Saturday, February 21, 2015

TFBT: Review of "Murder Among Friends" Part II

This continues my review of Elizabeth Belfiore's amazing book.  Part One can be found here.

Chapters 2-6 examine in detail five of the extant plays in each of which harm to philoi is important in a different way.  

In Chapter 5; "Sleeping with the Enemy", Belfiore discusses much misalliance and mis-yoked marriages.  I can understand these topics as a class issue, but what I don’t understand and a modern audience can’t understand it the Ancient Greek abhorrence to marriage with barbarians.  “Greek custom held that while a man might keep a concubine in a separate establishment, he should never bring her into contact with his legitimate wife. “

Speaking of misalliance, Belfiore gives a very clear explanation of the will of Zeus for Troy.  Staring with the marriage of Peleus and Thetis; “The marriage of Peleus and Thetis is brought about by Zeus (Iliad 18.432-34 and Kypria fragment 2) as part of his plan to cause the Trojan War (Proclus’s summary of the Kypria and Kypria fragment 1).  She marries Peleus against her will (Iliad 18.432-34) following a violent struggle with her future husband (Apollodorus, library 3.13.5).  At the wedding celebration, Eris provokes a dispute among three goddesses that leads, by way of the Judgment of Paris to the Trojan War (Proclus’s summary of the Kypria and Kypria fragment 1) As a result of this war, human impiety is punished (Kypria fragment 1), Troy is destroyed, the demi-gods are either destroyed or settled in the Blessed Isles, and mortals and gods are separated (Hesiod fragment 1 and Hesiod Op 156-171)

I noted an interesting phrase in Belfiore’s wonderful work “Neoptolemus, killed Priam at an altar for which Apollo caused him to be killed Delphi.”  Really?  As if Apollo, famous for his comment that man is as insubstantial as leaves on a tree, cared about Priam?  Isn’t it more likely that Neoptolemus’ death had more to do with his hereditary role in the god/hero antagonism of his father and Apollo?   Wasn’t Apollo’s fear of demi-goddess and gluttony of the Delphians responsible for Neoptolemus being slain on the altar at Delphi?

Something else that specifically made me stop was the following.   I wanted to share was Belfiore’s formula for supplication.  Her primary example is the advice Danaus gave his daughters in Aeschylus’ tragedy “The Suppliants”.  Supplication may occur at a sacred place or at the knees of the supplicated individual.  The suppliant carries hiketeria; suppliant branches.  She crouches by and makes contact with the altar, sacred object, or with the knees, right hand, or chin of the person she supplicates.  To accept a suppliant, the person supplicated uses his right hand to grasp the suppliant’s left wrist and raises her formally for what is technically called the anastais.  Another gesture that often accompanies the anastais is leading the suppliant to a place suitable to a guest.  She crouches by…the knees…right hand … chin of the person she supplicates; made me think immediately of Thetis beginning a favor from Zeus for her son Achilles.   "She sat herself down before him, and with her left hand seized his knees, while with her right she caught him under the chin, and besought him" (Iliad 500)  The scene is made famous in  Jupiter and Thetis  an 1811 painting by the French neoclassical painter  Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.  The painting is used on the cover of The Power of Thetis by Laura Slatkin. In response Zeus neither raised her up nor led her like an honored guest to the circle of gods sitting apart from the Lord of Olympus.  All he did was nod  "his immortal head" at which point "the pair had thus laid their plans, they parted – Zeus to his house, while the goddess left the splendor of Olympus, and plunged into the depths of the sea." (Iliad 1.503)  So maybe this was not a case of supplication.   The next scene that comes to mind is Priam begging Achilles to release the body of his own son Hector.  Tall King Priam entered without their seeing him, and going right up to Achilles he clasped his knees and kissed the dread man slaughtering hands that had slain so many of his sons. “ (475)  Sort of reminiscent of Odysseus’ supplication of Arête in the Odyssey.  Homer describes the tragic king in terms more common to typical supplicants elsewhere in epic, “[480] As when some cruel derangement [atē] has befallen a man that he should have killed someone in his own country, and must flee to a great man’s protection in a land [dēmos] of strangers, and all marvel who see him, even so did Achilles marvel as he beheld godlike Priam.”  After some tear jerking conversation, Achilles  [515] “left his seat and raised the old man by the hand (said)…sit now upon this seat”   Then Achilles and his servants served him dinner (625) and put him to bed (645) with a promise of protection shook his hand good night (670).  Belfiore's examples are much clearer in tragedy, but these were the thoughts I had along the way.

Appendix A examined the remaining 32 extant plays.  While B & C studied lost and fragmental plays.  All of this is incredible research and an amazing resource!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

TFBT: Book Review "Murder Among Friends" Part I

First, “Murder Among Friends” is a great title.  Elizabeth S. Belfiore’s excellent book is subtitled “Violation of Philia in Greek Tragedy”.  The Ancient Greek word; philia refers to your closest friends and blood relatives.  Belfiore says,  “The Greek concept of kinship included relatives to the degree of children of cousins.”  Professor Nagy calls these your near and dear ones.   
The first chapter is a review of betrayed philia relationships in Greek literature.  The quick summary is that “epic either lacks or fails to emphasize violence among blood kin or spouses.  There is no mention in Homer of a sacrifice of Iphigeneia by her father."  On the other hand, violation of philia is an important element in most of the extant tragedies.” If you don’t know Greek tragedy well, some of the most famous plays include cannibalism, incest, patricide, matricide, human sacrifice, suicide, mariticide, infanticide and genocide all of which happens between cousins or closer.  I read elsewhere recently, “Just as Dante put those who defrauded kinsmen and benefactors at the bottom of the Infernal pit, the Greeks saw this kind of fraud as beyond remediation. 1

Chapter One and Two together discuss purification and supplication.  In epic the decision to accept a suppliant “is usually swift and without painful consequences.” In the olden days of Greek myth some criminal comes to you for forgiveness; a complete stranger.  You sacrifice a pig, more or less adopt him and call it a day.      “Moreover, reference to pollution (is) absent from epic” compared to supplication in tragedy.  Of all people Odysseus complained in his own epic that “any one with even a moderate amount of right feeling knows that he ought to treat a guest and a suppliant as though he were his own brother.” (Homer, Odyssey 8.545)
“Although (suppliants) are complete strangers in epic, in all but one of the four suppliant tragedies, suppliants are related by blood to those whom they supplicate.”     Supplicates in tragedy aren’t necessarily exiled criminals, sometimes they are people running from criminals as is the case of the daughters of Danaus one of Belfiore’s major examples in a play called “The Suppliants”. 
Supplication may occur at a sacred place or it may occur at the knees of the supplicated individual.  The suppliant carries "hiketeria", suppliant branches.   He crouches by while making contact altar, sacred object, or with the knees, right or chin of the person he supplicates.  To accept a suppliant, the person supplicated uses his right hand to grasps the suppliant’s left and raises him formally for what is technically called “the anastais"...   Another gesture often accompanies the anastais is the leading of the suppliant to a place suitable to a guest.  In "The Suppliants", Danaus instructs his daughters on supplication etiquette, telling them to sit ...where the statues are and to hold the branches in their left hands.  This will leave them free to stretch out their right hands in a gesture of supplications.
In the third chapter Belfiore makes a compelling argument that there is a relationship between ritual pertaining to a suppliant and that of a bride.  The daughter of Danaus claim Io as a common ancestress with the people that supplicate.  Belfiore explains that “Io (was) the mythological prototype of the Greek bride as respected suppliant.”  Aristotle is quoted that  “Concerning a wife…the Pythagoreans say that one should least of all do wrong to her, for she is like a suppliant and one led from the hearth.   Belfiore sees close parallels between raising a suppliant and leading a bride.   “The groom nearly always takes the bride’s left hand or wrist with his right.”  There is a great discussion about wedding imagery in Heracles supplication to Theseus in Euripides play of the former’s name.   Belfiore also point out that “Medea’s marriage to Jason began, in a significant reversal of the traditional procedures with his supplication of her. 
Chapter Four discusses Sophocles’ “Philoctetes” concentrating on the charter of Neoptolemus, son of Achilles.  Neoptolemus was ordered by Agamemnon to help Odysseus trick Philoctetes into giving up the bow given him by Heracles. “Neoptolemos asks to be allowed to do reverence to it as to a god.”  Belfiore explained that “the bow has never left Philoctetes hands; it is untouchable as well as sacred.”   Neoptolemus ends up deciding to do the right thing.  He lets Philoctetes keep his bow and promises to take him home rather than returning to Troy.  “Neoptolemus is willing to sacrifice glory for friendship.”  Which explains the meaning of his name “New Warrior” because his father the ultimate warrior did the opposite; sacrificing his friend Patroclus for unfailing glory.   After a length and thorough analysis of Neoptolemus and his friendship with the title character, Belfiore brings in traditions from other sources to round out her portrayal of the Peleuides.  A lot of what she brings up makes the son of Achilles and grandson of Peleus look back.  But summoning all these other traditions, Belfiore fails to deal with the tradition of Neoptolemus age.   Belfiore is in good company; every poet and analyst dealing with is play fails to include the fact that Achilles’ son is 11 years old at the time of the play.
Chapter 5; Sleeping with the Enemy discussed examples of women who slept with (married) the murderer of her kinsman; and “authentes”.  It doesn’t end well for all involved.  One short quote will make the point.  “Marriage with an “authentes” killer of a relative is one of the greatest of evils in Greek thought…Clytemnestra’s terrible marriage with Agamemnon began when he killed her husband and child.”

I am still reading this wonderful book.  It is slow going because there are so many moment of quotable text and thought provoking insights.    More later.




Friday, February 6, 2015

TFBT: Bremer's Meadow

Maya M, asked me if the use of the phrase “untrodden meadow” as a euphemism for virginity, predated Euripides.  Most articles in Google and JSTOR reference only Euripides’ Hippolytus.  JM Bremer takes a different approach on the topic in “The Meadow of Love and Two Passages in EuripidesHippolytus 

Bremer begins the paper with two-fold purpose, one of which is to show that “the description of the meadow may have definite erotic implications."  Bremer goes on to reference Zeus and Hera’s love-making in a meadow atop Mt. Ida while the battle raged below them on the plains of Troy.  He references Hesiod description of Aphrodite coming ashore and creating a meadow made for loving making with her mere footstep.  (Aphrodite) “came forth an awful and lovely goddess, and grass grew up about her beneath her shapely feet.” Hesiod Theogony 194-195. Other quotes from the text are; “the lovely scenario (landscape with meadow) is the setting in which (Sappho) celebrates the mysteries of Aphrodite.”  and “the softness of the meadow is almost formulaic in epic” followed by many examples.   Bremer’s point is that the twenty thousand friendly faces watching the first performance of Hippolytus would have been expecting loving making in the meadow and would have been shocked at the main character’s hubris, disregard of the awful and lovely Aphrodite and his arrogance in relation to his fellow men.  Bremer also points out that when Phaedra fantasizes, she dreams of among other things, being in a meadow.  

Every tragedian hopes the audience eternal finds something new and exciting in his play.  I assume from Bremer’s argument that what was new, shocking and innovative about Euripides play was Hippolytus blatant disregard for convention; hence Euripides became the first reference for an “untrodden meadow”.   

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

TFBT: Untrodden Meadow Again

The opening scene of Sophocles’ play; Philoctetes begins with Odysseus setting the scene for Neoptolemus, child of Achilles. “This is the headland of sea-washed Lemnos, land untrodden by men and desolate. It was here child…” 

 The phrase “untrodden by men” brought to mind, the Hippolytus’ famous phrase “untrod meadow”.  That phrase is indicative of the main character’s virginal status. 

I wonder if Odysseus used the phrase  (Okay Sophocles wrote the phrase) to point out  Neoptolemus’ youth?   After all the son of Achilles wasn’t even a teenager yet.