Rachel Montagu’s Biblical Hebrew classes as at April 2021

April 21, 2021

Rachel has kindly written as follows. If interested, the best thing may be to email her.

Current teaching at City Lit:

Level 1, module 2 (Thursday, 1.30-3.00) – This class has done a term’s work, have learned the perfect verb and are about to learn word-pair/construct, imperfect verbs, adjectives and possessives


Level 1, module 3 (Tuesday, 6.00-7.30) will continue with grammar, including prepositions with pronoun endings, participles and command forms


Level 2, module 3 (Thursday, 6.00-7.30) alternate weeks grammar, completing the hiphil, learning verbs+object suffixes, niphal and hitpael


Level 3, module 3 (Thursday, 3.30-5.00) alternate weeks grammar, verb forms like Pual, Hophal, Polel, and continuing reading the Elijah story


Level 4, module 3 (Tuesday, 4.00-5.30) About to read the story of David and Abigail, and will then start Esther.


Advanced (Monday, 4.00-5.30) Continuing with Song of Songs

I’ve just checked City Lit’s website, and only Level 1, module 2 and Level 4 are showing up at present – I will contact City Lit, and see if I can get something done about that.

In the autumn, there will be a new Level 1 course for complete beginners, the present Level 1 and Level 2 will continue at their established times but as Levels 2 and 3, Levels 3 and 4 will merge and continue on Tuesdays. The new Level 4 and the Advanced will continue to spend all their time reading text, level 3 will continue to alternate between reading text and learning grammar, and in modules 1&2 Level 2 will be all language, but with plenty of biblical verses to illustrate the grammar being learnt

All City Lit teaching this term will be via zoom. No decision for next term that I’m aware of, but we may well continue on zoom. If we do go back to in-person classes, I hope it will still be possible to access the classes via zoom for those who cannot or don’t wish to travel.

Not City Lit:


Evening class Monday 6.3-8.30, via Skype
Continuing with Esther – outline below

Monday evening Biblical Hebrew via skype 6.30-8.30

Continuing Esther

19/4 Esther 5:11-6:14

26/4 Esther 7:1-8:10

3/5 – no class – bank holiday

10/5 Esther 8:11-9:13

17/5 no class – Shavuot

24/5 Esther 9:14-10:3

31/5 no class – bank holiday

7/6

14/6

21/6

28/6

Dan Slușanschi School for Classical and Oriental Languages

April 14, 2021

We have been asked to publicise this as follows:

We are very impressed with your blog and are in full support of its mission, from classical languages to opera to cycling! 

The Dan Slușanschi School for Classical and Oriental Languages is once again running its intensive online summer courses.  This year we are offering Ancient Greek in five levels from Beginner to Advanced, with each course having clear stated objectives and preparing its students for the next proficiency level.  We are also offering courses in Latin, Old Slavonic, Biblical Hebrew and Coptic. I have attached our PDF promotional flyer and the syllabus document below. 
We would be very grateful if the Center would post and share this information through its media channels.   We hope that these courses will be of interest to all those in North America who share our desire to cultivate current and future generations of researchers, scholars and clergy to keep philoligcal studies of ancient Greek and other languages alive and well. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Dear All, 

The Dan Slusanschi School for Classical and Oriental Languages is now accepting applications for our 2021 Online Summer Courses.
This summer we are offering Coptic, Biblical Hebrew, Ancient Greek, Latin, and Old Slavonic at various proficiency levels:

Coptic
Beginners – July 12 – August 6

Biblical Hebrew
Intermediate – June 14 – July 9

Old-Slavonic
Intermediate – July 19 – July 30

Latin
Beginners – June 28 – July 9
Lower-intermediate – July 12 – July 23
Upper-Intermediate – June 21 – July 2

Ancient Greek
Beginners – June 21 – July 2   
Lower-Intermediate – July 12 – July 23

Intermediate – June 21 – July 2
Upper-Intermediate – July 5 – July 16
Advanced – June 28 – July 9

Applications consisting of a cover letter and a CV should be sent to ccesiofh@gmail.com by May 16th, 2021. The course fee is 150 Euro. More details on the contents of each course as well as on the instructors for each group are available on the school website, at www.ecum.ro.

Iphigenia in Aulis 801-818 and 866-896

February 25, 2021

Ἀχιλλεύς
ποῦ τῶν Ἀχαιῶν ἐνθάδʼ ὁ στρατηλάτης;
τίς ἂν φράσειε προσπόλων τὸν Πηλέως
ζητοῦντά νιν παῖδʼ ἐν πύλαις Ἀχιλλέα;
οὐκ ἐξ ἴσου γὰρ μένομεν Εὐρίπου πέλας.
οἳ μὲν γὰρ ἡμῶν, ὄντες ἄζυγες γάμων,
οἴκους ἐρήμους ἐκλιπόντες ἐνθάδε
θάσσουσʼ ἐπʼ ἀκταῖς, οἳ δʼ ἔχοντες εὔνιδας
ἄπαιδες· οὕτω δεινὸς ἐμπέπτωκʼ ἔρως
τῆσδε στρατείας Ἑλλάδʼ οὐκ ἄνευ θεῶν.
τοὐμὸν μὲν οὖν δίκαιον ἐμὲ λέγειν χρεών,
ἄλλος δʼ ὁ χρῄζων αὐτὸς ὑπὲρ αὑτοῦ φράσει.
γῆν γὰρ λιπὼν Φάρσαλον ἠδὲ Πηλέα
μένω ʼπὶ λεπταῖς ταισίδʼ Εὐρίπου πνοαῖς,
Μυρμιδόνας ἴσχων· οἳ δʼ ἀεὶ προσκείμενοι
λέγουσʼ· Ἀχιλλεῦ, τί μένομεν; πόσον χρόνον
ἔτʼ ἐκμετρῆσαι χρὴ πρὸς Ἰλίου στόλον;
δρᾶ γʼ, εἴ τι δράσεις, ἢ ἄπαγʼ οἴκαδε στρατόν,
τὰ τῶν Ἀτρειδῶν μὴ μένων μελλήματα.

Achilles [improved]

Where is the general of the Achaeans here?

Who of the servants will tell him that Achilles

son of Peleus seeks him here at the gates?

For we do not remain near to Euripus on equal terms.

Some of us, being unyoked by marriage,

having left empty homes for here

sit idle on the beach, but some have wives

and children; so strange a desire

for this campaign has fallen on Hellas not without the gods.

I need to declare my own just case ,

someone else who desires may speak for himself about himself.

Having left the land of Pharsalus and Peleus

I remain because of these light winds of Euripus,

holding back the Myrmidons. They are always making proposals

saying: Achilles, why do we stay? How much time

will it still be necessary to measure out in respect of the campaign against Troy?

Act then, if you are going to do something, or lead the army home

not waiting upon the hesitations of the Atreides.

Achilles [first attempt]

Where is the general of the Achaeans here?

Who of the servants will tell him that Achilles

son of Peleus seeks him here at the gates?

For we do not remain near to Euripus on equal terms.

Some of us, being unyoked by marriage,

having left empty homes for here

sit on the headlands, those who have wives

are childless; so strange a desire

for this campaign has fallen on Hellas not without the gods.

I need to declare my own case rightly,

someone else who desires may speak for himself about himself.

Having left the land of Pharsalus and Peleus

I remain because of these light winds of Euripus,

holding back the Myrmidons. They are always making proposals

saying: Achilles, why do we stay? How much time

will it still be necessary to measure out in respect of the campaign against Troy?

Act then, if you are going to do something, or lead the army home

not waiting upon the hesitations of the Atreides.


Κλυταιμήστρα
δεξιᾶς ἕκατι μὴ μέλλʼ, εἴ τί μοι χρῄζεις λέγειν.
Πρεσβύτης
οἶσθα δῆτʼ ἔμʼ, ὅστις ὢν σοὶ καὶ τέκνοις εὔνους ἔφυν;
Κλυταιμήστρα
οἶδά σʼ ὄντʼ ἐγὼ παλαιὸν δωμάτων ἐμῶν λάτριν.
Πρεσβύτης
χὥτι μʼ ἐν ταῖς σαῖσι φερναῖς ἔλαβεν Ἀγαμέμνων ἄναξ;
Κλυταιμήστρα
ἦλθες εἰς Ἄργος μεθʼ ἡμῶν καὶ ἐμὸς ἦσθʼ ἀεί ποτε.
Πρεσβύτης
ὧδʼ ἔχει. καὶ σοὶ μὲν εὔνους εἰμί, σῷ δʼ ἧσσον πόσει.
Κλυταιμήστρα
ἐκκάλυπτε νῦν ποθʼ ἡμῖν οὕστινας λέγεις λόγους.
Πρεσβύτης
παῖδα σὴν πατὴρ ὁ φύσας αὐτόχειρ μέλλει κτενεῖν.
Κλυταιμήστρα
πῶς; ἀπέπτυσʼ, ὦ γεραιέ, μῦθον· οὐ γὰρ εὖ φρονεῖς.
Πρεσβύτης
φασγάνῳ λευκὴν φονεύων τῆς ταλαιπώρου δέρην.
Κλυταιμήστρα
ὦ τάλαινʼ ἐγώ. μεμηνὼς ἆρα τυγχάνει πόσις;
Πρεσβύτης
ἀρτίφρων, πλὴν ἐς σὲ καὶ σὴν παῖδα· τοῦτο δʼ οὐ φρονεῖ.
Κλυταιμήστρα
ἐκ τίνος λόγου; τίς αὐτὸν οὑπάγων ἀλαστόρων;
Πρεσβύτης
θέσφαθʼ, ὥς γέ φησι Κάλχας, ἵνα πορεύηται στρατός.
Κλυταιμήστρα
ποῖ; τάλαινʼ ἐγώ, τάλαινα δʼ ἣν πατὴρ μέλλει κτενεῖν.
Πρεσβύτης
Δαρδάνου πρὸς δώμαθʼ, Ἑλένην Μενέλεως ὅπως λάβῃ.
Κλυταιμήστρα
εἰς ἄρʼ Ἰφιγένειαν Ἑλένης νόστος ἦν πεπρωμένος;
Πρεσβύτης
πάντʼ ἔχεις· Ἀρτέμιδι θύσειν παῖδα σὴν μέλλει πατήρ.
Κλυταιμήστρα
ὁ δὲ γάμος τίνʼ εἶχε πρόφασιν, ᾧ μʼ ἐκόμισεν ἐκ δόμων;
Πρεσβύτης
ἵνʼ ἀγάγοις χαίρουσʼ Ἀχιλλεῖ παῖδα νυμφεύσουσα σήν.
Κλυταιμήστρα
ὦ θύγατερ, ἥκεις ἐπʼ ὀλέθρῳ καὶ σὺ καὶ μήτηρ σέθεν.
Πρεσβύτης
οἰκτρὰ πάσχετον δύʼ οὖσαι· δεινὰ δʼ Ἀγαμέμνων ἔτλη.
Κλυταιμήστρα
οἴχομαι τάλαινα, δακρύων τʼ ὄμματʼ οὐκέτι στέγω.
Πρεσβύτης
εἴπερ ἀλγεινὸν τὸ τέκνων στερόμενον, δακρυρρόει.
Κλυταιμήστρα
σὺ δὲ τάδʼ, ὦ γέρον, πόθεν φῂς εἰδέναι πεπυσμένος;
Πρεσβύτης
δέλτον ᾠχόμην φέρων σοι πρὸς τὰ πρὶν γεγραμμένα.
Κλυταιμήστρα
οὐκ ἐῶν ἢ ξυγκελεύων παῖδʼ ἄγειν θανουμένην;
Πρεσβύτης
μὴ μὲν οὖν ἄγειν· φρονῶν γὰρ ἔτυχε σὸς πόσις τότʼ εὖ.
Κλυταιμήστρα
κᾆτα πῶς φέρων γε δέλτον οὐκ ἐμοὶ δίδως λαβεῖν;
Πρεσβύτης
Μενέλεως ἀφείλεθʼ ἡμᾶς, ὃς κακῶν τῶνδʼ αἴτιος.
Κλυταιμήστρα
ὦ τέκνον Νηρῇδος, ὦ παῖ Πηλέως, κλύεις τάδε;

[Improved]

Do not hesitate because of my right hand [needing assurance of protection], if you wish to say something to me.

You know me then, who is well-disposed to you and your children.

I know that you are an old servant of my house.

And that that Lord Agamemnon took me in your dowry?

You came to Argos with us and you have always been mine.

So it is. And I am well-disposed to you, but less to your husband.

Reveal to us now then whatever words you are saying.

Her father who begat her is about to kill your child with his own hands.

How? I spit out your story old man, for you are not in your right mind.

With a sword stabbing the wretched one’s white neck.

Oh wretched me. Does my spouse happen to be raving?

He is sane, apart from what concerns you and your child; in that respect he is mad.

For what reason? Which demon is driving him on?

Oracles, at least Calchas says so, so that the fleet may set off.

Where to? Wretched me, wretched one the father intends to kill.

To the houses of Dardanus, so that Menelaos may take Helen.

So the return of Helen is an affair for Iphigenia?

You have it all: her father is about to sacrifice your daughter to Artemis.

What pretext did the marriage have, with which he brought me from home?

That you would rejoicing lead your daughter to marry her to Achilles.

Oh daughter, you have come to ruin, both you and your mother.

The two of you are suffering pitiable things, for Agamemnon has dared terrible things.

I am lost the wretched one, I no longer stop my eyes from crying.

If indeed being deprived of a child is painful, let your tears flow.

Old man, from where do you say you have learned these things?

I had started bearing a tablet to you referring to the earlier writings.

Not allowing or combing to order to bring the death-fated child?

Certainly not to bring, for you husband was of sound mind then.

And how then bringing the tablet did you not give it me to take?

Menelaos took it from me, who is the cause of these troubles.

Oh child of the Nereid, oh son of Peleus, do you hear that?

[First attempt]

Do not hesitate because of the right hand, if you wish to say something to me.

You know me then, who is well-disposed to you and your children.

I know that you are an old servant of my house.

The one that Lord Agamemnon took in your dowry?

You came to Argos with us and you have always been mine.

So it is. And I am well-disposed to you, but less to your husband.

Reveal to us now then whatever words you are saying.

Her father is about to kill your child with his own hands.

How? I spit out your story old man, for you are not in your right mind.

With a sword slaughtering the wretched one’s white neck.

Oh wretched me. Does my spouse happen to be raving?

He is sane, apart from what concerns you and your child; in that respect he is mad.

For what reason? Which demon is driving him on?

An oracle, says Calchas, so that the fleet may set off.

What? Wretched me, wretched one the father intends to kill.

To the houses of Dardanus, so that Menelaos may take Helen.

So the return of Helen is an affair for Iphigenia?

You have it all: her father is about to sacrifice your daughter to Artemis.

What pretext did the marriage have, with which he brought me from home?

That you would rejoicing lead your daughter to marry her to Achilles.

Oh daughter, you have come to ruin, both you and your mother.

The two of you are to suffer pitiable things, for Agamemnon has dared terrible things.

I am lost the wretched one, I no longer stop my eyes from crying.

If indeed being deprived of a child is painful, let your tears flow.

Old man, from where do you say you have learned these things?

I was lost bearing a tablet to you in addition to the earlier writings.

Not allowing or advising to bring the death-fated child?

Certainly not to bring, for you husband was of sound mind then.

And how then bringing the tablet did you not give it me to take?

Menelaos took it from me, who is the cause of these troubles.

Oh child of the Nereid, oh son of Peleus, do you hear that?

My struggle against pebbledash, damp and the outside toilet

February 5, 2021

Here we see the rather miserable-looking ex-outside-toilet at the back of the house. The join between the roof there and the back wall of the kitchen has been my enemy for a very long time now, and the signs of previous and current operations are clearly visible.

OK, penetrating damp in the kitchen, how lovely.

This is the view inside the ex-outside-toilet. I managed to use the flash on my mobile for the first time!

Here is a general view of my afternoon’s daubing of sealant.

And here we see it in close-up…that’s nice…

Once this wretched COVID business is over I’m going to have the ex-outside-toilet knocked down and get a garden shed instead. That will show them! Until then, it’s a case of crudely daubing sealant over it (today)/waterproof paint/waterproof tape.

Something comparatively easy to read in Ancient Greek

February 4, 2021

Below are some extracts from our correspondence with Constantine Hadavas. It starts from his edition of Daphnis and Chloe, which contains an introduction, running vocabulary and grammatical support, rather like the texts from Reading Greek.

–I’ve now–as of yesterday– worked through to the end of the end of Daphnis and Chloe on my own, and indeed with input from your edition which I got from Amazon UK.  

I thought it was very good, and it opened a whole new word of Intermediate Greek Readers to me.  I do come across people wanting something comparatively easy to read in Ancient Greek, and I would value your opinion as to which of these texts they as grown-ups are likely to find most interesting.  

Of the Greek texts I’ve written for students, the order of difficulty from easiest to most challenging would probably be:

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas

Cebes’ Tablet + Prodicus’ “Choice of Heracles”

An Ephesian Tale (more pulpy and “fun” than Daphnis and Chloe, but not as “great” literature-wise)

Aesop’s Fables

Ancient Greek Epigrams

Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe

Lucian’s True Stories

Euripides’ Cyclops

Ancient Greek Cyclops Tales

Lucian’s On the Death of Peregrinus

Commentaries not my own that I’d recommend:

Cashman Kerr Prince (what a great name!), Chariton’s Callirhoe Book 1 (alas, just book 1, but it will give you a good sense of the different flavors of the ancient Greek Romance novel when compared to Xenophon of Ephesus’ and Longus’ respective works).

I’m not a big fan of Stephen Nimis and Edgar Evan Hayes’ commentaries (sometimes their vocab is off, and they offer little or no help with historical, cultural, and literary questions), but I do love Lucian, especially when he is parodying Herodotus, so their edition of Lucian’s On the Syrian Goddess is worth reading.

Speaking of Herodotus, a classic text of selections with an excellent student commentary (even though it is nearly 100 years old!) is: Amy Barbour, Selections from Herodotus.

And of course you should check out Steadman’s commentaries (he’s a machine!). Best for vocabulary help and grammatical review, they are freely available as PDFs on his website (nice!) and cover many major authors, including Plato and Homer.

I think the most interesting thing here is that this material exists! It used to be that you had the established peaks of Homer, Aeschylus and so on with advanced undergraduate level notes or the New Testament or things like the Ancient Greek translation of Harry Potter.

I was also taken by the printable translation sheets on Steadman’s site. I would be even more taken by texts in double-spaced pdf for annotation rather than translation so that one didn’t spend time downloading and double-spacing texts from Perseus.

Referring to Kosta’s suggestions above, my question would be which of these apart from Daphnis and Chloe would be most interesting to grown-ups, since to my mind there’s something very studenty about Lucian. Maybe the Cyclops since everyone has heard of satyr plays but knowledge tends to extend no further.

As for getting these texts from other sources, I think Steadman says his hard-copy versions are only available from Amazon, though you can also download them from his site. The others you can try looking for on something like https://www.bookfinder.com/. (Blackwell’s seems to have some but not all of the texts edited by Kosta Hadavas.)

IA lines 691-696 and 751-761

February 2, 2021

We give below our first attempt at these passages from Iphigenia in Aulis without any artificial aids.

Κλυταιμήστρα
οὐχ ὧδʼ ἀσύνετός εἰμι, πείσεσθαι δέ με
καὐτὴν δόκει τάδʼ, ὥστε μή σε νουθετεῖν,
ὅταν σὺν ὑμεναίοισιν ἐξάγω κόρην·
ἀλλʼ ὁ νόμος αὐτὰ τῷ χρόνῳ συνισχανεῖ.
τοὔνομα μὲν οὖν παῖδʼ οἶδʼ ὅτῳ κατῄνεσας,
γένους δʼ ὁποίου χὡπόθεν, μαθεῖν θέλω.

First attempt

I am not so unintelligent, to be persuaded myself

these things are right, so as not to order you,

when with wedding-songs I lead the girl out

but custom holds these things together in time.

The name therefore of the boy whom you have approved,

of what family and from where I want to know.

Version after consulting various resources

I am not so devoid of understanding–think that I

will also suffer this myself–as to admonish you

when with wedding-songs I lead the girl out:

but custom dries these things up with time.

I know the name of him to whom you promised the child,

I wish to know of what sort of family and from where.

Χορός
ἥξει δὴ Σιμόεντα καὶ
δίνας ἀργυροειδεῖς
ἄγυρις Ἑλλάνων στρατιᾶς
ἀνά τε ναυσὶν καὶ σὺν ὅπλοις
Ἴλιον ἐς τὸ Τροίας
Φοιβήιον δάπεδον,
τὰν Κασάνδραν ἵνʼ ἀκούω
ῥίπτειν ξανθοὺς πλοκάμους
χλωροκόμῳ στεφάνῳ δάφνας
κοσμηθεῖσαν, ὅταν θεοῦ
μαντόσυνοι πνεύσωσʼ ἀνάγκαι.

First attempt

The [glory of] the Greek army

will come to Simoes and the silvery eddies

upon ships and with weapons

to Phoebus’s plain of Troy

where I hear Cassandra

cast her golden locks,

adorned with a green-foliaged crown of laurel

when it is necessary

breathing oracles of the god.

Version after consulting various sources

The gathering of the army of the Hellenes

will come to Simoes and

the silvery looking eddies

on board ships and with weapons

to Ilion, the ground of Troy

sacred to Phoebus,

where I hear that Cassandra

tosses her golden locks

adorned with a green-leaved crown of laurel

whenever the god’s oracular

compulsions breathe.

Pedantic and superficial answers to three questions on Classical Reception

January 24, 2021

Why do we feel the need to keep recreating Greek tragic plays?

Pedantic

Greek tragic plays would be better expressed as Greek Tragedy or even Athenian tragedy. Not all of the surviving examples are tragic in a straightforward sense–Ion and Iphigenia in Tauris have happy endings, for instance. Recreating is something more typical of France, where at least since Racine playwrights have produced their own version of these plays, or sometimes just plays with the same characters or the same myth, with the idea of addressing contemporary concerns. So I would say Why do we feel the need to stage Greek tragedy?

Superficial

One obvious answer is that they seem to be about something–in Antigone for instance the conflict between the laws of men and the laws of the gods. Or even how can a free person live in society, which means that she is constrained by the claims of others?

The basic impulse of Greek tragedy is to distance and generalise–only the Persians by Aeschylus relates to an identifiable real event. This sounds unpromising, but Oliver Taplin helpfully pointed out that it means we can’t say it doesn’t apply to us. For instance, Ajax can be taken as pointing up the perils of militarism and aggression and is so far away that it applies to anyone, while a play concretely about say World War I enables people to say that it’s all different now.

Aristotle asked why we want to see a representation of events that would be acutely distressing in real life. His answer was that this was a form of play that would prepare to deal better with the difficulties of real life.

You often find that a successful production of a Greek tragedy in a large theatre (like the National say) leads to the same kind of thing being done in successively smaller spaces, so that the wave dies out after three years or so. And you often find a certain type of traditional production where the audience consists largely of pupils from fee-paying schools. They can hardly be doing a whole play even for A Level these days so the idea may be more one of general encouragement.

One reason that people put on Greek Tragedy is because it’s there and it represents a kind of challenge to see what you can do with it by way of reaching the summit. Or the desire to see the hero’s many and bared torso set off by chains for an hour or so may lead to a production of Prometheus Bound.

People may go to a performance out of curiosity or because they think it’s a Good Thing as representing High Culture. As far as we can tell from Plato and Aristophanes, contemporaries expected the plays to inculcate manly virtue and it is doubtful that modern audiences have the same expectations.

What is the effect of taking these plays, written in a purely patriarchal time, and using them today to challenge and question modern gender norms?

Pedantic

To start with patriarchal: Classical Athens was certainly male-dominated. It is not clear that it was patriarchal in the sense that a father could exert authority over his adult sons or over other adult relatives.

Apart from the Persians, the plays take place in a mythological time which people would have located a few generations before they started being able to enumerate their own ancestors. It reflects an aristocratic society where at least a few women had high status and indeed some freedom in virtue of being somebody’s daughter. In Classical Athens by contrast positions of power were filled–often by lot–from the eligible men. So one often encounters a kind of double vision by which for instance it is shocking to the audience for Antigone to leave her house and then it is shocking by the standards of her own world for her to ‘bury’ her brother.

Superficial

Even in terms of their own times the plays question gender roles. One of their most obvious features is that they subject everything to questioning. They have men playing all the roles and they are often named after women or groups of women–Medea, Electra, The Trojan Women and so on–which again would in principle already have been suspicious to contemporaries had it not been sanctified by myth. They certainly propound the problem of women’s agency in a world where action is denied to women. For instance the problem in Antigone is that Antigone has the character of a hero, and a hero of Sophocles at that, while Creon does not. But then she is also a girl and so hangs herself in despair like Juliet.

If there is an answer to the question, it may be that in their own time the plays questioned a society of minimal female agency from a standpoint of some female agency, while now they question a society of extensive female agency from the same standpoint.

How does the reaction of a modern audience to these plays differ from the original and why is this important?

Pedantic

The original performances took place in large auditoria holding some 10,000 spectators and were connected with religious festivals. They were large-scale operations that featured extensive sung and danced passages together with elaborate masks and lavish costumes, expensive stage machinery and a parade of war orphans to begin the proceedings. As a genre this resembled Peking Opera or indeed almost anything else more than modern naturalistic or realistic drama.

A day’s performance comprised three tragedies followed by one satyr play, all by the same author. There were no toilets, not even Roman-style ones.

Superficial

The modern audience will typically see one play performed in a proscenium arch space and even with toilets, though probably without masks for the actors and possibly without a chorus (though this is a bad idea). I think that the difference is not so much that the play has less of an effect on the audience in the right circumstances but that the margin of error is a lot less and so the right circumstances are less likely to occur. Or nowadays a Greek tragedy is like a fighter aircraft that is always on the verge of stalling and requires extensive and fussy maintenance but can still lay waste a city or two.

Cressida Ryan, who saw very many productions of Greek Plays in the course of her duties as Classics Outreach officer at Oxford, once told me that 90% of them where hopeless, though the remaining 10% did strike home deeply. I think I would be a little more charitable and agree that 10% do hit the mark, 15% show an intelligent but not completely successful attempt to solve the problems posed by staging a text that is so remote from us, 25% at least give somebody studying the play for an exam an idea of who the characters are and what they do and in what order, 35% are just confusion and mess but not unbearably painful, while the remaining 15% leave your brain climbing out of your skull and running down the street to get away.

My brain anyway.

One thing to note is that success certainly does not require detailed and subtle TV-style acting. What is required are cattle who can move from place to place and moo loudly as instructed. Many of the most successful productions I have seen had student players and a director who has imposed an idea on them. Greek tragedy needs to be about something, or more specifically about the questioning of something, so the action needs to be sufficiently sufficiently distanced and generalised to be about us as well as about them.

Conclusion

These questions are rather difficult! If I was a drama student and wanted to write a dissertation about Greek tragedy in the modern era, I would start with something like the Faber Pocket Guide to Greek and Roman Drama, which gives sensible accounts of what the plays are trying to achieve in their own terms. Then I would compare this with modern productions and try to identify which specific practices help or hinder. Comparing with modern productions is not that easy at present, but outfits like the Actors of Dionysus and the KCL/Oxford/Cambridge Greek plays tend to have videos available, and there are always reviews of course.

Postal delays in Crofton Park SE4

January 20, 2021

The table above gives data on the books I have ordered recently, where they were not delivered by Amazon or a courier. Of course the last two have not been delivered yet. We note that there is generally a delay of a week or two from the latest delivery date advised by the vendors and the books tend to arrive elastic-banded together on the same day.

No good deed goes unpunished

January 20, 2021

That was an interesting experience! An enquirer wrote:

I was just on the ‘Notes of an idealist’ website looking at Greek Drama in London 2020, I also noticed that you have a page for 2019, I was just wondering if listing Greek drama productions within London is something you do for every year? I am a 4th year drama student doing my dissertation in the effects of recreating greek tragedy in a modern era and so a list of modern greek tragedy production from the last 10-15 years would be ideal in order to get me started. I wondered if you had any lists from previous years you could possibly send them my way? It would be a really big help! Let me know.

I did indeed have some listings of Greek Drama for previous years. I had hidden them to avoid cluttering the Internet up with obsolete material. After some experimentation, I decided the easiest way of making these available was just to unhide them. So I did that.

Then my site was suspended!

I decided that I had been taken for a spambot and notified WP accordingly. Then I was restored today, which was efficient of them.

Now I have written back:

That was an interesting experience! I had hidden my Greek Drama listings from past years so as not to take up Internet with obsolete material, then in response to your query I unhid them yesterday. That led to WordPress suspending my site, but they have restored it now so you should be able to access listings on the RHS of the page at https://notesofanidealist.wordpress.com. I will leave them up until close on Sunday.

Otherwise, there’s a productions database at http://www.apgrd.ox.ac.uk/research-collections/performance-database/productions though I don’t know how complete it is. If you want to let me know what specific research questions you are trying to answer I might (or might not) have some ideas of my own.

So the moral of this story is ”No good deed goes unpunished” or “Always make sure you back everything up”, which is something to remember for your dissertation.

A riddle from Twitter

January 18, 2021

This picture was posted on Twitter with the question ‘This photo. What do you see? What jobs do you think they do?’

I tried it on Facebook and nobody was willing to hazard a guess.

-No idea.

–Neither have I.

–Do we care?

I myself thought they might be a string quartet, since there are four of them and they are wearing dark clothing.

In fact, they are the main figures of the new Finnish Government as of December 2019: the new Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin (2nd R) with Minister of Education Li Andersson (L), Minister of Finance Katri Kulmuni and Minister of Interior Maria Ohisalo (R) after the first meeting of the new government of Finland in Helsinki, Finland on Tuesday, 10th Dec., 2019.

–To reply to sceptics above, I think the point is that this is not what we expect a government to look like and maybe we ought to. After all, Finland has about the best education system in the world and the best results in Europe for controlling coronavirus, not to mention proper winters even now.

–Oh, I see. Yes, we DO care!

At that time, according to a report in the Guardian, some were less impressed:

Mart Helme, 70, the leader of the populist far-right party Ekre, ridiculed Finland’s Sanna Marin, 34, and her government – in which four out of five coalition leaders are women under 35 – on his party’s radio talkshow on Sunday.“Now we see how one sales girl has become a prime minister and how some other street activists and non-educated people have also joined the cabinet,” Helme said.’

–How rude!

Shop-girl or not, Sanna Marin’s life story as set out in the Russian and French versions of Wikipedia reads like a vindication of Nordic-style Social Democracy, in terms of giving people a floor they cannot fall below so that they can make a contribution to society.

The more I look at this the more fascinating I find it–for instance the way the Russian version lays the emphasis on heavy drinking while the French version foregrounds falling in love.