Saturday, October 04, 2003

Our small group of friends has been reading The Odyssey lately, as my readers know if they are also readers of Odious and Jack. I won't go into my thoughts on it, as these two have pretty much covered everything I had to say, except to insert a nice little quote which may well be Odysseus' reason for going home (to put forth an answer to a question that came up in recent conversation). Whether it is or not, I think it's the best sentiment in the book.

...then may the gods give you everything that your heart longs for;
may they grant you a husband and a house and sweet agreement
in all things, for nothing is better than this, more steadfast
than when two people, a man and his wife, keep a harmonious
; a thing that brings much distress to the people who hate them
and pleasure to their well-wishers, and for them the best reputation. Lattimore, lines 180-5

Anyway, I haven't gotten very far with The Odyssey because I got sidetracked by trying to remember what happened with Agamemnon. His infamous sacrifice comes up a lot, so I decided to go back and read Iphigenia at Aulis for the whole story.

What a weird play! It's Euripides' last and thus most cynical, as well as being unfortunately fragmented. Much of what remains is suspect, and the ending is almost certainly spurious, since a quote from Aelian suggests a much more logical and devious conclusion. I like the play, though, because nobody comes out of it retaining any sort of reputation at all. I can't say I ever thought much of Achilles anyway, but he's a real pompous jerk here, and Odysseus is just bloodthirsty. At first Agamemnon seems somewhat sympathetic, but then he caves in to his brother's emotional blackmail; and because of this I really can't feel terrifically sorry for him when Clytaemestra kills him off in Aeschylus' play (which of course I had to read next).

More than in any other Greek tragedy, the characters in Agamemnon have the disturbing quality of being completely isolated from each other. In between soliloquys that of course are not directed at anyone in particular, there are exchanges that appear to be dialogue (at least in that two characters take turns talking) but aren't at all. Perhaps it's not fair to use Cassandra as an example, but when she and the Chorus are talking, they might as well be on different planets for all the communication there is between them. But even Agamemnon and Clytaemestra are clearly (and deliberately) talking about two different things upon his homecoming, although it's also a classic example of passive argument--she's trying to get him to talk about something without actually addressing it herself, and he is refusing to acknowledge that he knows what's she's talking about.

It's a lot more fun reading Greek tragedies now that I don't have to; more and more I'm realizing the truth that freshman year is wasted on the freshmen.

No comments: