Euripides: “Hecuba”- Nobility Outs Itself


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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30 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Mark Twain lost three of his four children, to diphtheria, meningitis, and epilepsy. He still managed, of course, to blame himself.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I think her name is spelled Polyxena. She’s the Trojan converse of Iphigenia.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Yeah, fixed it. That was where I was going with the comment about Agamemnon- he sacrifices his own daughter on the way to Troy and then his soldiers sacrifice the Trojan princess in much the same way on the return trip- and both daughters go quite willingly. I think Polyxena’s death was a later addition- at least, it’s not mentioned in Homer.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Maybe an even better spiritual sibling would be the zen master who, when a samurai approached with sword raised and said, “Don’t you know who I am? I could cut your head off without blinking an eye?”, he responded, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the man who could offer you my head to cut off without blinking an eye.”Report

  3. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    All of us are equal before death, whether we are victorious like Agamemnon or defeated and disgraced like Hecuba. Agamemnon acknowledges as much in ratifying Polymestor’s punishment. We are also all equally vulnerable and unable to escape it, which Polymestor’s curse make clear. We all die, but how we face death is what distinguishes us from one another.

    So the real question is whether we admire Hecuba for how she responds to so much death in her life, or whether we condemn her for creating more death in misfortune’s wake. It looks to me that Euripedes admires her (speaking as he does through Agamemnon), but I think that’s a difference between modernity and the classical world; we look at the punishment of Polymestor and think that his sons are innocent and should have been spared, and we would have deprived him of his freedom rather than maimed him as punishment for his crime.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      And that’s pretty much how the stoics saw death. I think Epictetus says something like I can’t choose not to die, but I can choose not to go bawling.Report

  4. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Rufus, much enjoyed and a number of strange ideas leap into the brain.
    With no wish to derail the conversation: This ‘nobility’ you speak of in the text above, could it be these people who are the ones who, at least, begin the process of restoration, or moving toward order from social disorder, in society? The social tension lies in-between order and disorder, are these ‘gifted’ ones, those with an inate sense of ‘right’, are they the ones who dedicate their lives to ‘saving’ society, to urging the movement toward order?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      I once had a writing teacher who said all stories are the story of Odysseus. Take a character, put him in a landscape, change something, watch your character react. Change something else, your character will begin to move around the landscape. The writer becomes a god, he controls his characters, knowing the ends, controlling the means, knowing the outcome. But the character, well, he begins to take on a life of his own.

      A noble character reacts with dignity to life’s indignities. In every dream, there is the part that is seen but behind it is the world of the unseen, the framework, the rationales, the circumstances, the motivations, the limits. Here is where Euripides achieves greatness, revealing the unseen through his characters.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      “This ‘nobility’ you speak of in the text above, could it be these people who are the ones who, at least, begin the process of restoration, or moving toward order from social disorder, in society?”
      This isn’t derailing at all. In fact, I think this is exactly what Euripides is getting at here. Whatever it might achieve, war collapses the social order and the Trojan women are in the process of restoring that order through an act of moral reckoning, however gruesome it might seem to us.Report

  5. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    I think my question is; do we all as human beings (and for the Christian, beings created ‘imago Dei’), have the potential given the circumstances e.g. a yearning for the truth of stuff, a desire to do ‘good’, a willingness to go so far as to make the ultimate sacrifice of existence in the moment between time and the timeless, to seek the restoration of order? Or, is it an impossible act for the secularist/atheist/ immanest in a modernity where the ‘reality of existential tension’ has grown stagnant, or lost in the horror of a banal world-immanent existence? How does the secularist, in lacking a knowledge or experience or recognition of a ground of existence acknowledge the existence of a ‘good’? Is it buried/hidden in technology, in the movement toward a socialist utopia, in the suppression of superstitious religious beliefs?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      There’s no practical difference between the secularist and the believer in their view of good and evil. Sure, at some theological level, we might try to describe this struggle in spiritual terms, ascribing Good and Evil to different forces. The secularist is right, insofar as men do good and men do evil. He has his own explanations and if he does not shortcut this process by ascribing these actions to the machinations of the gods, his reasoning is sound, reasoning we in the camp of the faithful can’t put aside.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

        I think I understand what you’re saying? But, I have to take issue with your position that modenity’s secularists can effect a recovery of order when, in fact, they suffer not only from a lack of ground, but specifically from an ability to experience the essence of human existence in history, and exist in a closed state where they are required to immanetize the transcendent.
        And, BP, we have to consider that the movement toward order is predicated on our ability to recover first, the ‘spiritual ground of existence’ where we are constantly resisted by those who force upon us Whitehead’s famous ‘climate of opinion’, sundry ideological deformations, and the dominate academic position defined in terms of the deliberate destruction of philosophy and metaphysics. Secularists can’t, by definition, acknowledge the existence of a ‘spiritual ground of existence.’

        . And, yes some of them can morally/ethically get ‘it’ right but the problem is that the non-believer in general, hasReport

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Look, here’s how it goes, rhetorically. We don’t like it when secularists use insulting terms, calling us credulous bigots who think our God’s some angry dude sitting on a cloud, hurling down thunderbolts to roast the asses of the wicked, and if we’ll only kneel down and prostrate ourselves to him, he’ll cut us some slack and give us a Get Out of Hell Free card and bend fate to our benefit and treat us well in this life. My God does not demand grovelling.

          So how do you think they feel when we say they lack grounding and can’t sense this essence of human history business? This essence sounds too much like General Ripper’s Precious Bodily Fluids to me. All these Deformations and suchlike, we who live in the community of faith do not have the luxury of calling anything deformed, what with our long history of abusing freethinkers. “For with what measure you judge, you shall be judged.”

          The Secularist understands Feelings aren’t Facts. Of course the Secularist wonders about the existence of the Soul, the nature of Evil, the fallibility of man, his proclivity to short-sighted, selfish decision making, of the natures of love and truth, the things of eternity are not lost on him. He just doesn’t collapse in a welter of guilt: that’s the province of the Catholic, he’s raised Guilt to an art form. Do not resort to cheap shots: if the secularist has rejected God as the explanation, it’s because what he’s seen among the people of faith has not squared up our excellent rhetoric.

          If he calls us Hypocrites and Dissemblers and Enemies of Reason, it’s because we’ve wrapped up all our problems and hopes and fears and crunched that all up into a ball and launched it into the sky and we call it God’s Will. It’s an easy diagram, it’s a simple two-point perspective which we in our religious hubris call Immanence. Well, in a sense it is Immanence, but it does not excuse us from applying Ockham’s Razor to the problem of evil and concluding it’s man-made and usually home-made, and it always comes wrapped in the gold foil of excuses, brain dead and stinking on arrival.

          In short, the Secularist does not discount the spiritual. He discounts the unscientific hooey and ethical shortcuts religion has built up around the spiritual.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          Greetings, the ever honorable and interesting, Robert Cheeks!

          Any chance Bob, that you are a descendant of Jack Kerouac? I’m thinking about your highly unusual, but wonderful, flow, stream of consciousness style of locution. And he’s even a Dharma Bum! He took LSD once with Timothy Leary–it was not a particularly enjoyable experience, and when the psychedelic High Priest of hallucinogens asked Kerouac what he thought of the experience, Kerouac responded, “You know Leary, walking on water wasn’t built in a day.” I just find that to be an exceptionally wise and quite funny statement. Layers and layers of meaning to it.

          On another note, I believe Walt Whitman has something to say regarding your comments up above. Bob, a confession here–I’m a Vatican I, Roman Catholic, Tridentine Latin Mass attendant, (former choir boy and altar boy) animal loving, Nature loving pagan who does not believe a single atom of this universe is not infused with essence of God and the Universal Ground of Being. There is no such thing as separateness. Everything, at every moment, is exactly what it has to be. And Free Will will always be Free Will–it’s ours, forever. I’m saying “pagan” only insofar as Nature provides the opening, an aperture into God’s miraculous grace and Being and truly does allow us a glimpse of the peace of God, “which passeth all understanding, and shall keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

          When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer

          “WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
          When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
          When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
          When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
          How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
          In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
          Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”

          Walt WhitmanReport

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            It is evening, Senlin says, and in the evening
            The throbbing of drums has languidly died away.
            Forest and sea are still. We breathe in silence
            And strive to say the things flesh cannot say.
            The soulless wind falls slowly about the earth
            And finds no rest.
            The lover stares at the setting star,–the wakeful lover
            Who finds no peace on his lover’s breast.
            The snare of desire that bound us in is broken;
            Softly, in sorrow, we draw apart, and see,
            Far off, the beauty we thought our flesh had captured,–
            The star we longed to be but could not be.
            Come back! We will laugh once more at the words we said!
            We say them slowly again, but the words are dead.
            Come back beloved! . . . The blue void falls between,
            We cry to each other: alone; unknown; unseen.

            We are the grains of sand that run and rustle
            In the dry wind,
            We are the grains of sand who thought ourselves
            You touch my hand, time bears you away,–
            An alien star for whom I have no word.
            What are the meaningless things you say?
            I answer you, but am not heard.

            It is evening, Senlin says;
            And a dream in ruin falls.
            Once more we turn in pain, bewildered,
            Among our finite walls:
            The walls we built ourselves with patient hands;
            For the god who sealed a question in our flesh.

            -a chunk of Senlin: a biography by Conrad AikenReport

            • Avatar Heidegger says:

              “O Mensch! Gib Acht!
              Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?
              “Ich schlief, ich schlief—,
              aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht:—
              Die Welt ist tief,
              und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
              Tief ist ihr Weh—,
              Lust—tiefer noch als Herzeleid.
              Weh spricht: Vergeh!
              Doch all’ Lust will Ewigkeit—,
              —will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!”

              Friedrich NietzscheReport

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Which I wish to remark,
                And my language is plain,
                That for ways that are dark
                And for tricks that are vain,
                The Paleo Right are peculiar
                Which the same I would rise to explain.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Mike–is your poem for me? Must be, all things considered…”Paleo Right” though, throws the whole rhythm off. Detract not add–thinking rhythm. hmmm..dark, vain…oh well, thanks, still.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                “What are the roots of the church, what branches grow
                Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
                You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
                A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
                And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
                And the dry stone no sound of water.
                from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”Report

            • Avatar Heidegger says:

              Wunderbar! Wunderbar! Wunderbar!

              Love the poem, Blaise. Many layers of beauty and sadness, to uncover. Thanks for posting it–just beautiful.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      But back to Euripides, read Rufus closely, he’s trying to make a point here. Why does Euripides rely on women so heavily? Why has Euripides chosen the aftermath of the Trojan War for this play? Why is this placed at Achilles’ tomb? Why are the deaths of Hecuba’s two children so important? The Trojan War needed a bookend for the end of the shelf: the death of Hector and Priam’s pitiful begging had long since been reduced to cliche. The bloody reanimated corpse of Polydorus opens the play. Polydorus was supposed to be the insurance policy against Hector, Paris, Deiphobus and Troilus’ deaths in the Trojan War, the last of Hecuba’s sons. Hecuba has her revenge on Polydorus and his children but the heroic death of Polyxena finally reduces her to madness.

      It’s Polyxena who revealed the secret of Achilles’ Heel to her brother Paris. Talk about Good and Evil, Achilles had just murdered Polyxena’s brother Troilus. Achilles’ vulnerability wasn’t his just his heel, he trusted Polyxena, as Samson had trusted Delilah. And it’s because of that treachery Achilles’ ghost demanded the death of Polyxena’s death. Euripides’ play Hecuba, like Full Metal Jacket, was not so much about battle but its precursors and aftermath.

      Though war and revenge may set certain things to rights and settle scores, war is ultimately madness.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke says:

      Yes, Mr. Cheeks, the primary philosophical question—What is good?—has been obviated by modernity’s reply: “It all depends.”

      Oh, yes, and metaphysics has been abolished. What you see is what you get, no more, no less.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        What is good? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

        Who says that the old answers have lost their relevance?Report

  6. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Mr. Van Dyke, H-man, Mikie, Bp, et al,
    I’m hoping that the beloved Dr. R jumps back in and we’ll continue the dialectic via the internet. There are those among us who like Plato have turned away from the wall and toward the light. And even those that stubbornly persist in a truncated existence they engage in the dialectic..consequently, it’s all good.
    We can begin the recovery here and now.Report

    • Avatar Heidegger says:

      Bob, we’ll figure out all of these metaphysical conundrums in no time once we get started. I forgot to add, I’m a passionate Trinitarian, and the Resurrection is my very favorite Holy Day of the year. And I highly recommend attending the Stations of the Cross with the accompaniment of Gregorian Chant. Who’s Dr. R.? Ridgely? I think he’s a lawyer not a doctor. Unfortunately, the poor chap’s locked up in a Windsor jail for trying to smuggle Prussian Aristocrats into Grosse Pointe, Michigan. All those royal clothes, hats, jewelry, were a dead giveaway. Of course, it didn’t help that the name of his boat is, “Let Them Eat Cake”. Ouch.Report

    • Avatar Heidegger says:

      Count me in, Bob! Bear in mind, I’m also on a waiting list for a brain transplant from a chimp. A Bach piano playing chimp. And, speaking of the devil, I’m off to a High Tridentine Mass now–with full orchestra and choir–it’s MOZART!!!

      My favorite words of Jesus Christ are, “My Kingdom is not of this world”.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I was taking a nap on the couch. I don’t think I’m going to be saved today, if that’s what you were thinking. My sense of the divine is probably closer to Aristotle than Socrates- I can see there being a divine order behind the world; I just can’t fathom it giving a damn one way or another about all the things we do.

      As for Euripides, I think he is talking about the moral stock taking after a social order has collapsed and unleashed all sorts of terrors. I would agree that the play is about the war after war and the final (fairly crude by our standards) righting of that moral order. I think Euripides’s belief is closer to Socrates, and probably to your own, than to anything secular. Much is made of his willigness to question religious ideas in his plays, but it seems to me that the questions never go very far- they’re certainly resolved by the ends of the plays.

      As for modernity, I think the majority of people can tell right from wrong without any prompting. The stoics thought this was the most basic and natural knowledge, which for them was proof of the Divine. Maybe we can call it a moral compass. If you prefer to see moral knowledge as ‘written on the heart’, that’s fine too. But it’s hard to find many people who genuinely can’t tell the difference between good and evil. I think it’s fairly hard for man to make himself a beast. Granted, I haven’t lived terribly long.Report

  7. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Of course, there’s various forms, or levels, divied up among those participating in the human drama. Perhaps we might all agree that, at a minimun, those that engaged in the seeking, searching, wondering give us some hope for a restorative inclination in the tension of existence. The rest of us, consumed in the dichotomies that move from immanist to transcendent where the worse case scenerio is presented by those suffering from a ‘pneumopathological’ state (noso) rising from the rejection of non-existent reality, to follow Voegelin. And, of course, Rufus and Bp are right in sensing that our specie has some built in indictor that tells us that this or that is likely right or wrong, though I’ve seen cases where the sensitivity adjustment really is broken, as broken as the soul of that person.
    I would hope that we are all united in acknowledging that the root of philosophizing is the proper understanding of the transcendent experience? But, perhaps not, and if that’s the case, here’s where we part least philosophically. I mean this is the ground of the ancient’s understanding of the psyche of the Greeks who nailed the truth of stuff very early on, and gave birth to the noetic analysis that functioned so well among the Israelites (and others) even in concert with their pneumatic revelations.
    So reality is illuminated within the psyche of the individual, who in turn seeks the language that explicates the total reality and tension of existence: of the immanent and the mystery of the world-beyond, and the metaleptic communion.
    Consequently, the recapturing of reality or order is a struggle confined to those thus described. The atheist/secularist/non-believer (ASN) who lives a truncated existence, sadly rejecting any committment to a full participation in the human drama will always succumb to the ‘climate of opinion,’ or some ideological deformation or some Hegelian alienation that diminishes the soul or mocks God or drives that person into some lonely, unfulfilled existence or worse, mad.
    And finally, I think we continue to experience in modernity the same phenomenon of those ideological horrors that dominated the past century, though in various disquises. At the heart of these ideological horrors is what I consider to be a near total utilitarian view of human life that historically we’ve seen in the National Socialists of Germany, and the Communists of the olde Soviet Union/China. To that list (and yes, there’s many more example you can name), I should add the Democrat Party here in the United States.
    In my analysis I add the Democrat Party because of a plank nailed to the Party’s platform in ’72, I believe, calling for abortion on demand, or ultimately developing into a ‘right’ of ‘abortion on demand.’ Since that time 40 million human beings have been systematically slaughtered in the United States, a figure far greater than Nazi atrocities and closing in on the systematic slaughters in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.
    The primary acknowledgement for those engaged in the quest for order is to understand that we live in a open-ended cosmic process where it is possible to discern ‘the language of truth’ and consequently the possibility of order.Report