Our Unexamined Fears: Reading Euripides’ “Trojan Women” online

Euripides, Trojan Women 25-27

“I am leaving famous Ilion and my altars.
Whenever terrible isolation overtakes a city
The gods’ places turn sick and don’t want to receive worship”

λείπω τὸ κλεινὸν Ἴλιον βωμούς τ᾽ ἐμούς:
ἐρημία γὰρ πόλιν ὅταν λάβῃ κακή,
νοσεῖ τὰ τῶν θεῶν οὐδὲ τιμᾶσθαι θέλει.

Trojan Women Poster

I have been helping  the Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre to present scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’  in our time of isolation. As Paul O’Mahony, whose idea this whole thing was said in an earlier blog post, Since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.” But this experience also helps us thing about how changes we understand the tragic genre and its performance, how the themes and concerns of ancient tragedy communicate to us today, especially in a time of crisis, and, most importantly, how important it is to stay occupied and engaged with one another.

Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen. This process is therapeutic for us; and it helps us think about how tragedy may have had similar functions in the ancient world as well

Euripides, Trojan Women, 95-98

“Any mortal fool enough to sack cites,
Their temples, shrines and the graves of those they killed,
Dies later on in self-made isolation.”

μῶρος δὲ θνητῶν ὅστις ἐκπορθεῖ πόλεις,
ναούς τε τύμβους θ᾽, ἱερὰ τῶν κεκμηκότων,
ἐρημίᾳ δοὺς αὐτὸς ὤλεθ᾽ ὕστερον.

This play was performed in the same year that Athens razed the island of Melos, in the same year as the disastrous Sicilian Expedition. Both of these events are worth mentioning because they feature Athens at the height of its power, aggressive, haughty, and driven by the rhetoric of power.

For obvious reasons of context, then, Euripides’ Trojan Women is often read as a response to the same forces arguing that might makes right in Thucydides’ famous Melian dialogue.  For me, the outcome of the Melian decision, that a democratic people voted to destroy an allied city, kill all the men, and enslave all the women and children for the crime of resisting their power, stands with Odysseus’ hanging of the enslaved women in the Odyssey and Achilles’ sacrifice of Trojan youths over Patroclus’ funeral pyre as horrors transmitted by the ancient world that we have all too often minimized or ignored altogether in our reception of the past.

Scenes (using this translation for performance)

98-155 Hecuba’ first speech
235-460 Hecuba, Talthybius, Cassandra, Chorus
686-797 Hecuba, Andromache, Talthybius, Chorus
1118-1335 Hecuba, Talthybius, Chorus

395-399

“Listen how it is with Hektor’s mournful tale:
He died, leaving a reputation as the best man.
The coming of the Greeks made this happen.
If they had stayed home, his value would have stayed hidden.”

τὰ δ᾽ Ἕκτορός σοι λύπρ᾽ ἄκουσον ὡς ἔχει:
395δόξας ἀνὴρ ἄριστος οἴχεται θανών,
καὶ τοῦτ᾽ Ἀχαιῶν ἵξις ἐξεργάζεται:
εἰ δ᾽ ἦσαν οἴκοι, χρηστὸς ὢν ἐλάνθανεν.

This Week’s Actors and Crew

Chorus – Danai Epithymiadi

Hecuba – Eunice Roberts
Talthybios – Robert Matney
Cassandra – Evelyn Miller
Andromache – Tabatha Gayle

Special Guest: Robin Mitchell-Boyask

Dramaturgical assistance: Emma Pauly

Direction: Paul O’Mahony

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support: Lanah Koelle, Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone

630-634

Andromache: “She is dead, she is dead. But even dead
She has a better fate than I do still alive

Hecuba: “Being dead is not the same as seeing the world still, child:
One is to be nothing, while hope remains in the other.”

ὄλωλεν ὡς ὄλωλεν: ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως ἐμοῦ
ζώσης γ᾽ ὄλωλεν εὐτυχεστέρῳ πότμῳ.

οὐ ταὐτόν, ὦ παῖ, τῷ βλέπειν τὸ κατθανεῖν:
τὸ μὲν γὰρ οὐδέν, τῷ δ᾽ ἔνεισιν ἐλπίδες.

Upcoming Readings (Wednesdays at 3PM EDT, Unless otherwise noted; the project page))
Sophocles, Ajax, May 29th

Euripides, Andromache, June 3rd

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th

Euripides, Ion, June 17th[10 AM EDT/3PM GMT]

Euripides, Hecuba, June 24th

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, July 1st

 

1203-1206

“Any mortal is a fool who takes some pleasure
From imagining their good luck is safe: in its turns
Fortune’s like a crazed person leaping this way one day
And then another, no one ever keeps the same good luck.”

θνητῶν δὲ μῶρος ὅστις εὖ πράσσειν δοκῶν
βέβαια χαίρει: τοῖς τρόποις γὰρ αἱ τύχαι,
ἔμπληκτος ὡς ἄνθρωπος, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἄλλοσε
πηδῶσι, κοὐδεὶς αὐτὸς εὐτυχεῖ ποτε.

Videos of Earlier Sessions (Go here for the project page)
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th 
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th
Euripides, Orestes  May 6th
Aeschylus, Persians, May 13th

1165-66

“You fear a child this young? I can’t praise fear
When someone is frightened without examining why.”

βρέφος τοσόνδ᾽ ἐδείσατ᾽: οὐκ αἰνῶ φόβον,
ὅστις φοβεῖται μὴ διεξελθὼν λόγῳ.

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