Sunday, October 24, 2004

It's All About the Greeks

I picked up a copy of the complete plays of Sophocles. I haven't read Greek drama since my freshman year in college, when I had a fantastic Intro to Classical Lit class from Dr. Timothy (I think that was his name) Winters. He was so good that when he picked up and moved to some college back east the next year, there was a real temptation to switch to classical studies, pick up, and follow. We read the Orestia of Aeschylus. I remember really liking it, and I just dug open my treasure chest of files of notes from my undergrad work and found that the person I would have liked most to play was Clytemnestra. (Side note: there is nothing happier than my treasure chest of files of notes from my undergrad work. Everyone should get the chance to major in Humanities at least once--completely impractical, but what a richness, having the charge to study the best work and greatest achievements of humanity. It makes my soul soar just to think about it.)
At any rate, it's Sophocles I've got now, and not knowing which play would be best, I started with the one at the front: Ajax. Now. I do love the tale of Ajax. There is a fantastic Greek black figure vase by Exekias where Ajax is planting his sword in the ground to fall on it. I'll have to try to post an image. So back to Sophocles. Let me just say that for "saying it like it is" in a very straightforward yet naked with feeling way, it's all about the Greeks. And it's because of the whole strophe-antistrophe chorus thing: they have the ability, within just a few lines of dialogue, to lay bare a hidden agenda or emotion or to state the epiphany of the whole play. How do we know how deeply Ajax's wife dreads his death? She says how much, but rather than saying it to herself and sounding like an introspective fool, she talks it out with that most perceptive chorus. (Could the Greek chorus be the predecessor to modern psychology?) It doesn't just work with the wife; it works with the brother as well: Imagine! A manly way to express one's deepest griefs, fears, thoughts, and feelings!
It is no wonder that terms as singular as drama and pathos come from the Greek. The theater is their ballgame, and they describe it best.

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