Thursday, December 05, 2013

Eerie confusion in the chorus

Forgive this long, pedestrian entry.

The choral ode at the end of Hippolytus scene 5 has a lot of work to do. At the very least, it purports to bring us the civic response to the banishment of Hippolytus by his father, Theseus. The reaction can be construed as dual -- male companions singing strophes, female attendants of the dead queen singing the antistrophes.

But the ode, with lyric timelessness, also serves to mark a sense of time passing, and prepares us for the scene of high action that is about to come, the tale of the messenger. This dramatic anticipation seems in part the burden of the third and fourth strophes. If we try to chart the "logic" of the ode, it might go something like this:

If the first strophe raised the "thesis" of whether ordered powers exist in the world or whether all is randomness void of divine intention, the antistrophe then offers, as "antithesis," some practical sense of how to "survive" in the absence of meaning.

If we are now expecting synthesis, it does not appear to arrive. The third stanza, sung by Hippolytus's friends, reaches not some happy fusion of existential angst and "go along to get along," but something more on the order of darkness at noon:
οὐκέτι γὰρ καθαρὰν φρέν᾽ ἔχω 
no longer am I clear . . . 
καθαρὰνspotless, clear, untroubled, clean, free of debts, pure
φρέν᾽: seat of the passions; heart; mind.
The loss of clarity is linked to the banishment of the φανερώτατον ἀστέρ᾽ -- the most visible star -- of "Hellenic Athens." Given that the central ode had linked the story of Hippolytus with that of Phaethon and Helios (and the amber-weeping Heliades), then this "star" carries the force of the sun for the friends and attendants of Hippolytus, a palpable loss of clarity indeed.

 Within that darkness, bewilderment, loss of bearings, the chorus twice repeats εἴδομεν -- "I see":
εἴδομεν εἴδομεν ἐκ πατρὸς ὀργᾶς1125 
ἄλλαν ἐπ᾽ αἶαν ἱέμενον 
I see, I see out of his father's wrath
towards another land he hastens.
But, instead of a vision of that other land, the chorus turns back to address the old land from which Hippolytus is being expelled. The address -- an apostrophe -- breaks from narrating what the chorus "sees" to addressing what is lost -- the sands (not just beach, but sands of the city's shore) and mountain haunts in which the brightest star hunted, raced, exhibited his excellence and devotion to Artemis:
 ψάμαθοι πολιήτιδος ἀκτᾶς, δρυμὸς ὄρεοςὅθι κυνῶνὠκυπόδων μέτα θῆρας ἔναιρεν1130 
Δίκτυνναν ἀμφὶ σεμνάν. 
O sands of our city's shore, o mountain thickets where with his swift hounds he slew the wild beasts [1130] in company with holy Dictynna!

The name "Dictynna" evokes a tale from Crete that involves eros (Minos's) and flight that we can only point to en passant.

Here the mention of sands and shore anticipates the next scene with Hippolytus on the sandy shore. But the mountain thickets also echo the wild words of Phaedra in her first scene, when she enters, raving, disheveled,
Phaedra sung [215] Take me to the mountain: I mean to go to the wood, to the pine-wood, where hounds that kill wild beasts tread, running close after the dappled deer! By the gods, how I want to shout to the hounds [220] and to let fly past my golden hair a javelin of Thessaly, to hold in my hand the sharp-pointed weapon!
The chorus asks (141) whether she is possessed by the frenzy (ἔνθεος)  of Pan - ἔνθεος: god within - enthusiasm. To be en-theosed is not a state of mind one associates with sophrosyne.

In the next strophe, the chorus (presumably of women) addresses the absent Hippolytus, and echoes of Phaedra become more pronounced. As Hippolytus steps into his chariot to begin his fatal journey, the chorus evokes his horse-handling prowess:
No more shall you mount behind a pair of Enetic horses and take the Limnaean race-course with the feet of your trained steeds. [1135]
οὐκέτι συζυγίαν πώλων Ἐνετᾶν ἐπιβάσῃτὸν ἀμφὶ Λίμνας τρόχον κατέχων ποδὶ γυμνάδος ἵππου:
In Phaedra's first entrance, her mind has lost its self-mastery, and she raves of taming "Enetic horses":
Mistress of the Limnaean Salt Lake, Artemis, mistress of the coursing-ground for horses, [230] oh that I might find myself on your ground taming Enetic horses
δέσποιν᾽ ἁλίας Ἄρτεμι Λίμνας καὶ γυμνασίων τῶν ἱπποκρότων,230εἴθε γενοίμαν ἐν σοῖς δαπέδοις,πώλους Ἐνέτας δαμαλιζομένα.
The love-struck queen's erotic fantasy (of Artemis!) interweaves with the choral vision of the chaste pursuits of Hippolytus, producing a chiastic (ABBA) pattern:

Enter Phaedra : Horse taming :: Horsemanship of Hippolytus : Exit Hippolytus.

The loss of pure clarity of the choral singers brings a confusion of Phaedra and Hippolytus, or an interfusion of the two characters -- "alike" in both being victims of Aphrodite's anger. There is a sense of duality, of two who are in some sense, through a "twist" of fate, as one.

The epode brings the chorus from reflection to action -- to what it will do:

ἐγὼ δὲ σᾷ δυστυχίᾳ
δάκρυσι διοίσω πότμον
ἄποτμον τάλαινα μᾶ-
1145τερἔτεκες ἀνόναταφεῦ:
μανίω θεοῖσιν.
ἰὼ ἰώ:
συζύγιαι Χάριτεςτί τὸν τάλαν᾽ ἐκ πατρίας γᾶς
οὐδὲν ἄτας αἴτιον
1150πέμπετε τῶνδ᾽ ἀπ᾽ οἴκων;
But I for my part will spread abroad your unhappy fate with tears at your misfortune. O unhappy mother, [1145] it was to no purpose that you bore him. Oh, I am angry with the gods! Ye Graces that dance your round, why do you not accompany this man from this house? He has been ruined by his father's wrath [1150] but is guiltless of no mad deed.
No comforting sense of closure here, only a sense of injustice that extends from the king to the Graces (how ungraceful of them!) and the gods.

A few notes, briefly, as this is already too long:

1. "Enetic" horses relates to the Veneti, early settlers of the region around Venice, Italy. Legend had it they were remnants from Troy (like Aeneas). Later on, these tribes chose to side with the Romans, but in the 5th century they were a people known for their fast horses and amber.

2. Let's remember, Hippolytus is the great-great-grandson of Pelops (father of Pittheus), the horseman who claimed Hippodamia -- by bribing her brutal father Oenomaus's charioteer to replace a metal axle with one of wax, leading to the king's death.  Some say this occurred near where Hippolytus has his mutilating collision in his chariot. The lethal trickery of Pelops -- a favorite of Poseidon -- lies behind this tale of Thesesus and Hippolytus

3. The mad words of Phaedra curiously echo "Hippodamia," which means "horse-tamer":

ἱπποκρότων,230εἴθε γενοίμαν ἐν σοῖς δαπέδοις,πώλους Ἐνέτας δαμαλιζομένα.

The technical term for a linguistic phenomenon in which the beginning and ending of a word is split by other inserted words is tmesis, from the Greek word for "cut". Tmesis occurs several times in the play. Note the eerie effect: uncanny echoes of the past bleed through the words the confused chorus sings just before the play turns to the wondrous death of Hippolytus.