All posts tagged Euripides

Subtitle Oopsy

Published September 6, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

I think I just won the “stupidest title for a blog post ever” award.

If there is such an award.

(I’m not sure if I’d actually want there to be one or not.)

Anyway, I just wanted to post about something stupid that actually tied in to my somewhat estranged “Greek mythology” theme.

So, I’m sorry to say that my birthday was last month, and as usual I couldn’t convince my family to pretend it wasn’t happening.  But at least they had the decency to only give me one present.  In this case, it was the Blu-Ray of the movie Iphigenia, based on the Euripides play Iphigenia at Aulis.  (But without the dea ex machina ending that scholars have been arguing about for centuries.)

I saw the movie years ago in a class, and I’d been trying to get my hands on it for a couple of years to see it again, but the DVD was long out of print, and apparently someone stole the Netflix lending copy.  (Seriously, it’s been on my brother’s queue for years.)  But it was finally released on Blu-ray recently by Olive Films (at least, I think that’s what the logo said) so I was finally able to see it again.

I hadn’t read the play yet when I first saw the movie, so I was surprised at just how much material there was before the start of the play.  (Must have been at least ten to fifteen minutes.)

The point of this post, though, is to tell you about a little goof they made in the subtitles.  (And yes, I only just got around to watching it yesterday.  On account of I have a slight problem with my television, and currently have to take Blu-rays to my brother’s place to watch them.)  For those who don’t know the story of the play, the only pertinent detail you need for my anecdote is that Agamemnon sent a letter back to Mycenae, asking that his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, be sent alone to Aulis, in order to marry Achilles.  Of course, his wife, Clytemnestra, wasn’t about to let her daughter go off alone, so she’s come to Aulis with her.  And when she’s talking to Agamemnon about the proposed marriage, she’s asking about what kind of man Achilles is.

And Agamemnon tells her that he’s “descended from Aesop.”

And I’m sitting here going “Um, what?”

Because I know that’s not what it said in Euripides.  Because while Aesop is one of those writers that — like Homer — has a partially (or entirely) mythologized life story, he’s still a real person.  (Probably.)  And lived in historical times.  And was a slave.

But the movie was going on, and I forgot about the line until after the movie was over.

Then I was suddenly like “Oh, duh!”

What the line actually said was that Achilles was descended from Asopos, not Aesop.  Asopos, of course, being a river god and the father of Aegina, who was kidnapped/ravished/impregnated by Zeus, giving birth to Aiakos, who was the father of Peleus, father of Achilles.

Now, it still strikes me as weird to pick Asopos rather than Zeus in order to talk about Achilles’ divine lineage (not to mention what about his mother, Thetis, the most powerful of the Nereids?) but presumably that was either because pretty much everyone in the mythic nobility is descended from Zeus, or — more likely — for metrical reasons.

But writing Aesop instead of Asopos…

…it’s hard to find rhyme or reason for that one.

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.

Words Crush Wednesday; Y is for Yikes!

Published April 29, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Since Greek doesn’t have Y, either, trying to find a quote to use for today’s Words Crush Wednesday was tricky.  I could have found a modern author/translator with a Y-name on the subject of Greek myths, and quoted them, or I could have talked about a concept like Youth or…uh…Young Love, or I could have looked for the ancient equivalent of a “Your Momma” fight.  (Thought about doing the latter, actually, but…since the insults in the Iliad tend not to be retorted, especially not succinctly, the closest I could think of was the argument between Teukros and the Atreidai in Sophocles’ Aias, and…it just didn’t feel right.  The setting is too terrible and serious for a “Your Momma” fight.)  But then I stumbled across a passage in Early Greek Myth by Timothy Gantz that made me say “Yikes!” and I thought, “Hey, I could use that as my Y-word!”

So, there you have it.  My Y entry for the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is on the theme of “Yikes!” in ancient Greek myth…with a decidedly satyric bent.

We’ll start with the one that inspired the theme, discussing the parentage of the god Pan.  (For the purposes of making it a little easier to read, I’ve removed all the parentheses where he makes direct references to the work or fragment that he’s talking about.  Most people aren’t going to get much out of things like “1F371: note emendation”, after all.  So just keep in mind that every author named below has such a parenthesis behind his name.)  After relating the best known version, Homeric Hymn 19, where Hermes fathered Pan on a daughter of Dryops, Gantz goes on to talk about rather different takes on Pan’s origin:

Other references to him in Archaic literature are rare, but it does emerge that his parentage was quite disputed:  Hekataios and Pindar apparently make him the son of Apollo and Odysseus’ wife Penelope, while for Herodotos, Cicero, Loukianos, Apollodoros, and Hyginus, he is the son of Hermes and Penelope, and the Theocritean Syrinx makes Odysseus himself the father;

Yep.  Some ancient authors had Odysseus cuckolded by a god, resulting in the goat-footed god Pan.  And given that one of the potential cuckolders is Odysseus’ great-grandfather…!

Read the rest of this entry →

R is for Rhesos

Published April 21, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Thracian king, ally of Troy, or potentially immortal juggernaut of destruction?

Rhesos plays a very small part in the Iliad, being massacred by Diomedes in his sleep.  Euripides wrote a play about him, but it was lost very early on, and the play that survives named Rhesos was written by someone else, though we don’t know who or quite when.  (It’s clearly not the one by Euripides, however, because it’s about half as long as his plays are, and it’s awful.  And a very different type of awful than, say, Euripides’ Orestes, which at least has moments that shine through as brilliant.  Even if they’re all at the beginning.)

I mentioned Rhesos before, when I was talking about Diomedes, but left out most of the details, so I could discuss them here.  Basically, what happens is that when Diomedes and Odysseus go on their night raid into the Trojan forces, they find a Trojan named Dolon, who’s on his way to spy on the Achaian forces.  (And whose reward for a successful venture was to be the immortal horses of Achilles!)  Well, they obviously couldn’t have that!  They capture Dolon and force him to talk before Diomedes dispatches him.  Through Dolon, they learn that Rhesos has arrived with reinforcements for the Trojans, and that Rhesos owns some magnificently beautiful white horses.  Between the desire not to let their situation get any worse (the Achaian army is suffering badly because of Achilles’ withdrawal, as I’m sure you recall) and their desire for those horses, they decide to go take care of these Thracians before the night is out.  And they do just that:  Diomedes kills Rhesos and a number of his men, while Odysseus (being, after all, the grandson of the master thief Autolycos) steals the horses.  Despite the rather cowardly nature of the act of killing sleeping men, this is treated as a great act of heroism.

We know from commentaries and scholia (and the surviving play, no matter who wrote it) that when classical authors tackled the question of Rhesos, they gave the story a bit more meaning and purpose than it had in the Iliad.  In some versions, Rhesos fights for one battle against the Greeks, and racks up such a kill count that they have to send the sneaky party to murder him in the middle of the night, because otherwise they fear they’ll all be annihilated.  (I’m reminded of the bit from A Knight’s Tale:  “How would you beat him?” “With a stick as he slept.  But with a lance, on a horse?  Impossible.”)  More popularly, though, they learn of a prophecy that if he–or, more commonly, his horses–should once drink from the River Scamander (or eat the grass on its banks), then Rhesos will become immortal/invulnerable, and the Achaian forces will thus be doomed.  Or sometimes it’s that Troy itself will become invulnerable.  Either way, the prophecy gives their mission an urgency that it doesn’t have in the Iliad, where it really doesn’t serve any function except to make the audience once again wonder why the Greeks need Achilles when they have Diomedes.  (And given that the purpose of the Iliad was to sing about the wrath of Achilles, that can hardly have been the intended purpose of that little side-story.  That’s most likely one of the major reasons some scholars view the night raid as being a later interpolation.)

I have to say, though, it would be interesting to imagine what would have happened to the war if Rhesos had gained invulnerability/immortality.  Would he have stopped at wiping out the Greek forces?  Would he have conquered his own ally, Troy?  Or maybe gone across the sea to conquer all the kingdoms of Hellas?  Or would he have just gone back to Thrace, proud of a job well done?  Or would his invulnerability have been like that of Cycnos, so that he could still be killed by strangulation?  Or maybe, if the waters of the River Scamander had made him invulnerable, they could also be his undoing, and he could be drowned in the very river that made him invulnerable?

It could make for some very interesting alternate reality fiction, I think.  Because that’s the way my mind operates.

Repost: Achilles is a slut.

Published September 11, 2014 by Iphis of Scyros

Pre-repost comment:  I actually grabbed the URL on the original for this one:

Aug 31: Achilles is a slut.

No, seriously, he is! Er, was? Would have been?

Well, whatever the proper conjugation of “to be” is for such a statement about a mythological figure, it remains a true statement none the less.

Think about it, just within the firmly established mythic corpus. He has his one, true, abiding, life-long passion, which is either friendship or love depending on what you’re reading, and that is, of course, for Patroclos. But then he also has Deidamia, Iphigenia, Briseis, Diomede, Penthesileia and Polyxena. (Though admittedly he only actually managed to sleep with three of those women, but that’s somewhat immaterial.) Plus there were versions (now lost) in which he secretly met–and had sex with–Helen during the war. (And those versions were well-known enough that according to one of the ancient writers who went to his temple on the Euxene, the statue of him there depicted him in the process of making love to Helen. Although I rather doubt that was really the case, the sheer fact that someone was willing to claim it at a time when anyone with the time and money could go there and see for themselves is impressive!) And let us not forget that some of the later versions of the death of Troilos had Achilles fall in love with him, too. Plus in The Fall of Troy, during the funeral games, Quintus Smyrnaeus implied that Achilles had slept with all the female slaves being offered as prizes. Oh, and two authors–including Apollodorus–said that following his death he married Medea in the Elysian Fields.

If the man wore pants, he would have been unable to keep it in them.

And all that, of course, is on top of the fact that he also apparently had (free) women throwing themselves at him all the time. You know all those towns he sacked during the ten years of the Trojan War? For at least two of them, there are myths about a girl of the town–in both cases, the daughter of the king, I think–falling in love with him from a distance and therefore betraying her people for his sake. (Though in at least one of those cases, he had the girl killed afterwards, so perhaps it’s not the best of examples.) In any case, according to the Iliad, he was the most attractive man among the Greek forces in addition to being the strongest and most skillful warrior, so it’s hardly to be considered surprising if he was popular with the ladies.

Moving beyond that, I’m sure that plenty of non-classical sources have given him additional ladies (and/or men) to play with. (Even I’m guilty on that score: for my semi-Young Adult series, I not only gave him two more (in order to father new bastard children) but also had one of his former Myrmidons assume a completely different (yet still non-mythically accurate) mother for one of them.) Of course, for non-classical sources, that’s more or less just going with the pre-established character we’ve inherited, right?

But just looking at all the things that were written about him during the classical period, you have to wonder. Was he the original male wish-fulfillment fantasy character? Did the ancient Greek men read about all his women (and/or men/boys) and imagine what it would be like to be him? Was that the point? Were those snakes on the worship disks worshiper code for “send me some of your luck with the ladies!”? (Okay, yes, I realize that last one is ridiculous.) But as to the rest of it, I’m totally serious. If he didn’t have so many glaring character flaws, I’d wonder if he was the original “Gary Stu”. (Although the ancients didn’t seem to see his character flaws as being nearly as bad as we see them, they did still see them as flaws. I think.)

Admittedly, a lot of this argument would seem to hold true for Heracles as well. In fact, most of it does. The one thing that doesn’t, though, is the idea of the ancients imagining themselves wanting to be him. Because although Heracles was worshiped even more extensively than any other hero, he was also a figure of fun, almost of mockery. On the Athenian stage, Heracles was treated so comedically that some scholars have suggested that the Alcestis of Euripides was actually performed in lieu of a satyr play. Not only does no work survive that treated Achilles in such a light-hearted fashion, there isn’t even a hint of such a treatment of him among fragments, summaries and references in surviving works. The closest would be Iphigenia at Aulis, also by Euripides, but while he’s not treated as reverentially as usual, he still comes off a lot better than any other man in the play.

I don’t really have any particular reason to be saying all this, mind you. I just thought of it and wanted to get it off my chest. Or whatever.

Gave me something to write about, right?

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