Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hippolytus - Euripides

(Sorry for the lateness.  Been dealing with sickness.)

Hippolytus is the bastard son of Theseus.  He has decided to honor the goddess Artemis and spurn Aphrodite and Aphrodite is not pleased.  (This is a theme with Greek gods and goddesses.)  In response, she has cursed Phaedra, the wife of Theseus so that she is in love with Hippolytus. 
Phaedra confess this love to her nurse in strict confidence but Hippolytus finds out.  He is sicked and scornful:
Great Zeus, why didst thou, to man's sorrow, put woman, evil counterfeit, to dwell where shines the sun? If thou wert minded that the human race should multiply, it was not from woman they should have drawn their stock, but in thy temples they should have paid gold or iron or ponderous bronze and bought a family, each man proportioned to his offering, and so in independence dwelt, from women free.
He has sworn not to tell but he leaves in anger.  After he is gone, Phaedra, in despair, commits suicide.  She leaves a note that blames Hippolytus, claiming that he has defiled her.  Theseus arrives home to find all of this.  In his anger, he makes a plea to Poseidon:
O father Poseidon, once didst thou promise to fulfill prayers of mine; answer one of these and slay my son, let him not escape this single day, if the prayers thou gavest me were indeed with issue fraught.
To sum up, Theseus has lost his wife and has no called on the gods to kill his son.  Hippolytus returns and Theseus accuses him of the crime.  Hippolytus hotly claims his innocence but Theseus will have none of it.  He orders his son out of the kingdom, to be forever exiled. 
While he is leaving, Poseidon sends a huge wave to kill him.  Attendants bring his broken body back to Theseus.  The truth comes out and they forgive each other before Hippolytus dies.

I'm not sure what to make of this story.  It's absolutely filled with injustice.  Both Paedra and Hippolytus are (essentially) killed by the gods.  I guess there is some lesson in that Hippo should have been more respectful of Aphrodite but the penalties here seem rather stiff. 
I know that Aristotle wrote in response to Euripides, arguing that theater should have clear morals.  I'm guessing that he wouldn't have cared for this at all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Readings for February

Two things for February.

Plato: Republic (books 6-8) link
Plato: Theaetetus link

So, lots of Plato. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Classic Links

Why the world still loves Shakespeare link

15 Minute Per Day Reading Plan for the Harvard Classics link 

Who Said 'The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword'? Lots of people, in different ways link

If We Lost the Canon link

Map of Mythological Greece link

German Philosophers playing Monopoly (Existential Comics) link

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Madea - Euripides

Let's start with basic plot points.
  • Jason (of Argonaut fame) has been gifted the hand of a princess in marriage by the king of Corinth.  This is a problem, since he is already married to the sorceress Medea and they have two sons.
  • Medea is not at all happy about this.
  • Medea meets with the king of Athens who promises to give her shelter if she should ever need it.
  • Jason tells Medea that she should calmly accept what has happened since it will bring their family status.
  • Medea decides to kill the princess.  She gives her a poisoned cloak.  The king sees his daughter in agony and tries to save her.  He is also poisoned.  Both die horribly.
  • Medea kills her sons because she reasons that a) they'll be killed by the Corinthians in revenge and b) their deaths will cause Jason agony.
  • She kills the poor boys
  • Jason shows up again and she taunts him with their dead bodies.  She won't allow him to hold them again or to bury them.
  • Medea flees in a dragon drawn chariot.  She will live safely in Athens.
What a play!  There is so much awfulness that it's hard to look away.  Who is worse, Jason the jerk, who callously throws aside his family for glory and position?  Or Medea, who kills her own children as part of a revenge plot?  Ok, probably Medea. 
But she really is treated horribly.  Prior to the events of this play, she betrayed her own father and fled her homeland all so that she could help Jason, whom she had fallen in love with.  She gave up so much and now she is being treated awfully.  If she had simply accepted her fate, she'd be a more sympathetic figure but why should she accept it? 
I can't help but wonder (and not for the last time), what the Athenians made of Euripides.  He won awards for his works but he must have been shocking.  Think of this passage, spoken by Medea:
And yet they say we live secure at home, while they are at the wars, with their sorry reasoning, for I would gladly take my stand in battle array three times o'er, than once give birth.
Did they yell, or shun him?  Did they roll their eyes?  Or did he divide them and force them to rethink their positions?  Probably all three but that last is why we remember him today.  In the finest Western tradition, he questioned the status quo and shook things up.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Understanding Medea and Greek Theater

I linked to this video in a past 'links' post but I want to highlight it on its own.  The video is quite well done.  It talks about how Greek theater was physically set up and highlights a British school that still performs the plays in ancient Greek.  (Yes, I would love to go!  Maybe I should try to organize a field trip...)
Anyway, it's completely worth the half hour it will take to watch.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Biography of Euripides

We don't know many certain details about the life of Euripides.  This is common with ancient writers but it looks like the reason behind the uncertainty here is somewhat different.  So many things were said about Euripides by his fans and his critics that we can't tell what was true and what was slander. 
We know that he was younger than Aeschylus and Sophocles.  We also know that he moved Greek theater in a different direction than the other two.  We also know that he won five awards for having the best play of the year, the last one was won posthumously. 

The Wikipedia page about Euripides is quite interesting.  I especially enjoyed the section on how his plays survived
Around 200 AD, ten of the plays of Euripides began to be circulated in a select edition, possibly for use in schools, with some commentaries or scholia recorded in the margins. Similar editions had appeared for Aeschylus and Sophocles—the only plays of theirs that survive today: "The rise of Goths and Tartars throughout the Roman world from the gutter to the throne, the destruction of libraries by choleric and fanatical popes and emperors, were unfavourable to the progress but not entirely fatal to the preservation of literary studies."[77] Euripides however was more fortunate than the other tragedians in the survival of a second edition of his work, compiled in alphabetical order as if from a set of his collect works, but without scholia attached. This 'Alphabetical' edition was combined with the 'Select' edition by some unknown Byzantine scholar, bringing together all the nineteen plays that survive today. The 'Select' plays are found in many medieval manuscripts but only two manuscripts preserve the 'Alphabetical' plays—often denoted L and P, after the Laurentian Library at Florence, and the Bibliotheca Palatina in the Vatican, where they are stored. It is believed that P derived its Alphabet plays and some Select plays from copies of an ancestor of L, but the remainder is derived from elsewhere. P contains all the extant plays of Euripides, L is missing The Trojan Women and latter part of The Bacchae.
And that's why we have as much Euripides as we do.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Author Timeline

Boy, I'm late on this!

Euripides 480-406
Plato 428-348  
Aristotle 384-322

Augustine 354-430
Aquinas 1225-1274
Montaigne 1533-1592
Galileo 1564-1642
Bacon 1561-1626
Descartes 1596-1650
Newton 1642-1726
Locke 1632-1704
Hume 1711-1776
Kant 1724-1804
Melville 1819-1891
Dostoyevsky 1821-1881
James 1842-1910