Monday, October 27, 2014

Night and Sun in the first ode: Women of Trachis

He to whom flickering Night, despoiled of shining armor 
gives birth and lays down to sleep ablaze, 
Sun, Sun, I ask 
that you proclaim this,
where is Alcmena's son, 
where dwells her child? O radiant fiery flash, 
is he in the hollow seas, or does he wander the twin continents? 
Speak, O strongest eye!


The chorus of Women of Trachis begins its first ode at a very high pitch. The compressed scene of the first two lines: Night, stripped of her starry armor like a slain Homeric hero, gives birth to the sun, whose plundering blaze is extinguished within her deep folds. It's the agon of light on Earth. To hear that Night is stripped like the corpse of a Homeric warrior should cause wonder. Who, what, is this mother who births the warrior that despoils her arms, and tucks him in?  

Mothers so despoiled by their children might not be content. Is Night angry with the plunderer? She tucks him in every evening - a mild ministry of love? Or a reassertion of her ineluctable primacy, her beforeness, that no entity, however hot and bright, can displace. Certainly Heracles, whose whereabouts the sun is begged to publicly proclaim after the manner of a herald, has encountered his share of potent angry goddesses. The anger started before he was born, and ended only with his conflagration. Hera's fury.

Enfolding mother and solar son, each taking the other down just when that other appears invincible. The virginal maidens of Trachis might be singing the ode, but its burden is Sophoclean. In this cosmic context, nothing, not even motherhood, is sacred. In the unceasing sacrifice, a making sacred might not be unimaginable -- but it's probably not going to be demonstrable. Yet even Zeus fears to anger Night.

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