Sunday, January 25, 2009

"The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future too."

Man, you get into the Oresteia -- and yes, I've read it before, but still it is surprising -- and you understand why drama ever got off the ground. This is so raw. I don't quite know which bits are Fagles and which are Aeschylus, but this text is achingly gorgeous is a way you just don't see in modern drama. Or when you do it rings false.
I'd like a few words more, a kind of dirge,
it is my own. I pray to the sun,
the last light I'll see,
that when the avengers cut the assassins down
they will avenge me too, a slave who died,
an easy conquest.
Oh men, your destiny.
When all is well a shadow can overturn it.
When trouble comes a stroke of the wet sponge,
and the picture's blotted out. And that,
I think that breaks the heart. (Agamemnon, ll. 1345-1354)

Not to say that it's primitive.

I mean, it kind of is. But it has a level of dramatic sophistication that's also unexpected. The Greeks are the first we have, and as such we assume they only understood this visceral power of drama and the basic structures of things. But Aeschylus does nuance too! Look at the scene in which Electra discovers Orestes by following his footprints. That could be in Shakespeare. Or O'Neill, for that matter.

(O'Neill looooves Aeschylus. Witness Morning Becomes Electra, which actually is the Oresteia but set in the 19th century. Unfortunately, O'Neill didn't have Aeschylus' knack for saying a lot in a very short time. Witness O'Neill's NINE-ACT PLAY, "Strange Interlude." Which is all very well, but the Oresteia is a far better illustration of the different stages of womanhood when women are battered by fate and it is not NINE ACTS LONG. EUGENE.)

Speaking of that, I KNOW that if you've ever read the Oresteia you've been upset by this too, but REALLY we begin the tradition of democracy by proving that mothers aren't parents, but more like gardeners?
The woman you call the mother of the child
is not the parent, just a nurse to the seed,
the new-sown seed that grows and swells inside her.
The man is the source of life (Eumenides, ll. 666-669)

Thanks Aeschylus. Thanks a lot. I hope that resolved your mother issues right there.

1 comment:

Serena said...

In fairness, I'm not sure Aeschylus is actually trying to make that point... although I think I remember reading that that theory did have some currency in ancient Greece? Now I feel like I should look it up.