. One interpretation that I thought made sense was that the play was pointing out that sometimes the story gets too dark for an easy resolution. Here it can be argued that Euripides was warning Athens that the troubles they were getting themselves into would be impossible to resolve neatly. An apt commentary on our times too.

The play is a strange read and I do encourage everyone to check it out. One more play by Euripides to go and then we are on to Aristophanes and some comedy! Woooooh!

Andromache holds up Half the Sky

August 12, 2013

Euripides used some of his plays to reveal the problems faced by women, a shocking act in his time. That’s exactly what he did in the play “Andromache” by showing a vignette of Hector’s wife’s life after the fall of Troy. Her plight reminded me of the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that takes an unflinching look at our time’s problem of female repression in the developing world. Both tell tales of pain but one is fiction while the other is happening around us.

This play is a painful tale of slavery and hopelessness. Andromache ends up the concubine of Neoptolumus, the man that murdered her beloved father Priam. She bears him a bastard son, Molossus, and lives with the growing danger that Neoptolumus has fallen in love with her. Neoptolumus’s queen, Hermione daughter of Menelaus, is so jealous of Andromache that she plots her murder once the King is away. Hermione accuses Andromache of poisoning her so she can’t bear children. Andromache denies the accusation by flippantly explaining that the life she currently leaves is abhorrent to her and she wouldn’t want to keep it.

As a last ditch effort to save their lives, Andromache flees to a temple and hides her son with friends. Menelaus captures the boy and tricks Andromache into leaving the alter by promising he will only kill her. He was of course lying and laughs at Andromache’s despair as she is going to have to watch her son die. The laughter and scorn of Hermione and Menelaus for those in their grasp is heartbreaking to read.

Fortunately at that moment Peleus, an elderly King, arrives and puts a stop to the plot. Menelaus threatens the old man but Peleus stands his ground and under threat of attack unbinds Andromache and her son. They are able to escape and Menelaus leaves.

Hermione, remorseful for her actions and bereft of her father’s help, decides it is time to kill herself. She is sorry for what she has done and fearful that Neoptolomus will kill her when he gets back. Her servants keep her from the desperate act.

Orestes, King Agamemnon’s son and Menelaus’s nephew, arrives on the scene and Hermione begs him for help. He tells her that her troubles are at an end. Orestes had already incited a mob to murder Neoptolumus. With relief, he and Hermione head off into the sunset to wed.

Euripides liked to take the mythical figures he grew up with and transfer their story lines to his age, like the BBC’s new Sherlock series taking place in modern London instead of 1800s London. His point was to give the characters modern issues to cause discussion. Like Euripides, I’m going to move the conversation to the modern day and discuss the current plight of women in our world because Andromache’s despair in the play touched me so powerfully.

Our world’s truth is that many women in the developing world (i.e. 2/3rds of the world) are trafficked, raped, and left with debilitating medical problems from childbirth. These women are discouraged by males to make their lives better and are generally cut off from economic betterment. How many times have we heard about gang rapes in India and Tahrir Square, female infanticide, female schools being blown up, and other horrors.

IAn excerpt from a book review of Half the Sky done by the New York Times:

“Half the Sky” tackles atrocities and indignities from sex trafficking to maternal mortality, from obstetric fistulas to acid attacks, and absorbing the fusillade of horrors can feel like an assault of its own. But the poignant portraits of survivors humanize the issues, divulging facts that moral outrage might otherwise eclipse.”

In Half the Sky, Kristoff and WuDunn argue that the developed (i.e. Western) world needs to give these women economic chances and fight for their safety and dignity. I personally think this book pushes forward the Western Conversation and highly suggest everyone read it. Like Euripides, Kristoff and WuDunn tell stories that highlight the suffering that is rarely talked about in our world. Unlike Euripides, their stories are all true. The rage I felt reading Andromache’s helplessness was of the same caliber as I felt reading Half the Sky.

There is now a movement associated with the book. I don’t know much about it, but check it out here.

“Hecuba” is Euripides’ Darkest Timeline

August 5, 2013

I’m having a hard time getting excited about each new Greek tragedy. Somewhere between tragedies 25 and 26 the “Great Conversation” has started to sound like a single minded dirge. I was SURE that reading that many Greek tragedies had prepared me for any horrors that could be conjured by those fiendish playwrights and I was so wrong. Things got dark in Euripide’s play “Hecuba.”

Euripides rolled the dice too many times

Euripides rolled the dice too many times

Truth: I wiki’d the spoilers ahead of time to see what I was in for. Something snapped when I read that wiki and giggling maniacally I burst upon the nearest bystander (my husband) and gleefully read to him the spoilers of what can only be described as Euripides’s darkest timeline. I didn’t even want to pick it up after reading that spoiler. The figurative devil on my shoulder whispered it was ok to write a blog entry based on nothing more than that and my desire to finally begin reading the comic playwright Aristophanes. That would destroy the purpose of my venture, to READ the Great Conversation in 10 years, so I have hunkered down. I wrote this opening before finishing  (I read half) the play in order to ensure I would do it. Be right back…

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The Evolution of Law

August 1, 2013

Euripides has done more than the other greek tragedians to open my eyes to the differences between ancient Greek culture and the modern world. Perhaps it is because, as the trope goes, he writes people as they are while the other authors write rather two dimensional characters. In “The Hereclediae,” Euripides nearly assaulted my senses with the marked differences between our justice systems and made me appreciate how far we have come. Read on…

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Questionable tale of rape and redemption…

July 29, 2013

In his play “Ion,” Euripides examines real political and familial situations with unflinching honesty and an ambiguous happy ending. His explorations of the fraught relationship between a stepmother and stepson and barren married couple were scintillating. Perhaps most importantly, Euripides displayed the pain and lack of safety a woman, even a queen, experienced in 400s BC Greece. He accidentally highlighted that in those times, a happy ending could occur without a god apologizing for rape. Read on…

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Xi Jinping allegedly is taking advice from Thucydides

June 29, 2013

The new President of China, Xi Jinping, met with President Obama in California in June. The summit had some sage advice from Greek historian and general Thucydides according to The Economist’s:

“CHINA’S president, Xi Jinping, is unlikely to quote Thucydides when he meets his American counterpart, Barack Obama, at a summit in California on June 7th and 8th. But the spirit of the Greek historian will hover over the Sunnylands ranch. Chinese policy wonks are struck by his argument that it was the Spartans’ fear of the growing power of Athens that made war inevitable. Their insistence that China wants a “peaceful rise” is intended to calm such worries in America.” 

The Western cannon clearly has some present day uses eh?