Sunday, October 9, 2016

TFBT: More Random Notes on Euripides' Helen

As mentioned previously I am preparing for Hour 25’s Book Club | October 2016: Euripides’ Helen  to be held on Tuesday, October 25, at 11 a.m. EDT.  Here are second and final set of comments. 

First thanks to Sarah for sharing the “name, name and epithet “ formula.  I will be on the lookout for it.  I think she is right, Euripides seems to avoid mentioning Athena’s name.  (As a writer I am always conscious to not have too many characters in the plot.)  On the other name the other “virgin daughter of Zeus”; Artemis is mentioned often, so maybe Euripides had his reasons for using the epithet formula.

“O maiden Callisto, blessed once in Arcadia, who climbed into the bed of Zeus on four paws, how much happier was your lot than my mother's, you who in the form of a shaggy-limbed beast—the bearing of a lioness with your fierce eye—changed your burden of sorrow; [380] and also the one whom Artemis once drove from her chorus, as a deer with horns of gold, the Titan girl, daughter of Merops, because of her loveliness; “

Does Euripides purposely screw up his Greek Mythology?  Callisto was turned into a bear, not a lioness.   According to William Allan in “Euripides: Helen” (Cambridge University Press, 2008) the playwright made up the whole thing about a Titaness-daughter of the unknown Titan Merops.  The deer with the horns of gold apparently refers to the harts that draw Artemis’ chariot. 

Menelaus prays to his grandfather Pelops, “if only, when you were persuaded to make a banquet for the gods, you had left your life then, inside the gods, [390].”  That's ugly!

Menelaus’ description of his shipwreck at 410-25 sure reminds me of Odysseus’ travels. 

I thought Menelaus' prayer “ O torch-bearing Hekatē, send visions that are favorable! “  seemed a little out of character and out of place, until I read further and realized it foreshadowed.  Theonoe enters, attended by hand-maidens carrying torches.”

Helen. [670] Ah, my husband! The son of Zeus (Hermes), of Zeus, brought me to the Nile." That's what Aphrodite said to Anchises!

Helen. Alas for those baths and springs, where the goddesses brightened the beauty from which the judgment [krisis] came.  Maybe Helen is referring to the  spring of Canathos, close to Nauplia, where Hera renewed her virginity annually, (Pausanias, 2.38.2-3.)

Famous line, “Messenger. What are you saying? We have had ordeals [ponoi] in vain for the sake of a cloud? “

 Helen: imitate the character of a just father; for this is the fairest glory for children". Same argument Priam used on Peleus’ son. 

 Theoklymenos  [1165] Greetings, tomb [mnēma] of my father! For I buried you, Proteus, in the passageway so that I could address you; and always as I leave and enter the house, I, your son .  (The priests at Delphi  buried the murdered (sacrificed) Neoptolemus on the temple threshold, making him the guardian of the threshold


 Menelaus:  This is your duty, young woman; you must be content with the husband at your side, and let go the one that no longer exists; [1290] for this is best [arista] for you, according to what has happened. And if I come to Hellas and find safety, I will put to an end your former bad reputation, if you are such a wife as you ought to be to your husband.

Helen I will; my husband will never find fault with me; [1295] you yourself will be at hand to know it. Now go inside, unhappy man, and find the bath, and change your clothes. I will show my kindness to you without delay. For you will perform the due services with more kindly feeling for my most philos Menelaos, [1300] if you get from me what you ought to have. 

Love the irony here

1340-1370. Musical interlude about Eleusinian mysteries while the actor playing Menelaus changes costumes?  Just like a Cher concert? 

1405] May the gods give to you the things I wish and also to this stranger [xenos] here,   Funny

Menelaus' prayer to Zeus doesn't meet the standard

I don't know Pontos' gray- green daughter, spirit of calm.  Allan says she is a daughter of Nereus.  Many of the Nereids represent waves or describe the sea.  Again Euripides getting his mythology wrong.    

The Dioscuri end the play. I always hate deux de machina endings





  1. There was a precedent for "ordeals in vain for the sake of a cloud": Ixion.