Saturday, September 20, 2014

TFBT: Random Notes on Rhesus

Here are some random notes on my studies of the tragedy “Rhesus” seemingly written by Euripides.  I preferred Lattimore’s translation.
Will it ever happen again that our ancient Troy will know the day-long revelries the love pledges and companionship, the strumming of the lyres and the wine cups circling, passed to the right, in sweet contention while on the open waters the sons of Atreus make for Sparta, gone from the shores of Ilium?” Beautiful line, sounds a lot like the Isle of the Blest on the Zephyr blessed shores of the deep -whirling River Ocean.
Hector to Rhesus; “Yet here are others, who are not our kin by blood.”  Just in case you were curious, based on their riverine heritage; Rhesus and Hector were first cousins thrice removed.  The Rivers Strymon and Scamander (Xanthus in the divine language) were brothers.  Scamander's daughter Strymo was the mother of Priam, Hector's father. 
Rhesus to Hector “You seem content to be acted on, not to act.  This could have a double meaning.
Euripides’ Rhesus recounts times when Odysseus was in and out of Troy during the previous ten years.  Ten years!  Really?  What were these people doing all this time?  The Achaeans seem to have no clue on how to lay siege or of any siege craft.  The level of slaughter we seen in The Iliad at the final stages of the war would have eradicated both armies if maintained for ten years.  Based on the bragging and speeches upon the battle field between the nobles I wonder if it had been nine years of ritual warfare.  At Troy it was all rattle and roar, with a few duels and the real fatalities happening on night raids to over whelm smaller towns and ambushes to catch the unwary. 
Hector to the guards “death by flogging or by the headsman’s ax awaits you.”  I don’t recall any mention of corporal punishment or threat of such in Epic.  (Excepting Odysseus and Thersite's of course.)  Is this demonstrating barbarian despotism?
Starting around line 200 Dolon and the Chorus offer prayers for his success.  None of these prayers are proper by Epic standards.  No overly flattering epithets, no reminder of relationship and obligation and no promise of thighs burned on an altar.  (See “Proper Pray and Personal Conversations in the Iliad for further discussion.)
When Dolon set out on the task that would win him Achilles’ horses he wore a wolf skin.  When Rhesus’ charioteer dreamt of the theft of his master’s horses, the thieves were wolves.  What’s that all about?
We can overrun the camp and walls of the Achaeans, fire their ships and that this sunlight that begins to climb brings us of Troy our day of liberty.”  Of course Hector is wrong, but a nice analogy between firing the ships and the rising of the sun. 
Chorus speaking of Agamemnon’s severed head in Helen’s lap says “he lead the thousand ships” I thought the first reference to “a thousand ships” was Christopher Marlowe in Doctor Faustus!  Learn something new every day.

For further thoughts on Rhesus, please see 



  1. I think you are most likely right that Dolon's failure to do things ritually correctly doomed his mission.
    I had quite another explanation (aside from the general plan of Zeus): that Dolon failed because he was motivated by petty personal greed, rather than by desire to save Troy.
    It seems that I am thinking too Christian! Which is funny, because my family and friends are almost 100% non-believers, never sought to be something else, and actually one of the things I like about ancient Greek literature is that it is untainted by Christianity.

  2. It is hard to leave our cultural and religious heritage at the door with we enter the temple of Classical literature. Professor Gregory Nagy teaches a course call "The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours" At the beginning of every class it is a struggle to convince new students that the word "hero" in Ancient Greek does not have the saintly, heroic, masculine connitations that the English word "hero" has. We are all too ready to ready our own heritage into text foreign to our world experience. We were discussing this today at Hour 25. If you ask for the most "knightly" hero in the Iliad, universally people say Hector, which is odd because to our way of thinking Hector is the leader of the "bad guys". A connitation and comdemnation that Homer in now way ever lays upon him