Tuesday, January 13, 2009

wait until you're older, dear, and maybe you'll be glad that you're a girl

So I finally gave up on the introduction to the Oresteia. It was making me want to die. I'm all for introductions, and I'm all for criticism, but this begins as an introduction and then goes on to describe each scene in each play and make a lot of lyrical statements about matricide and when I start to wish that Metro had an in-train magazine so I could read that instead, you know something has gone terribly wrong.

But before I abandoned it (over 60 pages in! I tried, oh god. I'll go back and finish it later, after I've been able to, you know, enjoy the play), I saw that Fagles and the other one were referencing all those other Greek myths where women kill their husbands, as you would if you were writing about Clytemnestra. And there are some great ones:

The women of Lemnos make an appearance in the Argonautika — the Argonauts land on their island and get a whole lot of sex because there are no men on the island. The deal is that the women forgot to pay homage to Aphrodite, and she cursed them with "an evil smell." So their husbands wouldn't have sex with them, and went to get new women. When they came back, the wives killed them all. (Except one, who hid her father fromthe other women inside a chest!) Aeschylus also talks about them in The Libation Bearers, thus:
First at the head of legendary crime stands Lemnos.
People shudder and moan, and can't forget —
each new horror that comes
we call the hells of Lemnos.
Loathed by the gods for guilt,
cast off by man, disgraced, their line dies out. (614-619)

Definitely. Killing your husband for being an adulterer is way worse than killing your daughter so that the winds will change and your ship can leave. No question.

Also, the Argonauts came and thewomen got lots of sex and had more kids! So their line didn't exactly die out, did it, Aeschylus? Eh? Eh? Wanna fight?

The other story is one that Aeschylus dramatized in The Suppliants, but that I first saw as Big Love (no relation), an adaptation by Charles Mee. Basically, fifty brides, all sisters, are on their way to Egypt to marry their cousins (as decreed by their father) but they don't want to. So they escape! To Argos! Where they ask the King for help, but he demurs until he can ask his people. And the people say 'yea' and the women are saved. That's the play we have. Apparently they've reconstructed the rest of the trilogy, and in it the Argive king is killed and the daughters are forced to marry, except then they all kill their husbands. Except one, whose new husband respected her wish to not have sex. Hey guys, respecting women is awesome! And life-saving. Hint hint. Anyway, all the other women are absolved, and eventually Hypermnestra's husband kills her father for being responsible for the deaths of all his brothers. And they start a dynasty.

So the point of that is maybe to make me feel better that Clytemnestra gets such a raw goddamned deal in this story.

1 comment:

Serena said...

How do you think Clytaemnestra gets a raw deal? In Aeschylus' version specifically, or in the story in general?

Stanford and Fagles argue in the introduction (well, insofar as they ever actually argue anything) that Aeschylus actually makes her the story's tragic hero.