Actually He Does
I have an exciting event to report. I finished Herodotus a couple of days ago. This must be how a woman feels when she passes a 15-pound baby after two days in labor. Now I’m enjoying a thrilling ride through the world of Greek tragedy, courtesy of Aeschylus. The next reading on the Columbia University Lit. Hum. list is The Oresteia.
When the Greeks put “eia” on the end of something, it means they’re talking about something which is deeply involved with whatever comes before the vowels. For example, in The Iliad, Diomedes has a long stretch where he kills all sorts of people and inspires the other Danaans, and this bit of the epic is called the Diomedeia.
I haven’t finished The Oresteia, but I feel confident Orestes will pop up shortly.
The Oresteia is a trilogy, so of course it contains four plays. Yes, that’s right. Four. The first three are real bummers, and the fourth is what’s known as a “satyr play.” I think that means Charlie Sheen will be involved. I don’t know much about satyr plays, and I doubt I read the one from The Oresteia back when I was 19. This week I read that satyr plays are humorous plays, perhaps intended to offset the dreariness of tragedy and wake up the audience.
I found a neat book on Scrib’d, explaining Aeschylus line by line. The author is a guy named Logan (no adamantium). He supplies all the benefits of a college lecture, without the aggravation of dragging yourself to class in three-degree weather with a hangover. Also, it looks like the entire Cliff’s Notes volume on the trilogy is available online, free, at the Cliffsnotes site.
I am very, very glad to be done with Herodotus. The digressions were killing me. I feel like rewriting it with the crap removed and selling the result to college students, but if they won’t read the original, they won’t read my version, either, and besides, their profs probably like the crap.
Now that I’m way into the Lit. Hum. syllabus, I’m starting to see how it makes sense. Sort of.
Homer helps you understand Greek thought and culture, as well as Greek history (or at least what they thought was their history). The Old Testament…okay, I’m not sure how that fits in. Sappho…let’s face it. She was included to make feminists happy. I read the whole thing, and I got virtually nothing out of it. Feminists like to pretend women played a big role in shaping Western thought, but guess what? They didn’t. Sorry about that. Anyway, you can’t understand Herodotus if you don’t know Homer.
I just realized why the Old Testament was included. Two reasons. First, it allows the far-left nuts at Columbia to pretend they respect the Bible and our predominantly Christian culture, although this is not true. Second, it gives them an excuse to call the stories in the Bible “myths” over and over, as if the creation story were just as inane as the story about Atlas convincing Hercules to hold the world for a minute and then running off. It also gives them an excuse to talk about actual myths that are similar to the Bible, as though they prove the Bible is also a myth. Okay. Whatever. I guess all nickels are made of wood.
Herodotus has some importance because it gives you some notion of the history of the Western world, excluding Egypt, up until the third century BC. It also shows how the Greco-Persian Wars may have been important to the development of modern democracies. The Persians wanted to take over Greece, and they sometimes installed tyrants, which were what we would call dictators. Democracy was developing in Greece at the time of the Greco-Persian Wars, so–I am guessing–academics probably think that if the Persians had won, democracy would have been lost, and we would now live in a mean old right-wing world with kings and emperors, a constitutional right to concealed carry, leaded gas, DDT, and no government-funded sex changes.
If that’s what they’re hoping to teach us, I think they are wrong, because my vast studies tell me the Persians were actually pretty cool. They expected their possessions to send troops whenever the Persians wanted to conquer someone, and they imposed fairly low taxes as tribute. They generally let their possessions govern themselves. That is what I have been told. If it’s true, then wouldn’t the Persians have allowed the Athenians to continue voting on internal stuff?
I suspect that resisting the Persians was a big mistake, and I doubt the imperialist, rapist, thieving, lying, slave-owning Greeks were high-minded sponsors of individual liberty. Like most wars, the wars between the Persians and Greeks surely had a lot to do with preserving the status of the people in charge and very little to do with freedom.
I could be wrong.
Herodotus leads into Aeschylus because Aeschylus was a veteran of the Greco-Persian Wars. He fought at Salamis, where the Greeks beat the daylights out of the Persian navy. Okay, maybe that’s not the strongest connection ever, but it’s a connection. If the Greeks had lost, or if they had won but Aeschylus had fared poorly, we would have no Oresteia. Also, the trilogy is about the things Agamemnon went through after Troy, so it’s linked to Homer.
It’s linked to Sappho because women are just as good as men, and testosterone is bad.
I’ll go ahead and say it. Aeschylus is a drag. I can’t believe the Greeks enjoyed watching this stuff.
The Greeks always used the same set: a big shed. There was space in front of it where the actors stood. Pretty exciting. Sometimes they stood on top of the shed, and sometimes they swung down on blocks and tackles, pretending to be deuses ex machinae. I made that phrase up. They would pretend to be gods who were lowered in, in a creaky and highly convincing imitation of flight, to save Thebes or whatever.
Right away, it sounds bad.
The plays had only three actors, not counting chorus members. And the actors were all male. So let’s say you have a play with eight characters, including three babes. The babes would be played by the same fat, hairy guys who played the men. Hubba hubba. Move over, Sofia Vergara.
Instead of doing the intelligent thing and using more actors, they had the actors use masks. So in one scene, the actor wears his Tevye mask, and in the next, he wears a different mask and pretends to be Tzeitel. His daughter. Totally convincing. No problems suspending disbelief there.
Sounds like something Rupaul probably did when he was a kid.
The chorus is a bunch of people who sing and play instruments. The tragedies of Aeschylus were musicals, and we don’t know the score. I don’t even know what to say about that. Imagine trying to understand “Springtime for Hitler” if you don’t know the tune.
I’m not far into the first play, Agamemnon. So far, it’s a whole lot of whining. Everyone is moaning about how hard life has been since Agamemnon left. Here’s a thought: how about not sacrificing your daughter and sailing off to spend ten years trying to win back your brother’s slutty wife?
Don’t get mad at me for calling Helen a slut. She said the same thing about herself.
Everyone in the beginning of the play talks about how they miss Agamemnon, the guy who murdered Iphigeneia, abandoned Argos (Aeschylus changed it from Mycenae for political reasons), caused all sorts of poverty and disruption, and got a whole bunch of people killed.
Why would you miss this person? He was an idiot and a psychopath. Greek law doesn’t actually require you to wreck your life trying to drag a skeeze back from Troy. He could have stayed home and prospered.
In addition to the chorus and characters, these plays need another component: Homey the Clown. He could confront these people while they’re whining and use his loaded sock to beat some manliness into them.
Doesn’t the word “stoic” come from Greece? I guess the Argives weren’t familiar with it.
The Greeks are really disappointing. They’re brave…when they’re sure their enemies can’t fight back. They’re honest…until you turn your backs on them. They’re merciful…except when they’re raping, murdering, mutilating, torturing, and pillaging. And they’re incorruptible…except when they’re taking every bribe in sight.
Reminds me of the politicians and judges here in Miami.
I’m looking forward to moving on to books that are thinner and which are written in a manner that doesn’t require a decoder ring and a Ouija board. So far, reading the Greeks has been like wading through chest-deep snow. Except for Sappho, which was like playing Wheel of Fortune with two letters and then not getting a prize.
I am hoping to put Aeschylus behind me by the weekend. I am feeling better and better about skipping the reading when I was in college. Some of these books are impacting my life positively; the rest suffer by comparison to Cliff’s Notes. God bless the people who see fit to devote their lives to studying this petrifying material. I hope it was worth it to get out of serving in Vietnam. I am content to hear about the more boring parts of it second hand. Actually, an English translation is second hand by definition, so…
I better shut up before Homey hears me.