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Vermillion flycatcher

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Same Old

Medea - Delacroix, 1862

Some people golf, some soothe their sorrows in gin, I myself have decided to read the Greek tragedies. I recently read Euripides Medea for the first time.

To give you a quick refresher, Medea was a grand daughter of the sun who felt royally reamed when her handsome Argonaut consort Jason decided to leave her and her two kids in the lurch for another color of fleece.

I read the John Hamilton translation, which seems cleaner and less floral than some others that I have seen. The play was first written and performed in Athens, some 461 b.c.

Anyway you hear a lot these days about infanticide, unfortunately, and Medea, who by the way was a sorceress, did that same vile deed, in mythology, in order to strike at the heart of her ex suitor. You read this play and foul killing aside, maybe hear the words of the first suffragette. Quite venomous at times. Cat on a hat tin roof. Angry woman.


Medea : Mighty Themis! Queen Artemis!
Do you see how I am treated,
though I bound my cursed husband
By great oaths?
I long to see him and his new bride
Crushed to pieces, and the whole palace,
For the wrong they dare to do to me.
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Women of Corinth, I have left the house, because I don't want
You to blame me. I know that people can be arrogant 
in public and private. But some are called indifferent
To others just because they are reserved.
There is no justice in the the judgements that men make.
Before they know a man's inner self.
They hate at sight, though they've not been wronged.
A foreigner must take special care to conform to the state-
Even a citizen who is fool enough
To let his stubborn pride offend his fellow citizens
Wins no praise from me...

My husband has turned out the most despicable of men,
Of all the creatures that have life and reason
We women have the worst lot.
First we have to buy a husband, at vast expense,
And to make the bargain more painful-
What we buy is someone to lord it
Over our body. For us the big question is
Whether the man we get is good or bad...

If we work at it, and our husband is content
Beneath the marriage yoke,
Life can be enviable. If not, better to be dead.

They say our life at home is free
From danger, while they go off to war.
The fools! I would rather fight three times 
In war, than go through childbirth once.

I think that the emotions and the sentiment expressed in these and other early tragedies are as real and bitter today as when they were written.  Beware a pissed off woman, she will do anything to hurt you.

Men of course can be assholes too. I  love these lines in the Sumerian Gilgamesh where a curse is uttered by Enkidu against the Priestess of Ishtar:

"Shamhat, I assign you an eternal fate,
I curse you with the ultimate curse, may it seize you instantly, as it leaves my mouth.
Never may you have a home and family, never caress a child of your own,
may your man prefer younger, prettier girls,
may he beat you as a housewife beats a rug,
may you never acquire bright alabaster,
or shining silver, the delight of men, may your roof keep leaking and no carpenter fix it, 
may wild dogs camp in your bedroom, may owls nest in your attic, may drunkards vomit all over you, may a tavern wall be your place of business, may you be dressed in torn robes and filthy underwear, may angry wives sue you, may thorns and briars make your feet bloody,
may young men jeer and the rabble mock you as you walk the streets. Shamhat may all this be your reward for seducing me in the wilderness when I was strong and innocent and free.

That is powerful stuff. May a tavern wall be your place of business... Looks like people have not changed all that much, except perhaps of course for the general loss of intelligence.

Not sure what I will read next. Denis has sent me a suggestion or two.

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