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The most frivolous compositions may have deep roots. In a letter (circa 1897) to his stepmother Lucy Housman, A. E. Housman muses,

Perhaps I myself may write a Hymn-book for use in the Salvation Army:

There is Hallelujah Hannah
    Walking backwards down the lane,
And I hear the loud Hosanna
    Of regenerated Jane;
And Lieutenant Isabella
    In the centre of them comes,
Dealing blows with her umbrella
    On the trumpets and the drums.

Or again:

“Hallelujah!” was the only observation
That escaped Lieutenant-Colonel Mary Jane,
When she tumbled off the platform in the station,
And was cut in little pieces by the train.
    Mary Jane, the train is through yer:
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
We will gather up the fragments that remain.

It seems to come quite easy.

The last line of the second hymn will be recognized as quoting John 6.12, where the (first) miracle of the loaves and fishes is treated. After the feast, Jesus “said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” Similar language is found in the other gospels. But there is a far more ancient source for the two hymns together, namely the Bacchae of Euripides. In what follows I will give references (not exhaustive) by line numbers of that play.

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Note. Considerable Greek is quoted here, but all of it is translated.

No sooner is Medea assured of sanctuary in Athens than she exclaims to the women of the chorus,

      νῦν καλλίνικοι τῶν ἐμῶν ἐχθρῶν, φίλαι,
      γενησόμεσθα… (764)[1]

      now victorious over my enemies, friends,
      will I be….

Here the form of the word translated “friends” shows them to be female and the persons addressed.[2] I have kept the interesting Greek placement of “enemies” and “friends” at the cost of some awkwardness and unclarity, which may not have been worth paying, because in the Greek the syntactical roles of the adjacent nouns are sharply distinguished by their different cases. Another translation:

      now glorious victory over my enemies, dear ladies,
      will I have…

A little later, having laid out her plans, Medea justifies them in an echoing line (it ends with the same two words):

      οὐ γὰρ γελᾶσθαι τλητὸν ἐξ ἐχθρῶν, φίλαι. (797)

      For it is not endurable to be laughed at by one’s enemies, friends.

Victory for herself will deny laughter to her enemies, and in the Greek the first part of this line (the five syllables before the caesura), meaning literally “for not to be laughed at,” takes the place of the corresponding part of the previous line (the five syllables before the caesura, with the same scansion), meaning “now victorious.”

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ἀλλ’ ἦ καὶ σοφὸς λέληθας ὤν;

Is Death also among the sophists?

The “1” in the title of this post is to egg me on to follow it with more notes on details and themes in plays of Euripides.[1]

The Nurse opens the play.

Εἴθ’ ὤφελ’ Ἀργοῦς μὴ διαπτάσθαι σκάφος
Κόλχων ἐς αἶαν κυανέας Συμπληγάδας…

Eith’ ōphel’ Argous mē diaptasthai skaphos
Kolkhōn es aian kuaneas Sumplēgadas…

If only the hull of the Argo had not flown through
the dark-blue Clashers to the land of the Colchians…

Alone of the 44 substantially complete plays we have by (or attributed to) Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, this one opens with a wish that its story had never begun. The Nurse looks back to the voyage of the Argo, and even before that to the felling of the pines that yielded the oars for the heroes to ply. She would have them still standing; she would undo the whole epic. The reason is the faithlessness of Jason, and the suffering this is causing her mistress and the whole household. Of course, as to what Medea may do the Nurse has only vague fears.

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