Monday, July 29, 2013

Theseus' difficulties with the opposite sex

Unlike Hippolytus, Theseus was a devotee of Aphrodite, and a builder of bonds, relations, between alien entities:
As Heracles was the Dorian hero, Theseus was the Athenian founding hero, considered by them as their own great reformer: his name comes from the same root as θεσμός ("thesmos"), Greek for "institution". He was responsible for the synoikismos ("dwelling together") — the political unification of Attica under Athens, represented emblematically in his journey of labours, subduing highly localized ogres and monstrous beasts. Because he was the unifying king, Theseus built and occupied a palace on the fortress of the Acropolis that may have been similar to the palace that was excavated in Mycenae. Pausanias reports that after thesynoikismos, Theseus established a cult of Aphrodite Pandemos ("Aphrodite of all the People") and Peitho on the southern slope of the Acropolis.
It is worthwhile to look at Hippolytus in relation to his father's devotion to Aphrodite Pandemos, which suggests an openness, an affability, a willingness to tolerate and accept all the people. Euripides is at pains to indicate how Hippolytus veers away from this democratic approach -- the young man prides himself on being a natural follower of Artemis, different from those who might have learned of her from books. His appreciation of her is bound up with his very nature, he says:
Shamefast Awe [αἰδώς] tends this garden with streams of river-water, for those to pluck who have acquired nothing by teaching but rather in whose very nature [80 φύσει] chastity [σωφρονεῖν (sound-mindedness, self-control)] in all things has ever won its place [εἴληχεν (connotations of chance, rather than artifice]: the base may not pluck.

Theseus, in marked contrast, is linked to many women; four in particular stand out:
Ariadne - daughter of Minos who betrayed her father/king, abandoned.
Hippolyta - Amazon queen, mistress (?),  mother of Hippolytus.
Phaedra - daughter of Minos, wife, mother of his two sons.
Helen - abducted by him and Perithoos when a young girl.
If nothing else, the list suggests that Theseus was not put off by obstacles that might give pause to less pandemic followers of Aphrodite. None of these relationships led to solid alliances, either with the individual women or with their peoples.

At the beginning of the Hippolytus, Theseus could have envisioned the fusion of a realm including Crete, Athens and Troezen, an incipient union of Attica, Argos and Minos' empire. By the end of the play, those prospects are gone.

The tale of his erotic exploits has him go on to capture Helen, leading to his entrapment in Hades, where he not only lost half his buttocks (gained the nickname hypolispos), but also Helen, who was re-captured by her brothers Castor and Pollux during his absence. "The rape of Helen is said to have filled Attica with war," says Plutarch. It intensified the rivalry between Athens and Sparta and led to Theseus' loss of the rule of Athens and to his eventual death in exile at Scyros.

More on Theseus here, here, and of course in Plutarch's life, which he paired with that of Romulus.

It cannot have escaped Euripides' notice that Theseus's choices of women were uniformly disastrous. And that it's Hippolytus' elitist ideas of eros, especially with regard to the love of women, that precipitates the hero's lethal curse upon his son.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Phaedra's robes

Phaedra and Nurse, Pompei

Interwoven motifs in the Hippolytus suggest great care on Euripides' part. Take, for example, this exchange between the "nurse" (nurturer, caregiver) and Phaedra (316-17):
Τροφός ἁγνὰς μέν παῖχεῖρας αἵματος φορεῖς;
Φαίδρα χεῖρες μὲν ἁγναίφρὴν δ᾽ ἔχει μίασμά τι.

Nurse Pure and clean, (hagnos), child, are your hands from bearing blood?
Phaedra My hands are pure, my heart bears the stain (miasma).
Every noun here is fraught with gathering layers of significance at play in the text. Hands -- the act of touching, being touched, the external border between two interiors, the touch of pollution -- will return throughout, with great power in the closing scene. There, Theseus, finally knowing, says to Hippolytus:
Θησεύς  τὴν ἐμὴν ἄναγνον ἐκλιπὼν χέρα
And will you leave me with my hands unclean?
The play of hand and heart, internal and invisible vs. external, visible (the word martyr, μάρτυςi.e., "witness," runs throughout the text), word and act, intent and execution, is everywhere, as is the motif of purity, being clean, free, of pollution (miasma, stain.)

It pays to not exclude choral songs from this interplay. Take the first lines of the first Choral Ode:
Χορός"κεανοῦ τις ὕδωρ στάζουσα πέτρα λέγεται,  
βαπτὰν κάλπισι πα-
γὰν ῥυτὰν προιεῖσα κρημνῶν:125τόθι μοί τις ἦν φίλα 
πορφύρεα φάρεα 
ποταμίᾳ δρόσῳ 
τέγγουσαθερμᾶς δ᾽ ἐπὶ νῶτα πέτρας 
εὐαλίου κατέβαλλ᾽ὅθεν μοι130πρώτα φάτις ἦλθε δεσποίνας,  
Chorus There is a cliff dripping water whose source, men say, is the river Oceanus:1 it pours forth from its overhanging edge a flowing stream in which pitchers are dipped. It was there that I found a friend soaking her purple clothes in the river-water and laying them out on the warm rock's broad back in the sun. From there it was that I first had news of my queen.
With astonishing economy, the song evokes the totality of Ocean encircling the Earth, from which drips a river's water, from which pitchers draw to clean the queen's purple clothes, which then are laid out on the rocks, exposed to the sun.

The robes of the queen are the border between her hidden self and the external world. Here, the first "news" we have of Phaedra comes as her purple garments are being purified, cleansed of stain. The commonplace image seems nothing more until we encounter the darkly intense ways in which heart, hand, stain, purity, touch, pollution and respect (semnos), are interwoven in the web of the play.

Perhaps not by chance, the word φάρεα (pharea) -- "clothes"-- most basically signifies a web, a woven thing. And Phaedra's name derives from φαιδρός (phaidros) -- "bright".

Friday, July 19, 2013

Aphrodite and Eros at play

In this figure from Tanagra, Aphrodite is amusing Eros:
Figurine of Aphrodite Playing with Eros
Late 4th century BC
Terracotta; h 18.5
The Hermitage possesses a celebrated collection of Tanagra terracottas, figurines of fired clay. Tanagra sculptors were called coraplasters (in Greek, cora -a girl, plastein - to sculpt), as they were particularly drawn to representing women. This statuette, showing Aphrodite amusing Eros with a whipping top, is unique in the collection of Classical terracottas.


"If propriety (kairos) were more clear," says Phaedra, "two things would not be carried by the same letters."  
Kairos is a rich and complex word, which in itself exemplifies the problem of multiple meanings being "carried by the same letters." The notion of fitness, applied to time, suggests something that is seasonable, opportune, and from there it can extend to the notion of a "kairotic moment," a critical turning point, a climactic moment either to be seized or lost forever.

καιρός , ,
A. due measure, proportion, fitness (not in Hom.), καιρὸς δ᾽ ἐπὶ πᾶσιν ἄριστος (which became a prov.) Hes.Op.694,Thgn. 401; “κ. παντὸς ἔχει κορυφάνPi.P.9.78; “κ. ΧάριτοςA.Ag.787 (anap.) (cf. “ὑποκάμπτω11); εἰ κ. ἦν σαφής the distinction, the point, E.Hipp. 386; ἀπορία ἔχει τινὰ κ. has some point or importance, Arist. Metaph.1043b25;καιροῦ πέρα beyond measure, unduly, A.Pr.507; “μείζων τοῦ κ. γαστήρX.Smp.2.19; “καιροῦ μεῖζον” E.Fr.626 codd.;προσωτέρω or πορρωτέρω τοῦ κ., X.An.4.3.34, HG7.5.13; ὀξύτερα τοῦ κ. Pl.Plt.307b; νωθεστέρα τοῦ κ. ib.310e;ὑπερβάλλων τῇ φιλοτιμίᾳ τὸν κ. Plu.Ages.8, cf. Hp.Loc.Hom.44.

II. of Place, vital part of the body (cf. “καίριος” 1), “ἐς καιρὸν τυπείςE.Andr.1120.

III. more freq. of Time, exact or critical time, season, opportunity, Χρόνου κ. S.El. 1292: usu. alone, κ. [ἐστιν] ἐν Χρόνος οὐ πολὺς κτλ. Pl.Lg.709c; ἔχει κ. τι it happens in season, Th.1.42, etc.; κ. ἔχειν τοῦ εὖ οἰκεῖν to be the chief cause of. 
b. adverbial phrases, ἐς καιρόν in season, Hdt. 7.144, E.Tr.744, etc.; (but also οἱ κατὰ κ. ἡγεμόνες in office at the time, Pl. Plt.277a;πρὸ καιροῦ prematurely, A.Ag.365 (anap.); ἐπὶ καιροῦ also means on the spur of the moment, “ἐπὶκ. λέγεινPlu.Dem.8, cf. Art.5; “ἐξενεγκεῖν πόλεμονId.Ant.6
2. season, πᾶσιν καιροῖς at all seasons of the year, IG14.1018, cf. LXX Ge.1.14, Ph.1.13, Porph. ap.Eus.PE3.11; κ. ἔτους, later Gr. for Att. ὥρα ἔτους, acc. to Moer.424; time of day, Philostr.VA6.14.
b. critical times, periodic states,καιροὶ σωμάτωνArist.Pol.1335a41.
3. generally, time, period, “κατὰ τὸν κ. τοῦτονPlb.27.1.7; “κατ᾽ ἐκεῖνο καιροῦ” Conon 3, al.: more freq. in pl., κατὰ τούτους τοὺς κ. Arist.Ath.23.2, al., cf. Plb.2.39.1; τὰ κατὰ καιρούς chronological sequence of events. 
4. in pl., οἱ καιροί the times, i. e. the state of affairs, freq. in bad sense, ἐν τοῖς μεγίστοις κ. at the most critical times, X.HG6.5.33, cf. D.20.44; “περιστάντων τῇ πόλει κ. δυσκόλων” IG22.682.33, etc.: also in sg., X.An.3.1.44, D.17.9; ἔσχατος κ. extreme danger, Plb.29.27.12, etc.; “καιρῷ δουλεύειν” AP9.441(Pall.).

IV. advantage, profit, τινος of or from a thing, Pi.O.2.54, P.1.57; εἴ τοι ἐς κ. ἔσται ταῦτα τελεόμενα to his advantage, Hdt.1.206; ἐπὶ σῷ κ. S.Ph.151 (lyr.); τίνα κ. με διδάσκεις; A.Supp.1060 (lyr.); τί σοι καιρὸς . .καταλείβειν; what avails it.? E.Andr.131 (lyr.); τίνος εἵνεκα καιροῦ; D.23.182; οὗ κ. εἴη where it was convenient or advantageous, Th.4.54; κ. ἦν ib.90; Χωρίον μετὰ μεγίστων κ. οἰκειοῦταί τε καὶ πολεμοῦται with the greatest odds, the most critical results, Id.1.36.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Some words in Euripides' Hippolytus

As we begin Euripides' Hippolytus, I'll be putting occasional notes here, some strictly philological in nature, others as seems fit.

Three words that come back again and again, with almost hypnotic regularity, are:

From Ancient Greek σωφροσύνη (sōphrōsunē, “soundness of mind, prudence, self control, temperance”) from σώφρων (sōphrōn, “sane, moderate, prudent”) (from σῶς (sōs, “safe, sound, whole”) + φρήν (phrēn, “mind”)) +‎ -σύνη.

Sophrosyne is the subject of Plato's Charmides, and is treated in Book 2 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

semnos  σεμνός  revered, august, holy: 
I. [select] prop. of gods, e.g. Demeter, h.Cer.1,486; Hecate, Pi.P.3.79; Thetis,Id.N.5.25; etc. 
2. of things divine, ὄργια ς. h.Cer.478, S.Tr.765; “θέμεθλαδίκης” Sol.4.14; “ὑγίεια” Simon.70;  devoted to the gods,  holiness,D.21.126
II. of human or half-human beings, reverend, august,ἐν θρόνῳσεμνῷ σεμνὸν θωκέονταHdt.2.173,  E.Fr.688; αἱφαυλότεραι . . παρὰ τὰς σεμνὰς καθεδοῦνται beside the great ladies,Ar.Ec.617, cf. Isoc.3.42; “οἱ σεμνότατοι ἐν ταῖς πόλεσινPl.Phdr.257d;ἄνθρωπος οὐ ς., i.e. a nobody, Ar.Fr.52D.; opp. χαῦνος, Pl.Sph.227b(Comp.); opp. κομψός, X.Oec.8.19; “σεμνὸς οὐ προσώπου συναγωγαῖς ἀλλὰβίου κατασκευαῖςIsoc.9.44: c. dat., revered by . . , “ς. πόλει” Riv.Fil.57.379(Crete); also, worthy of respect, honourable, 1 Ep.Ti.3.8, 11, Ep.Phil. 4.8.
2.of human things, august, stately, majestic,  
III. in bad sense, proud, haughty, “τὰ σέμν᾽ ἔπηS.Aj.1107; “σεμνότερος καὶ φοβερώτεροςAnd.4.18; τὸ ς. haughty reserve, E.Hipp.93, cf. Med.216.
2. [select] in contempt or irony, solemn, pompous.

aidos αἰδώς  reverence, awe, respect
A. reverence, awe, respect for the feeling or opinion of others or for one's own conscience, and so shame, self-respect (in full “ἑαυτοῦ αἰδώς” CA9p.433M.), sense of honour, “αἰδῶ θέσθ᾽ ἐνὶ θυμῷIl.15.561; ἴσχε γὰρ αἰ.καὶ δέος ib.657, cf. Sapph.28, Democr. 179, etc.; “αἰ. σωφροσύνης πλεῖστον μετέχει, αἰσχύνης δὲ εὐψυχίαTh. 1.84, cf.E.Supp.911, Arist.EN1108a32, etc.; “αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃOd.8.172; so “ἀλλά με κωλύει αἴδως” Alc.55 (Sapphus est versus); “ἅμα κιθῶνι ἐκδυομένῳ συνεκδύεται καὶ τὴν αἰδῶ γυνήHdt.1.8; δακρύων πένθιμον αἰδῶ tears of grief and shame,A.Supp.579; “αἰ. τίς μ᾽ ἔχειPl. Sph.217d; “αἰ. καὶ δίκηId.Prt.322c; “αἰδοῦς ἐμπίπλασθαιX.Cyr.1.4.4; sobriety, moderation, Pi.O.13.115; “αἰδῶ λαβεῖνS.Aj.345
2. regard for others, respect, reverence, “αἰδοῦς οὐδεμιῆς ἔτυχον” Thgn.1266, cf. E.Heracl.460; αἰ.τοκέων respect for them, Pi.P.4.218; τὴν ἐμὴν αἰδῶ respect for me, A.Pers.699; regard for friends, “αἰδοῦςἀχαλκεύτοισιν ἔζευκται πέδαις” E.Fr.595; esp. regard for the helpless, compassion, “αἰδοῦς κῦρσαιS.OC247; forgiveness. 
II. that which causes shame or respect, and so,
1. [select] shame, scandal,αἰδώς, Ἀργεῖοι, κάκ᾽ ἐλέγχεαIl.5.787, etc.; αἰδώς, Λύκιοι: πόσε φεύγετε;16.422; “αἰδὼς μὲν νῦν ἥδε . . ” 17.336
2. τὰ αἰδοῖα, dignity, majestyαἰ. καὶ χάριςh.Cer.214.
III. [select] Αἰδώς personified, Reverence, Pi.O.7.44; Mercy, Ζηνὶ σύνθακος θρόνων Αἰ. S.OC1268, cf. Paus. 1.17.1; “παρθένος Αἰδοῦς Δίκη λέγεταιPl.Lg.943e.


Life's pleasures are many, long leisurely talks—a pleasant evil— [385] and the sense of awe. Yet they are of two sorts,1 one pleasure being no bad thing, another a burden upon houses. If propriety were always clear, there would not be two things designated by the same letters.