πρὸς δὲ καὶ πεφύκαμεν γυναῖκες, ἐς μὲν ἔσθλ᾽ ἀμηχανώταται, κακῶν δὲ πάντων τέκτονες σοφώταται / ‘After all, we women are good for nothing – / That’s what they say – except causing trouble.’ – Notes on Euripides’ «Medea» and Colin Teevan’s «The Last Word» – III – Tomás García

πρὸς δὲ καὶ πεφύκαμεν γυναῖκες, ἐς μὲν ἔσθλ᾽ ἀμηχανώταται, κακῶν δὲ πάντων τέκτονες σοφώταται / ‘After all, we women are good for nothing – / That’s what they say – except causing trouble.’ – Notes on Euripides’ «Medea» and Colin Teevan’s «The Last Word» – III – Tomás García

πρὸς δὲ καὶ πεφύκαμεν γυναῖκες, ἐς μὲν ἔσθλ᾽ ἀμηχανώταται, κακῶν δὲ πάντων τέκτονες σοφώταται / ‘After all, we women are good for nothing – / That’s what they say – except causing trouble.’ – Notes on Euripides’ Medea and Colin Teevan’s The Last Word – III

***

Joseph Mallord William Turner – Vision of Medea [1828 – Tate Britain – London]

***

2. The unbearable fragility of Being

Χορός

πολλῶν ταμίας Ζεὺς ἐν Ὀλύμπῳ,
πολλὰ δ᾽ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί:
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾽ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τῶν δ᾽ ἀδοκήτων πόρον ηὗρε θεός.
τοιόνδ ἀπέβη τόδε πρᾶγμα.

Chorus

Olympian Zeus ordains,
The gods accomplish, strangely.
Things rarely end as you expect.
The unexpected is god`s way,
The lesson of this story.

[Euripides, Medea, Lines 1415ff.]

Likewise Euripides, Seneca the Younger, in his Medea, decides to let Jason have the final -(the last one?)- word:

Ias.
Per alta vade spatia sublimi aethere,
testare nullos esse, qua veneris, deos.

Jason: Go on through the lofty spaces of high heaven and bear witness,
where thou ridest, that there are no gods.

[Seneca the Younger, Medea, Lines 1026ff.]

There are no gods where Medea is borne away –Seneca`s Jason says. Medea is an abomination, is something unhuman, something “detested by god, by me, by every mortal man” [1] –says Euripides` Jason. She is a plague, a hateful thing. He did not realise, when he brought her to Greece -a civilized land- from her home –that primitive country– she were a traitress, a degenerate. But “now the gods heap retribution on me” [2] –Jason complains.

Nevertheless, Medea has been clearly wronged by him:

Chorus.

I heard her.
I heard that ecstasy of grieving
Directed at the traitor of her bed.
She calls on the gods to avenge her wrongs,
Protectors of the promise
Which brought her over the salt and murky sea
Here to Greece where that oath was broken. [3]

(Medea, lines 205-211, p.11)

In the same way, the Chorus` first stasimon, where is asserted, in the third stanza, that

But you left your home,
Passion in your heart
Past the twin rocks
To a foreign country.
Suddenly waking
With your marriage in tatters,
Poor Medea, an exile,
Humiliated. [4]

(Medea, lines 430-440)

The Chorus complain that Medea has to suffer a threefold humiliation: she has suddenly waking with her marriage in tatters; it has taken place in a foreign country, and finally she is forced to live away, in exile.

Medea represents three forms of being the otherness: as a woman, as a foreigner (princess of the barbarian Colchis), and as a representation of the primal forces, of the savage and untamed Nature. Jason`s terms are very clear in this respect: “an animal, not a woman, a savage, some prehistoric monster” [5]. He uses such epithets to describe her as an irrational ferocious natural force. Like a she-lion or the monster Scylla she turns out to be crueller and more terrible than Jason could ever imagine. However, Medea feels humiliated as a woman when thinks of his offence: “What a father, boys! Victims of that male disorder” [6]. In the original Greek text, Medea says:  παῖδεςὡς ὤλεσθε πατρῴᾳ νόσῳ, where πατρῴᾳ νόσῳ is exactly “father`s disease (sickness)”. It is such νόσῳ, such disorder, what has wronged Medea, and thereby she will seek vengeance in terms of retaliatory justice: “That`s what it took to crush your heart”. [7]

Can be men become others than themselves? Can be they become another form of the Other? Is this what Colin Teevan explores on The Last Word, the disturbing meditation on modern masculinity? In inverting the plot of Medea, Teevan re-works not simply the ancient myth, but reorients its original sense. It is not the case of the sorceress Medea turned into a contemporary male pharmacologist, that is to say the case of a woman transformed into a man, but of a man who acts and does now -in our time- in the same way as she acted and did earlier (in the time of tragedy). Colin Teevan “inverts –as Edith Hall says in her introduction to Missing Persons– the gender politics of Euripides` Medea for our post-feminist world by imagining a man, abandoned in a foreign country by his ambitious wife, failing to cope with the insult of his notions of masculine authority, and resorting to the murder of their children”. In his play, Teevan revisits not only the question of tensions between biological and legal conceptions of parenthood, but the issue, also explored by Euripides, of liability of foreignness:

I came here because of you
Your city, your people, your career.
ʻA pharmacologist can concoct drugs anywhere,ʼ, you said,
ʻBut law, law is particular,
Power resides at the heart.ʼ

ʻFilthy, foul, madman,ʼ you`ll say,
ʻUnclean, unhuman, abomination,
And I was mad enough to bring you from your savage
nation
To my country, to have built a home
With such a monster?
What have you done with what I loved the most?ʼ

Characters` relationship with their children appear in Medea and The Last Word as a significant affective bond, which can regretfully generate acrimonious disputes about the better claim of parenting:

Jason. If children are protected by a Fury,

Let her and Justice consume you.

Medea. What power, what deity, do you think,

Will listen to a condemned perjurer?

Jason. Child-killer!

Medea. Oh, go and bury your bride.

Jason. I`m going. A father, childless.

Medea. You don`t know suffering. Wait till you`re old.

Jason. Children…

Medea. My children, not yours.

Jason. Their murderer.

Medea. To torture you.

Jason. Let me touch them. Kiss them. Just once.

Medea. Now you want to touch them. And kiss them, now.

What about exile? It was a different story then.

Jason. Please. For god`s sake,

Grant me just one touch.

Medea. No. It`s pointless to ask. [8]

[Medea, lines 1389-1405, p. 42]

What have you done with what I loved the most?ʼ
ʻYou loved mostʼ I say,
ʻYet they are partly me.
Does that mean you still love a part of me?
That part of me won`t go away, you know,
Whatever your law decrees.ʼ [9]

For Teevan “men are now -as he explains to Suzanne Lyon in an interview- in the same legal position as women were in ancient Greece. The burden is on the father to prove way he should have access to his children, just as Medea no longer has any authority over her own children when Jason left her in the original Greek myth”. [10]

In his modern approaching of ancient tragedy Colin Teevan revisits some of their most thrilling moments and deals with some of their uncomfortable issues. Euripides also revisited some of ancient Greek myths and his tragedies challenged somehow the hegemonic Greek value-system. He is, in this regard, our contemporary.

so, then every problem we got is from being mortals…or human, that`s what «mortals» means…and just because we are what we are, these «mortals», it`s, like, our fault[11]

Like a mirror, the imaginary space of ancient tragedies reflect, therefore, the traits of our very human condition. They still question us about ourselves, about our significant concerns. They shake us because we share the same dilemmas, passions and uncertainties as their characters experience. Aeschylus`, Sophocles`, and Euripides` plays are somehow, as I have earlier mentioned, the cultural roots of the world we live in. It is due to the multivocal form of tragedy, its polyphonic dramatic form, which gives –as Edith Hall remarks– “voice to characters from all such groups [women, slaves, and other non-citizens, that is to say to the Other`s voices [12], [and] challenges the very notions which it simultaneously legitimises”. [13]

***

Tomás García

May 2016

_______________

Notes

[1] Euripides. Medea in J. Michael Walton (ed.) Euripides: Plays 1. London: Methuen, 2000, p. 40

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p. 11.

[4] Ibid., p. 16.

[5] Euripides. Medea in J. Michael Walton (ed.) Euripides: Plays 1. London: Methuen, 2000, p. 41. Euripides clearly refers here to Scylla, the monster that lived opposite its counterpart Charybdis. Strangely, in my opinion, in this edition of Euripides` Medea the line is translated into «prehistoric monster».

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p. 41

[8] Ibid., p. 42

[9] Teevan, Colin. The Last Word in Missing Persons, p. 50.

[10] See this interview here: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/finding-the-achilles-in-keano-1.482539

[11] LaBute, Neil. Medea Redux in Latterday Plays. London: Faber and Faber, 1999, p. 75.

[12] Italics mine.

[13] Hall, Edith. The Sociology of Athenian Tragedy in The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy, p. 118.

*

Bibliography

1. Sources

Euripides. Medea in J. Michael Walton (ed.) Euripides: Plays 1. London: Methuen, 2000. ISBN 978-0413752802 .

Euripides. Cyclops in J. Michael Walton (ed.) Euripides: Plays 2. London: Methuen, 1991. ISBN 978-0413164209 .

LaBute, Neil. Medea Redux in Bash: Latterday Plays. London: Faber, 1999. ISBN 978- 0571204915.

Teevan, Colin. The Last Word in Missing Persons: Four Tragedies and Roy Keane. London: Oberon Books, 2005. ISBN: 978-1840026467 .

2. Secondary Sources

Anderson, John. Lectures on Greek Philosophy 1928. Introduction by Graham Cullum ; edited by Creagh McLean Cole and Graham Cullum. Sydney: N.S.W. : Sydney University Press, – John Anderson series, 2008. ISBN 978-1920899073 .

Arnott, Peter. D. Public and Performance in the Greek Theatre. London: Routledge, 1991. ISBN 978-0415062992 .

Beauvoir, Simone de. Le Deuxième Sexe. Paris: Gallimard, 1976 – Tome I : Les faits et les mythes.

The Second Sex. Translated into English by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, with an introduction by Judith Thurman. New York: Vintage Books, 2009-2010

Easterling, P. E. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy. Cambridge: CUP, 1997. ISBN 978-0521423519 .

Goldhill, Simon. How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0226301280 .

Goldhill, Simon. Sophocles and the Language of Tragedy. Oxford: OUP, 2012. ISBN 978-0199796274 .

Goldhill, Simon; Hall, Edith (eds.) Sophocles and the Greek Tragic Tradition. Cambridge: CUP, 2009. ISBN 978-0521887854 .

Foley, Helene. ‘Bad Women: Gender Politics in Late Twentieth-Century Performance and Revision of Greek Tragedy’ (pp.77-112) in Edith Hall, Fiona Macintosh and Amanda Wrigley (eds) Dionysus Since 69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millennium. Oxford: OUP, 2004. ISBN 978-0199281312 .

Hall, Edith, Fiona Macintosh and Oliver Taplin (eds). Medea in Performance, 1500- 2000. Oxford: Legenda, 2000. ISBN 978-1900755351 .

Hall, Edith. Greek Tragedy: Suffering under the Sun. Oxford: OUP, 2010. ISBN 978-0199232512 .

Hall, Edith; Macintosh, Fiona and Wrigley, Amanda (eds.) Dionysus Since 69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millennium. Oxford: OUP, 2004. ISBN 978-0199281312.

Hall, Edith and Harrop, Stephe (eds.) Theorising Performance: Greek Drama, Cultural History and Critical Practice. London: Duckworth, 2010. ISBN 978-0715638262

Hall, Peter. Exposed by the Mask. Form and Language in Drama. London: Oberon Books, 2000. ISBN 1 840021829 .

Hardwick, Lorna. Reception Studies (New Surveys in the Classics No.33). Oxford: OUP, 2003. ISBN 0-19-852821-3 .

Hardwick, Lorna and Stray, Christopher. (eds.) A Companion to Classical Receptions. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. ISBN 978-1405151672 .

Harrison, Tony. The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus in Plays 5. London: Faber, 2004. ISBN 978- 0571224777. 

Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. [New York: Schocken Books Inc., 1975] – London: Pimlico, 1994. ISBN-10: 071-2660542 / ISBN-13: 978-0712660549 .

Rehm Rush. Radical Theatre: Greek Tragedy in the Modern World. London: Duckworth, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7156-2916-1 .

Söderbäck, Fanny. Feminist Readings of Antigone. New York: SUNY Press, 2010. ISBN-10: 143843278X / ISBN-13: 978-1438432786 .

Zeitlin, Froma. Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0226979229 .

Zieger, Arthur (ed.). The Plays of the Greek Dramatists: Selections from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. [Chicago: Puritan Publishing Company, 1954]. Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 2000. ISBN 978-0819627940

About Author

Related Articles