“Phanodikos says that Daidalos—on account of the aforementioned reasons—went on a ship as he was fleeing and when those who were pursuing him drew near, he spread wide a piece of cloth for gaining the help of the winds and escaped them in this way. When they got back, those who were following him said he had escaped them with wings.”
Phanodicos Deliacon Daedalum propter supradictas causas fugientem navem conscendisse et, cum imminerent qui eum sequebantur, intendisse pallium ad adiuvandum ventos et sic evasisse: illos vero qui insequebantur reversos nuntiasse pinnis illum evasisse.
Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Things 12
“People claim that Minos imprisoned Daidalos and Ikaros, his son, for a certain reason, but that Daidalos, after he fashioned wings as prosthetics for both of them, flew off with Ikaros. It is impossible to think that a person flies, even one who has prosthetic wings. What it really means, then, is the following kind of thing.
Daidalos, when he was in prison, escaped through a small window and hauled down his son too; once he got on a boat, he left. When Minos found out, he sent ships to pursue him. Then they understood that they were being pursued and there was a furious and driving wind, they seemed to be flying. And while they were sailing with the Kretan wind, they flipped over into the sea. While Daidalos survived onto land, Ikaros died. This is why the sea there is named Ikarion for him. His father buried him after he was tossed up by the waves.”
In one of my favorite modern pieces, the poet Jack Gilbert explores the theme of flying and falling in “Failing And Flying” (from 2005’s wonderful Refusing Heaven) where he begins and ends with a meditation on Icarus. The sentiments seem apt (the text comes from poetryfoundation.org):
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
“I stood on a high mountain and I saw one tall person and another short one. And I heard something like a thunder’s sound and I went closer to hear it. He addressed me and said: “I am you and you are me and wherever you are I am there; and I am implanted in all things. So you can gather me from wherever you want. And when you harvest me, you harvest yourself.”
Yesterday and to day I have read loud, Tullius 4 Orations against Cataline. The Sweetness and Grandeur of his sounds, and the Harmony of his Numbers give Pleasure enough to reward the Reading if one understood none of his meaning. Besides I find it, a noble Exercise. It exercises my Lungs, raises my Spirits, opens my Porr[s], quickens the Circulations, and so contributes much to Health.
Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks III
“Seriously, then, let us add this too: your gods are inhuman and people-hating demons who do not only delight in the madness of humanity but even revel in the slaughter of humans. They gather their incitements for pleasure first in the armed conflicts in stadia and then in the countless arguments in war so that they might be especially able to sate their thirst for human gore. Already they have demanded human sacrifices in cities and nations, falling upon them like plagues. This is why Aristomenes the Messenian killed three hundred men for Zeus of Ithôme, because he believed that these types and numbers of hekatombs bring good outcomes.”
“Certainly, whenever there is some mass or malignancy of humors or a blockage or some wasting force invades the body, there is a danger previously absent that a person will get sick and there are times when this risk is severe. These types of causes are hard to diagnose because the person doesn’t feel any pain yet.
This is like the infection from a rabid dog: there’s no particular sign in the body before the person afflicted comes near madness. These kinds of causes make it necessary, therefore, that the doctor inquire from patients about everything that happened to them.”
“He also levied a tax of three on every thousand so that people, distressed by these charges, would note also that families of equal wealth whose lives were modest and simple paid less to the public treasury and repent from their behavior.
Both those who paid the taxes because of luxury and those who gave up their luxury because of the taxes were angry to him. For most people believe that hindering the display of their wealth deprives them of it and also that the display comes from their luxuries not their necessities.
This is what they say really surprised Ariston the philosopher, that those who possess superficial excess are thought to be luckier than those who are well-supplied with what is needed and useful.”
After over 35 episodes, we return this week to Thebes with Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus. Although this play was written near the end of Sophocles’ life, it takes place between the events of his earlier Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannos. Often people casually assume that these three plays are part of the same trilogy, when in fact they were written in very different periods: Antigone appeared 10 years before the Peloponnesian War (441 BCE) as Pericles became the pre-eminent Athenian politician while Tyrannos was performed after the onset of the war and, likely, at the beginning of the famous plague. Colonus comes nearly a generation later. While scholars debate its exact performance and composition dates, it seems likely that it was one of the final plays Sophocles wrote before his death in 406/5 and that his son produced the play after the fall of Athens (perhaps as late as 401 BCE).
There is a belatedness to this play, an air of revision and reconsideration as we find Oedipus reflecting on his actions and the limits of his agency. It part, like many Athenian plays, this tragedy is about the reception of the mythical past. Its themes, moreover, also respond to contemporary (and modern) concerns from the crisis of immigration and exile to the very notion of what constitutes a community in times of struggle and civil strife. Within this, however, there remains the essential Oedipal question about identity and knowledge. How do we know who we are and understand our place in the world? What is our responsibility to our community? How do we define our community? And, perhaps most important for Oedipus, Athens, and our world today: how do we stay who we are when everything falls apart?
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 258-259
“What use is a good reputation? What good is Fame flowing off to no end?”
“….for you do not fear My name or my actions, since you know That I suffered the actions instead of doing them, If you must speak of what my mother and father did— These are the reasons you fear me. I know this well. How could I be evil in nature When I acted after being hurt so that even if I understood what I was doing, I could not have been bad? I got to where I did understanding nothing, But I was ruined by those who understood what was happening.”
“Would you say that the city agreed properly then To give me the one gift I wanted? No, not at all, when on the day itself when My rage was burning, and it was my sweetest wish To die by stoning—well, No one was trying to help me with that desire.”
Chorus – Petra McGregor, Jesse McLaughlin, Vincent Agnello
Special Guests: Laura Slatkin
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 562-568
“I know that I was raised as an exile, Like you, and as man in exile I toiled In the face of the greatest risks to my life– That’s why I would never turn away an exile like you are now, since I know I am only a man And I have no greater share of tomorrow than you.”
Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre) Associate Director: Liz Fisher Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University) Dramaturg: Emma Pauly Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies) Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society) Poster Artist: John Koelle Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1211-1223
“Whoever longs for a greater portion Of living beyond what is enough Will seem clearly to me To be guarding foolishness. Since the long days set out Many things closer to pain And you can’t see where pleasure is, Whenever someone stumbles into more Than is needed. But as an ally equal to all, Hades is a revelation Without a song, a dance, or a wedding, That fate of death at the end.
Tuesday, December 8 – Wednesday, December 9Odyssey ‘round the world – a special 24-hour event featuring performances of every rhapsody of the Odyssey recorded by students, faculty, and actors around the world. View the schedule.
December 9 Performing Epic: The Odyssey with Suzanne Lye (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Leonard Muellner (Brandeis University), Sheila Murnaghan (University of Pennsylvania), and Greg Nagy (Harvard University); translation by Stanley Lombardo, courtesy of Hackett Publishing Company
December 16 Cyclops, Euripides with Carl Shaw (New College of Florida)
December23 Series Finale: Frogs, Aristophanes
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 607-615
“Most dear son of Aegeus, only the gods don’t age Or ever die, but that wrestler time Eventually wears everything else out. The earth’s strength wanes, the body’s strength fades, Trust dies and distrust waxes stronger, Breath never lands the same among friends Nor between cities who were once allied. Some things that are pleasing now turn bitter In later time, but then friendship comes again in turn.”
Pericles, having lost his sons in the plague, bore their loss in the most manly way, and persuaded all the Athenians to bear the deaths of their friends with a happier spirit.
Xanthippe said that while a thousand disasters had taken hold of the city and themselves, in the midst of all of them Socrates could be seen with the same face both when leaving and when coming back to the house. He was agreeably equipped for everything, and he was always gracious in mind, above all pain, and stronger than every fear.
The following poems are taken from the Greek Anthology.
“Grammarians, children of hateful Blame, thorn-worms
Book-monsters, whelps of Zenodotus,
Soldiers of Kallimakhos, a man you project like a shield
But do not spare from your tongue,
Hunters of grievous conjunctions who take pleasure
In min or sphin* and in asking if the Cyclops kept dogs,
May you wear out your lives, wretches, muttering over the abuse
Of others. Come sink your arrow in me!”
“Useless race of grammarians, digging at the roots of
Someone else’s poetry, luckless worms who walk on thorns,
Perverters of great art, boasting over your Erinna*,
Bitter, parched watchdogs of Kallimakhos,
Rebukes to poets, death’s shade to children learning,
Go to hell, you fleas that secretly bite eloquent men.”
“Goodbye, men whose eyes have wandered over the universe,
And you thorn-counting worms of Aristarchus.
What’s it to me to examine which paths the Sun takes
Or whose son Proteus was or who was Pygmalion?
I would know as many works whose texts are clean. But let
The dark inquiry rot away the Mega-Kallimakheis!”