Aeschylus

All posts tagged Aeschylus

Achilles, Patroclos and their special bond

Published July 26, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I know I’ve been griping a lot about my broken laptop lately (and, to be honest, there’s still a lot of gripe left there) but I thought I should stop griping for a while and instead post something someone might actually want to read.  This is one of several posts I’ve written in the broken-laptop-downtime, which have just been accumulating, waiting a chance to get online.  (Probably the best of them, too, but…well, actually, the one about Tiresias is pretty good, too…)  Anyway, on to the part of the post I pre-wrote!


 

So earlier I promised to talk about how one of James Davidson’s points in The Greeks and Greek Love provided a new possible meaning for an Aischylos fragment that redefined the relationship between Achilles and Patroclos, thus possibly shattering some of my writing, right?

Uh, okay, starting over. And trying to make sense this time.

Unlike Sophocles and Euripides, Aischylos almost always wrote and presented his plays in neat trilogies. (No, Sophocles did not present his Theban trilogy at the same time, bizarrely enough.) One of Aischylos’ many lost trilogies is his so-called “tragic Iliad” which presents the second half of the Iliad on the tragic stage, one of the rare instances of the major Athenian tragedians tackling the subject matter of the Homeric epics. The Odyssey was covered slightly more often than the Iliad, including in Euripides’ surviving satyr play, The Cyclops, but even it was rare compared to other Trojan War topics, presumably because Homer was viewed as peerless, and any attempt to compete with him was seen as sheer hubris. (Hesiod was held in similar regard, which probably accounts for the lack of other written accounts the ancient Greek theogony other than his.)

Anyway, the first of the plays of Aischylos’ tragic Iliad was the Myrmidons, which featured the death of poor Patroclos, and Achilles’ lament over the corpse. It must have been one heck of a lament. Two quotes survive, from numerous sources, Plutarch’s moralia and various philosophers and such. At the time, they were used to show the depth, intensity and importance of friendship. However, their stark eroticism—it’s hard to interpret someone rebuking a corpse for ‘wasting my many kisses’ without assuming they were lovers—they were eventually held up as proof of just how unabashed and even decadent the ancient Greek men were in their pursuit of, well, each other.

And you did not respect the sacred honour of the thigh-bond, ungrateful that you were for those countless kisses! (trans. Alan. H. Sommerstein)

I’ve quoted that translation before, and not been terribly pleased with it, ‘cause, you know, was it really so sacred for one man to rub his erection between another man’s thighs? Obviously, as a woman, I can’t really imagine what that would be like, but it just doesn’t sound to me like it would be very satisfying to either party, so I’ve always looked askance at the whole thing and felt like there had to be something that we’re just plain missing there.

And it looks like there may well be.

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Top Ten Tuesdays – Authors I’d Love to Meet

Published May 12, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I found out recently about the Top Ten Tuesdays event being held by The Broke and the Bookish, and I thought it looked like fun, though I’ll likely not participate every week.  Anyway, this week’s seemed sweet, so here goes.  (Plus this is a nice change of pace from struggling to write the last five pages of my paper.)

I’m assuming for this list that I have access to a TARDIS.  Because it would be no fun if I limited myself to currently living authors who speak English.  (Well, okay, actually, there’s always translators, but currently living is a drag!)

  1. The poet who composed the Iliad.  I have so many questions for him!  Starting with “what’s your actual name?”  I’d want to get the full, original version of the epic, of course, so we’d know what got changed and altered over time.  And I’d want to ask how much of the story he’d made up, and how much already existed.  (The quarrel over Briseis is largely believed, these days, to be his invention.  But was Briseis herself already part of the myth?  Was it his idea to change Achilles’ male love interest from Antilochos to Patroclos, or was that tradition already present?  Or was the entire homoerotic subtext unintentional and/or added later?)
  2. Euripides.  Again, more questions than I could count!  But the big one is “which is the real you?”  Because some of his plays are brutally misogynistic, but others feature incredibly strong and noble female characters.  Look at The Trojan Women or Iphigenia at Aulis, for example; it’s hard to read those and think the author is a misogynist.  On the other hand, it’s hard to read something like Orestes and think anything else.  I’d also want to know about all his now-lost plays, and I’d want to know just how much of what he wrote was politically motivated, and what the politics were.  Some of it’s pretty obvious (again, The Trojan Women is an excellent example) but the rest…not so much.
  3. William Shakespeare.  (Well, duh.  Who wouldn’t put him on their list if they have a TARDIS or other time-travel device?)  Mostly, I’d want to ask him about Troilus and Cressida.  Because in reading the introduction, there’s something weird going on there.  One official listing of plays made it sound like it had been performed, but the oldest copy of the play itself says it hadn’t.  And why was it never performed again?  Even more importantly, what made him choose to depict the Trojan War like that?  Absolutely everyone comes out looking terrible, Greeks and Trojans alike.  (Though the Greeks do come off a bit worse than the Trojans, but…even Hector comes off as a bit of a mindless blowhard, despite that he usually topped lists of “noble Pagans”.)  But it’s a very different kind of terrible than that of Shakespeare’s contemporary Haywood, who also wrote plays about the Trojan War.  (Which, btw, were terrible.)
  4. Mary Shelley.  Towards the end of her life, I think.  Just to let her know how much her first and most famous novel has meant to society.  (Hence the reason it would have to be near the end.)  Because in reading a biography of her, I got the feeling she never understood how important Frankenstein was going to be in the long run.  But her creation has spawned two entire genres, and is better known than anything her husband ever wrote.  Yet in her own time, she was mostly just looked at as “Percy Shelley’s widow” and I’d want her to know that eventually she would, in fact, be appreciated for her own work, instead of seen as merely a bystander of his.
  5. Sophocles.  With a recording device, so I could get all his now-lost plays.
  6. Aeschylos.  Ditto.
  7. The poets of the Epic Cycle.  Okay, compressing here.  The Epic Cycle originally consisted of a number of epic poems about the Trojan War:  the Cypria, the Iliad, the Aethiopis, the Little Iliad, the Sack of Ilion, the Returns, and the Odyssey.  (There was also an additional, much later epic called the Telegony, which was about Odysseus’ son by Circe, who ended up unwittingly killing his father.  But it doesn’t quite fit in with the others, in part because it’s pretty much certain to have been written at the behest of royal families who liked to claim descent from Odysseus, as a method of bolstering their claim.  (It gave him additional sons for them to be descended from.))  Most, if not all, of the poems in the Epic Cycle have been, at one time or another, attributed to “Homer” and were presumably written in the same style as the two surviving epics.  But there are a lot of question marks, mostly because only the Iliad and the Odyssey have survived.  While that probably means they weren’t as good–certainly, that was Aristotle’s opinion–from the point of view of a scholar of mythology (or the ancient Greek language, or Greek literature) they would still be of incredible value.  Hence that I’d want to go meet the poets and record a performance of their epics.
  8. Sappho.  The most famous female poet of the ancient world, whose love poems inspired the modern meaning of the word “lesbian.”  But most of her poetry is lost.  And there are still those in the academic community who argue about whether she really was in that kind of love with the girls she wrote about (my vote:  yes, she was) and whether she ran a “school” and so on.  There are so many questions that could only be answered by meeting her.
  9. Catullus.  To slap him in the face.  Not that he actually did anything much wrong, it’s just that this perverted teacher I had as an undergrad…well, actually, better not to get into that; I’d rant all day, and never get my paper written.  Let’s just say that I have a lot of negative associations now.  (Strangely, I have fewer similar negative associations with Aristophanes, despite that the same teacher pulled something even worse in Greek class than he had in Latin class.)
  10. Ovid.  To ask how much of the Metamorphoses was his own invention, and how many of the tales now recorded only there were already present in the myths and he was just the first/only one to write them down.

Wow, I seem positively monomaniacal, don’t I?  I should probably change number 9 on the list to Virgil, and ask him about how much of the Aeneid was based on previously existing Roman mythic variants and how much was just to please Augustus, but…nah.

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