Madness and Ecstasy: Reading the Bacchae

Reading Euripides’ Bacchae 

Over the past few weeks we have presented readings of Euripides’ Helen and Sophocles’ Philoktetes, Euripides’ Herakles (in partnership with the Center for Hellenic Studies and the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre). Our basic approach is to have actors in isolation read parts with each other online, interspersed with commentary and discussion from ‘experts’ and the actors. This week, we turn to the Bacchae (text to be used here).

Eur. Bacchae 196

“We alone are right-minded; everyone else is wrong.”

μόνοι γὰρ εὖ φρονοῦμεν, οἱ δ᾽ ἄλλοι κακῶς.

Scenes to be Read

1-64
170-329
460-518
775-1024
1167-end

 

Euripides, Bacchae 386–401

The fate for unbridled mouths
And lawless foolishness
Is misfortune.
The life of peace
And prudence
Is unshaken and cements together
Human homes. For even though
They live far off in the sky
The gods gaze at human affairs.
Wisdom is not wit;
Nor is thinking thoughts which belong not to mortals.

Life is brief. And because of this
Whoever seeks out great accomplishments
May not grasp the things at hand.
These are the ways of madmen
And wicked fools, I think.

ἀχαλίνων στομάτων
ἀνόμου τ’ ἀφροσύνας
τὸ τέλος δυστυχία·
ὁ δὲ τᾶς ἡσυχίας
βίοτος καὶ τὸ φρονεῖν
ἀσάλευτόν τε μένει καὶ
ξυνέχει δώματα· πόρσω
γὰρ ὅμως αἰθέρα ναίον-
τες ὁρῶσιν τὰ βροτῶν οὐρανίδαι.
τὸ σοφὸν δ’ οὐ σοφία,
τό τε μὴ θνατὰ φρονεῖν
βραχὺς αἰών· ἐπὶ τούτωι
δὲ τίς ἂν μεγάλα διώκων
τὰ παρόντ’ οὐχὶ φέροι; μαι

νομένων οἵδε τρόποι καὶ
κακοβούλων παρ’ ἔμοιγε φωτῶν.

Actors
Dionysus – Tony Jayawardena
Agaue – Janet Spencer-Turner
Pentheus – Richard Neale
Kadmos – Vince Brimble
Tiresias – Paul O’Mahony
Chorus – Nichole Bird and Sarah Finigan

Euripides Bacchae, Fourth Chorus (862-912)

“Will I ever lift my white foot
As I dance along
In the all night chorus—
Shaking my head at the dewy sky
Like the fawn who plays
In a meadow’s pale pleasures
When she has fled the frightful hunt
Beyond the well-woven nets of the guard—
With a holler, the hunter
Recalls the rush of his hounds
And she leaps
With the swift-raced lust of the winds
Across the riverbounded plain,
Taking pleasure in the places free
Of mortals and in the tender shoots
Of the shadow grove?

What’s cleverness for? Is there any nobler prize
Mortals can receive from the gods
Than to hold your hand over the heads
Of your enemies?
Whatever is noble is always dear.

Scarcely, but still surely,
The divine moves its strength
It brings mortals low
When they honor foolishness
And do not worship the gods
Because of some insane belief
They skillfully hide
The long step of time
As they hunt down the irreverent.
For it is never right
To think or practice stronger
Than the laws.
For it is a light price
To believe that these have strength—
Whatever the divine force truly is
And whatever has been customary for so long,
This will always be, by nature.

What’s cleverness for? Is there any nobler prize
Mortals can receive from the gods
Than to hold your hand over the heads
Of your enemies?
Whatever is noble is always dear.

Fortunate is the one who flees
The swell of the sea and returns to harbor.
Fortunate is the one who survives through troubles
One is greater than another in different things,
He surpasses in fortune and power—
But in numberless hearts still
Are numberless hopes: some result
In good fortune, but other mortal dreams
Just disappear.

Whoever has a happy life to-day,
I consider fortunate.

Χο. ἆρ’ ἐν παννυχίοις χοροῖς
θήσω ποτὲ λευκὸν
πόδ’ ἀναβακχεύουσα, δέραν
αἰθέρ’ ἐς δροσερὸν ῥίπτουσ’,
ὡς νεβρὸς χλοεραῖς ἐμπαί-
ζουσα λείμακος ἡδοναῖς,
ἁνίκ’ ἂν φοβερὰν φύγηι
θήραν ἔξω φυλακᾶς
εὐπλέκτων ὑπὲρ ἀρκύων,
θωύσσων δὲ κυναγέτας
συντείνηι δράμημα κυνῶν,
μόχθοις δ’ ὠκυδρόμοις ἀελ-
λὰς θρώισκηι πεδίον
παραποτάμιον, ἡδομένα
βροτῶν ἐρημίαις σκιαρο-
κόμοιό τ’ ἔρνεσιν ὕλας;
†τί τὸ σοφόν, ἢ τί τὸ κάλλιον†
παρὰ θεῶν γέρας ἐν βροτοῖς
ἢ χεῖρ’ ὑπὲρ κορυφᾶς
τῶν ἐχθρῶν κρείσσω κατέχειν;
ὅτι καλὸν φίλον αἰεί.
ὁρμᾶται μόλις, ἀλλ’ ὅμως
πιστόν <τι> τὸ θεῖον
σθένος· ἀπευθύνει δὲ βροτῶν
τούς τ’ ἀγνωμοσύναν τιμῶν-
τας καὶ μὴ τὰ θεῶν αὔξον-
τας σὺν μαινομέναι δόξαι.
κρυπτεύουσι δὲ ποικίλως
δαρὸν χρόνου πόδα καὶ
θηρῶσιν τὸν ἄσεπτον· οὐ
γὰρ κρεῖσσόν ποτε τῶν νόμων
γιγνώσκειν χρὴ καὶ μελετᾶν.
κούφα γὰρ δαπάνα νομί-
ζειν ἰσχὺν τόδ’ ἔχειν,
ὅτι ποτ’ ἄρα τὸ δαιμόνιον,
τό τ’ ἐν χρόνωι μακρῶι νόμιμον
ἀεὶ φύσει τε πεφυκός.
†τί τὸ σοφόν, ἢ τί τὸ κάλλιον†
παρὰ θεῶν γέρας ἐν βροτοῖς
ἢ χεῖρ’ ὑπὲρ κορυφᾶς
τῶν ἐχθρῶν κρείσσω κατέχειν;
ὅτι καλὸν φίλον αἰεί.
εὐδαίμων μὲν ὃς ἐκ θαλάσσας
ἔφυγε χεῖμα, λιμένα δ’ ἔκιχεν·
εὐδαίμων δ’ ὃς ὕπερθε μόχθων
ἐγένεθ’· ἕτερα δ’ ἕτερος ἕτερον
ὄλβωι καὶ δυνάμει παρῆλθεν.
μυρίαι δ’ ἔτι μυρίοις
εἰσὶν ἐλπίδες· αἱ μὲν
τελευτῶσιν ἐν ὄλβωι
βροτοῖς, αἱ δ’ ἀπέβασαν·
τὸ δὲ κατ’ ἦμαρ ὅτωι βίοτος
εὐδαίμων, μακαρίζω.

Euripides, Bacchae 1388-1392

Many are the forms of divine powers
Many are the acts the gods unexpectedly make.
The very things which seemed likely did not happen
but for the unlikely, some god found a way.
This turned out to be that kind of story.

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων,
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί·
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τῶν δ᾿ ἀδοκήτων πόρον ηὗρε θεός.
τοιόνδ᾿ ἀπέβη τόδε πρᾶγμα.

Image result for agave pentheus vase

Videos of Earlier Sessions
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th 
Upcoming Readings

 

Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, April 22nd

Sophocles, Women of Trachis, April 29th

Euripides, Orestes, May 6th

Aeschylus, The Persians May 13th

Gazing Upon Achilles’ Murderer

Euripides, Andromache 610-619 (Peleus to Menelaus)

“But you did not steer your thought in that way—
Instead you lost many good lives
And left old women childless in their homes
And deprived their grey fathers of good offspring.

I am one of those wretches—when I look at you
It is like I am looking at Achilles’ murderer:
You returned alone from Troy unwounded,
Carrying your pristine armor back home
in the same case it was in when you left here.”

ἀλλ᾽ οὔτι ταύτῃ σὸν φρόνημ᾽ ἐπούρισας,
ψυχὰς δὲ πολλὰς κἀγαθὰς ἀπώλεσας,
παίδων τ᾽ ἄπαιδας γραῦς ἔθηκας ἐν δόμοις,
πολιούς τ᾽ ἀφείλου πατέρας εὐγενῆ τέκνα.
ὧν εἷς ἐγὼ δύστηνος: αὐθέντην δὲ σὲ
μιάστορ᾽ ὥς τιν᾽ εἰσδέδορκ᾽ Ἀχιλλέως.
ὃς οὐδὲ τρωθεὶς ἦλθες ἐκ Τροίας μόνος,
κάλλιστα τεύχη δ᾽ ἐν καλοῖσι σάγμασιν
ὅμοι᾽ ἐκεῖσε δεῦρό τ᾽ ἤγαγες πάλιν.

Painting of the Feast of Peleus by Edward Burne-Jones, ca. 1872/1881.

Assailing the Salted Sea

Euripides, Trojan Women 86–97

“These things will happen: for the favor needs
No long speeches. I will assail the salted Aigaian sea.
The cliffs of Mykonos and the Delian reefs,
The reefs of Skyros and Lemnos and the Kaphêrian peaks
Will bear the bodies of many dying corpses.

So go to Olympos and grab your father’s
Lightning bolts from his hand and keep a careful watch
For the time when the Greek army leaves in ease.

It is fool who tries to sack mortals’ cities,
Their shrines and tombs, the sacred places of the dead.
Eventually he gives himself to a desert when he dies.”

ἔσται τάδ᾽: ἡ χάρις γὰρ οὐ μακρῶν λόγων
δεῖται: ταράξω πέλαγος Αἰγαίας ἁλός.
ἀκταὶ δὲ Μυκόνου Δήλιοί τε χοιράδες
Σκῦρός τε Λῆμνός θ᾽ αἱ Καφήρειοί τ᾽ ἄκραι
πολλῶν θανόντων σώμαθ᾽ ἕξουσιν νεκρῶν.
ἀλλ᾽ ἕρπ᾽ Ὄλυμπον καὶ κεραυνίους βολὰς
λαβοῦσα πατρὸς ἐκ χερῶν καραδόκει,
ὅταν στράτευμ᾽ Ἀργεῖον ἐξιῇ κάλως.
μῶρος δὲ θνητῶν ὅστις ἐκπορθεῖ πόλεις,
ναούς τε τύμβους θ᾽, ἱερὰ τῶν κεκμηκότων,
ἐρημίᾳ δοὺς αὐτὸς ὤλεθ᾽ ὕστερον.

File:Hecuba.jpg
Hecuba kills Polymestor, by Giuseppe Crespi

Play The Part You’re Given: Epictetus, Teles, and Shakespeare

Epictetus, Encheiridion, 17

“Remember that you are an actor in a drama, whatever kind the playwright desires. If he wishes it to be short, it is short. If he wants it to be long, it is long.

If he wants you to act as a beggar, act even that part seriously. And the same if you are a cripple, a ruler, or a fool. This is your role: to play well the part you were given. It is another’s duty to choose.”

Μέμνησο, ὅτι ὑποκριτὴς εἶ δράματος, οἵου ἂν θέλῃ ὁ διδάσκαλος· ἂν βραχύ, βραχέος· ἂν μακρόν, μακροῦ· ἂν πτωχὸν ὑποκρίνασθαί σε θέλῃ, ἵνα καὶ τοῦτον εὐφυῶς ὑποκρίνῃ· ἂν χωλόν, ἂν ἄρχοντα, ἂν ἰδιώτην. σὸν γὰρ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστι, τὸ δοθὲν ὑποκρίνασθαι πρόσωπον καλῶς· ἐκλέξασθαι δ᾿ αὐτὸ ἄλλου.

On Facebook M. L Lech let me know that this sentiment appeared in the work of an earlier cynic philosopher

Teles the Philosopher, On Self-Sufficiency (Hense, 5)

“Just as a good actor will carry off well whatever role the poet assigns him, so too a good person should manage well whatever chance allots. For chance, as Biôn says, just like poetry, assigns the role of the first speaker and the second speaker, now a king and then a vagabond. Don’t long to be the second speaker when you have the role of the first. Otherwise, you will create disharmony.”

Δεῖ ὥσπερ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ὑποκριτὴν ὅ τι ἂν ὁ ποιητὴς περιθῇ πρόσωπον τοῦτο ἀγωνίζεσθαι καλῶς, οὕτω καὶ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα ὅ τι ἂν περιθῇ ἡ τύχη. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη, φησὶν ὁ Βίων, ὥσπερ ποιήτρια, ὁτὲ μὲν πρωτολόγου, ὁτὲ δὲ δευτερολόγου περιτίθησι πρόσωπον, καὶ ὁτὲ μὲν βασιλέως, ὁτὲ δὲ ἀλήτου. μὴ οὖν βούλου δευτερολόγος ὢν τὸ πρωτολόγου πρόσωπον· εἰ δὲ μή,  ἀνάρμοστόν τι ποιήσεις.

Diogenes Laertius, Ariston 160

“[He compared] the wise man to a good actor who could take up the role of both Thersites and Agamemnon and play either appropriately

εἶναι γὰρ ὅμοιον τὸν σοφὸν τῷ ἀγαθῷ ὑποκριτῇ, ὃς ἄν τε Θερσίτου ἄν τε Ἀγαμέμνονος πρόσωπον ἀναλάβῃ, ἑκάτερον ὑποκρίνεται προσηκόντως.

Epictetus, Discourses 1.29

“There will soon be a time when the tragic actors will believe that their masks and costumes are their real selves. You have these things as material and a plot. Say something so we may know whether you are a tragic actor or a comedian. For they have the rest of their material in common [apart from the words]. If one, then, should deprive the actor of his buskins and his masks and introduce him to the stage as only a ghost, has the actor been lost or does he remain? If he has a voice, he remains.”

ἔσται χρόνος τάχα, ἐν ᾧ οἱ τραγῳδοὶ οἰήσονται ἑαυτοὺς εἶναι προσωπεῖα καὶ ἐμβάδας καὶ τὸ σύρμα. ἄνθρωπε, ταῦτα ὕλην ἔχεις καὶ ὑπόθεσιν. φθέγξαι τι, ἵνα εἰδῶμεν πότερον τραγῳδὸς εἶ ἢ γελωτοποιός· κοινὰ γὰρ ἔχουσι τὰ ἄλλα ἀμφότεροι. διὰ τοῦτο ἂν ἀφέλῃ τις αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰς ἐμβάδας καὶ τὸ προσωπεῖον καὶ ἐν εἰδώλῳ αὐτὸν προαγάγῃ, ἀπώλετο ὁ τραγῳδὸς ἢ μένει; ἂν φωνὴν ἔχῃ, μένει.

 W. Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7 (spoken by Jaques)
                                        All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
Image result for ancient greek vase actors

Fools and Dances of Nebulous Names

Accius, Principles for Playwrights

From Nonius
“Perperos: uneducated, fools, basic, uncultured, liars. In his pragmatics, Accius uses perperos to describe common people. That same poet writes:
Poets are often abused because of this rather than their own mistake:
Your mind’s extreme gullibility or its sheer simplicity.”

‘Perperos,’ indoctos, stultos, rudis, insulsos, mendaces. Accius Pragmaticis—describere in theatro perperos popularis.
Idem eodem—
et eo plectuntur poetae quam suo vitio saepius
ductabilitate animi nimia vestra aut perperitudine.

From Gellius

“The Sicinnium was once a type of ancient dance. The poet Lucius Accius once used this term in his Principles and says that they were called “satyr-shakers of nebulous name”. I think he uses the word “nebulous because it was uncertain why anyone said “sicinnium”.

Gellius, XX, 3: ‘Sicinnium’ . . . genus veteris saltationis fuit. Posuit hoc verbum L. Accius poeta in Pragmaticis appellarique ait—
sicinnistas nebuloso nomine;
credo propterea nebuloso quod sicinnium cur diceretur obscurum esset.

Related image
Roman Bacchanal Dance

Play The Role You’re Assigned: Epictetus Anticipates Shakespeare?

Epictetus, Encheiridion, 17

“Remember that you are an actor in a drama, whatever kind the playwright desires. If he wishes it to be short, it is short. If he wants it to be long, it is long.

If he wants you to act as a beggar, act even that part seriously. And the same if you are a cripple, a ruler, or a fool. This is your role: to play well the part you were given. It is another’s duty to choose.”

Μέμνησο, ὅτι ὑποκριτὴς εἶ δράματος, οἵου ἂν θέλῃ ὁ διδάσκαλος· ἂν βραχύ, βραχέος· ἂν μακρόν, μακροῦ· ἂν πτωχὸν ὑποκρίνασθαί σε θέλῃ, ἵνα καὶ τοῦτον εὐφυῶς ὑποκρίνῃ· ἂν χωλόν, ἂν ἄρχοντα, ἂν ἰδιώτην. σὸν γὰρ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστι, τὸ δοθὲν ὑποκρίνασθαι πρόσωπον καλῶς· ἐκλέξασθαι δ᾿ αὐτὸ ἄλλου.

On Facebook M. L Lech let me know that this sentiment appeared in the work of an earlier cynic philosopher

Teles the Philosopher, On Self-Sufficiency (Hense, 5)

“Just as a good actor will carry off well whatever role the poet assigns him, so too a good person should manage well whatever chance allots. For chance, as Biôn says, just like poetry, assigns the role of the first speaker and the second speaker, now a king and then a vagabond. Don’t long to be the second speaker when you have the role of the first. Otherwise, you will create disharmony.”

Δεῖ ὥσπερ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ὑποκριτὴν ὅ τι ἂν ὁ ποιητὴς περιθῇ πρόσωπον τοῦτο ἀγωνίζεσθαι καλῶς, οὕτω καὶ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα ὅ τι ἂν περιθῇ ἡ τύχη. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη, φησὶν ὁ Βίων, ὥσπερ ποιήτρια, ὁτὲ μὲν πρωτολόγου, ὁτὲ δὲ δευτερολόγου περιτίθησι πρόσωπον, καὶ ὁτὲ μὲν βασιλέως, ὁτὲ δὲ ἀλήτου. μὴ οὖν βούλου δευτερολόγος ὢν τὸ πρωτολόγου πρόσωπον· εἰ δὲ μή,  ἀνάρμοστόν τι ποιήσεις.

 W. Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7 (spoken by Jaques)
                                        All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
Image result for ancient greek vase actors

Working, Sleeping, Coming Back: Some Plautine Fragments

Plautus, Addictus

“I really prefer work more than sleeping…”

opus facere nimio quam dormire mauolo:

 

Boeotia, fr 1

“I hope the gods destroy the guy who invented hours”

par ut illum di perdant, primus qui horas repperit

 

Commorientes

“I’d jump headfirst into a well…”

saliam in puteum praecipes

 

Frivolaria, fr. 6

“You should do what you do eagerly, not by force!”

naue agere oportet quod agas, non ductarier.

 

Uncertain

Fr. 12

“Despite his age and gray hair, he’s a fool”

stultus est aduorsum aetatem et capitis canitudinem.

 

Fr. 42

“Why are you muttering and torturing yourself?”

quid murmurillas tecum et te discrucias?

 

fr. 47

“Be my enemy until I come back”

 inimicus esto, donicum ego reuenero

Image result for Ancient Roman Comedy