Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Suppliants

I planned to read Herodutus' Histories this month as part of Jean's Greek Classics Challenge. That didn't happen! I do hope to read it this year still, but instead I've kept trying to work my way through Eurpides' plays.

The Suppliants is about a group of grieving mothers who lost their sons in the battle of seven against Thebes, which is the topic of Aeschylus' aptly named play Seven Against Thebes. I think it helped that I had read that play before and at least had a vague idea of what happened and some of the major plays even though I didn't remember most of the details. This play kind of assumes you already have that knowledge, which you would have if you were a Greek playgoer back then.

The mothers go to Theseus for his help in getting their sons' bodies back, which he does.  He even goes as far as to prepare the bodies for burial himself, which was a great honor. It was extremely important to the Greeks to have a proper burial as they believed that affected the afterlife.

One of the things that stuck out to me the most from this play is the idea that we should look to the gods for the answers and not try to take over their roles, yet the play had much less influence and presence of the gods than many other Greek tragedies. For example, Theseus says "Are we not then too proud, when heaven hath made such preparation for our life, not to be content therewith? But our presumption seeks to lord it over heaven, and in the pride of our hearts we think we are wiser than the gods."

I found this striking, because it seemed to me that while Theseus says this, he then relies on his own wisdom and the people of Athens to make a decision, without calling on the gods. (Unless I overlooked that, which is entirely possible.) Only at the very end of the play does Athena make an appearance, and it's not to interfere. I know Euripides as a whole uses the gods much less in his plays than Aeschylus or Sophocles, so I wonder if this was a way of ironically saying we are wiser than the gods? After all, the Greek gods weren't exactly the infalliable, moral paragon God of the Judeo-Christian world, so who is to say that the gods were smarter than the humans? Or maybe it's just an example of "do what I say, not what I do," but even if I don't quite know for sure what he was trying to say, it gave me something to think about about and I enjoyed his play as a whole.

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