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Posts Tagged ‘orestes’

In Defense of Plato

In the ancient greeks on 23/08/2011 at 12:32 pm

I recall reading, I don’t know where or when, a book analyzing Plato’s call to outlaw poetry. If I can reconstruct their striking conjecture as a pale ghost-image, it amounted to the following: within Ancient Greece, all societal problems were solved by performing a ‘biblical’ exegesis of The Odyssey. If two parties were in disagreement, Homer was called to the fore, and each side would make their case that their position best sided with Homer. Plato, then, was not out to forbid the high school production of King Lear or the publication of Yeats, but the dismissal of a way of life that was antithetical to his own. Problems could not be solved by appealing to an authoritative text, and with no view of precedent, but through universal law.

I do not know if this interpretation was correct, and I suspect that it is mistaken; however, it is still quite interesting, and in its defense, there are historical parallels: in The Eumenides, Aeschylus ends the ancient blood feud between the Furies and Orestes by way of a hung twelve-person jury. The Greeks show their progress towards unification of modern law and abandoning the ancient ways by way of an allegory. It may be wrong, but it gives a reading that makes far more sense to modern ears than the initial modern reaction to Plato.

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Electra

In skepticism, the ancient greeks on 16/08/2011 at 7:11 am

I turn everything inside out/ looking for new solutions/ to the problems of today,/ always critical, giving/ suggestions for gracious living/ and they come away from seeing a play/ in a questioning mood, with “where are we at?,”/ and “who’s got my this?,” and “who took my that?.” (Euripides, in Aristophanes, The Frogs, trans. Richmond Lattimore, Four Comedies, 1969, 62)

In Euripides’ Electra, Electra receives evidence of the secret arrival of Orestes, offering three signs that correspond to the three signs offered to Electra in Aeschylus’s earlier Libation Bearers. The ‘older’ Electra rejects the possibility that the hair could be anyone’s but Orestes’s (520 – 23), but Euripides’s Electra is unwilling to make such a leap of faith, methodically rejecting the very same arguments given by Aeschylus’s Electra. She rejects the possibility of her brother would return in secret, for she assumes that he would return openly (524-26) and then she goes on (527-29) to note the inherent differences between the lock of hair from a woman and a man and the irrelevance of foot-size in determining relatives. Many unrelated people also have, obviously, similar hair. This here is the new faith in the capabilities of reason, and yet this faith is repeatedly undermined, not just in literature, but in our everyday lives.

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