A Menis on the Screen: Playing a Bard During a Plague Part II

Homer, Iliad 18.22

“So he spoke, and a dark cloud of grief covered Achilles.”

 ῝Ως φάτο, τὸν δ’ ἄχεος νεφέλη ἐκάλυψε μέλαινα·

I don’t know why I’m surprised that I find it hard to write about the Iliad. Or rather, why I find it so much harder to write about the Iliad than I do to write about the Odyssey.

Everything around the Iliad has always been harder and heavier for me as a classicist and a modern bard. And as a human being. 

From the first time I read it as an undergrad studying Classics at UW-Madison, I’ve felt that the Iliad punishes the reader in a way that the Odyssey (which to be sure, itself has plenty of punishment) doesn’t. 

So… I shouldn’t have been surprised when this piece, ostensibly a follow up to my post entitled “A Penis on the Screen: Playing a Bard During a Plague,” felt as heavy and unwieldy as Ajax’s towering shield. 

To be sure, the context in which I’m writing about performing my Homer-inspired musical works has changed. “A Penis on the Screen” was written at the beginning of the first full escalation of the pandemic, more than nine months and three hundred thousand US deaths ago.  

It was also written after only a single virtual performance of my one-man musical Odyssey, and before any virtual performances of my one-man musical Iliad, “The Blues of Achilles. Since that initial phallus-inscribed voyage I have completed fourteen virtual Odysseys and eleven virtual Blues of Achilles shows.

In a way these two blogs mirror how the creation of my two epic works unfolded. I wrote “Joe’s Odyssey” in the naive afterglow of my undergraduate studies when I didn’t know any better, when I was too young to understand how audacious it was to create a thirty-five minute non-narrative modern folk opera telling of the Odyssey, let alone to ask folks to sit still for it. That actually worked in my favor, as youthful ignorance sometimes does. I wrote a prompt in my songwriting book that read “create a one-man 24 song folk opera retelling of Homer’s Odyssey” and three months later I premiered it in my parents’ living room, with a full performance for a group of students less than two months after that.

Black-figure pottery - Wikipedia
Heracles and Geryon on an Attic black-figured amphora with a thick layer of transparent gloss, c. 540 BC, now in the Munich State Collection of Antiquities.

By contrast, sixteen years later when I decided to take on the Iliad, I spent almost a full year reading, researching, even interviewing veterans, before I wrote a single song. Once I composed the songs that comprise “The Blues of Achilles,” I played small samplings of them in modest workshop scenarios for another year before I finally debuted the full cycle in San Francisco in early March just as the pandemic took hold (a selection of songs from that performance can be viewed here on YouTube).

All of this is to say that these two pieces came from and were in two wildly different places in March as I started to consider how I would continue to perform them in a streaming environment: on the one hand, I had 300 plus Odyssey shows under my belt, on the other I had the Blues of Achilles with… one single show (and one in which I performed with an ensemble). 

In reading my initial impressions of performing virtually as detailed in the Penis on the Screen blog, I have to give myself a little credit: almost all of what I wrote there about the Zoom performance environment bore itself out as correct over the course of repeated performances of my Odyssey

(NB: I am so infrequently right about things I have to make a big deal of times when I am. For instance, as she will vouch for, I saw where the pandemic was going early on and told my wife to stock up on canned goods and alcohol for quarantine in early-February.  I also correctly predicted that Dwyane Wade would be an NBA Hall-of-Famer after watching the 2003 NCAA tournament. Take that, Calchas).

But while my routines around my virtual Odyssey shows were immediately informed by the hundreds of previous live shows and discussions, The Blues of Achilles was a blank slate. Would I perform all the songs without stopping? Would I work in spoken narrative passages as I did in the public debut in San Francisco? Would I talk about all the works that informed my songs ahead of the performance, or let the audience lead me to such considerations in a discussion? 

My Odyssey performance had years and years to develop organically along with my abilities, going from a living room to high school classrooms to university settings over the course of more than a decade. In contrast, The Blues of Achilles had immediate opportunities with very high level college audiences.

Luckily, I had the songs I wrote for the characters we know most intimately from Homer’s Iliad: a number of songs for Achilles of course, but also songs sung by Chryseis, Bryseis, Agamemnon, Hector, Hecuba, Priam, Helen, Andromache, Patroklus, and Thetis. Songs sung by the bard (me in this case) telling the story as well as other more impartial observers to the human suffering portrayed in the poem. 

I had these songs that I loved very deeply and I felt said something interesting, deep and most importantly true about the characters and story, something that modern audiences might have a harder time accessing when considering them in millenia old translated texts. 

And these songs I wrote about warriors and war were mostly love songs, a fact with which I was uncomfortable until, after I’d written them, I read Simone Weil’s influential 1940 essay The Iliad or The Poem of Force in which she writes “there is hardly any form of pure love known to humanity of which the Iliad does not treat…”  

(There should be a word for when you read a sentiment similar to one which you’ve arrived at entirely independently, especially when it is confirmed by a lauded source. Joel suggested “serendipity” which is true and good but doesn’t quite capture the validation and confidence boost such an occurrence can confer upon an artist or intellectual.)

If excavating love from the grief of the Iliad was good enough for Simone Weil, it was certainly good enough for me. I thought perhaps this relationship between love and grief was the heaviness that had created such apprehension in me about considering the Iliad

It was actually several months into these pandemic performances of The Blues of Achilles that I fully realized why adapting the Iliad scared me more and was so much harder for me than adapting the Odyssey

In April, the songwriter John Prine died of Covid complications. In a beautiful New York Times tribute to this amazing artist, Jason Isbell (a brilliant songwriter in his own right) wrote about the genius of Prine’s writing in general but in particular the song “Angel From Montgomery,” which opens with Prine singing “I am an old woman/named after my mother.” Isbell has this epiphany:  “songwriting allows you to be anybody you want to be, so long as you get the details right.” 

John Prine, One of America's Greatest Songwriters, Dead at 73 - Rolling Stone

When it came to the Iliad, my anxiety was (and is) rooted in the fear that I couldn’t get the details right. And I knew that for these characters deep inside the machine of war and their legacies, the details were a matter of life and death. This was why I spent a year reading any war literature I could get my hands on from All Quiet on the Western Front to Catch-22 to Slaughterhouse Five. I read Achilles in Vietnam and The Things They Carried and Letters Home from Vietnam and Dispatches.  I interviewed veterans who served in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Enduring Freedom. I interviewed a Gold Star father who lost his son in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I found myself by chance in a hazy whiskey-fueled late night conversation with a veteran military journalist who turned me on to the album Soldier’s Heart, a set of songs by Jacob George, a veteran of OEF who wrote and recorded this album of the truest war stories I’ve ever heard before he died by suicide in 2014. 

And with these details and a new vocabulary, I went back to the text and as is the case over and over with Homeric epic I found truths hovering in the spaces around the words, waiting for me. I thought about some of the other Iliad adaptations I read: Memorial by Alice Oswald, The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, the play An Iliad by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson. Casey Dué’s Achilles Unbound helped me recognize the multiplicity inherent in oral tradition and gave me even more confidence to find my own Achilles.

And out of me in less than 30 days in early 2019 came tumbling my 17 love songs. If Homer’s Iliad tells of the Anger of Achilles, my Blues of Achilles makes its focus the Grief that is prominent in the first syllable of Achilles’ name and the Love that is so inextricably connected to Grief (for more “serendipity,” see Emily Austin’s work in particular the forthcoming Grief and the Hero.)

Frank Zappa purportedly said “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” and whether or not he actually did, the sentiment is correct. I write songs to capture something that other types of writing cannot convey so I won’t try to describe what my online Blues of Achilles shows are like in detail other than to say they are heavy, connected, and beautiful. I break the songs up to allow for audiences to ask questions and contribute to the meaning as we go rather than waiting until the end for them to participate and engage. Pandemic audiences seem particularly attuned to the less central characters to whom I try to give voice, to the characters who have been pulled into the grievous orbit of the principle tragic figures of the story. 

I’ll be doing these shows (both Odyssey and Blues of Achilles) online for at least the first half of 2021: while I’m hoping that later in the year conditions might allow for safe travel and gatherings, it might be even into 2022 before that’s possible. But I know that eventually I’ll be able to bring The Blues of Achilles (and my Odyssey) to audiences in-person.

Joe's Odyssey

Whereas my online Odyssey shows were informed by live in-person performances, my live in-person Blues of Achilles shows (when they happen) will be informed by my online performances and I’m interested to see how this inversion impacts the futures of both pieces.

I return to one of my first impressions of performing online which is that these stories are so durable and rich and full of possibility that they can thrive in any sort of performance environment. Maybe better put: making the change from in-person to virtual is no big deal when a story has survived the transition from oral performance to written text and the thousands of years since. 

Joe Goodkin is a modern bard who performs original music based on epic poetry and other subjects.  He can be seen and heard at http://www.joesodyssey.com http://www.thebluesofachilles.com or http://www.joegoodkin.com and emailed at joegoodkin@gmail.com about bookings or anything else.

Staging Epic and Tragedy: A Workshop

In March of 2020, as pandemic lockdowns started in the US and the UK, Paul O’Mahony and I met with Keith DeStone and Lanah Koelle of the Center for Hellenic Studies to try to figure out some way to stay sane and to keep ‘working’ at something. A few days later we tried our very first recording of Reading Greek Tragedy Online, sketched out around the basic idea of bringing professional actors and academics into conversation about the performance of ancient tragedy. Early on, we were supported by the production team at the Center for Hellenic Studies and Kosmos Society with the creative direction of Out of Chaos Theatre. We also eventually received a grant from the Society for Classical Studies “Classics Everywhere” Initiative.

What happened next basically stayed true to our original idea, but also showed how limited our understanding of it was. We recorded over 40 videos between March and December, including segments from every full Greek tragedy, selections of fragments, three comedies, parts of the Iliad , a 24 hour performance of the Odyssey across six continents, and a competition for high school and college students with cash prizes (guided with help from Amy Pistone). We learned a lot from each other about Greek theater, interpreting Greek myth, and performing in the confines of the small screen. But I think we also learned a lot about why performing and interpreting these ancient texts together matters, especially during times of uncertainty and crisis.

Beyond all else, I learned how much a larger community can enrich this process. Part of our working practice from the beginning was to bring in as many people as possible and listen to their directions, reactions, and ideas. This week at the annual meeting of the AIA/SCS, Paul and I are holding a workshop to try to see where we can go next. We will be talking about the experience of performing these plays online with actors and other guests, but we will also be seeking advice for what we do next.

The workshop will be split into two halves, one reflective and instructive followed by an opportunity to engage in performance and staging itself. We are also eager to hear feedback about our work and have conversations about what happens next.

Prior registration is not required (although AIA/SCS Registration is!); no experience is required. Come and share a few hours reading and performing Greek tragedy.

 How it started

how it’s going

SCS-15: Staging Epic and Tragedy 9am-12pm CST [official description]

The format of this workshop will be practical, based on performing ancient texts and stories. It will focus in particular on staging ideas for tragedy and epic in theatre today and it will explore the positive impact of performance in academic settings. There will be practical exercises for those who would like to get involved and there will be discussion between the two panellists (the two organizers). This will be an opportunity to explore collaboration between academic and artistic practitioners, and to discover how such work can enrich their respective fields. There will be particular attention paid to the Aeneid, exploring the challenges posed by staging epic, and the opportunities created by ancient stories illuminating ongoing political and social upheaval within Europe (and beyond).

Here’s a podcast covering the creation of this series.

BADA is launching a program in part inspired by this series: Greek Theatre: From the Ancient World to the Modern, Through Theory and Performance 

 

Brekekekeks, the Frogs, the Frogs!

Aristophanes, Frogs 1-2

“Hey boss, should I say one of those typical things,
That audiences always laugh at?”

εἴπω τι τῶν εἰωθότων, ὦ δέσποτα,
ἐφ᾿ οἷς ἀεὶ γελῶσιν οἱ θεώμενοι;

Not this frog!

Aristophanes, Frogs 76-77

“If you need to bring someone back to life,
Why not Sophocles, since he’s better than Euripides?”

εἶτ᾿ οὐ Σοφοκλέα πρότερον ὄντ᾿ Εὐριπίδου
μέλλεις ἀναγαγεῖν, εἴπερ γ᾿ ἐκεῖθεν δεῖ σ᾿ ἄγειν;

Since March 2020, The Center for Hellenic Studies, the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ with an occasional foray in to epic and comedy. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.” For our final performance of the year, we turn to that most absurd and poignant of literary philosophy, Aristophanes’ Frogs.

Aristophanes’, Frogs .172

“Dude, want to carry some bags to Hades?”

ἄνθρωπε, βούλει σκευάρι᾿ εἰς Ἅιδου φέρειν;

Aristophanes, Frogs 80-83

“Euripides, since he’s a bit of a rascal,
Will probably try to help me get him free.
Sophocles will be well-behaved there since he was well-behaved here.”

κἄλλως ὁ μέν γ᾿ Εὐριπίδης πανοῦργος ὢν
κἂν ξυναποδρᾶναι δεῦρ᾿ ἐπιχειρήσειέ μοι·
ὁ δ᾿ εὔκολος μὲν ἐνθάδ᾿, εὔκολος δ᾿ ἐκεῖ

There will be time aplenty in the new year to reflect on what Reading Greek Tragedy Online meant to those of us who were engaged with it every week. It suffices to say for the moment that it gave us structure, a sense of community, and a reason to drag ourselves out of bed a few times a week. it also gave us the opportunity to think and talking about performing Greek theater in a sustained way that none of us could have imagined a year ago today.

Back in April, when Paul and I were outlining the rest of the year with Lanah, we thought this play would be a nice way to end the series on something of an absurdist but reflective turn. Aristophanes’ Frogs stands as one of the earliest pieces of literary criticism in the Athenian tradition. Even if it is bawdy and hyperbolic, it provides critical comments and cultural frameworks for the three tragedians we moderns know best. As a comedy, it ranges from sophisticated engagement with literary motifs and styles right back down to fart jokes and the regrettable but by no means atypical repeated play with abusing an enslaved person.

But the Frogs also has a sense of coming near the end of things: it starts with the assertion that all the good poets are dead (in a year following the passing of both Euripides and Sophocles). Not only does it come at the end of an artistic era, but it was also composed and performed near the end of the Peloponnesian War and the high point of Athenian influence. Rarely does any play stand at the intersection of so many charged themes; it is even rarer that such a play is a comedy.

So, to end this, our most recent annus horribilis and this series which has meant so much to us, we turn to a new version of the Frogs. Who’s ready for some koaks koaks?

Aristophanes, Frogs 237-239

“I am developing blisters,
My rectum has been oozing for a while,
And soon it will jump out and say…

Brekekekeks koaks koaks

ἐγὼ δὲ φλυκταίνας γ᾿ ἔχω,
χὠ πρωκτὸς ἰδίει πάλαι,
κᾆτ᾿ αὐτίκ᾿ ἐκκύψας ἐρεῖ—
ΒΑΤΡΑΧΟΙ
βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ.

Scenes

Most of George Theodoridis’ Translation

Cast

Narrator (v/o) – Rhys Rusbatch
Xanthias – Ursula Lansley-Early
Dionysus – Tony Jayawardena
Heracles – René Thornton Jr
Corpse – Hannah Barrie
Charon – Eli Pauley
Chorus of Frogs – Rob Castell and EVERYONE
Chorus of Initiates – Minnie Gale, Bettina Joy de Guzman, Marietta Hedges, Lanah Koelle, Lily Ling, T Lynn Mikeska
Pluto – Toph Marshall
Euripides – Paul Hurley
Aeschylus – Tabatha Gayle
Joel Christensen – Joel Christensen
Clytemnestra – Eunice Roberts
Medea – Evelyn Miller
Messenger – Sara Valentine
Artemis – Noree Victoria
Xerxes – Martin K Lewis
Hecuba chorus – Tamieka Chavis
Tutor – Robert Matney
Orestes – Tim Delap
Pylades – Paul O’Mahony

Aristophanes, Frogs 389-392

“Let me say a lot of funny things
And many serious ones too
As I joke and mock and win the crown
Worthy of your festival.”

καὶ πολλὰ μὲν γέλοιά μ᾿ εἰπεῖν,
πολλὰ δὲ σπουδαῖα, καὶ
τῆς σῆς ἑορτῆς ἀξίως
παίσαντα καὶ σκώψαντα νικήσαντα
ταινιοῦσθαι.

Crew

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)

Aristophanes, Frogs  538

“Whoever gets drunk but stays home is wise.”

ὃς δ᾿ ἂν μεθυσθείς γ᾿ ἐν δόμοις μείνῃ σοφός.

Upcoming Episodes (Go to CHS Project Page for more information)

Aristophanes, Frogs 533-539

“This is the sign of a man
Who has some brains
And has traveled much:
To always move himself
To whichever side is doing well
And not to stand in one place, taking one stance,
Like a painted statue…”

ταῦτα μὲν πρὸς ἀνδρός ἐστι
νοῦν ἔχοντος καὶ φρένας
καὶ πολλὰ περιπεπλευκότος,
μετακυλίνδειν αὑτὸν ἀεὶ
aπρὸς τὸν εὖ πράττοντα τοῖχον
μᾶλλον ἢ γεγραμμένην
εἰκόν᾿ ἑστάναι, λαβόνθ᾿ ἓν
σχῆμα·

Aristophanes, Frogs 805-6

“This is hard
They’ve found a shortage of smart people”

τοῦτ᾿ ἦν δύσκολον·
σοφῶν γὰρ ἀνδρῶν ἀπορίαν ηὑρισκέτην.

“Hello Stranger!” Rocking out with the Cyclops Online

Euripides, Cyclops 8

“Come, let me look at this: did I see this in a dream?”

φέρ᾿ ἴδω, τοῦτ᾿ ἰδὼν ὄναρ λέγω;

 

Euripides, Cyclops 63-67

“There’s no Dionysus here, no choruses,
No Bacchic revels, no wand-bearing,
No explosion of drums
By the fresh-flowing springs,
Or young drops of wine.”

οὐ τάδε Βρόμιος, οὐ τάδε χοροὶ
βακχεῖαί τε θυρσοφόροι,
οὐ τυμπάνων ἀλαλαγ-
μοὶ κρήναις παρ᾿ ὑδροχύτοις,
οὐκ οἴνου χλωραὶ σταγόνες·

The Center for Hellenic Studies, the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Euripides, Cyclops 102-105

Silenos: Hello, stranger. Tell me who you are and your country
Odysseus: Odysseus from Ithaka, lord of the land of the Kephallenians
Silenos: I know that guy, a sharp conman, a descendent of Sisyphus.
Odysseus: I am that man. Don’t mock me.

ΣΙΛΗΝΟΣ
χαῖρ᾿, ὦ ξέν᾿· ὅστις δ᾿ εἶ φράσον πάτραν τε σήν.
ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ
Ἴθακος Ὀδυσσεύς, γῆς Κεφαλλήνων ἄναξ.
ΣΙΛΗΝΟΣ
οἶδ᾿ ἄνδρα, κρόταλον δριμύ, Σισύφου γένος.
ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ
ἐκεῖνος αὐτός εἰμι· λοιδόρει δὲ μή.

This week, we arrive at the only surviving full Satyr play from Ancient Athens, Euripides’ Cyclops. During the tragic competition, poets would stage a trilogy followed by a satyr play, some kind of vaudevillian satire on tragedy itself. We don’t know as much about satyr plays as we’d like, but from this surviving example we can see some of the extreme bodily humor of comedy combined with tragedy’s mythical figures and themes.

Of course, comedy is about excess and in this reading of the story of Odysseus’ encounter with Polyphemos we are adding our own excess by adding in words and music from from “Cyclops, a Rock Opera” by J. Landon Marcus, Benjamin Sherman, and Chas LiBretto.  The small screen may not hold all this energy, but that won’t stop us from trying.

Euripides, Cyclops 334-338

“I don’t sacrifice to anyone but myself, none of the gods,
And to the greatest divinity, my belly!
To drink and eat all day and have no pain
That is Zeus for wise people.”

ἁγὼ οὔτινι θύω πλὴν ἐμοί, θεοῖσι δ᾿ οὔ,
καὶ τῇ μεγίστῃ, γαστρὶ τῇδε, δαιμόνων.
ὡς τοὐμπιεῖν γε καὶ φαγεῖν τοὐφ᾿ ἡμέραν,
Ζεὺς οὗτος ἀνθρώποισι τοῖσι σώφροσιν,
λυπεῖν δὲ μηδὲν αὑτόν.

Cast: Rob Castell, Chas Libretto, J. Landon Marcus, Paul O’ Mahony

Euripides, Cyclops 487-491

“Shh, Shut up! He’s drunk
Singing a tuneless song
Coming out of the stony cave
An incompetent singer about to cry.”

σίγα σίγα. καὶ δὴ μεθύων
ἄχαριν κέλαδον μουσιζόμενος
490σκαιὸς ἀπῳδὸς καὶ κλαυσόμενος
χωρεῖ πετρίνων ἔξω μελάθρων.

Crew

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)

Euripides, Cyclops 538

“Whoever gets drunk but stays home is wise.”

ὃς δ᾿ ἂν μεθυσθείς γ᾿ ἐν δόμοις μείνῃ σοφός.

Upcoming Episodes (Go to CHS Project Page for more information)

December 23 Series Finale: Frogs, Aristophanes

.

Euripides, Cyclops 694-695

“I would have burned down Troy badly
If I didn’t punish you for the slaughter of my companions.”

κακῶς γὰρ ἂν Τροίαν γε διεπυρώσαμεν
εἰ μή σ᾿ ἑταίρων φόνον ἐτιμωρησάμην.

May Our Lives Be Luckier Than These! Reading Euripides’ “Phoenician Women” Online

Euripides, Phoenician Women 1582-1583 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“Today has begun many troubles for Oedipus’ house.
May our lives be luckier!”

πολλῶν κακῶν κατῆρξεν Οἰδίπου δόμοις
τόδ᾿ ἦμαρ· εἴη δ᾿ εὐτυχέστερος βίος.

Euripides, Phoenician Women 504

“Would you rather be a tyrant or save your country?”

πότερα τυραννεῖν ἢ πόλιν σῶσαι θέλεις,

 

Euripides, Phoenician Women 357-360

“Mother, I have come with good intentions among enemy men
Even though it is a bad plan. Still, everyone loves their country
By necessity. Anyone who claims otherwise is just playing with words—
Keeping their true thought deep inside.”

μῆτερ, φρονῶν εὖ κοὐ φρονῶν ἀφικόμην
ἐχθροὺς ἐς ἄνδρας· ἀλλ᾿ ἀναγκαίως ἔχει
πατρίδος ἐρᾶν ἅπαντας· ὃς δ᾿ ἄλλως λέγει,
λόγοισι χαίρει, τὸν δὲ νοῦν ἐκεῖσ᾿ ἔχει.

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Euripides, Phoenician Women 429-439

“What is it like to lose your country? Is it a great evil?”
τί τὸ στέρεσθαι πατρίδος; ἦ κακὸν μέγα;

Euripides, Phoenician Women 439-440

“People value money most of all:
It has the greatest power of everything humans possess.”

τὰ χρήματ᾿ ἀνθρώποισι τιμιώτατα
δύναμίν τε πλείστην τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἔχει.

Scenes (Cecelia Luschnig’s Translation)

216-637:  Polynices, Eteocles, Jocasta, Chorus
833-1018: Creon, Tiresias, Menoeceus, Chorus
1356-1477: Messenger
1584-1724: Creon, Oedipus, Antigone
 

Euripides, Phoenician Women 460-464

“I want to offer some bit of wisdom to you:
Whenever a friend is angry with a friend
And comes together to look them in the eyes,
One must examine on those things they are discussing
And make no reminder of troubles they had before.”

παραινέσαι δὲ σφῷν τι βούλομαι σοφόν·
ὅταν φίλος τις ἀνδρὶ θυμωθεὶς φίλῳ
ἐς ἓν συνελθὼν ὄμματ᾿ ὄμμασιν διδῷ,
ἐφ᾿ οἷσιν ἥκει, ταῦτα χρὴ μόνον σκοπεῖν,
κακῶν δὲ τῶν πρὶν μηδενὸς μνείαν ἔχειν.

Actors
 
Tamieka Chavis – Jocasta/Tiresias
Tabatha Gayle – Antigone/Eteocles
Richard Klautsch – Creon
Sara Valentine – Menoeceus/Messenger
Noree Victoria – Chorus
Argyris Xafis – Polynices/Oedipus
 

Special Guest: Anna Lamari

Euripides, Phoenician Women 469-472

“The story of truth is simple.
It does not require sophisticated interpretations.
Its very character is the occasion! But unjust speech
Is sick and needs clever medicines to work.”

ἁπλοῦς ὁ μῦθος τῆς ἀληθείας ἔφυ,
κοὐ ποικίλων δεῖ τἄνδιχ᾿ ἑρμηνευμάτων·
ἔχει γὰρ αὐτὰ καιρόν· ὁ δ᾿ ἄδικος λόγος
νοσῶν ἐν αὑτῷ φαρμάκων δεῖται σοφῶν.

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)

Upcoming Episodes

Performing Epic 1, Homer’s Iliad, October 7th

Euripides, Rhesus, October 14th

Aeschylus, Agamemnon, October 21

Euripides, Phoenician Women 889-890

“Since the wicked part is stronger than the good,
There is one other strategy for salvation.”

ἐπεὶ δὲ κρεῖσσον τὸ κακόν ἐστι τἀγαθοῦ,
μί᾿ ἔστιν ἄλλη μηχανὴ σωτηρίας.

For earlier performances see the project home page or the full playlist on YouTube.

Euripides, Phoenician Women 1013-1014/b>

“I am leaving. By giving the unshameful gift of my death
To the state, I will free this land of disease.”

στείχω δέ, θανάτου δῶρον οὐκ αἰσχρὸν πόλει
δώσων, νόσου δὲ τήνδ᾿ ἀπαλλάξω χθόνα.

Only Tears Remain: Reading Euripides’ “Suppliants Online

Euripides, Suppliant Women 98-99 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“What’s happening, mother? It’s your job to tell me
And my job to listen. I think it’s something bad.”

τί ταῦτα, μῆτερ; σὸν τὸ μηνύειν ἐμοί,
ἡμῶν δ᾿ ἀκούειν· προσδοκῶ τι γὰρ νέον.

Euripides, Suppliant Women 214-218

“When god has given us this kind of support for life
Are we not truculent if it isn’t pleasing to us?
Arrogance seeks to be stronger than god—
Because we have boasts in our thoughts we think
We are wiser than divinities.”

ἆρ᾿ οὐ τρυφῶμεν, θεοῦ κατασκευὴν βίῳ
δόντος τοιαύτην, οἷσιν οὐκ ἀρκεῖ τάδε;
ἀλλ᾿ ἡ φρόνησις τοῦ θεοῦ μεῖζον σθένειν
ζητεῖ, τὸ γαῦρον δ᾿ ἐν φρεσὶν κεκτημένοι
δοκοῦμεν εἶναι δαιμόνων σοφώτεροι.

Euripides, Suppliant Women 238-245

“There are three groups of citizens: the wealthy
Are useless and are always longing for more.
Those who have nothing and struggling for a living
Are frightening because they honor envy too much
And aim their wicked barbs at the well-to-do,
Directed by the words of their cowardly leaders.
Those people in the middle third save cities
By preserving the order that each state creates.”

τρεῖς γὰρ πολιτῶν μερίδες· οἱ μὲν ὄλβιοι
ἀνωφελεῖς τε πλειόνων τ᾿ ἐρῶσ᾿ ἀεί·
οἱ δ᾿ οὐκ ἔχοντες καὶ σπανίζοντες βίου
δεινοί, νέμοντες τῷ φθόνῳ πλέον μέρος,
ἐς τούς <τ᾿> ἔχοντας κέντρ᾿ ἀφιᾶσιν κακά,
γλώσσαις πονηρῶν προστατῶν φηλούμενοι·
τριῶν δὲ μοιρῶν ἡ ᾿ν μέσῳ σῴζει πόλεις,
κόσμον φυλάσσουσ᾿ ὅντιν᾿ ἂν τάξῃ πόλις

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Euripides, Suppliant Women 429-439

“There is nothing more hateful to a state than a tyrant.
There, first, there are no common laws
Because one person rules, holding the law
In his control. This is not equality.
When laws are written both the weak
And the wealthy receive equal judgment.
It is possible then for the weak to accuse
The lucky whenever they are slandered
And the smaller person overcomes the great if his cause is just.
This is freedom: “Who has a good idea
And wants to offer counsel to the state?”

οὐδὲν τυράννου δυσμενέστερον πόλει,
ὅτου τὸ μὲν πρώτιστον οὐκ εἰσὶν νόμοι
κοινοί, κρατεῖ δ᾿ εἷς τὸν νόμον κεκτημένος
αὐτὸς παρ᾿ αὑτῷ· καὶ τόδ᾿ οὐκέτ᾿ ἔστ᾿ ἴσον.
γεγραμμένων δὲ τῶν νόμων ὅ τ᾿ ἀσθενὴς
ὁ πλούσιός τε τὴν δίκην ἴσην ἔχει,
[ἔστιν δ᾿ ἐνισπεῖν τοῖσιν ἀσθενεστέροις
τὸν εὐτυχοῦντα ταὔθ᾿, ὅταν κλύῃ κακῶς,]
νικᾷ δ᾿ ὁ μείων τὸν μέγαν δίκαι᾿ ἔχων.
τοὐλεύθερον δ᾿ ἐκεῖνο· Τίς θέλει πόλει
χρηστόν τι βούλευμ᾿ ἐς μέσον φέρειν ἔχων;

This week keeps us in the city of Thebes and contemplating unburied dead, but with a typical Euripidean twist. Instead of just the body of Polynices being at issue, Euripides’ play centers around the chorus of mothers of the Seven Against Thebes who supplicated Theseus in Athens to force Thebes to allow their bodies to be buried. Beyond the basic expansion of the funerary rites theme to the entire expedition, this play also introduces fascinating questions of Athenian empire and the ability of any one Greek city state to force another to maintain some basic level of civilization.

This play was allegedly performed in 423 BCE and reflects some earlier historical changes in ritual (there were tombs to the seven warriors erected on the borders of Attica in the historical period. But it would not be strange to wonder how this reflects the concerns of the Athenian and people during the Peloponnesian War.

Euripides, Suppliant Women 486-488

“All people certainly understand the better
Of two arguments, the good and the bad,
By how much peace is better than war for mortals.”

καίτοι δυοῖν γε πάντες ἄνθρωποι λόγοιν
τὸν κρείσσον᾿ ἴσμεν, καὶ τὰ χρηστὰ καὶ κακά,
ὅσῳ τε πολέμου κρεῖσσον εἰρήνη βροτοῖς·

Scenes (Cecelia Luschnig’s Translation)

Lines 1-41: Aethra
Lines 87-364: Theseus, Aethra, Adrastus, Chorus
Lines 399-584: Herald, Theseus
Lines 778-910: Chorus, Theseus, Adrastus
Lines 955-1071: Evadne, Iphis, Chorus
Lines 1165-1231: Athena, Adrastus, Theseus, Chorus
 

Euripides, Suppliant Women 724-725

“….He said he did not come to sack the city
But instead to ask for the dead.”

οὐ γὰρ ὡς πέρσων πόλιν
μολεῖν ἔφασκεν ἀλλ᾿ ἀπαιτήσων νεκρούς.

Performers

Aethra/Athena – Sara Valentine
Theseus – Evelyn Miller
Adrastus – David Rubin
Chorus – Hannah Barrie and Paul O’Mahony
Herald/Iphis – Carlos Bellato
Evadne – Noree Victoria
 

Special Guest: Angeliki Tzanetou

Euripides, Suppliant Women 775-777

“I mourn alone. Mortals have only one thing
That cannot be bought back once it is spent:
A mortal life. There are many ways to money.”

ἔρημα κλαίω· τοῦτο γὰρ μόνον βροτοῖς
οὐκ ἔστι τἀνάλωμ᾿ ἀναλωθὲν λαβεῖν,
ψυχὴν βροτείαν· χρημάτων δ᾿ εἰσὶν πόροι

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)

Upcoming Episodes

Euripides, Phoenician Women, September 30

Performing Epic 1, Homer’s Iliad, October 7th

Euripides, Rhesus, October 14th

 

Euripides, Suppliant Women 1006-1008

“The sweetest death
Is to die together with your loved ones
If some god will allow such things.”

ἥδιστος γάρ τοι θάνατος
συνθνῄσκειν θνῄσκουσι φίλοις,
εἰ δαίμων τάδε κραίνοι.

For earlier performances see the project home page or the full playlist on YouTube.

Euripides, Suppliant Women 971

“Only tears remain for me”

ὑπολελειμμένα μοι δάκρυα

Don’t Go to the Seventh Gate! Reading Aeschylus “Seven Against Thebes” Online

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 968

“The mind goes mad with mourning.”

μαίνεται γόοισι φρήν.

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 704

“Don’t take those paths to the Seventh Gate”

μη ᾿λθῃς ὁδοὺς σὺ τάσδ᾿ ἐφ᾿ Ἑβδόμαις πύλαις.

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 92-95

“Which god or goddess will defend us?
Who will help us?
Should I fall before the paternal altars
Of our gods?

τίς ἄρα ῥύσεται, τίς ἄρ᾿ ἐπαρκέσει
θεῶν ἢ θεᾶν;
95πότερα δῆτ᾿ ἐγὼ <πάτρια> ποτιπέσω
βρέτη δαιμόνων;

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 208-210

“What’s this? Can a sailor find some clever safety
By escaping from the stern to the prow
When his ship is overcame by swelling seas?”

τί οὖν; ὁ ναύτης ἆρα μὴ ᾿ς πρῷραν φυγὼν
πρύμνηθεν ηὗρε μηχανὴν σωτηρίας
νεὼς καμούσης ποντίῳ πρὸς κύματι;

This week brings us back to Thebes, one of the central locations for Ancient Greek myth, and likely the second most famous tale of a besieged city from the ancient world. The tale of Seven Against Thebes is part of the Oedipus story, following on from his departure from the city and his cursing of his sons. We have records of a famous epic which told this tale, the lost Thebais, but Aeschylus’ version is our earliest full text dedicated to the struggle between Eteocles and Polyneices. Sophocles and Euripides will provide their own versions of this story, focusing in part on different aspects.

Aeschylus’ account takes us from the anticipation before the battle right up through the conflict over burying the brothers (more well-known from Sophocles’ Antigone). This play was produced in 467 BCE as part of a trilogy dedicated to the family of Oedipus, apparently with a play dedicated to each generation: LaiosOedipus, and the warring sons. The bulk of this play is the run up to the action, the description of where each of the famous seven fights, and the aftermath. 

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 287-295

“I care about this, but my heart cannot sleep in fear.
Anxiety lives next door
To my heart, growing fear
About the enemies around my wall
Just as a dove shakes all over
Afraid of the snakes with evil plans
For the children sleeping in their beds.”

μέλει, φόβῳ δ᾿ οὐχ ὑπνώσσει κέαρ·
γείτονες δὲ καρδίας
μέριμναι ζωπυροῦσι τάρβος
τὸν ἀμφιτειχῆ λεών,
δράκοντας ὥς τις τέκνων
ὑπερδέδοικεν λεχαίων δυσευνάτορας
πάντρομος πελειάς.

Scenes (Ian Johnston’s Translation)

1-35: Eteocles 
78-287: Eteocles, Chorus 
375-791: Messenger, Eteocles, Chorus 
845-1010: Chorus, Antigone, Ismene 
 

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 4

“If we should do well, it’s thanks to the gods.”

εἰ μὲν γὰρ εὖ πράξαιμεν, αἰτία θεοῦ·

Performers

Eteocles – Tim Delap
Chorus – Hannah Barrie and Paul O’Mahony
Messenger – Sara Valentine
Antigone – Tabatha Gayle
Ismene – Evelyn Miller

Special Guest: Naomi Weiss

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 563-567

“The story hunts through my chest
Each strand of my hair stands straight up
As I leason to the boasts of these boastful
Unholy men. If the gods are gods,
I pray they destroy them in our land.”

ἱκνεῖται λόγος διὰ στηθέων,
τριχὸς δ᾿ ὀρθίας πλόκαμος ἵσταται
μεγάλα μεγαληγόρων κλυούσᾳ
ἀνοσίων ἀνδρῶν· εἰ θεοὶ θεοί,
τούσδ᾿ ὀλέσειαν ἐν γᾷ.

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)

 

Upcoming Episodes

Euripides, Suppliants September 23rd

Euripides, Phoenician Women, September 30

Performing Epic 1, Homer’s Iliad, October 7th

Euripides, Rhesus, October 14th

 

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 1168-1171

“The adage holds that Obedience is the mother

Of Success and the wife of Salvation.”

Πειθαρχία γάρ ἐστι τῆς Εὐπραξίας

μήτηρ, γυνὴ Σωτῆρος· ὧδ᾿ ἔχει λόγος.

For earlier performances see the project home page or the full playlist on YouTube.

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 783-787

“It is just as if the sea is driving on
Waves of troubles. One recedes but another rises
Three times as strong. And it crashes around
The city’s prow.
In between all we have
Is this thin breadth of a wall.”

κακῶν δ᾿ ὥσπερ θάλασσα κῦμ᾿ ἄγει
τὸ μὲν πίτνον, ἄλλο δ᾿ ἀείρει
τρίχαλον, ὃ καὶ περὶ πρύμ-
ναν πόλεως καχλάζει·
μεταξὺ δ᾿ ἄλκαρ ὅδ᾿ ὀλίγῳ
τείνει πύργος ἐν εὔρει.

“Should We Kill Our Mother?”: Reading Euripides’ “Electra” Online

Euripides, Electra 966

“What should we do? Should we kill our mother?”

τί δῆτα δρῶμεν; μητέρ᾿ ἦ φονεύσομεν;’

Euripides, Electra 904

“Our state is hard to please and loves complaints”

δυσάρεστος ἡμῶν καὶ φιλόψογος πόλις.

Euripides, Elektra 112-119

“Quicken the move of your foot with song
Walk on, walk on in tears.
Ah, my life.
I am a child of Agamemnon,
And Klytemnestra also bore me,
That horrible daughter of Tydnareus.
The citizens around call me
Unlucky Elektra.”

σύντειν᾿ ᾠδᾷ ποδὸς ὁρμάν· ὤ,
ἔμβα ἔμβα κατακλαίουσα.
ἰώ μοί μοι.
ἐγενόμαν Ἀγαμέμνονος
καί μ᾿ ἔτικτε Κλυταιμήστρα
στυγνὰ Τυνδάρεω κόρα,
κικλήσκουσι δέ μ᾿ ἀθλίαν
Ἠλέκτραν πολιῆται.

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Euripides, Elektra 265

“Stranger, women love their husbands not their children.”

γυναῖκες ἀνδρῶν, ὦ ξέν᾿, οὐ παίδων φίλαι

If this week’s story sounds familiar, well, it should. Euripides’ Electra revisits some of the same basic myths as his Orestes and the same story as Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers and Sophocles’ Electra. Of course, since this is Euripides, the tale is far from the same as either playwright or his own treatment. In this version, Electra really is front and center and she has a husband–who doesn’t touch her, don’t worry–and a kind of agency over the action she does not enjoy elsewhere.

This play, then, is famous for its engagement with Aeschylus and Homer (watch for a fabulous scar) while also offering potential parallels for Sophocles’ own version which may have been written later. This play likely proceeds Euripides’ Orestes with its murderous ends and responds in different ways to the Orestes who appears in foreign lands in Iphigenia at Tauris. But it is still Euripides: tune in for the lock of hair and footprints, stay for the Dioscuri taking it all home.

Euripides, Elektra 585-595

“You have come, You have come! O long-coming day,
You are shining bright and you have shown
A clear sign to the city, a torch which went
On an ancient flight from paternal halls
Wandering miserably abroad.
A god, some god, brings us victory,
Friend.
Raise up your hands! Raise up the tale!
Let loose prayers to the gods that with luck,
With luck your brother enters our city now.”

ἔμολες ἔμολες, ὤ, χρόνιος ἁμέρα,
κατέλαμψας, ἔδειξας ἐμφανῆ
πόλει πυρσόν, ὃς παλαιᾷ φυγᾷ
πατρίων ἀπὸ δωμάτων τάλας
ἀλαίνων ἔβα.
θεὸς αὖ θεὸς ἁμετέραν τις ἄγει
νίκαν, ὦ φίλα.
ἄνεχε χέρας, ἄνεχε λόγον, ἵει
λιτὰς ἐς θεούς, τύχᾳ σοι τύχᾳ
κασίγνητον ἐμβατεῦσαι πόλιν.

Scenes (Ian Johnston’s Translation)

1-82: Peasant, Electra
82-400: Orestes, Electra, Chorus, Pylades 
487-613: Old Man, Electra, Orestes, Chorus, Pylades 
774-843: Messenger 
961-1355: Orestes, Electra, Chorus, Clytaemnestra, Dioscuri (Castor and Polydeuces), Pylades  

Euripides, Elektra 430-431

“…whether rich or poor / Everyone is equal when their belly is full.”

πᾶς γὰρ ἐμπλησθεὶς ἀνὴρ / ὁ πλούσιός τε χὠ πένης ἴσον φέρει.

Performers

Peasant – Carlos Bellato
Electra – Evelyn Miller
Orestes – Tim Delap
Pylades/Messenger – Paul O’Mahony
Chorus – Bettina Joy de Guzman and Lanah Koelle
Old Man – David Rubin
Clytaemnestra – Eunice Roberts
Castor and Polydeuces – Carlos Bellato

Special Guest: Robert Groves

Euripides, Elektra 387-388

“Flesh lacking brains / is just decoration for the marketplace”

…αἱ δὲ σάρκες αἱ κεναὶ φρενῶν / ἀγάλματ᾿ ἀγορᾶς εἰσιν…

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)

Euripides, Electra 938-945

“What deceived you the most, what you misunderstood,
Is that someone can be strong because of money.
Money can only stay with us for a brief time.
Character is strength, not money.
Character always stands at our sides and bears our troubles.
Wealth shacks up with fools unjustly and then disappears
Leaving their houses once it bloomed for a little while.”

ὃ δ᾿ ἠπάτα σε πλεῖστον οὐκ ἐγνωκότα,
ηὔχεις τις εἶναι τοῖσι χρήμασι σθένων·
τὰ δ᾿ οὐδὲν εἰ μὴ βραχὺν ὁμιλῆσαι χρόνον.
ἡ γὰρ φύσις βέβαιος, οὐ τὰ χρήματα.
ἡ μὲν γὰρ αἰεὶ παραμένουσ᾿ αἴρει κακά·
ὁ δ᾿ ὄλβος ἀδίκως καὶ μετὰ σκαιῶν ξυνὼν
ἐξέπτατ᾿ οἴκων, σμικρὸν ἀνθήσας χρόνον.

Future Readings

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes September 16th

Euripides, Suppliants September 23rd

Euripides, Phoenician Women, September 30

Performing Epic 1, Homer’s Iliad

Euripides, Elektra 1168-1171

“I join in pity for this woman, undone by her children.
God certainly gives out justice at some point or another.
You suffered terribly things, but, wretched woman
You did unholy things to your husband.”

ᾤμωξα κἀγὼ πρὸς τέκνων χειρουμένης.
νέμει τοι δίκαν θεός, ὅταν τύχῃ·
σχέτλια μὲν ἔπαθες, ἀνόσια δ᾿ εἰργάσω,
τάλαιν᾿, εὐνέταν.

For earlier performances see the project home page or the full playlist on YouTube.

Euripides, Elektra 605

“Child, no one is your friend when you’re unlucky”

ὦ τέκνον, οὐδεὶς δυστυχοῦντί σοι φίλος.

Immigrants and the State: Reading Aeschylus’ “Suppliants” Online

Aeschylus, Suppliants 698-703

“May the people whose will rules the state,
The forethought for common good,
Guard well our citizens’ rights
And grant just agreements to foreigners
Without pain before considering
Arming for war.”

φυλάσσοι τ᾿ εὖ τὰ τίμι᾿ ἀστοῖς
τὸ δάμιον, τὸ πτόλιν κρατύνει,
προμαθὶς εὐκοινόμητις ἀρχά·
ξένοισι δ᾿ εὐξυμβόλους,
πρὶν ἐξοπλίζειν Ἄρη,
δίκας ἄτερ πημάτων διδοῖεν.

Aeschylus, Suppliants 454

“I would rather be ignorant than know about these problems”
θέλω δ᾿ ἄιδρις μᾶλλον ἢ σοφὸς κακῶν / εἶναι·

Aeschylus, Suppliants  698-703

“May plague never
Drain this city of its men
Nor may civil war dye with blood
The fields of this land with its native sons.”

μήποτε λοιμὸς ἀνδρῶν
τάνδε πόλιν κενώσαι,
μηδ᾿ ἐπιχωρίοις <–>
πτώμασιν αἱματίσαι πέδον γᾶς·

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Aeschylus, Suppliants 406-411

“We need deep thinking as a savior,
Like that of a diver reaching to the deep
Looking with an eye not overcome with wine,
How these things may turnout unharmful to the city, first,
And then can have a good end for me too….”

δεῖ τοι βαθείας φροντίδος σωτηρίου,
δίκην κολυμβητῆρος εἰς βύθον μολεῖν
δεδορκὸς ὄμμα μηδ᾿ ἄγαν ᾠνωμένον,
ὅπως ἄνατα ταῦτα πρῶτα μὲν πόλει,
αὐτοῖσί θ᾿ ἡμῖν ἐκτελευτήσει καλῶς

This week we turn to Aeschylus’ Suppliants. This play, produced soon after the Persian Wars, tells of the flight of the Danaids from Egypt to Greece to escape forced marriage to their cousins. It is in part a record of the complex foundational narratives of Greece, stories which made the Greeks kin to the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians and more yet still tried to position the leading families as homegrown, indigenous to the most famous cities of the time. Its themes reflect modern concerns about immigration and migration, sexual violence, and what values we assume as part of cultural and political authority. Along with this, though, we find xenophobia, misogyny, early reflections on ethnicity and culture, and a great deal of suffering due to all of these themes

At the foundation of this story is a myth of the Danaids, a tale of global fraternal strife, of how the daughters of Danaus fled marriage with their cousins, the sons of Aegyptus, yet still ended up having to marry them in Greece. On their wedding night, as the traditional story goes, all but one of them used the knives their father had given them to kill their husbands. For this, they were to be punished eternally in the underworld, carrying water to fill a leaking cistern

Aeschylus’ play is set in the run-up to the marriage. The scene is Argos. Danaus has led his daughters there from Egypt. They meet Pelasgus. They ask for his protection. Then their ‘bridegrooms’ arrive.

Aeschylus, Suppliants 397-401

“This case is not easy to adjudicate: do not make me its judge.
I have said before that I would not do this
Without the people even though I am in charge,
In case the people say when things go badly,
“You destroyed the state by honoring immigrants.”

οὐκ εὔκριτον τὸ κρῖμα· μὴ ᾿μ᾿ αἱροῦ κριτήν.
εἶπον δὲ καὶ πρίν, οὐκ ἄνευ δήμου τόδε
πράξαιμ᾿ ἄν, οὐδέ περ κρατῶν, μὴ καί ποτε
εἴποι λεώς, εἴ πού τι μὴ λῷον τύχοι,
“ἐπήλυδας τιμῶν ἀπώλεσας πόλιν.”

Scenes (H. W. Smyth’s translation)

1-233: Chorus, Danaus   
234-503: King (Pelasgus), Chorus, Danaus 
600-824: Danaus, Chorus
843-1073: Chorus, Herald, Danaus, King (Pelasgus), Chorus of Handmaidens

Aeschylus, Suppliants  277-286

“You utter things incredible for me to hear,
That you are of our Argive race!
You look more like the women of Libya
Than the women who are born in this country.
Ah, the Nile might bear a crop like this;
And there’s a similar imprint on the Cyprian clan
Formed there by the male artisans.
I hear also of nomad women in India
Who ride across the land on camels like horses
Neighbors to the Ethiopians!”

ἄπιστα μυθεῖσθ᾿, ὦ ξέναι, κλυεῖν ἐμοί,
ὅπως τόδ᾿ ὑμῖν ἐστιν Ἀργεῖον γένος.
Λιβυστικοῖς γὰρ μᾶλλον ἐμφερέστεραι
γυναιξίν ἐστε κοὐδαμῶς ἐγχωρίοις·
καὶ Νεῖλος ἂν θρέψειε τοιοῦτον φυτόν·
εἰκὼς χαρακτήρ τ᾿ ἐν γυναικείοις τύποις
Κυπρίοις πέπληκται τεκτόνων πρὸς ἀρσένων·
Ἰνδάς τ᾿ ἀκούω νομάδας ἱπποβάμοσιν
εἶναι καμήλοις ἀστραβιζούσας χθόνα

Performers

Chorus: Tamieka Chavis and Tabatha Gayle
Danaus: David Rubin
King (Pelasgus): Damian Jermaine Thompson
Herald: Argyris Xafis

Special Guest: Rebecca Futo Kennedy

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)

Aeschylus Suppliants  143-150

“The oar’s flat blade and the linen-stitched
Wooden home walls out the sea
And sends me here without a storm
On fair winds. I do not complain.
May the all-seeing father in time
Bring about favorable ends for us.”

πλάτα μὲν οὖν λινορραφής
τε δόμος ἅλα στέγων δορὸς
ἀχείματόν μ᾿ ἔπεμπε σὺν
πνοαῖς, οὐδὲ μέμφομαι·
τελευτὰς δ᾿ ἐν χρόνῳ
πατὴρ ὁ παντόπτας
πρευμενεῖς κτίσειεν·

Future Readings

Euripides, Electra September 9th

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes September 16th

Euripides, Suppliants September 23rd

Aeschylus, Suppliants  1-4

“May Zeus, god of exiles, take a kind look
At our group which took to ship
From the soft sands of the Nile’s mouth…”

Ζεὺς μὲν ἀφίκτωρ ἐπίδοι προφρόνως
στόλον ἡμέτερον νάιον ἀρθέντ᾿
ἀπὸ προστομίων λεπτοψαμάθων
Νείλου·…

For earlier performances see the project home page or the full playlist on YouTube.

Write This Down: You are the City. You Are the people

Aeschylus, Suppliants 179-180

“I suggest you safeguard my words by writing them on tablet in your minds”
αἰνῶ φυλάξαι τἄμ᾿ ἔπη δελτουμένας

Aeschylus, Suppliants, 200-204

“Don’t be too aggressive or broken in speech:
These people are especially ready to be angry.
Remember to be accommodating: you are a foreign refugee in need.
To speak boldly is not a fitting move for the weak.”

καὶ μὴ πρόλεσχος μηδ᾿ ἐφολκὸς ἐν λόγῳ
γένῃ· τὸ τῇδε κάρτ᾿ ἐπίφθονον γένος.
μέμνησο δ᾿ εἴκειν· χρεῖος εἶ, ξένη, φυγάς·
θρασυστομεῖν γὰρ οὐ πρέπει τοὺς ἥσσονας.

Aeschylus, Suppliants, 370-375

“You are the city, really. You are the people.
An unjudged chief of state rules
The altar, the city’s hearth,
With only your votes and nods,
With only your scepter on the throne
You judge every need. Be on guard against contamination!”

σύ τοι πόλις, σὺ δὲ τὸ δάμιον·
πρύτανις ἄκριτος ὢν
κρατύνεις βωμόν, ἑστίαν χθονός,
μονοψήφοισι νεύμασιν σέθεν,
μονοσκήπτροισι δ᾿ ἐν θρόνοις χρέος
πᾶν ἐπικραίνεις· ἄγος φυλάσσου.

File:Nicolas Bertin - The Danaides in Hell.jpg

The Danaides in hell, by Nicolas Bertin

Aeschylus, Suppliants 991-997

“Write this down with the many other notes
In your mind of the wisdoms from your father:
An unfamiliar mob is evaluated by time,
But everyone has an evil tongue prepared to lash out
over immigrants and speaking foully is somehow easy.
I advise you not to bring me shame
Now that you are in the age which turns mortal gazes.”

καὶ ταῦτα μὲν γράψασθε πρὸς γεγραμμένοις
πολλοῖσιν ἄλλοις σωφρονίσμασιν πατρός,
ἀγνῶθ᾿ ὅμιλον ἐξελέγχεσθαι χρόνῳ·
πᾶς δ᾿ ἐν μετοίκῳ γλῶσσαν εὔτυκον φέρει
κακήν, τό τ᾿ εἰπεῖν εὐπετὲς μύσαγμά πως.
ὑμᾶς δ᾿ ἐπαινῶ μὴ καταισχύνειν ἐμέ,
ὥραν ἐχούσας τήνδ᾿ ἐπίστρεπτον βροτοῖς