Euripides: “Daughters of Troy”, the Spoilers of War

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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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21 Responses

  1. Your students are lucky, Rufus. Thx for this.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Thanks! My students usually get to hear about the modern wars instead though (anybody catch the Tolstoy reference?)- I’ve not yet taught the Greeks. I was planning to mention here though that I’ll be teaching a seminar on the Enlightenment this fall and will probably have lots of questions for the experts on the subject we have around these parts.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Which Enlightenment? See Himmelfarb.

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/mar/09/politics.society

        I’ll add, at least from my sphere of study, the American Founding, that more modern scholars, esp the Straussians, see Locke as ultimately subversive to the natural law tradition, hedonistic, even. This analysis is now going mainstream through respected historians like Mark Noll.

        But that’s not how the American Founders understood him, in my view. [See Alexander Hamilton’s “The Farmer Refuted,” which makes him a “natural lawyer” with Grotius.]

        The “real” Locke may indeed be subversive if you read him deeply, but the Locke who influenced history was not that Locke. [I think Voltaire and the American Founder James Otis were on to the “real” Locke, but few others.]

        So, Himmelfarb bifurcates the French/continental Enlightenments from the Anglo-British one[s]. Indeed, the Scottish Enlightenment [sans Hume’s atheism]—Scottish Common Sense Realism—was pretty friendly to religion and can be traced directly to America through John Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey [later Princeton], teacher of James Madison and a number of other American Founders. I’d say whatever’s left of the Founding philosophy today is this.

        “Enlightenment” wasn’t coined until 1910, I read somewhere, so how the people who lived that era perceived themselves is of more interest to me. By the time “The Enlightenment” begins understanding itself, we’re into the 1800s, a whole new set of philosophies, and true modernity.

        As for France, what you saw was what you got.

        My meta-$0.02, anywayz.Report

  2. Avatar RTod says:

    I know this is not remotely where you’re post goes (or should go). But after reading it (I have never read Daughters of Troy) my reaction is similar to what it was after reading Wolfe Hall, or even watching The Tudors:

    How the hell did people fall for the whole “king is infallible and should always be obeyed no matter what” thing for so many centuries without ousting the bastards?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to RTod says:

      They didn’t have television, they didn’t have radio, and if they wanted to listen to music, they needed live musicians.

      War was something to do.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to RTod says:

      They were too busy trying to scrape by to worry about it.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to RTod says:

      I’m no expert on the time, but it seems to me in the plays and epics that the kings were more like the heads of bands of warriors than absolute monarchs- so they’re just like top dog among a group of dogs jostling for authority. The central conflict in the Iliad is about Achilles’s issue with serving a king who’s a lesser warrior, and it’s never really clear why he should. So, I think they were so willing to go fight Troy because, hey the spoils are good and we’re all doing it, so why not? But the authority of the kings seems to always be in question.Report

      • Avatar RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

        “But the authority of the kings seems to always be in question.”

        That’s an affirming thing to know. I can never figure out why when someone is attending their family and farm and is told the King’s wife chose to be with another man so we have to sail off and quite possibly die at war, the King wasn’t routinely told to bugger off.Report

        • Avatar J.L. Wall in reply to RTod says:

          Heh. Odysseus actually tried to do this — there are stories that involve him feigning madness and destroying his fields (zig-zagging with the plow, using salt as if it were seed, etc.) until someone loyal to Agamemnon/Meneleus set baby Telemachus in his path, and he stopped (thus proving, apparently, his sanity). But he arranges for whoever it was — I forget the name — to be killed, so it’s all okay in the end, right?

          This is the fantastic thing about Odysseus — and I think the reason we both relate to him and, like the Greeks, are so intensely skeptical of him at the same time. He’s a man surrounded by figures from the Heroic Age, but he’s almost a man more appropriately from the coming (“present”) age of men. He’s more like us than the others (who may embody aspects of us, but he, in a way, has more of the whole) — so we love him and we keep him at arm’s distance.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to RTod says:

      How the hell did people fall for the whole “king is infallible and should always be obeyed no matter what” thing for so many centuries without ousting the bastards?

      The theory of divine right wasn’t always in force.

      In pagan Rome, particularly during the later Empire, the emperors were closely identified with the gods. Not so in most later eras. Early-modern absolutism is just very weird, the longer you look at it.

      Medieval kings often had far more limited powers. They ruled directly over smaller territories, and with less of a monopoly on authority. Underlings were usually well-armed and often willing to fight against their kings. Towns had their independent privileges and charters that granted them immunity from outside interference, forming the ancestor to today’s “civil” liberties. Likewise with universities and the clergy. In many ways, medieval Europe had more liberty than did the era between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.Report

  3. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    It’s interesting how Western society has decided that Odysseyus is the big hero of the Trojan War.

    I guess it’s for two reasons:

    1) Western society is built on the notion that wisdom beats strength, and Odysseus was the one who came up with the Trojan Horse idea, so of course we see him as an intellectual hero rather than a sniveling wretch too craven to fight up-front like a man.

    2) The author made Odysseus the main character of the sequel, although there’s a lot of fanfic about the rest of the people involved (indeed, Virgil wrote a whole series of spinoff fanfics about a minor character!)

    In fact, in that second one I find a common misconception (one that, in fact, I held myself.) People think of Odysseus’s quest to return to Penelope as being some kind of romantic thing; he’s got to get home to his wife! That’s probably part of our attraction to the character.

    But…the Classic Greeks didn’t think like that. She wasn’t his object of romantic affection; really, she was property, more like a slave than anything else. If there’s romance involved it’s Odysseus and Circe.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Yeah, I pretty much detested Odysseus after the Iliad and Odyssey, but most readers seem to come out admiring him. I guess it depends on whether you see him as a trickster or a liar.Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to DensityDuck says:

      I think we like Odysseus because he had all the great stories. He won his various battles by guile, he bested monsters, and he got all the babes.

      He was the James T. Kirk of the ancient world.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to RTod says:

        But Athena did all the work. It’s interesting- the Romans didn’t seem to like him at all- I think he’s only ever called ‘vengeful Odysseus’ and ‘deceitful Odysseus’ in the Aeneid. Mr. Wall would probably be better suited to settle the debate though. Hopefully he’ll let us know if we should love Odysseus or hate him.Report

        • Avatar RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Athena, Spock… It’s all the same.Report

        • Avatar J.L. Wall in reply to Rufus F. says:

          See my comment to one of the comments above, that I wrote before seeing this thread of comments… There’s a lot more to be said on the subject, but, my thoughts, in short, are:

          A professor of mine insisted that Odysseus is a contemptible character because he’s a deceitful, dishonorable, two-faced liar who sacrifices everyone around him for himself and spends the entire Odyssey talking out of his ass. I might re-phrase some of these characteristics, but I wouldn’t disagree with them — but they’re also precisely why I think that, while he’s not an ‘admirable’ fellow, I’m a fan of Odysseus as a character. He’s deserving of our respect, not of our admiration and only rarely our sympathy.

          I like to think that he’s a changed man by the end of the Odyssey, in that he’s been broken by the gods and his own folly — and yes, he wants to get off Calypso’s island because while he’ll live forever, his KLEOS will die still-born and mortality is a small price to pay for an immortal KLEOS, but there is still his reply to her, that, in essence, it’s precisely because she’s immortal that she can’t comprehend why he would prefer Penelope to her. So there’s both going on. He chooses to be human, and mortal, and accepts all the messiness that entails.

          And even if we accept DD’s (questionable) description of Penelope as effectively a slave — this isn’t Athens, where women are theoretically confined to the upper-floors and courtyards; Penelope is a public figure who (gasp!) hangs around a bunch of bachelors half her age each evening — I think we can say that Odysseus feels a true obligation as a father toward Telemachus, and even, as a son, toward his own father, with whom he clearly has had a troubled relationship. And toward Eumeus, and the nurse — for being, in essence, more loyal to him than the men under his command were.

          Again, he’s perhaps not quite admirable — but how, exactly, are we ever supposed to admire Odysseus when his very name implies that he’s the “hated/hateful one”? So is he a trickster or just a liar? Probably both — how clear is the distinction, in the end? But he tells us a tremendous deal about ourselves, precisely because he’s not capital-H Heroic (or even plain “heroic”), precisely because he tells us things about ourselves we’d rather not look at.Report

      • Avatar J.L. Wall in reply to RTod says:

        Odysseus did not believe in the no-win scenario.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Darrh. Calypso, not Circe.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The lasting problem with Euripides is his wry use of the Greek language itself. In the original, it’s terribly bitter on the tongue, full of moaning, ohs and ahs and terrible sounds, tears falling into the fresh ink on the page.

    These are women penned in like cattle, about to be traded off. Tellingly, Poseidon abandons the city he founded:

    I am abandoning Ilium, that famous city, and my altars;
    When smoky desolation grips a town,
    the worship of the gods slips and loses respectability.
    The shrieks and screams of captive women
    echo over the banks of the Scamander
    as lots are drawn and they are given to their masters.
    Arcadia takes some, Thessaly’s people take some as well;
    Others are given to the sons of Theseus, the lords of Athens.

    Painful to read, painful to translate.Report

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