Tag Archives: Medea

The Readiness of Words

Lucrezia as Poetry by Salvator Rosa (oil painting) on view at the Hartford Atheneum

“It breaks my heart. I am far too prone to tears, too full of tears…”  Medea – Euripedes

In the play Medea, a lot of time is expended trying to reason with the epynomous character. The chorus pleads with her, her servants and friends beg and reason. What more can they do? She is not moved. She is, at least, human enough to have to brace herself against them, but her mind and heart are fixed:

“Away this flinching! Away this longing!” Medea

The other day towards the end of  my brief text exchange with a very mean person I suddenly thought of Flannery O’Conner’s story A Good Man Is Hard To Find. The chilling certainty of knowing that no matter what you say, your words won’t move the Misfits of the world. It’s a devastating realization that leaves one feeling utterly defenseless. When a heart is closed or calloused over no amount of “Wait! Wait! Don’t do that,” or heartfelt love and empathy will touch their soft core.

Even though we know that, in Medea, we are probably dealing with a woman of questionable mental health- I mean not every one would chop up her brother in an attempt to delay her pursuers, or find any necessity in killing their children, never the less, even if it is only for her own sake, you want her to understand the sickness and uselessness of spite.

Jason (Medea’s husband) is worthy of spite. Why didn’t he talk to her? To be looked over and ignored is worse than any cut. It was interesting to me that the word “love” kept coming up. I kept wondering what the original word was. Could it have been a slight mistranslation?  Is our modern ideal of love so different? Probably not- a lot of what passes for love is often of a dependent, controlling, or hollow type, so few people seem to ever experience true love, maybe that’s why we’re all so fascinated with the subject.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual word was more akin to “pride.” Oh the perfidy of pride and social standing! Jason comes late to the scene and his last ditch effort is in vain. Even if the words are ready, the man often is not.

And yet…and yet, I am unable to completely abandon my hope in the ability of words to pierce a soul or open a heart. I want too much for it to be true. And maybe because, for me, it is too true: I am susceptible to the pain or pleasure of mere words.

I am not alone of course, here is a beautiful song sung by Caetano Veloso from a scene of Pedro Amaldovar’s wonderful, funny and sweet film about the power of words – Talk To Her:

quotes from – Euripedes Ten Plays (translation by Paul Roche)

Fog of Love

morning fog

“There seemed to be no hope in the world. One was a tiny little rock with the tide of nothingness rising higher and higher. She herself was real, and only herself-just like a rock in a wash of floodwater. The rest was all nothingness. She was hard and indifferent, isolated in herself.”  Women in Love – D.H. Lawrence

Women in Love has no shortage of characters that seem to be full of rage. It would be a hard group to hang out with. Two love birds, for instance, might have exchanges such as this:

“Would you care for buttered toast?” He asked, almost hostile.

She turned to him full of hate; glaring at him she answered, “Jam, please.”

Ah, love. Obviously that is not a quote, but that seething anger, in truncated sentences is the gist of near half of the book. Why so angry? It can take some time to get used to the vehemence. Perhaps the biggest problem facing Ursula, Gudrun, Rupert and Gerald is the strong but common tendency to overthink things: What is love? Do we love each other? How much of ourselves do we have to sacrifice in order to be in love? Is it a sacrifice at all? Is falling in love a complete failure and collapse of one’s inner self, or is the inability to fall in love a failure to be a man or woman completely?

Isolated within there is only misery. We are told that nothing outside of ourselves will bring us true joy, that no one else can make us happy, but that can seem like a cheap dime-store philosophy designed to make all the emotionally or physically isolated people in the world feel better: if you’re not happy look within. Blame the victim- you.

In the books of D.H. Lawrence, he seems to ask over and over again: can we not admit that other people do make us happy? We are social animals after all and to be left alone in the world, abandoned, is the most pain our fragile beings can experience, particularly because it is the emotional kind of pain. A physical aloneness has an end point but emotional aloneness edges infinity.

The tension between men and women as well as the tension of our inner battles are the themes explored in depth in Women in Love. Lawrence takes his time in getting the feel of it right, the relationships are so deeply nuanced that by the time Rupert and Ursula get married their love is described beautifully and our understanding of them as individuals makes it that much more moving.

“In the new, superfine bliss, a peace superceding knowledge, there was no I and you, there was only the third, unrealized wonder, the wonder of existing not as oneself, but in a comsummtion of my being and of her being in a new one, a new, paradisal unit regained from the duality. How can you say ‘I love you’ when I have ceased to be, and you have ceased to be: we are both caught up and transcended into a new oneness where everything is silent, because there is nothing to answer, all is perfect and at one.”

Despite that sublime description, the book ends with the tragedy of Gerald and his inability to let himself love or be loved.  As Gerald’s friend, Rupert struggles throughout the book to find a way to love Gerald without the intensity of sexual love. The modern angst of the possibility of deep but platonic love intricately consumes him. Unfortunately Gerald cannot hear him, or feel what he is after. His own prison of pain, despair and capitulation to the absurdity of his loveless life is tragic.

“If he had kept true to that clasp, death would not have mattered. Those who die, and dying still can love, still believe, do not die. They still live in the beloved.”

That the book is primarily about Rupert’s loves and yet is called Women in Love is not accidental. Certainly there are women in love throughout the story, but Lawrence seems to be highlighting the difficulty that men have in expressing love for other men. One could argue that one of the benefits of the more recent acceptance of homosexuals in society is that it frees everyone. As there become fewer reasons to hide one’s sexual identity platonic love is relieved of “suspicion.” Lawrence was for love of all kinds. His prose, full of urgency and vehemence,  stemmed from a passionate belief in the power of love to save our souls through each other.

Tragedy in a Cup of Joe

“serenity now: insanity later.”

After a stressful series of errands to run and an hour to kill before I had to go to the library to meet my son, I went to a little cafe to sit for a moment: actually it was only after I was anxiously and studiously weighing the expenditure, indulgence, extravagance  and a voice finally screamed at me in my head GO HAVE A CUP OF COFFEE AND A COOKIE FOR CHIRST’S SAKE, JESSICA! that I wearily drove there.

I had forgot earlier in the day that I was going to meet my son so had already been to the library to pick up a few plays that we are reading for our book group. I brought one of the plays in with me to read, my choices were Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Euripide’s Medea, or Sophocles’ Oedipus. I choose Oedipus because it was the newest most handsomest book. These are all stories everyone is familiar with, but it is interesting to read or re-read them. David R. Slavitt’s translation was a crisp, clip of a read. The first half seemed to go something like this:

Oedipus: Tiresias, prophet man, tell me who killed Laius.
Tiresias: No sir.
Oedipus: You better tell me right now.
Tiresias: No way.
Oedipus: Wow, you are seriously pissing me off.
Tiresias: Never the less…
Oedipus: Tell me immediatly or I will banish you!
Tiresias: Go right ahead, I didn’t even want to come here.

And so on. Oedipus tries to get his wife Jocasta involved, but she wisely sides with Tiresias and then in a flash of understanding tries in earnest to get him to drop his inquiry. It’s all very tragic as a Greek tragedy should be I suppose – torn hair, gnashing teeth, eyes poked out: a bloody mess.

I don’t know, maybe my formative years were unduly influenced by books such as Hyemeyohsts Storm’s Seven Arrows and John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, (both unusual stories of consenting adult incest) but I just wanted to say to Oedipus and Jocasta, “Relax. You didn’t know. How can the sin of incest be a sin if there was no intent anyway? Perhaps going forward, you have some issues to work out, but hey, your kids all seem fine: as Fezik asks in The Princess Bride– ‘Doesn’t that you make you happy?’ No need to torture yourselves. Yes, you killed your father, but the crime was murder not really patricide. Come on people, letter of the law verses spirit, everybody chill out.”
This is probably why I don’t write fiction. Then again, I can make my own little Greek drama out of purchasing a cup of coffee….