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Varia

Euripides’Writing Strategies in Foregrounding the Effects of Pity

Pietro Pucci

Résumé

Ce texte analyse quelques passages euripidiens où les personnages sont pris de pitié et de compassion pour les autres et pour eux-mêmes. Euripide emploie ces émotions sur scène comme modèles de la compassion ressentie par le public, et en vue de transformer certaines scènes du théâtre d’Eschyle. Dans le déploiement de la pitié et de la compassion, quelques éléments idéologiques déroutants se font jour : l’intervention absurde et arbitraire des dieux est mise en évidence, alors que se développe l’idée que seule la pitié peut surgir dans l’âme des mortels confrontés au scandale de la condition humaine. La pitié produit des résistances pour faire face à la vie : ainsi, son déploiement horizontal crée de la solidarité. En suspendant les raisons métaphysiques, les personnages peuvent accuser le monde et l’absurdité des dieux et ancrer la réponse aux maux qui les accablent dans une conscience capable de souffrir et d’accepter sa condition malheureuse.

This text analyzes some Euripidean passages where the characters feel pity and compassion for the others and for themselves. Euripides uses these emotions as models for the audience, and also aims at changing some scenes from Eschylus’plays. In the deployment of pity and compassion, some provocative ideological elements appear : the nonsensical and arbitrary intervention of the gods, and the sense that pity is man’s only response to the scandal of human condition. Pity produces some form of resistance to cope with the hardship of life : for instance, its horizontal deployment creates solidarity among men. By suspending metaphysical reasons, the characters can accuse the world and the absurdity of the gods and place the answer to their misfortunes in the self both capable of suffering and aware of his miserable condition.

Entrées d'index

Texte intégral

  • 1 The pity the audience feels at the tragic performances has been described and analyzed by Aristotle (...)

1Euripides’rhetorical and conceptual strategies in the creation of piteous scenes and their writing centrality in his poetics have attracted insufficient attention in recent years and need to be further explored. For instance, the differences and the analogies that emerge between the pity the text produces in the audience and the pity the characters feel and describe – no explicit definitions exist for the audience’s compassion1 – remain to be illustrated. Also the specific strategies through which Euripides’writing deflates, or even fragments the teleological scenes of Aeschylus deserve some new attention. Even the ideological premises that justify Euripides’outpouring of pitiful and piteous scenes should be better focused.

  • 2 The cooperative principle is already perceived and illustrated by Gorgias, the great Sophist, when (...)

2As to the first point, it is obvious that while the spectators deliberately submit to the suffering that the representation of violence and outrages produces, the characters, on the contrary, are the innocent victims of the violence and outrages they attempt by all means to avoid and to reject. The characters suffer physically and mentally the injustice and violence; the spectators, sitting in the theatre, are prepared by their cooperative attitude2 to feel grief as they watch the tragic representation of undeserved violence.

3Yet there are violent and painful events in Euripides’drama that occur with the partial acceptance of the victims. This is the case of the sacrificial victims that on Euripides’stage are ready and even eager to offer their throat to the sacrificial knife: these «voluntary» victims have been the concern of recent studies, some of which very rich and persuasive; yet rarely or never these sacrificial scenes have been seen as the fictional and powerful kernels of Euripides’s poetics. It has escaped that as these «voluntary» victims offer themselves to the ultimate grief in order to escape the miseries of life they act in accordance with a precise goal Euripides assigns to his writing. For the experience to which Euripides’writing submits his audience has analogous traits: the painful pity that the audience is asked to endure, even through the beauty of an exalted text, will at the end produce a spiritual remedy, a wise attitude in the form of a spiritual remedy, a healing pharmakon.

4As for my third theme, I wish to underline that the conditions of pity and self-pity emerge, in Euripides’drama, from the secularized horizon where violence, injustice and outrage senselessly frustrate human life. In other words, wisdom (sophia) teaches that the gods’arbitrariness, the nothingness of all purposes in life can be met only by the acceptance of this human condition as a pityful and irreversible situation.

5When we consider sociologically Euripides’portraitures of male and female characters, in the light of these outrageous conditions of life, we understand why Euripides’traditional male heroes, the Menelauses, Agamemnons, Oresteses, etc. appear in some plays weak, undecided, unable to cope with their task, and in other plays, violent, cruel and maddened: in Euripides’fictional world the traditional heroes are often on the side of cruelty, incompetence, madness, and the only heroic deed possible is that of the young girls and boys who accept to die because there is nothing in this life to save but dignity and honour. And to produce a paradoxical example of wisdom.

6I begin with a passage from the Phoenician Women that teaches us about the Greek words for pity and shows that pity is a painful, strong and visceral emotion: it grabs the guts… I quote from the Chorus of women who, in front of the imminent duel between the two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, reserve their pity not for them, but only for their mother, Jocasta (1285-95):

{Χο.} αἰαῖ αἰαῖ, τϱομεϱὰν ϕϱίϰᾳ {[στϱ.}
τϱομεϱὰν ϕϱένἔχω· διὰ σάϱϰα δἐμὰν
ἔλεος ἔλεος ἔμολε μα-
τέϱος δειλαίας.

Ah, ah, my heart is trembling, trembling with fear. Pity, pity for the unhappy mother goes through my flesh.

  • 3 See Carlo Diano, «Euripide auteur de la catharsis tragique», Numen 8, 1961, p. 117 sq., who argues (...)

7The two terms eleos (pity) and phrikê (fear), here combined, correspond to Aristotle’s two terms chosen to designate tragedy’effects on the audience3. But here we see these two emotions affecting the characters themselves, producing pain on their bodies and flesh, forcing them to speak out of their pain in particular ways. Notice, for instance, the rotacism that characterizes the line describing fear and the labial sounds marking the effects of pity. There is also a metrical and therefore a musical difference: the anapaests are followed by a lecythion and a dochmiac.

  • 4 The word is present once in Homer, Iliad XXIV, 44, but is absent in Aeschylus and Sophocles though (...)

8Pity is here designated by the word eleos which occurs only in the late Euripides (Phoenician Women, 1287; Orestes 333, 568, 832, 968; bis Iphigenia in Aulis 4914); and here it is in anadiplosis, in order both to indicate that this is the most salient word of the proposition and to heighten the emotional effect of pity. To resort to an almost new word for expressing a feeling that has for the entire tragic tradition involved the notion of «bewailing» (see oiktos and similar forms), must imply a more elaborate notion of compassion: here pity, as often passions and emotions do in Homer, descends on women and pierces their flesh.

  • 5 It is in Orestes 333 sq.
    ἰὼ Ζεῦ, [ἀντ.
    τίς ἔλεος, τίς ὅδἀγὼν
    ϕόνιος ἔϱχεται,
    θοάζων σε τὸν μέλεον, (...)

9In other passages Eleos seems personified and could be equated to «tragic compassion» and to «Tragedy» itself5.

10With the massive presence of pity (eleos oiktos, synalgein, sysstenein, sympathein, etc.) in Euripides’drama – and especially in his last plays with a meaning of «compassion» that seems to equate that of «tragedy» – we touch the end of a long process that has unraveled in Greek tragedy.

  • 6 Jaqueline de Romilly, L’évolution du pathétique d’Eschyle à Euripide, Paris, 1961.
  • 7 Carlo Diano, «Euripide, auteur de la catharsis tragique», Numen 8, 1961, 117 sq.
  • 8 Maria Grazia Ciani, «La consolatio nei Tragici Greci», Bollettino dell’Istituto Filologico Greco de (...)
  • 9 Pietro Pucci, The Violence of Pity in Euripides’Medea, Ithaca-London, 1980.
  • 10 Rachel Aélion, Euripide, héritier d’Eschyle, Paris, 1983.
  • 11 Benedetto Marzullo, I sofismi di Prometeo, Firenze, 1993.

11This process has been illustrated among others by J. de Romilly6, C. Diano7, M. G. Ciani8, P. Pucci9, R. Aélion10, B. Marzullo11. As these authors have shown, such a process involves a series of dramatic and rhetorical alterations and transformations. I will now choose a famous passage in which Euripides deflates and empties out a great Aeschylean scene.

12In his Electra, Euripides borrows from Aeschylus the motif of Clytemnestra exposing her naked bosom to Orestes at the moment in which he is about to kill her. By this sort of archetypal gesture she requires her son’s respect, as the breast is the undeniable and venerable symbol of her having given him life and nourishment. She tells him (896-98):

  • 12 {Kl.} ἐπίσχες, παῖ, τόνδε δαἴδεσαι, τέϰνον,
    μαστόν, πϱὸς σὺ πολλὰ δὴ βϱίζων ἅμα
    οὔλοισιν ἐξήμελξ (...)

Stop, my boy, and respect, my child, this breast on which often, in slumber you sucked with your gums the nourishing milk12.

13In the Choephoroi, the audience sees this breathtaking action unfold before their eyes and hears her words calling out for respect and veneration (αἴδεσαι) for her breast.

  • 13 {Or.} Πυλάδη, τί δϱάσω; μητέϱαἰδεσθῶ ϰτανεῖν.

14They see Orestes disheartened: he questions Pylades as to whether he should respect his mother and spare her13; and they hear the intransigent words of Pylades, the only ones he utters in the entire play:

  • 14 ποῦ δὴ τὸ λοιπὸν Λοξίου μαντεύματα
    τὰ πυθόχϱηστα, πιστά τεὐοϱϰώματα;
    ἅπαντας ἐχθϱοὺς τῶν θεῶν ἡγοῦ π (...)

Where henceforth shall be the oracles of Loxias, declared at Pytho and the covenant you pledged on oath? Count all men your enemies rather than the gods!»14 (Ch. 896-902).

  • 15 For some interpreters (e. g. G. Thompson,) the εὐοϱϰώματα are the pledges given by Apollo.

15The three neuter plurals (μαντεύματα πυθόχϱηστα εὐοϱϰώματα) indicating the utterances of the god and the loyal oaths of Orestes15 produce a vertical line connecting Loxias, his temple in Pytho, and Orestes’loyalty, a line uniting the god, his cult, and his devotee, and a line that eliminates all horizontal relationships, all encroachments by human beings: «count all men your enemies rather than the gods».

  • 16 Though there is no explicit word designating Orestes’«pity» or «compassion», many expressions show (...)
  • 17 {Or.} ϰατεῖδες, οἷον τάλαινἔξω πέπλων {[στϱ.}
    ἔβαλεν, ἔδειξε μαστὸν ἐν ϕοναῖσιν,
  • 18 .} βοὰν δἔλασϰε τάνδε, πϱὸς γένυν ἐμὰν {[ἀντ.} 1214
    τιθεῖσα χεῖϱα· Τέϰος ἐμόν, λιταίνω·
    παϱῄδων τ(...)
  • 19 The lament among Orestes, Electra, and the Chorus continues until line 1232: the division of parts (...)

16In Euripides, instead, this action is not shown, is not played out, but only recounted by Orestes and Electra when, after murdering their mother, they relive their slaughter through an outburst of pity for her, of self-pity16, and they remorse: «Did you see» sings Orestes to Electra, «how she, the luckless one, put out of her robes, bared her breast, in the slaughter (v. 1206-7)17 […] She screamed this word grasping my cheeks with her hands: “my child, I supplicateˮ, and she hanged on my cheeks so that my hands lost the sword»18 (v. 1214-1719).

17Critics have emphasized how Euripides avoids the performance of the breathtaking action, how he gives up the pathos and the violence of its physical occurrence and of its being seen and heard, and replaces all of this with a pitying, self-pitying and remorseful recollection, uttered through a musical, operatic mode.

  • 20 For the differences between the words of the three characters in Euripides and in Aeschylus, see(...)

18As the two characters relive what they did20, they describe what they saw and heard: they become pitiful spectators of their own action. It is this change of role that is salient. Orestes begins by saying: «did you see… ?» a way of inviting his sister to assist in the drama, and, immediately after, to hear the words of Clytemnestra. They resemble the spectators who are sitting on the steps of the theater, even though they have been the violent agents of the action they now recollect; and yet, as spectators recollecting the scene, they affect, by emotional osmosis, the audience.

19The audience realizes that what is really happening is that the two characters are made to express pity through the borrowing and the adaptation of a great poetic scene in Aeschylus’drama. The effect on the audience is a sharp intensification of their emotions, since their recollection of the Aeschilean scene merges with the Euripidean re-making. They receive a visceral reaction of pity.

20This literary symbiosis and transformation constitute a complex phenomenon: in particular it testifies to the tremendous fascination this scene exercised on Euripides and reveals his need or desire to exploit its momentous force. But also it shows his need or desire to transform its religious and moral agenda.

21The increased dependence of Euripides’tragic writing on what seems to have become its classical predecessor, Aeschylus, needs no evidence: Euripides’borrowings from, allusions to, and parodies of Aeschylean scenes and themes are endless.

22The ideological premises of this symbiotic writing can easily be read in the transformation of the Aeschylean scene that Euripides orchestrates: his ideological premises essentially entail the suppression of the divine presence as a meaningful agency of justice and morality.

23In Aeschylus’drama, Orestes’refusal to respect the symbols of the mother’s authority as Clytemenestra orders him to do (Choephoroi 897-98), is justified by Apollo’s order, as Pylades promptly reminds him. The scene opposes an ancestral and irrefutable feeling of awe for the maternal appeal and the religious terror for the divine will. Orestes’momentary yielding to the mother’s appeal is silenced by his respect for the god’s order. Theodicy suppresses the son’s instinctual reverence. Justice may be hard, morally difficult, but it remains justice.

24Euripides upsets this theodicy by presenting the murder as the enactment of the unbelievably bad, unwise order of Apollo. Throughout the play, Orestes is troubled, even repulsed, by Apollo’s oracle, and at the beginning of the musical lament we have read, Orestes bursts out with:

O Phoebus! Obscure (aphanta) is the justice (dikaia) you intoned, but evident (phanera) the anguish you brought to pass… (Eur., Electra 1190-92).

25This beautiful antithesis, set in a chiasmus and anticipated by the address to Phoibos (the Radiant), questions the «justice» of Apollo’s order, a questioning that is parallel to Castor’s statement as he appears in the place of the gods’epiphanies:

  • 21 Aélion, op. cit., p. 140 and Martin Cropp (ed.), Electra, 1988, p. xxxi and 183, explain the parado (...)

To murder her [Clytemnestra] was right (dikaia), but not your deed. And Phoebus, Phoebus he is my lord and I keep silent. Wise (sophos) though he is, he gave you an unwise bidding (Eur., El. 1245-46)21.

26By making Orestes skeptical about Apollo’s absolute righteousness, Euripides deprives Orestes of any secure legitimation for his murder, and abandons him to a schizophrenic position. Conscious of the weak or even unjustifiable grounds for his act, and yet urged by the god’s violent threats to accomplish it, he is abandoned to self-pity and remorse.

  • 22 Heracles in the Heracles presents an interpretation of the divine ethics that contrasts radically w (...)

27This is Euripides’world, divested of all real sense and meaning: Euripides’writing cannot put in explicit terms this mere sound and fury of the human life, as Shakespeare does for Macbeth, for his writing is still anchored in the horizon of the traditional gods. Without them there would be no drama since traditionally they are involved in human affairs as their (often) inhuman agents; with them, the drama consists in excavating from the traditional writings the gods’ambiguous, senseless function and lack of wisdom22.

28Euripides’writing, in its awareness of dependence on the writing of his predecessors, does not gesture simply to the nature of literature and to its inevitable intertextual fabric, but it gestures also, as we have remarked, to the transformation of flesh and blood action (of Aeschylus’tragic scene) into virtual action, i. e. into deferred elaboration, from three to two dimensions. Particularly exemplary of this literary meta-writing is the fact that Euripides transforms the iambic trimeters of Aeschylus’scene – the form of diction that in theatrical production is closest to normal speech – into a sung performance in lyric iambics, a duet between Orestes and Electra and a trio with the Chorus. The singing may have created a stronger pathos than in Aeschylus’recitation, but its virtuosity, its effects, its work on and distance from the immediate semantics of the words, have certainly extolled and foregrounded the power of the voices as piteous voices. In other words the acting out of a physical and violent confrontation has been turned into the exhibition of virtuoso voices.

  • 23 One can think of some rewritings of traditional scenes in Borges’fictions, or more recently of the (...)

29This may remind us of an analogous procedure, though more explicitly and systematically carried out, in some post-modern fiction23.

  • 24 Gary S. Meltzer, Euripides and the Poetics of Nostalgia, Cambridge, 2006.

30In this dimension, Aeschylus’solid ethical world is not looked upon with nostalgia, as Gary S. Meltzer24 seems to suggests, but is emptied out; and its distorted fragments become the pretext for a vocal musical performance.

  • 25 Orestes, the young hero, becomes a derisory killer who has to cover his eyes as he strikes his vict (...)
  • 26 Aeschylus’Clytemnestra argues vigorously against the implacable logic of her son evoking maternal r (...)

31We could follow systematically all the exemplary changes by which Euripides’writing fragments and distorts the Aeschylean scene: the paralysis of Orestes who apparently abandons momentarily his sword (Electra 1217)25 and other disfigurations26. I prefer, however, to turn to a new example of Euripides’rewriting of an Aeschylean episode.

  • 27 Nicole Loraux, La voix endeuillée. Essai sur la tragédie grecque, Paris, 1999. Translated into Engl (...)

32I am referring to the famous picture that the Chorus of the Aeschylus’Agamemnon presents of the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and to the ways Euripides has treated the sacrifice of Polyxena, to which Nicole Loraux drew our attention27.

  • 28 Loraux, op. cit., p. 43.
  • 29 Evadne too dies voluntarily on the pyre of her husband.

33I do not intend to re-open the complex dossier of human sacrifice in Greek Tragedy, but to emphasize with Nicole Loraux (and other scholars who followed her) the weighty and extraordinary fact that all the sacrifices of virgin girls and of a boy that Euripides produces become, in his writing, «voluntary»28. There is therefore no need to tie up these virgin persons, to gag their mouths, as it necessary to do for the Aeschylean Iphigenia who is lifted «face downward as a goat above the altar» (Agam. 232-38). They, on the contrary, die as free persons, eager to save their genos, their citizens, to conquer glory, and to escape the abysmal conditions of their lives. Their death is the extreme and unique remedy (pharmakon: Heraclidae 595-96). Or as Polyxena says «to die before I meet with disgraces I do not deserve» (Hecuba 374)29.

34Among these sphagia freely offering themselves to the knife of the sacrificer, Polyxena has a special position, since she is the only one who is not sacrificed for the advantage of her family or fatherland. She is most unexpectedly and arbitrarily requested by Achilles as a sign of the honour the Achaeans grant him before moving back home. Her freedom, her pride in defying her killers design an extraordinary contrast with Aeschylus’Iphigenia. As young men move closer to grasp her and hold her during the sacrifice, she dismisses them (Hec. 545-52):

O Argives, sackers of my own city, I welcome my death. Let no one touch my body, for I am ready to offer my neck. Bravely. In the Gods’name, let me be free as you kill me, in order for me to die as a free person. I am a princess: I blush to bear, among the dead, the name of slave.

35The Narrator adds:

The host shouted its applause.

  • 30 A similar tone is perceivable when Polyxena, recognizing Odysseus’moves to refuse her supplication, (...)

36It is a great coup de théâtre: the tone is such that it runs on the razor’s edge between tragedy and operette30.

37The amusing challenge to the Aeschylean scene is carried out especially by the details that occur in both texts, on pity and on the beauty of the scene.

38In Aeschylus we read (Agam. 239-243):

And with her robe of saffron dye falling downwards
she was shooting each of the sacrificers
with a dart of pity from her eyes,
conspicuous as in a picture, wishing
to address each by name…

39The narrator is the Chorus of the Elders who were present at the sacrifice. As the simile with the picture shows, they equate her behavior and figure to a pictorial «representation». Even so, it evokes the violence of the event. She strikes and wounds each of her murderers with a glance that forcefully, painfully demands pity (remember Dante: «che di pietà ferrati avea gli strali»); but, of course to no avail. The cruelty of the act is greatly emphasized.

  • 31 {Τα.} διπλᾶ με χϱῄζεις δάϰϱυα ϰεϱδᾶναι, γύναι,
    σῆς παιδὸς οἴϰτῳ· νῦν τε γὰϱ λέγων ϰαϰὰ
    τέγξω τόδὄμμ (...)

40In Euripides’Hecuba, the narrator is Talthybios, the messenger. He begins by saying that he receives a double gain of tears by narrating the event: first he wept in pity when he saw the scene and now, for the second time, as he recounts it (518-20)31.

41The pleasurable view of the heroic beautiful virgin is accompanied by soft tears: they are indeed a gain as Hecuba herself asserts at the end of the story: «The report of your nobility», she says referring to dead Polyxena in Talthybios’narrative, «has taken away the excess of my grief» (v. 591-92). This lightening of the pain comes to Hecuba from her pity and admiration for Polyxena, wrenching herself away from the miseries of life.

42The cruelty of the Aeschylean sacrificer is replaced here by the compassion of the Euripidean Neoptolemos who because of his pity (oiktôi) is «willing» and «not willing» to inflict the stroke (v. 565-66), especially since Polyxena with a new gesture of nobility and pride exposes her breast as the target of the stroke, wishing, as Loraux has shown, a male sort of death.

43With that gesture, Polyxena has exposed her breast «most beautiful as a statue of a goddess», comments Talthybios (v. 560-61).

  • 32 We have one of these pictures in an archaic vase painting: see the reproduction in Mossman, op. cit (...)

44The difference between this and the Aeschylean simile is pointed: «conspicuous as in the pictures» evokes the impressive standing of the girl in the paintings that narrate her sacrifice32. By equating her image with that of a familiar artistic artifact, the simile removes her from the immediacy and the uniqueness of her being there and of the precise moment of the event: she becomes in the Aeschylean text an «artistic representation» with which this poetry, by summoning it up, enters in competition. The text calls attention to itself, cruelly abandoning the real Iphigenia to the series of pictures. Her beauty or impressive force of the artistic image is evoked by the epithet prepousa, that extolls her standing out, like, for instance, the moon among the stars in the night.

45Euripides, more daringly, wants us to imagine Polyxena’naked breast and through the simile extolls its beauty: one can easily think of a statue of Aphrodite, the goddess most often exposed in her nakedness.

  • 33 Robin Osborne, «Women and Sacrifice in Classical Greece», Classical Quarterly 43, 1993, p. 396.
  • 34 Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual, Berkeley, 1979, p. 75.

46There is here of course a «sexualization of the virgin victim» as many scholars have remarked. Whether we should connect this sexualization to the males’atavistic and archetypal fantasies built on the equations of bloody assault with rape, or on the connection between the blood of sacrifice and menstruation33, or on the spirit of aggression that the sexual violence of the sacrifice inspires in the warriors against their enemies34, and other analogous motivations, will depend on the sort of questions we address to the text. An historian of mythology or an anthropologist looking for a long and comparative history of parallel images of «sexualized virgin victims» may also consider this Euripidean example.

47But I do not find in this sexualization of Polyxena (with its implications of males’unconscious phantasies) the salient trait of the passage. Polyxena’s sexualization is both sign and crown of the programmatic moral beautification that the text performs on the theme of the sacrifice of the virgin. This beautification indeed exalts moral and spiritual features – the sublime nobility, the disregard of female shame in order to die like a hero: the statuesque, godlike beauty in this context becomes a visible, graphic expression of those motifs. Accordingly this beautification, even if degraded to the level of operette, even if viewed by the army men with obvious sexual appreciation, intends to gesture toward the grace, elegance and pride of offering oneself to death in order to escape the brutality, nonsense, and arbitrariness of life’s offensive contingencies.

48The text seems intended to cover the paradoxical tension, between her graceful edifying movement toward death and the blind brutality of the inflicted slaughter. Indeed the text must cover this tension in order for Polyxena’s exemplary death to function as an inspirational attitude of heroism and wisdom, but, by assuaging the brutality, the text falls in a sort of sentimental and wishful representation that I call «operette».

49Even so, this representation gestures toward the hidden law and the game of Euripides’poetics. Aeschylus had showed to his audience the cruelty of the sacrificers who denied pity to the fierce appeal of Polyxena. Yet, as a writer, he was an accomplice to that cruelty, first of all by reducing her to a picture, and then by considering her as an accident that should not have forbidden a «just» war, wanted by Zeus. In fact the same Elders of the Chorus fully condone Agamemnon’s sacrificial violence as they greet him returning victorious and triumphant from the Trojan war (Agam. 799-806).

50On the contrary, in Euripides’Hecuba and the Trojan Women, the Trojan war acquires a sour taste. First, the violence of the Greeks, we are told, shall be punished by the gods themselves, even if it remains hardly believable on Euripides stage. More realistic on this stage is the principle that evaluates the import of the war not according to its «justice», «divine motivation», «heroic reputation (kleos)», etc., but according to the pain that the war required from Trojans and Greeks alike. The Trojans were more comfortable than the Greeks. For Euripides, what counts in human experience is the measure of pains and sorrows that marks it, and the cathartic ways to cure them. Accordingly, the whole heroic tradition stemming from the Iliad and going on through lyric and tragic poetry becomes for Euripides an immense source for literary distortions, for characters’disfigurements, for critical re-makings, and for parodic re-writings.

  • 35 See Euripides, frg. 964, 1-6 (TGF), where Theseus, the founder of Athenian state says: «Having lear (...)

51But Polyxena constitutes a shining exception in the lurid and debased world of the Greeks of which the immoral Odysseus is a champion, and of which the weak Agamemnon is a disreputable model. Polyxena shines in her naked thrust to a dignified death and she comes to light as a exemplary figure of Euripides’«wise», «pitiful» writing (sophia). The violence of her gesture, notwithstanding its paradoxical tension, provokes the pity of the audience, a pity that will be viscerally painful and yet also remedial. For, of course, the spectators do not need to die, but they need to be ready, if they are wise and noble, to move from their pity to self-pity, and therefore they too offer themselves up to the poison and remedy contained in the drama: they will envision the outrageousness of life, they will be prepared to the injustice, to the forms of violence (exiles, diseases, etc) that may occur to them. They will see their own death. They receive various forms of cathartic remedy: one of these forms is announced by Theseus, in one Euripidean fragment: they will suffer less at the moment when the real pain stings35.

  • 36 See G. Basta Donzelli, «Interpretazione del teatro Euripideo. Qualche pregiudizio», in Euripide e i (...)

52This scriptural function of Polyxena’sacrifice should be recognized in all the other examples of characters who accept their sacrifice: Macaria, Iphigenia, the daughters of Erechtheus, Praxithea, and Menecaeus36. In all these cases, too, the savage brutality of the human sacrifice is transformed into an elated offering of the self to death, into a desired noble gesture, into an edifying, triumphant representation of that self-denial. «Triumphant», because that act, in all these cases, is represented and written as exalted, as beautiful, self-liberating, and cathartic: accordingly it implicitly suggests itself and stands as the virtual, scriptural model of the cathartic effect the Euripidean drama assigns to itself.

53The beauty and the sublime tone of the sacrificial representations already produces by itself some remedy, as Hecuba has found out. Furthermore, as I have already indicated, the text by instilling a sort of preparedness for the toils of being in the world, strengthens the moral resistance; and finally, other important cathartic effects of pity, as I will suggest later, work as a positive drug.

  • 37 See Loraux, op. cit. (supra, n. 21), p. 32-33 and read the following words: «It was a recital good (...)
  • 38 See Pietro Pucci, «Euripides’Heaven», in The Soul of Tragedy, Victoria Pedrick Steven M. Oberhelman(...)
  • 39 A particular case of self-sacrifice is that of women who die for their husbands, either in their pl (...)

54The almost obsessive recourse to the fiction – as Loraux correctly calls it37 – of the sacrificial scenes should induce the interpreters to recognize in it an essential feature of Euripides’poetic code. Even in the case of Iphigenia in Iphigenia in Aulis, the issue of self-sacrifice acquires other, perhaps more important, features than its being presented as an act of patriotism. In fact, Iphigenia is shown to believe in a «different life» after her death38, and therefore the text suggests a new metaphysical direction39.

55While I choose these sacrificial examples as the most radical models of Euripides’writing effects and strategies, I wish also to recall the endless assertions and representations that this writing presents about the cathartic power, the consolation, the solacing beauty of poetry. None of the other tragedians mentions so constantly and so elaborately these gifts of the Muses. From Euripides’first play to his last that we possess, this theme is richly and diversely constructed.

  • 40 In a passage of the Andromache (421-22), the Chorus state that «misery evokes pity from all mortals (...)

56I am now trying to complete the analysis of the profit, remedies, etc. that the characters derive from the pain of pity. Hecuba herself is relieved from the excess of her grief, and Talthybios, in recounting the noble attitude of Polyxena, «gains» twice the pain of pity40. It is in fact questionable why sophisticated people – and Euripides – would prefer to react to the misery of the world through pity, rather than through protest, insolence, or silence. Sophocles’Ajax and Philoctetes for instance, provide examples of a different reaction than Euripides’characters.

57The behaviour of Hecuba in the Trojan Women does not offer a direct explanation to this question, but it suggests the beginning of an answer.

58After the farewell of Cassandra, who is driven away as the slave of Agamemnon, Hecuba falls to the ground in a debased position symbolic of her desire to die. Some young girls help her to rise, but she exclaims:

  • 41 Exasai: for Shirley Barlow, Euripides Trojan Women, 1986 the verb gestures toward the idea «to sing (...)

Let me lie as I have fallen – kind acts are not kind for those who do not want them – my girls. My present, past, and future sorrows truly deserve this fall.
O gods! See, I am calling up allies that are bad allies; however it is somehow correct to invoke the gods when one of us is taken by troubles. I will then first sing
41 of my good fortunes, for I will induce greater pity (πλείονοἶϰτον) through (or «because of») my misfortunes» (Tro. 466 sq.)

{Εϰ.} ἐᾶτέ μοὔτοι ϕίλα τὰ μὴ ϕίλ’, ϰόϱαι
ϰεῖσθαι πεσοῦσαν· πτωμάτων γὰϱ ἄξια
πάσχω τε ϰαὶ πέπονθα ϰἄτι πείσομαι.
θεοί... ϰαϰοὺς μὲν ἀναϰαλῶ τοὺς συμμάχους,
ὅμως δἔχει τι σχῆμα ϰιϰλήσϰειν θεούς, 470
ὅταν τις ἡμῶν δυστυχῆ λάβῃ τύχην.
πϱῶτον μὲν οὖν μοι τἀγάθἐξᾷσαι ϕίλον
τοῖς γὰϱ ϰαϰοῖσι πλείονοἶϰτον ἐμβαλῶ.

59Hecuba’s display of pity (lament, compassion, οἶϰτος) confirms the first condition that we have seen framing the manifestation of pity, viz. the absence of a divine order, an absence that she decries also in other passages (v. 612, 884, 1240).

  • 42 Among the modern poets, Baudelaire presents a persuasive example of the horizontal dissemination of (...)

60She confirms also the horizontal line along which the pitying lament does spread: apparently she is thinking of inspiring compassion in the girls who helped her to stand up (see line 466), but also in the Chorus and in herself. Pity is somehow choral42.

  • 43 Carlo Diano demonstrated (and I followed him in my book, The Violence of Pity in Euripides’Medea) t (...)

61By saying that she can «induce greater pity» in herself and in the others, she implies that pity can be artificially, rhetorically produced by herself43, and that she wishes to give herself over to it. By this decision, the pain becomes a remedy and a profit because «to give oneself over to» means to be agent of a decision considered to be favorable. As the character touches the bottom of the senselessness and arbitrariness of things, she finds a ground on which to anchor herself, a trustful act to which to give herself over, the self-affecting by calculated and controlled means. She offers herself to the highest pain to obtain an highest remedy. For she acquires an active role almost like that of a theatrical director, and in this way she masters, at least partially, the events. Moreover she dislocates herself and her audience from the directness of the present. A dislocated temporality and space (old Troy and new place) intensify and at the same time disseminate the grieving. An unheroic advantage as Nietzsche correctly saw.

62Another source of relief is the mere venting of the scandal of her situation: by ostensibly indicting the deficiency of the gods, accusing the Greeks of cruelty, and vocalizing this atrocity in the proper place, in the panorama of Troy’s ruins and devastations, she, again, gains an active and self-satisfying role.

63We have mentioned the relief produced by common compassion, the horizontal expansion of pity.

64In the Andromeda, the Chorus invites an unknown character to feel compassion for the girl (fr. 119):

  • 44 The verb is used 3 times in Euripides (and once in Rhesus 807): in Alcestis 633 (for condoleances), (...)
  • 45 The community of compassion is socially ritualized in the great scenes of common grief in the mourn (...)

Grieve with her (sunalgêson44), for when the one who suffers shares [with others] her tears, her pains get lighter45.

65The writing strategies we have analyzed are all parallel and conspire to produce the same effects, while being themselves the result of a specific cultural horizon. The trust in an order that justifies human grief and places it at the service of some moral instantiation has vanished; in the new cultural climate, human grief has no sense since it derives from the scandalous condition of human existence signifying nothing. We have seen some of the strategies that fill that void and appreciated how they produce a writing close to asemantisation (paralysis of arguments and of aggressive moves), and fictional figures whose abstract vitality depends on being mere extensions and producers of the writing effects.

  • 46 The teacher that instructs Theseus how to protect the self from the unexpected griefs of life is a (...)
  • 47 Euripides’characters are never tired to accuse the sophoi of speaking beautifully, but unfairly: se (...)

66By inviting his contemporaries to attend dramas of this sort, Euripides appealed to the wisdom (sophia) of his productions: it is unclear whether he was aware of the contradictory force of his strategies. For, as we have indicated, there is some tension between a direction of sophia that teaches how to protect the self46, how to obtain success in talking and living, and one direction that points to death as the final liberator, and between the beautiful inspiring representation of death and its occurring in the act of a senseless brutality. Here Euripides’sophia tricks him, for sophia is ambivalent and teaches to win also through rhetorical and perverse ways47; so here it teaches him to silence somehow the indignant brutality of the murdering act in order to let the edifying purpose emerge and to conquer the audience.

67His sophia holds him on two opposite tracks in many other occasions. In one play, he allow the contradiction to emerge clear, explicit and crying for explanation. It is when he has his Heracles asserting that the poets are wrong, and that truly the gods are good at least among themselves and they do not commit atrocities. Well, the play has shown just the contrary: Hera made Heracles mad, and Zeus did not stop her. Who are those who know really how things stand? The poets or the philosophers? In this undecidable gulf, Euripides’message is in favor of poetry: Xenophanes’idea of the perfection of the gods leaves human miseries unexplained; poetry does not explain either, but it consoles, excites, helps men cope with life.

Notes

1 The pity the audience feels at the tragic performances has been described and analyzed by Aristotle in Poetics 1453, 2-7 (and see Rhetoric 1345b 13-16). According to Aristotle, Euripides is the master producer of pity. I have illustrated the Aristotelian description in my The Violence of Pity in Euripiides’Medea, Ithaca-London, 1980: I have described the powerful effects of pity on the characters themselves and by reflection on the audience. But the illustrations I now present, produce new considerations and insights.

2 The cooperative principle is already perceived and illustrated by Gorgias, the great Sophist, when he writes that tragedy produces a deception «in which the deceiver is most justly esteemed than the nondeceiver, and the deceived is wiser than the undeceived. The deceiver is more justly esteemed because he succeeds in what he intends, and the deceived is wiser, for a man that is not imperceptive is easily affected by the pleasure of the words.», transl. by George Kennedy in The Older Sophists, R. Kent Sprague (ed.), Cambridge (Indianapolis), 1972, p. 65. The «deceiver» is the poet, and the «deceived» is the spectator. This passage should be complemented with Gorgias description of the power of the logos as great dunastês in the Encomium of Helen.

3 See Carlo Diano, «Euripide auteur de la catharsis tragique», Numen 8, 1961, p. 117 sq., who argues on the influence of Euripides tragic poetics exercised on Aristotle’definition of tragedy’s effects.

4 The word is present once in Homer, Iliad XXIV, 44, but is absent in Aeschylus and Sophocles though eleinos occurs, rarely, in all three tragedians. ἔλεος has no sure etymology: some scholars connect it with the interjection eleleu, while oiktos («lamentation», and then «compassion» and the verbs oiktirô and oiktizô are all connected with the interjection oi and remain within the semantic circle of the pitiful lament. ἔλεος occasionally underlines the complex phenomenon of pity, the emotional involvement of compassion, the pain, without necessarily implying tears). Pisistratos established, in the Market, an eleou bômos, the altar to eleos from which later a cult to Eleos ensued, Pausanias I, 17, 1 writes: «In the agora of Athens among the things not easily distinguishable for all, there is also the altar of Eleos, a god who more than any other is useful for the human life and for its alternating events, and whom the Athenians are the only Greeks to venerate», see also Wilamowitz Moellendorff, Der Glaube der Hellenen, 1959, I, p. 323. The god Eleos, to whom Athenian devoted an altar, protected the foreigners, and those who were persecuted.

5 It is in Orestes 333 sq.
ἰὼ Ζεῦ, [ἀντ.
τίς ἔλεος, τίς ὅδἀγὼν
ϕόνιος ἔϱχεται,
θοάζων σε τὸν μέλεον, δάϰϱυα 335
δάϰϱυσι συμβάλλει
τιςἀλαστόϱων
that M. L. West in
Euripides Orestes, Warminster, 1987, translates: «Zeus, what tragedy, what trial is this that comes with carnage spurring you, helpless one, for whom some daimon joins tears in streams of tears …». In Orestes 968-70 during the choral lament we have a representation of ἔλεος that suggests its personification:
Χο
ἔλεος ἔλεος ὅδἔϱχεται
τῶν θανουμένων ὕπεϱ,
στϱατηλατᾶν Ἑλλάδος ποτὄντων.
«Pity, pity here is coming forward for those about to die who once were the leaders of Greece». The Chorus mean Agamemnon and his children: see M. L. West: «Agamemnon and his children are mentally run together as «the Atridae». Cf. v. 810. 818n.,
Electra 876; perhaps Tro 1217. As the Chorus sings «eleos eleos is coming forward», we are invited to attend the entrance of Tragic Lamentation, Tragic compassion or Tragedy itself. In other words, the Chorus name themselves Eleos in the act of their performance. It is with approaching the meaning of Tragedy, that the word ἔλεος enters in late Euripides’drama.

6 Jaqueline de Romilly, L’évolution du pathétique d’Eschyle à Euripide, Paris, 1961.

7 Carlo Diano, «Euripide, auteur de la catharsis tragique», Numen 8, 1961, 117 sq.

8 Maria Grazia Ciani, «La consolatio nei Tragici Greci», Bollettino dell’Istituto Filologico Greco dell’Università di Padova II, 1975, p. 89-129.

9 Pietro Pucci, The Violence of Pity in Euripides’Medea, Ithaca-London, 1980.

10 Rachel Aélion, Euripide, héritier d’Eschyle, Paris, 1983.

11 Benedetto Marzullo, I sofismi di Prometeo, Firenze, 1993.

12 {Kl.} ἐπίσχες, παῖ, τόνδε δαἴδεσαι, τέϰνον,
μαστόν, πϱὸς σὺ πολλὰ δὴ βϱίζων ἅμα
οὔλοισιν ἐξήμελξας εὐτϱαφὲς γάλα.
Notice the imperative, the double appeal, the precise significance of her gesture: this authoritative language and her gesture paralyse Orestes.

13 {Or.} Πυλάδη, τί δϱάσω; μητέϱαἰδεσθῶ ϰτανεῖν.

14 ποῦ δὴ τὸ λοιπὸν Λοξίου μαντεύματα
τὰ πυθόχϱηστα, πιστά τεὐοϱϰώματα;
ἅπαντας ἐχθϱοὺς τῶν θεῶν ἡγοῦ πλέον.

15 For some interpreters (e. g. G. Thompson,) the εὐοϱϰώματα are the pledges given by Apollo.

16 Though there is no explicit word designating Orestes’«pity» or «compassion», many expressions show Orestes’pity for his mother: e. g. τάλαιν’(1206: «unfortunate one» says Orestes of his mother); ἰώ μοι, (laments Orestes in 1208); he does not succeed in holding the sword 1217, and has to cover his eyes as he hits her (1221-23) etc. It is not clear how some of these gestures actually are thought to have occurred during the murder: it is possible that piteous reminiscence exaggerates the full powerlessness that now he describes… Electra too has changed from her hatred to a compassionate attitude as the Chorus recognize.

17 {Or.} ϰατεῖδες, οἷον τάλαινἔξω πέπλων {[στϱ.}
ἔβαλεν, ἔδειξε μαστὸν ἐν ϕοναῖσιν,

18 .} βοὰν δἔλασϰε τάνδε, πϱὸς γένυν ἐμὰν {[ἀντ.} 1214
τιθεῖσα χεῖϱα· Τέϰος ἐμόν, λιταίνω·
παϱῄδων τἐξ ἐμᾶν
ἐϰϱίμναθ’, ὥστε χέϱας ἐμὰς λιπεῖν βέλος.

19 The lament among Orestes, Electra, and the Chorus continues until line 1232: the division of parts for some of the characters is not certain, and different editors present different divisions. I am following here the division given by James Diggle, Euripidis Fabulae, 1985 and Giuseppina Basta Donzelli, Euripidis Electra, 1995 who agree in the main: the only differences are that Basta Donzelli gives to the Chorus lines 1226 and 1232 which Diggle grants to Electra. For Euripides’lengthening of the scene, see de Romilly, op. cit., p. 19: Euripides «peut se permettre de multiplier les détails concrets: ceux-ci ne choquent plus de facon immediate notre sensibilité à nous; ils mesurent au contraire celle des protagonistes». We do not know the musical score, but the meter and the text show how they are adapted to the musical needs: the characters sing in lyric jambs, and the texture of the poetic diction becomes loser, with expressions of lament: iô moi, anadiplosis, and compassionate words ( τάλαιν’).

20 For the differences between the words of the three characters in Euripides and in Aeschylus, see Aélion, op. cit., p. 122.

21 Aélion, op. cit., p. 140 and Martin Cropp (ed.), Electra, 1988, p. xxxi and 183, explain the paradox by saying that the punishment of Clytemnestra was right, but «Apollo was unwise in appointing the wrong person to do the right job». The point is well taken, but we might ask: to whom should Apollo have assigned this right job? Within the tradition, nobody else, but Orestes, could have taken up this role. It is by purposely preserving this traditional role for Orestes, that Euripides can assail, through Castor, the moral appropriateness of appointing Orestes to punish his mother. Yet Castor asserts that the murder of Clytemnestra is «just», while Orestes had defined it «of obscure justice». There seems to be a disagreement between the two judgements. It is however possible that while asserting the justice of punishing Clytemnestra, Castor, as he considers the role of Apollo, puts some doubts even on the wisdom of murdering Clytemnestra. For, by pointing to the lack of sophia in Apollo’s order to Orestes, the text implies Apollo’s lack of pity for Orestes, and possibly also for Clytemnestra since pity is an exclusive feeling of the sophoi, as it is proclaimed in this same play (Electra 294-296). In other terms killing Clytemnestra is a just act for Castor, but would it be also a wise, i.e. a pitiful one? In the Orestes the murder of Clytemnestra, not her punishment, is sharply criticized by Tyndareus who recognizes Clytemnestra’crime, but rejects Orestes’punishment: on the contrary, Orestes «ought as a prosecutor to have imposed a murder penalty consistent with piety and expelled his mother from the house» (496-502). In a different play and dramatic horizon, and through a different sets of characters, Euripides assails the barbarian and uncivilized justice of killing Clytemnestra.
It is remarkable that both Orestes (1221-23) and Castor (1243) use sacrificial definitions for the murder of Clytemnestra: probably these expressions reveal the characters’desire to cover and hide their revulsion for the violent expressions of murdering (
phoneuein, ktanein, etc.) that the killing of Clytemnestra in fact evokes. They are somehow justified: after all this murder was commanded by a god, and it results «from the application of the blood-law»: Nicole Loraux, Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman, Harvard University, 1987 p. 14. Orestes uses a sacrificial verb also in the Choephoroi, as he turns to his mother saying «I am prepared to sacrifice you» (904). The Chorus of Euripides’Electra, on the contrary accuse Electra in strong terms of the murder of her mother (phonos 1218-20).

22 Heracles in the Heracles presents an interpretation of the divine ethics that contrasts radically with the dramatic action in which he knows the gods have been involved creating an endlessly unbalanced and ambiguous view of the gods’activity.

23 One can think of some rewritings of traditional scenes in Borges’fictions, or more recently of the Odyssey (by Luigi Malerba, Ithaca per sempre, Milano, 1997), or of the meta-writings in Paul Auster’s novels, and of comparable strategies in the fictions of Butor and Perec. There is in Euripides no conscious writing about the problems of writing itself and no elaboration of its circuitous proceedings as parallel movements in the maze of words or streets of a city, as we find in some post-modern writers of fiction, but there is deep consciousness about writing, its effects, strategies and games: the symbiosis of different texts, the various forms of this symbiosis (parody, re-making, allusion, simultaneous contradictory sources, etc.).

24 Gary S. Meltzer, Euripides and the Poetics of Nostalgia, Cambridge, 2006.

25 Orestes, the young hero, becomes a derisory killer who has to cover his eyes as he strikes his victim. On the paralyzing effect of pity, see for instance Ion 970.

26 Aeschylus’Clytemnestra argues vigorously against the implacable logic of her son evoking maternal rights, her husband’s long absence and infidelity, and finally she threatens Orestes with a curse. She knows her rights, she knows that these are insured by divine agents, the Erinyes. Euripides’Clytemnestra has no arguments at all: she falls as a suppliant to the knees of her son («my child I beseech», Τέϰος ἐμόν, λιταίνω), as a slave – on the figure of the suppliant as a slave see Eur., Hecuba 249.

27 Nicole Loraux, La voix endeuillée. Essai sur la tragédie grecque, Paris, 1999. Translated into English: The Mourning Voice. An essay on Greek Tragedy, by Elisabeth Trapnell Rawlings, forward by Pietro Pucci, Ithaca-London, 2002.

28 Loraux, op. cit., p. 43.

29 Evadne too dies voluntarily on the pyre of her husband.

30 A similar tone is perceivable when Polyxena, recognizing Odysseus’moves to refuse her supplication, tells him: «Take courage: you escape my supplication» (v. 347). Judith Mossmann, Wild Justice. Euripides Hecuba, Oxford, 1995, p. 152, correctly feels «a touch of sarcasm». Yes, for Euripides’writing, Polyxena’s death turns out to be a fictional death, a beautiful and murderous (of Aeschylus) coup de théâtre.

31 {Τα.} διπλᾶ με χϱῄζεις δάϰϱυα ϰεϱδᾶναι, γύναι,
σῆς παιδὸς οἴϰτῳ· νῦν τε γὰϱ λέγων ϰαϰὰ
τέγξω τόδὄμμα, πϱὸς τάφῳ θὅτὤλλυτο.
For the translation of
ϰεϱδᾶναι with its proper sense «to gain», see Pietro Pucci «Euripides: the Monument and the Sacrifice», in Euripides, (ed.) Judith Mossman, Oxford, 2003 (notes 9 and c), p. 144-45.

32 We have one of these pictures in an archaic vase painting: see the reproduction in Mossman, op. cit., p. 258.

33 Robin Osborne, «Women and Sacrifice in Classical Greece», Classical Quarterly 43, 1993, p. 396.

34 Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual, Berkeley, 1979, p. 75.

35 See Euripides, frg. 964, 1-6 (TGF), where Theseus, the founder of Athenian state says: «Having learned the following from a wise man, I was imagining in my mind care, calamities, inflicting on myself exile from my fatherland, and premature death, and other ways of evil, so that if I had to suffer some of the things that I was imagining in my mind I would not be stung more sharply by the novelty of the event». I commented on this passage in «Écriture tragique et récit mythique», in Europe 77, 1999, p. 209-233, and in «Euripides and Aristophanes: What does Tragedy Teach?», in Visualizing the Tragic, Chris Kraus, Simon Goldhill, Helen P. Foley, Jas Elsner (ed.), Oxford, 2007, p. 105-126. In this article I write: «… the representations of human sacrifices function as ‘supplements’of Euripides’writing, since they produce a remedy in the form of a poison, indulge in a brutality that is simultaneously an edification, and transform the wound of the sacrifice into the incision of a smart rhetorical stilum» (p. 113).

36 See G. Basta Donzelli, «Interpretazione del teatro Euripideo. Qualche pregiudizio», in Euripide e i papiri, Firenze, 2005, p. 70-85. Basta Donzelli, among precious observations, shows that the texts as a whole do not condemn or reproach the divine request of a human sacrifice; one character may note that the sacrificial altar is the place for animal victims, but that is all. In the case of Polyxena, even her mother Hecuba (Hec. 383-85) at the end recognizes the reason presented by Odysseus, i. e. the necessity for the Greeks to satisfy Achilles’request, to sacrifice Polyxena, and to avoid in this way his resentment that could strike them during their return home (p. 84). All this confirms, if it were necessary, the fictional character of these tragic sacrifices.

37 See Loraux, op. cit. (supra, n. 21), p. 32-33 and read the following words: «It was a recital good to hear because theater is fiction. […] There is much that could be said about this cathartic interplay of the imaginary, of the forbidden, and the real; much too about the function of the theater, that stage set up by the city for the tangling and untangling of actions that anywhere else would be dangerous or intolerable even to think about». Literature, of course is able to speak just of what is intolerable or unthinkable anywhere else.

38 See Pietro Pucci, «Euripides’Heaven», in The Soul of Tragedy, Victoria Pedrick Steven M. Oberhelman (ed.), Chicago, 2005, p. 49-71, especially p. 64-69.

39 A particular case of self-sacrifice is that of women who die for their husbands, either in their place (Alcestis) or with them as Evadne in the Suppliant Women. The most elaborate example is that of Alcestis who accepts to die in the place of her husband Admetus. The grounds for her acceptance and Admetus’grounds for his willingness to accept her sacrifice are complex and somehow deliberately kept vague by the text; but from the critical angle from which we are arguing in this paper, Alcestis appears as the heroic character of the play. She is constantly called aristê (v. 83, 150-51, 323, etc.) like an Homeric hero; she, by dying nobly and serenely, emerges as the only one capable to fulfill the heroic model. As a consequence, as Loraux has shown, she «feminizes» Admetus, whose new domestic function is strongly underscored and, I add, affects partially Admetus with her own death. This thorough distortion and overturning of the literary and social parameters testifies to Euripides sense of the crisis of the values in his cultural horizon. The Odyssey had already begun this collapse when it had granted kleos «glory» to Penelope and put in doubt that Odysseus’nostos deserved it. Of course in Euripides’and Odyssey’s texts it is difficult to sever the seriousness from the irony, the sense of something new in the understanding of things from the tempting irony of contesting venerable models.

40 In a passage of the Andromache (421-22), the Chorus state that «misery evokes pity from all mortals even if the sufferer is no kin». The context explains this recognition of universal pity for disgraces: Andromache has left the altar where she felt protected from Menelaos’threat of death and hoping that he will spare her child, she surrenders herself to him. It is at this point that the Chorus makes this statement implicitly inviting Menelaos to be part of the humanity. But, as it will happen, Menelaos condemns her and the child to death. He is not a wise and noble man. He would make an awful (Gorgias would say «undeceived») spectator of an Euripidean tragedy.

41 Exasai: for Shirley Barlow, Euripides Trojan Women, 1986 the verb gestures toward the idea «to sing the last song»: she quotes Plato, Phaed. 85a where the verb is used for the swan’s song. But here it is not a question about last song, but about singing at each instance a contrast between the former happiness and the present misery. The idea is therefore rather that of «going through singing». For Werner Biehl the verb would mean «appropriately singing» possibly in the sens that I am suggesting. In fact, however, she does not sing, and here she uses the verb in a metaphorical way.

42 Among the modern poets, Baudelaire presents a persuasive example of the horizontal dissemination of pity and compassion in Le Cygne. The poem begins with a vibrant apostrophe by the authorial voice: «Andromaque je pense à vous», and later he repeats the apostrophe (v. 36-7) and it extends the pity for Andromache to all those who bear sorrow:
Je pense à la négresse, amaigrie et phtisique
[…] à quiconque a perdu ce qui ne se retrouve
Jamais, jamais !
À ceux qui s’abreuvent de pleurs
Et tètent la douleur comme une bonne louve… (v. 45-47)

43 Carlo Diano demonstrated (and I followed him in my book, The Violence of Pity in Euripides’Medea) that Euripides’writing is concerned with the devices of producing pity, which he called tekhnê alupias, and in shedding its effects on the audience.

44 The verb is used 3 times in Euripides (and once in Rhesus 807): in Alcestis 633 (for condoleances), and Heracles 1202 (in a context of compassion and pity).

45 The community of compassion is socially ritualized in the great scenes of common grief in the mournings. The Iliad offers pathetic examples in the scenes of mourning for Patroclos.

46 The teacher that instructs Theseus how to protect the self from the unexpected griefs of life is a sophos (frg. 964, 1-6, TGF, supra, n. 35).

47 Euripides’characters are never tired to accuse the sophoi of speaking beautifully, but unfairly: see, for instance, Medea in Medea 579 sq.

Auteur

Cornell University, New York

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