Monday, November 04, 2013

The eye of Theseus

ἔα ἔα:
τί δή ποθ᾽ ἥδε δέλτος ἐκ φίλης χερὸς
ἠρτημένηθέλει τι σημῆναι νέον;
ἀλλ᾽  λέχους μοι καὶ τέκνων ἐπιστολὰς
ἔγραψεν  δύστηνοςἐξαιτουμένη;
860θάρσειτάλαιναλέκτρα γὰρ τὰ Θησέως
οὐκ ἔστι δῶμά θ᾽ ἥτις εἴσεισιν γυνή.
καὶ μὴν τύποι γε σφενδόνης χρυσηλάτου
τῆς οὐκέτ᾽ οὔσης οἵδε προσσαίνουσί με.
φέρ᾽ ἐξελίξας περιβολὰς σφραγισμάτων
865ἴδω τί λέξαι δέλτος ἥδε μοι θέλει.
Theseus What's this? What can it be, this tablet hanging from her dear hand? Does it want to tell me of something I do not know? Has the poor woman written me a message of entreaty about our marriage and children? [860] Fear not, poor woman: there is no woman who shall take possession of the bed and house of Theseus. (He takes up the tablet.) See, the impress of the dead woman's gold-chased seal attracts my eyes. Come, let me open its sealed wrappings [865] and see what this tablet wishes to tell me.
The tablet hangs from Phaedra's dead hand -- Euripides uses the same word here -- ἠρτημένη -- that was used to describe Phaedra's body hanging from the rafter. His eyes are drawn to it, and the language dwells upon seeing and the intricate thing being seen:
καὶ μὴνWhy look!, he says, τύποι γε σφενδόνης χρυσηλάτου the impress (form, shape) of the bezel (or seal) of beaten gold προσσαίνουσί με -- literally: fawns on me, pleases, coaxes my attention.
He continues:
ἐξελίξας περιβολὰς σφραγισμάτων
Let me unfold the wrappings, (garments, twinings) of the impression of the signet, the seal  
ἴδω τί λέξαι δέλτος ἥδε μοι θέλει.
to see what the tablet wants to say to me.
Theseus's speech shifts from deluded speculation about what the tablet might say to a curiously vivid and concrete description of the appearance of the seal which has caught his eye. The usual rhetorical term for this sort of vivid showing is hypotyposis (enargeia)
Gk hypotypōsis, fr. hypotypoun to sketch, outline, fr. hypo- + typoun to stamp, form (fr. typos impression, cast)
He is about to read something that speaks of a deed which he'll say dishonors "the eye of Zeus," that is, the sun. It's worth pondering why Euripides chose to present such a vivid description of the seal, the tablet, the act of unwrapping it, all this in the eye of Theseus, as he is about to read a text depicting a deed never seen by the eye of Theseus, or by the sun.


ane pixestos said...

I have given the pondering a try... of this syllogism of impressions that aren't memories.

Unwrapping no garment but the noosed snare set for he who chose the chase over love. Quite unsettling.

I do not understand the bit about the ῥᾴδιος, though, is the point that the adaptable do not meet with tragedy?

The French translation also in the other post is very beautiful.

Tom Matrullo said...

Not memories, not at all. The seal as official, yet also as signature, and "noosed snare."

Not sure about ῥᾴδιος, but that stanza recalls for me the approach voiced by the Nurse earlier:

You are in love: why is that so strange? It is a condition you share with many. [440] Will you, because of love, destroy your own life? Those who are in love today or shall be tomorrow get little profit, then, if they must die for it. Aphrodite, if she streams upon us in great force, cannot be endured....

The voice of the commons knows about "getting by."