Complications, as always.

Published December 5, 2014 by Iphis of Scyros

So–as I should have posted last night, if I hadn’t been too flippered by the fog–my final paper for my class (and thus my Master’s Thesis beyond it) has suddenly changed.  Instead of addressing sexuality, now it’s addressing gender.  To a certain extent, that doesn’t change too much, because after people re-discovered Homer and started seeing the homoerotic quality of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclos, their sexuality affected the way they were portrayed in terms of gender.  In other words, whether they were portrayed as masculine or effeminate, or somewhere in the middle.  (Though usually it’s been one or the other.)

The odd part, to me, is the fact that sometimes gender has been re-written in the same text over time.  In order to have more information about Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, I ended up checking the same volume of it out of the library that I had checked out earlier in the semester.  (Which feels absurd, considering that as a graduate student I get to hold onto library books for five months.  But it was by far the most recent edition they had.)  Anyway, reading through the introduction, I got to the part that detailed how the play had been performed in the twentieth century.  (Technically, it also described all known earlier performances, but there were only a handful of them.)  The shocking thing is that although Shakespeare definitely portrays Achilles and Patroclus as being sexually involved, neither one is presented as in any way effeminate, and yet in some of the performances in the latter half of the twentieth centuries, they (and especially Achilles) became decidedly so.  (Giving Achilles effeminate costumes and mannerisms in that play makes no sense to me, considering that the text itself portrays him as close to “macho meathead” as Shakespeare can get.  Well, no:  its portrayal of “Ajax” (God, I hate the Roman spelling!) is as close to “macho meathead” as Shakespeare can get, with Achilles running him a close second.)  That performance detail actually tells us a lot more about the twentieth century’s attitudes towards homosexuality than it does about Shakespeare’s!  (Especially since Achilles, at least, is not homosexual in the play, as he’s also in love with Polyxena, as per Dares, making him bisexual.)

Anyway, getting back to the whole changed topic thing, that means I came back from campus last night with seven more library books, Troilus and Cressida being only one of them, and the simplest to deal with.  The others are on gender and masculinity.  I’m not sure any of them really have what I need, though.  It’s hard to know what to type into the library catalog search to get a good historical overview of changing historical perceptions of gender image over time.  A lot of titles looked like they were about that kind of thing, only then I would look at their table of contents, and they’d actually only be about the changes to gender roles in “modern” America.  (Modern in quotes because naturally the books are at least ten years old, if not older, so in addition to everything else, they’re out of date.)  This complicates things enormously.

But on the other hand, it’s going to give me a lot more lee-way to play around with interesting stuff that didn’t necessarily fit in the old thesis.  Particularly the stuff about Achilles’ time in drag on Scyros.  There’s a lot of really fascinating portrayals of that period, and one of the really remarkable things about it is how many of the paintings from the 17th century (and there are a huge number of them on Wikimedia Commons from the 17th century) depict him as being entirely indistinguishable from the actual girls.  As opposed to one I found from the 19th century, where he wasn’t even trying to look like a girl.

And then there’s the libretto that inter-library loan managed to get for me!  It’s a .pdf of a microfilm (or was it microfiche?) of the booklet that was being handed out at the initial production of “Achilles in Petticoats” in 1773.  It’s more than a little hard to read because the letters weren’t too well inked before being pressed onto the page, and of course they use those “long s”s that look like “f”s, which makes it hard to read, too.  (It’s easy enough to guess that there was never a word “paffion” but when half the other letters in a word are nearly indistinguishable, that just makes it that much harder to read.)  However!  It is totally worth the effort!  Because oh-my-god is it funny!  It starts out with a scene between Lycomedes and one of his courtiers, and the courtier says that he can tell that Lycomedes has fallen in love with that girl Pyrrha who was left behind by her mother, and that he’s sure she’ll respond favorably, because why else would her mother have left her there but to become the king’s lover, and besides the girl has so much of the coquette about her and so forth and so on.  None of which would be funny, naturally, if one didn’t know that Pyrrha was actually Achilles in a dress.  Then we learn that Lycomedes’ wife is jealous of Pyrrha, and when Lycomedes learns that Pyrrha spurned the advance he sent through his courtier/procurer he tries to force himself on “her” only to get the crap beaten out of him, and when his wife hears about that she just becomes more convinced that Pyrrha is a threat (apparently thinking the violent rejection was only for show?) and determines to marry “her” off to her nephew.  Only after the queen has told Pyrrha about the match she proposes with her nephew are we left alone with Achilles and Deidamia, when he starts lamenting his fate as the most miserable man in the world, though she of course counters that her own position is far worse than his.  Not that he listens to her:  he’s being stereotypically “masculine” in his dealings with her, so far, by telling her (though not in these words) to shut up and let him think.  It gets worse, of course.  Where I last left off reading, “Ajax” (presumably meaning Telamonian Aias, rather than Locrian) had challenged the queen’s nephew to a duel over Pyrrha.  Someone’s not going to be happy when he learns the truth, methinks.  LOL!  I totally want to re-write this play into a slightly less mythically mangled (and definitely less misogynistic) version.  The whole concept of having Achilles be so convincing at pretending to be a girl that men are fighting over him is just too funny!  (And yet, Patroclos isn’t on the dramatis personae at the beginning!)

And on an amazingly related note, I want to talk about the book I got from Amazon.com today.  It’s the first shipment of the stuff I ordered on Black Friday (none of which actually turned out to be on a Black Friday sale, go figure) and the shipment consisted of a video game (which I had ordered for myself, not as a gift for someone else) and a book compiling all known Sophocles fragments.  As soon as the package was opened, I set the game aside, and pounced on the book.  (This is probably abnormal.)  Seriously, I sat down and went through the entire book, reading every fragment of any play that looked like it was going to have even a slight impact on my thesis, and a number of fragments that didn’t.  (Including “The Searchers” which is a large chunk of a satyr play about Apollo trying to get his cattle back from the infant Hermes.  Nothing to do with my paper, but it’s most of a satyr play!  How could I not read it?)  Anyway, one of the plays ties into my paper–and the libretto I was just talking about–deliciously.

It’s called “Achilleos Erastai” or “The Lovers of Achilles” and although the actual fragments themselves (having been quoted in various other works) are rather tame, it’s enough that the scholars are pretty sure that it was a satyr play, and the satyrs were all trying to make Achilles into their eromenos.  (Though this would likely have been set during his boyhood with Cheiron on Mt. Pelion, so it’s not quite as freaky as you might think.  Although satyrs trying to make any human boy their eromenos is freaky in and of itself.  (Have you seen the size of the equipment they have on Attic vases?  Yikes!))  Apparently, there was a play in a later era in which Heracles “had that role” (not sure if the book meant he was trying to make Achilles into his eromenos, or actually succeeded) so the book theorized that he might theoretically have been in it as well (being commonly involved in satyr plays) but not necessarily, and based on Plato’s famous assertion in the Symposium that Patroclos was the erastes of the relationship, he might also have been in it.  Man, it would be awesome if that play had survived!  I bet it was hilarious!

That reminds me, though.  I want to go to the Perseus Project and see if they have that other play, the one with Heracles….

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