Remember the Name Medea: Reading Apollonius Rhodes’ “Argonautica” Online

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 1.1

“Starting with you, Apollo, let me recall the tales of men
born long ago…”

Ἀρχόμενος σέο, Φοῖβε, παλαιγενέων κλέα φωτῶν
μνήσομαι…

Video Feed: April 28, 3pm EDT

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 3.1-5

“Erato, come and stand by me and tell me how Jason
took to fleece back to Iolkos with the help
of Medea’s love. You share in Aphrodite’s realm
and you bewitch the unmarried girls with worries
and this is the very reason you won your name.”

εἰ δ᾽ ἄγε νῦν, Ἐρατώ, παρά θ᾽ ἵστασο, καί μοι ἔνισπε,
ἔνθεν ὅπως ἐς Ἰωλκὸν ἀνήγαγε κῶας Ἰήσων
Μηδείης ὑπ᾽ ἔρωτι. σὺ γὰρ καὶ Κύπριδος αἶσαν
ἔμμορες, ἀδμῆτας δὲ τεοῖς μελεδήμασι θέλγεις
5παρθενικάς: τῶ καί τοι ἐπήρατον οὔνομ᾽ ἀνῆπται.

In the first year of Reading Greek Tragedy Online, we wandered on our path a little bit to comedy, fragments, and even to epic. This year we are moving out of the archaic and classical worlds to the Hellenistic period, turning to our only full telling of the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodes.

There were certainly versions of the tale before Ap. Rhodes made his break with Callimachus for epic’s rushing river. Indeed, it is pretty clear that the story of the Voyage of the Argo was an ancient one that was told in many forms, likely influencing and being influenced by Homer’s Odyssey and many other lost traditions. But the way we name the tale is important: it is not just the story of Jason and his crew. It is also the story of Medea, a quest, and a love affair arranged by scheming gods.

In a way, there are elements of Argonautica in the Iliad, the Odyssey, and in Vergil’s later Aeneid. And its story blends into theirs as well. As Catullus frames it in Carmen 64, it was the voyage of the Argo that brought Peleus to Thetis, one domino that needed to fall to lead to their marriage banquet, the arrival of Eris, the golden apple, and so much more.

But Ovid probably encapsulates one view of the voyage best, in Amores 2.11:

“As waves watched, shocked, the pine cut down from Pelion’s peak
Was the first to teach us the evil ways of the sea—
That one that raced madly through crushing cliffs
And made to steal the gold-marked fleece.
I wish the Argo had been overcome, drawing a deep funereal drink
Then no oar would have troubled the broad water’s peace.”

Prima malas docuit mirantibus aequoris undis
Peliaco pinus vertice caesa vias,
Quae concurrentis inter temeraria cautes
Conspicuam fulvo vellere vexit ovem.
o utinam, nequis remo freta longa moveret,
Argo funestas pressa bibisset aquas!

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 3.1405-7

He went back into the city, mixing into the Kolkhians,
turning over how he might oppose them more swiftly.
The day ended and Jason’s labor was finished.”

ἤιε δ᾿ ἐς πτολίεθρον ὑπότροπος ἄμμιγα Κόλχοις,
πορφύρων, ᾗ κέ σφι θοώτερον ἀντιόῳτο.
ἦμαρ ἔδυ, καὶ τῷ τετελεσμένος ἦεν ἄεθλος.

Special Guest: Jackie Murray

Translation (of performance): Aaron Poochigian

Apollonius Rhodes, 3.56

“Mock me all you want! My heart upset by this ruin”

“κερτομέεις, νῶιν δὲ κέαρ συνορίνεται ἄτῃ.

Cast

Hannah Barrie – Narrator/Phineus
Tamieka Chavis – Narrator
Paul Hurley – Narrator/Aeetes
Lily Ling – Jason
Natasha Magigi – Medea
David Rubin – Narrator/Heracles

Director: Paul O’Mahony

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 3.1069-1071

“Should you ever make it back to your home again
remember the name Medea, and I in turn will remember you
even though you are far away…”

“μνώεο δ᾿, ἢν ἄρα δή ποθ᾿ ὑπότροπος οἴκαδ᾿ ἵκηαι,
οὔνομα Μηδείης· ὣς δ᾿ αὖτ᾿ ἐγὼ ἀμφὶς ἐόντος
μνήσομαι…

Production Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Host and Faculty Consultant: Joel Christensen (Brandeis University)
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Production Assistant: Francesca Bellei (Harvard University)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturgical Support: Emma Pauly and Emma Joy Hill
Associate Directors: Beth Burns, Liz Fisher, Tabatha Gayle, Laura Keefe, and Toph Marshall
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Poster Illustration Artist: John Koelle

For other episodes

go here for previous episodes or to youtube for the full playlist

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 1.20-22

“Now I would like to recite the family and names of the heroes
their journeys through the treacherous sea and all the things
they did while they wandered. I hope the Muses will be supporters of my song.”

νῦν δ᾿ ἂν ἐγὼ γενεήν τε καὶ οὔνομα μυθησαίμην
ἡρώων, δολιχῆς τε πόρους ἁλός, ὅσσα τ᾿ ἔρεξαν
πλαζόμενοι· Μοῦσαι δ᾿ ὑποφήτορες εἶεν ἀοιδῆς.

 

Next Performance

Wednesday, May 26 | Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s El Monstruo de los Jardines (The Monster in the Garden) with Francisco Barrenechea (University of Maryland, College Park); translation by C. Svich

Defining Literature through Performance: A Conversation about #RGTO

Leon Battista Alberti,  On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Literature (Part V):

“I had often heard a great number of the most serious and most erudite men recalling those things about the study of literature which could not unjustly drive anyone away from literature and the desire of learning.:

Sepe audiveram plerosque gravissimos eruditissimosque viros de studiis litterarum ea referentes que non iniuria possent a litteris discendique cupiditate ununquenque avertere.

Today A Bit Lit debuted a video of Paul O’Mahony, Evvy Miller, and me talking about literature, performance, and experience based on our experience with Reading Greek Tragedy Online. We tell the story of how we started doing these readings and give personal narratives about what the performances meant to us during the pandemic and how the experiences changed our idea of what literature is and does in the world.

Want more? Here’s a podcast Paul, Lanah Koelle, and I did last year on the origin of Reading Greek Tragedy Online.

RGTO returns next week, April 28th, with Jackie Murray and the Argonautica!

Cicero, Pro Archia 16

“But if this clear profit [of studying literature] is not clear and if entertainment alone should be sought from these pursuits, I still believe that you would judge them the most humanizing and enlightening exercise of the mind.

For other activities do not partake in all times, all ages, and all places—reading literature sharpens us in youth and comforts us in old age. It brings adornment to our successes and solace to our failures. It delights when we are at home and creates no obstacle for us out in the world. It is our companion through long nights, long journeys, and months in rural retreats.”

Quod si non hic tantus fructus ostenderetur et si ex his studiis delectatio sola peteretur, tamen, ut opinor, hanc animi adversionem humanissimam ac liberalissimam iudicaretis. Nam ceterae neque temporum sunt neque aetatum omnium neque locorum: haec studia adolescentiam acuunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solacium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.

Gilbert Murray, The Interpretation of Ancient Greek Literature

“There are many elements in the work of Homer or Aeschylus which are obsolete and even worthless, but there is no surpassing their essential poetry. It is there, a permanent power which we can feel or fail to feel, and if we fail the world is the poorer. And the same is true, though a little less easy to see, of the essential work of the historian or the philosopher.”

O Sappho, Who Wrongs You?

Sappho, fr. 1

Many-minded immortal Aphrodite,
Child of Zeus, plot weaver, I implore you:
Don’t with vexations and frustrations break
My heart, O queen.

Instead, come here, if ever in past times
From far off you heard, and heeded, my calls;
And quitting your father’s golden palace,
You came,

After yoking the chariot. Small birds,
Handsome, swift, bore you across the black earth.
Their fast wings whirred from the upper heavens
down through the middle air.

Quick, their arrival. Then you, blessed one,
A smile on your immortal countenance,
Asked: what is it, this time, that’s happened to me;
Why, this time, do I call;

And what does my crazed heart most desire:
“Whom, this time, must I persuade—
Go out, that is, and bring into your love?
O Sappho, who wrongs you?

Even if she’s fleeing, soon she’ll pursue.
If she’s refusing gifts, she’ll give them.
If she’s not in love, soon she’ll be in love—
Even if against her will.”

Come this time too. Release me from hard cares.
Whatever my heart wishes to see done,
Bring about. And you yourself, be my ally
In this fight.

ποικιλόφρον’ ἀθανάτ Ἀφρόδιτα,
παῖ Δίος δολόπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε,
μή μ’ ἄσαισι μηδ’ ὀνίαισι δάμνα,
πότνια, θῦμον,

ἀλλὰ τυίδ’ ἔλθ’, αἴ ποτα κἀτέρωτα
τὰς ἔμας αὔδας ἀίοισα πήλοι
ἔκλυες, πάτρος δὲ δόμον λίποισα
χρύσιον ἦλθες

ἄρμ’ ὐπασδεύξαισα· κάλοι δέ σ’ ἆγον
ὤκεες στροῦθοι περὶ γᾶς μελαίνας
πύκνα δίννεντες πτέρ’ ἀπ’ ὠράνωἴθε-
ρος διὰ μέσσω·

αἶψα δ’ ἐξίκοντο· σὺ δ’, ὦ μάκαιρα,
μειδιαίσαισ’ ἀθανάτωι προσώπωι
ἤρε’ ὄττι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι
δηὖτε κάλημμι

κὤττι μοι μάλιστα θέλω γένεσθαι
μαινόλαι θύμωι· τίνα δηὖτε πείθω
[βαι]σ’ ἄγην ἐς σὰν φιλότατα; τίς σ’, ὦ
Ψάπφ’, ἀδικήει;

καὶ γὰρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέως διώξει,
αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ’, ἀλλὰ δώσει,
αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει, ταχέως φιλήσει
κωὐκ ἐθέλοισα.

ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλέπαν δὲ λῦσον
ἐκ μερίμναν, ὄσσα δέ μοι τέλεσσαι
θῦμος ἰμέρρει, τέλεσον, σὺ δ’ αὔτα
σύμμαχος ἔσσο.

A wayward thought:

The conventional reading of the lyric assumes that the speaker is a lover (name: Sappho) who needs Aphrodite’s help to win (or punish) a reluctant beloved. An alternative interpretation: Sappho is a singer who needs Aphrodite’s help not to win a lover but to compose a persuasive love song. This reading turns first on the summons “come here” and “come”, and then on the god’s epiphany—or rather, the unexpected sounding of the god’s voice.

The temptation is to hear in the call to Aphrodite the traditional summons of lyric hymn. There, the suppliant speaker calls on the god to perform some beneficial task. For example, Anacreon 357:

On my knees I beg you,
Come to me,
Listen to my pleasing prayer:
To Cleobulus be
A good counselor so that he accepts
My love, O Dionysus.

In Sappho 1, things are somewhat different. The call to Aphrodite more resembles an invocation to the muse, the plea to enable song making (not find a lover). We might associate this practice with epic, but of course it exists in Archaic lyric too. Alcman 27:

Come, Muse Calliope, daughter of Zeus—
Begin with lovely verses—
Put charm into our hymn—
And make our dance a graceful one.

In Alcman’s figural language, the muse is to “begin” the very song Alcman himself is beginning to sing. Hesiod says of the muses, “they breathed into me wonderous song,” (Theog. 31-32) and Alcman asks the same of his muse. And so does Sappho. But what’s distinctive about Sappho is that she makes literal what is only metaphorical in the tradition. The voice of her responsive god literally issues from her throat as she sings her song (strophes 5 and 6). This is what it means for the god to have come: it is Aphrodite who “begins” when Sappho sings, enabling her song. The struggle of song-making: That’s the fight in which she needs an ally. In the absence of the allied muse, song-making would be an exercise in “vexations and frustrations.”

Anacreon 357 (excerpt)

γουνοῦμαί σε, σὺ δ’ εὐμενὴς
ἔλθ’ ἡμίν, κεχαρισμένης
δ’ εὐχωλῆς ἐπακούειν·
Κλεοβούλωι δ’ ἀγαθὸς γένεο
σύμβουλος, τὸν ἐμόν γ’ ἔρωτ’,
ὦ Δεόνυσε, δέχεσθαι.

Alcman 27

Μῶσ᾿ ἄγε Καλλιόπα, θύγατερ Διός,
ἄρχ᾿ ἐρατῶν ϝεπέων, ἐπὶ δ᾿ ἵμερον
ὕμνῳ καὶ χαρίεντα τίθη χορόν.

Terra Cotta amphora. Attributed to the Berlin Painter. c.490 BC. Young man singing and playing the Kythera. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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

“A Body With Wings:” Returning to Euripides’ “Helen”

Euripides, Helen

I am called Helen. And I should tell you the evils
I have suffered. Three goddesses went to the folds
O Mt. Ida to Alexander about their beauty,
Hera, the Kyprian, and the Zeus-born maiden,
Because they wanted him to complete a judgement of their ‘form’.
My beauty–if misfortune is beautiful–
Is what the Kyprian offered, for Alexander to marry,
In order to win. After Idaian Paris left the cow-stall
He went to Sparta seeking my bed.

Ελένη δ’ ἐκλήθην. ἃ δὲ πεπόνθαμεν κακὰ
λέγοιμ’ ἄν. ἦλθον τρεῖς θεαὶ κάλλους πέρι
᾿Ιδαῖον ἐς κευθμῶν’ ᾿Αλέξανδρον πάρα,
῞Ηρα Κύπρις τε διογενής τε παρθένος,
μορφῆς θέλουσαι διαπεράνασθαι κρίσιν.
τοὐμὸν δὲ κάλλος, εἰ καλὸν τὸ δυστυχές,
Κύπρις προτείνασ’ ὡς ᾿Αλέξανδρος γαμεῖ,
νικᾶι. λιπὼν δὲ βούσταθμ’ ᾿Ιδαῖος Πάρις
Σπάρτην ἀφίκεθ’ ὡς ἐμὸν σχήσων λέχος.

Over a year ago, the Center for Hellenic Studies sponsored the creation of Reading Greek Tragedy Online with Out of Chaos Theatre, led by Paul O’Mahony. Our first performance was Euripides’ Helen and from there we went on to present readings from every extant Greek tragedy. In that first gathering, we talked about how important it is to retain human contact and communication to stay sane, how the arts help us reflect on being human and how in these frightening times the humanities have no less a purchase on our imaginations and our needs than at any other.

This year we return to the scene of the crime: Egypt, with Helen, and a whole host of questions of who we are after so much time on the sidelines.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0IP_wc3y_0https://t.co/MAD7GUJFAn?amp=1

Euripides, Helen 605

“Your wife has gone invisible, lifted up
To the folds of the sky. She is hidden by heaven,
After leaving the sacred cave where we watched her
once she said this: ‘Wretched Phrygians
And all the Greeks who were dying for me
On the Scamandrian banks thanks to Hera’s devices,
All because you thought that Paris had Helen when he didn’t.
But I, since I was here for as long as was necessary,
have finished my purpose, and I am going to the father
In the sky. The wretched daughter of Tyndareus
Has evil fame wrongly, when it is not her fault.’

Oh, hello, daughter of Leda. You were really here.
I was announcing that you went to the glens of the stars
Even though I knew that you didn’t really have
A body with wings. I won’t allow you to mock us
In this again—the way you were creating plenty of toils
To your husband and his allies.”

βέβηκεν ἄλοχος σὴ πρὸς αἰθέρος πτυχὰς
ἀρθεῖσ᾿ ἄφαντος· οὐρανῷ δὲ κρύπτεται
λιποῦσα σεμνὸν ἄντρον οὗ σφ᾿ ἐσῴζομεν,
τοσόνδε λέξασ᾿· Ὦ ταλαίπωροι Φρύγες
πάντες τ᾿ Ἀχαιοί, δι᾿ ἔμ᾿ ἐπὶ Σκαμανδρίοις
ἀκταῖσιν Ἥρας μηχαναῖς ἐθνῄσκετε,
δοκοῦντες Ἑλένην οὐκ ἔχοντ᾿ ἔχειν Πάριν.
ἐγὼ δ᾿, ἐπειδὴ χρόνον ἔμειν᾿ ὅσον μ᾿ ἐχρῆν,
τὸ μόρσιμον σώσασα πατέρ᾿ ἐς οὐρανὸν
ἄπειμι· φήμας δ᾿ ἡ τάλαινα Τυνδαρὶς
ἄλλως κακὰς ἤκουσεν οὐδὲν αἰτία.

ὦ χαῖρε, Λήδας θύγατερ, ἐνθάδ᾿ ἦσθ᾿ ἄρα.
ἐγὼ δέ σ᾿ ἄστρων ὡς βεβηκυῖαν μυχοὺς
ἤγγελλον εἰδὼς οὐδὲν ὡς ὑπόπτερον
δέμας φοροίης. οὐκ ἐῶ σε κερτομεῖν
ἡμᾶς τόδ᾿ αὖθις· ὡς ἅδην ἐν Ἰλίῳ
πόνους παρεῖχες σῷ πόσει καὶ συμμάχοις.

Performers (Diane Rayor’s translation)

Helen – Evelyn Miller
Menelaos – Rene Thornton
Theoklymenos – Richard Neale
Woman – Eunice Roberts
Theonoe/Chorus/Shadow – Hannah Barrie
Teucer/Messenger – Zack Dictakis
Servant – Paul O’Mahony
Director: Tabatha Gayle

Euripides, Helen 698-699

“if you find good luck in the time that is left
Perhaps it will be solace for the things in the past”

εἰ καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ τῆς τύχης εὐδαίμονος
τύχοιτε, πρὸς τὰ πρόσθεν ἀρκέσειεν ἄν.

Special Guests: Lyndsay Coo, Ria Modak, and Pria Jackson

Euripides, Helen 483–491

‘What am I saying? What can I say? I am learning
terrible troubles on top of my old ones.
If I brought my wife, captured from Troy,
When I came here and she is safe in a cave,
Then someone else has the same name as my wife
And lives in this house here.
But this old lady said that she is the child of Zeus.
Is there some dude named Zeus who lives
On the banks of the Nile? There’s only one in heaven.

Με. τί φῶ; τί λέξω; συμφορὰς γὰρ ἀθλίας
ἐκ τῶν πάροιθε τὰς παρεστώσας κλύω,
εἰ τὴν μὲν αἱρεθεῖσαν ἐκ Τροίας ἄγων
ἥκω δάμαρτα καὶ κατ’ ἄντρα σώιζεται,
ὄνομα δὲ ταὐτὸν τῆς ἐμῆς ἔχουσά τις
δάμαρτος ἄλλη τοισίδ’ ἐνναίει δόμοις.
Διὸς δ’ ἔλεξε παῖδά νιν πεφυκέναι·
ἀλλ’ ἦ τις ἔστι Ζηνὸς ὄνομ’ ἔχων ἀνὴρ
Νείλου παρ’ ὄχθας; εἶς γὰρ ὅ γε κατ’ οὐρανόν.

Production Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Host and Faculty Consultant: Joel Christensen (Brandeis University)
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Production Assistant: Francesca Bellei (Harvard University)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturgical Support: Emma Pauly and Emma Joy Hill
Associate Directors: Beth Burns, Liz Fisher, Tabatha Gayle, Laura Keefe, and Toph Marshall
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Poster Illustration Artist: John Koelle

Euripides, Helen

M: After killing you over the back of this grave I will kill myself.
But first we will fight a great fight over your bed.
Let any man who wants to come near.
I will not bring shame to my Trojan fame,
Nor will I have left Greece to get great blame,
I, the man who deprived Thetis of Achilles,
Who saw Telamonian Ajax slaughter himself
And saw Neleus’ son made childless! Should I not
Think it right that I should die for my own wife?

Με. τύμβου ‘πὶ νώτοις σὲ κτανὼν ἐμὲ κτενῶ.
πρῶτον δ’ ἀγῶνα μέγαν ἀγωνιούμεθα
λέκτρων ὑπὲρ σῶν· ὁ δὲ θέλων ἴτω πέλας.
τὸ Τρωϊκὸν γὰρ οὐ καταισχυνῶ κλέος
οὐδ’ ῾Ελλάδ’ ἐλθὼν λήψομαι πολὺν ψόγον,
ὅστις Θέτιν μὲν ἐστέρησ’ ᾿Αχιλλέως,
Τελαμωνίου δ’ Αἴαντος εἰσεῖδον σφαγὰς
τὸν Νηλέως τ’ ἄπαιδα· διὰ δὲ τὴν ἐμὴν
οὐκ ἀξιώσω κατθανεῖν δάμαρτ’ ἐγώ;

Upcoming Performances (go here for previous episodes or to youtube for the full playlist)

Wednesday, April 28 | Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica with Jackie Murray (University of Kentucky)

Wednesday, May 26 | TBA

The Remains Of Your Sons: Reading Seneca’s Thyestes Online

Seneca, Thyestes 242-243

“…Look to Tantalus and Pelops—
My hands beg for their examples.”

Tantalum et Pelopem aspice;
ad haec manus exempla poscuntur meae.

Seneca, Thyestes 18-20

“Now a mob is is coming on from our family
Which will outpace us all and make me innocent,
Daring the undared.”

….iam nostra subit
e stirpe turba quae suum vincat genus
ac me innocentem faciat et inausa audeat.

Last year as the COVID19 pandemic closed theaters and sent all classrooms into digital space, Out of Chaos Theatre in collaboration with the Center for Hellenic Studies presented over 40 episodes of Reading Greek Tragedy Online: performances from every extant Greek tragedies, a few comedies, a satyr play, fragments and even some epic too.

2021 brings us an ongoing plague and a new season of Reading Greek Tragedy Online. This year we’re sticking with Greek myth, but getting Roman with it to start, turning to the early Empire and Seneca’s Thyestes.

Seneca, Thyestes 29-36

“Let no one have time to hate an ancient crime,
Have a new one always replace it and not
Merely one at a time but while a crime is punished
Let it grow! May the power slip from the arrogant brothers
And return when they’re exiled. May this house slip
On uncertain chance of violence among unsafe kings.
Ah, may the powerful fall low and the low get power.
May chance toss the kingdom on churning waves.”

nec vacet cuiquam vetus
odisse crimen: semper oriatur novum,
nec unum in uno, dumque punitur scelus,
crescat. superbis fratribus regna excidant
repetantque profugos; dubia violentae domus
fortuna reges inter incertos labet;
miser ex potente fiat, ex misero potens,
fluctuque regnum casus assiduo ferat.

Performers

GHOST OF TANTALUS (grandfather of Atreus and Thyestes) – Paul O’Mahony
FURY (a goddess from the Underworld) – Evelyn Miller
ATREUS (king of Argos) – Sara Valentine
ATTENDANT to Atreus – Paul O’Mahony
THYESTES (exiled brother of Atreus) – David Rubin
TANTALUS (son of Thyestes) – Evelyn Miller
MESSENGER –Tim Delap

Special Guest: Helen Slaney

Seneca, Thyestes 192-96

“Come, spirit, do what no future age will approve
But none will fail to mention. I must dare some crime
A fierce, bloody kind, one that my brother would want
To call his own. You do not avenge crimes unless
You commit greater ones.”

Age, anime, fac quod nulla posteritas probet,
sed nulla taceat. aliquod audendum est nefas
atrox, cruentum, tale quod frater meus
suum esse mallet. scelera non ulcisceris,
nisi vincis…

Production Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Host and Faculty Consultant: Joel Christensen (Brandeis University)
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Production Assistant: Francesca Bellei (Harvard University)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturgical Support: Emma Pauly and Emma Joy Hill
Associate Directors: Beth Burns, Liz Fisher, Tabatha Gayle, Laura Keefe, and Toph Marshall
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Poster Illustration Artist: John Koelle

Seneca, Thyestes 247-8

“A mild tyrant murders: in my kingdom, people pray for death.”

perimat tyrannus lenis; in regno meo
mors impetratur.

Scenes (translation, Paul Murgatroyd)

ACT ONE (1–121) – Ghost of Tantalus, Fury
ACT TWO (176–335) – Atreus, Attendant
ACT THREE (404–545) – Thyestes, Tantalus, Atreus
ACT FOUR (623–788) – Messenger, Chorus Leader
ACT FIVE (885–1112) – Atreus, Thyestes

Seneca, Thyestes 348-353

“A king is someone who can put fear aside
Along with the evils of a harsh heart—
Someone over whom ambition has no power
And the fickle love of the raging mob
Can never move…”

rex est qui posuit metus
et diri mala pectoris;
quem non ambitio impotens
et numquam stabilis favor
vulgi praecipitis movet

Upcoming Performances (go here for previous episodes or to youtube for the full playlist)

Wednesday, February 24 | Seneca’s Thyestes with Helen Slaney (La Trobe University); translation by P. Murgatroyd

Wednesday, March 31 | TBA

Wednesday, April 28 | Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica with Jackie Murray (University of Kentucky)

Wednesday, May 26 | TBA

Seneca, Thyestes 400-402

“Death rests heavy on the one
Who is known too well to all
But dies ignorant of himself.”

illi mors gravis incubat
qui, notus nimis omnibus,
ignotus moritur sibi.

Nosadella Tiestes y Aérope.jpg
Nosadella, Thyestes and Aerope 16th Century https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nosadella_Tiestes_y_A%C3%A9rope.jpg

Seneca, Thyestes 1032

“Whatever remains from your sons, you have;
You have what doesn’t remain too.”

…Quidquid e natis tuis
superest habes, quodcumque non superest habes

To Speak With(Out) Vergil’s Voice

Fr. 3 Seneca the Elder ( Donat. Vita Vergilii, 29.)

“Seneca reports that Julius Montanus was in the habit of saying that he would have stolen certain things from Vergil if he could have his voice, and comportment, and dramatic ability. [He added] that the same verses sounded beautifuly when Vergil was reciting but without him they were meaningless and mute.”

3. Et Seneca tradidit Iulium Montanum poetam solitum dicere involaturum se Vergilio quaedam, si et vocem posset et os et hypocrisin; eosdem enim versus ipso pronuntiante bene sonare, sine illo inanes esse mutosque.

Image result for medieval manuscript portrait vergil
The Vergilius Romanus

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.