Thursday, July 11, 2013

TFBT: Random Notes on Hour 21

"The gifts of the gods are not to be rejected, as you no doubt know, since you have heard it from one of the devotees Calliope [epic poets]." Philostratus the Younger, Imagines 13

"as you say, filled with wine in a scene of wine-cups and tunes played on the pipe, and not at all hunting to find Aphrodite" (Bacchae 687-688)  This description reminds me of images of a symposium in Euripides’ time. 

Nagy argues that the first tragedy performed at Athens was Pentheus by Thespis and further that the shepherds in the Bacchae gathered at the foot of Cithaeron watching the maenads represents the first audience watching the first tragedy unfold. (I note the audience and actors stand at the wrong places in this primordial amphitheater.)  To add to the symbolism, apparently the Bacchae is one of the last tragedies we know of. 

" the one who is most terrifying, but, for humans, also most gentle." (Bacchae 861) Yeah, that accurately describes the effects of wine. 

Isn't the death of Pentheus the promised result to all the uninitiated who violate the mysteries?

About Euripides Bacchae 912-976;    I hate to be the one suggesting this but was Euripides going for laughs in this part of the tragedy?  This is the scene where Dionysius dresses up Pentheus as a girl so his cousin can spy on the revels of the Theban chicks gone wild.  People are terrible.  I can easily imagine the audience heckling the doomed antagonist.  If the actor played up the lewd aspect of the scene, Dionysius needing to readjust his "waistband" and the discussion of how to thrust with the phallic thyrsus could take on a titillating meaning. Plus, the dialogue is full of double meanings and inside jokes that are ironic if not even laughable.  An actor playing Pentheus as a vain, lewd fool could be quite amusing.  

“Bacchus, raising high the fiery flame from the pine torch, bursts forth from the stalk [narthex],” (Bacchae, Euripides 146-147) If Dionysius is akin to the  gift that Prometheus smuggled out of heaven in a fennel stalk, then Dionysius returning Hephaestus to Olympus is akin to fire being returned to the gods.  Which means it was stolen from Hephaestus' forge rather than Helios’ chariot. 

“equilibrium in ritual is matched by disequilibrium in myth, and this disequilibrium leads to catastrophe.”  Nagy in Hour 21 of The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.

As those who are involved in the mysteries say, Many are the carriers of the Bacchic wand but few are the bakkhoi . (Plato Phaedo 69c-d.)  Comparable is the aphorism of Jesus in the New Testament:  Many are called but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)”  Nagy in Hour 21 of The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.  

 “As a divine activator, Dionysus literally ignites the singing and the dancing as he leaps out, in an elemental burst of flame, from inside the fennel stalk or narthex of the sacred wand used for Bacchic worship. The picturing of such a flaming emergence from inside a stalk or a reed is a traditional idea that can be traced back, I argue, to Indo-European”  Nagy in Hour 21 of The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.   I find it interesting that Aeschylus says Prometheus stole divine fire for mortals in a fennel stalk. 

“The story of Euripides death has tragic overtones. Euripides was returning from dinner with King Archelaus of Macedon, when he was torn to pieces by dogs set on him by some jealous rival. In the Bacchae, one of the plays in Euripides’s final trilogy, Pentheus is torn apart by his female kinsfolk”. J.C. McKeown  Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin Madison and author of A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities

"So this tragic death of in a beautiful way what tragedy is all about. There is a negative hero Pentheus, a god antagonist to the hero, the hubris of the hero and finally his punishment that will lead to his kleos." Aristeagr in Hour 21



1 comment:

  1. Hesiod also mentions the fennel as container for the stolen fire.
    In the Caucasus, from where the legend may have been brought to Greece, the fire container is depicted as a typical torch, e.g. here:
    This, while impressive for imaging, seems too visible to be a wise way of theft. On the other hand, the Caucasian hero is invariably described riding a horse, so he may have relied more on speed than on secrecy.