Showing posts with label Classics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Classics. Show all posts

Saturday, November 23, 2013

‘Phaedra’ by Seneca as a Revenge Tragedy

The leap from Greek to Roman tragedy was marked by a philosopher tragedian named Seneca. Seneca was the pioneer of Roman tragedies, who in writing tragedies molded  the old Greek subjects of tragedies over once more. But in remodeling the old subjects, Seneca could not follow the classical codes of composing tragedies ,set by classical playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. So if we judge with absolute literary criteria, we shall find the plays of Seneca so far inferior to the Greek tragedies. However, in one respect his influence was supreme and it was in introducing ’revenge’ as the subject matter for tragedy.The ‘revenge tragedy’ was established by Seneca and had powerful influence upon the Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights such as Thomas kyd, Shakespeare and Webster who composed such revenge tragedies as ‘The Spanish Tragedy’, Hamlet’ and ‘The Duchess of Mulfi’ respectively.

In ‘Phaedra’ Seneca used ‘revenge’ as the mainspring of action which often takes the from of a wild kind of justice.So the principal motive behind the action of this play is revenge,which is to be found in the actions of Hippolytus,Phaedra,Nurse and Theseus. Let us first of all turn to Hippolytus, a victim of Venus' revenge.

Hippolytus is a young man of extraordinary glamour. He is every atom a prince and a dream-man of young women.But from his speech we come to know that he is more interested in nature than in women.He prefers to pray the hunt-goddess Diana to Venus, the goddess of love. Venus and Diana are antithetical to each other. Venus loathes Diana,as she fails to evoke passion for love in the Virgin goddess Diana. Venus also becomes avengeful on Hippolytus for not engaging in any love affair with women and disliking them. And she provokes an illicit love in Phedra for Hippolytus. So the cause of the unnatural passion of Phaedra is the revengeful motive of Venus.

Besides this divine ‘revenge’, we also find the humans taking revenge for misdoings done on themselves. In Phaedra ,we recognize ‘revenge’ as the driving force for her action. Phaedra in spite of being a young woman is married to an old man notorious for maltreatment of his wives and is now deserted and betrayed. She is intensely miserable in her solicitude and wants to take ‘revenge’ on Theseus by making love with his beautiful son Hippolytus.So her resentment and loneliness finds an outlet in her revengeful wild love for Hippolytus.

     But the most successful and savage kind of ‘revenge’ is taken by Nurse, in collaboration with Phaedra against Hippolytus , when he refuses to comply with Phaedra’s request. Phaedra is incredibly selfish and shows no hesitation in making known her passion to Hippolytus. But when Hippolytus refuses her point-blank, the Nurse makes a false charge of violation against Hippolytus and Phaedra consents to act accordingly.And what the Nurse and Phaedra want by this false charge is to take revenge by denouncing Hippolytus to Theseus.So ,here the revenge motive in Phaedra comes from her sense of humiliation at her stepson’s refusal to accept her love.

 Revenge motive is also seen in Theseus' cursing of his son Hippolytus. When he is informed that his son has violated his wife,he is shocked beyond measure.He feels terribly outrage and curses Hippolytus in the most extravagant manner. He justifies his curse, as an avenging justice.

 Revenge also acts as a driving force in Phaedra’s suicide. When the dead body of Hipolytus is brought to the Palace, Phaedra’s grief knows no bound. She declares Hippolytus as the innocent boy charged with inchastity and her relentless feeling incites her to end her life. She kills herself to pay the dues of death.At least she takes revenge on herself too.

Concluding  our speech we can say that these are the elements which constitute ‘Phaedra’ as a revenge tragedy. But Seneca’s treatment of  ‘revenge’ is different from his Greek predecessors and successors. Before Seneca,Aeschylus and Euripides wrote two revenge tragedies such as ‘Agamemnon’ and ‘Medea’ respectively. In ‘Agamemnon’ Clytemnestra and in ‘Medea’ Medea take revenge for the wrongdoings done to then. So revenge is a kind of sacred duty to them and they have ethical ground for their revenge. But in case of Phaedra, revenge takes the form of a wild kind of justice. Her revenge is not only ethically ungrounded but also beastly. However, Seneca’s attempt to portray the elements of revenge is remarkable. Moreover, as a tragedian his influence is not undeniable as he established the revenge traditions which helped the Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights to from the perfect model for revenge tragedy.

Clytemnestra in Agamemnon: How far does Clytemnestra draw the readers’ sympathy in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon?

Agamemnon, the first play of the ‘Oresteian Trilogy’ is considered the best of all Greek dramas. Aeschylus was the first successful tragedian and his ‘Oresteia’ was the only surviving trilogy of the ancient world of which the first play ‘Agamemnon’ is considered the greatest of all Greek dramas. The primary theme of the ‘Oresteia’ is the continual destruction, inherited from generation to generation but as an individual play the subject of ‘Agamemnon’ is the vengeance which Clytemnestra takes upon Agamemnon because, he sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, at Aulis ten years previously. Clytemnestra is often given the bloody attributes for this murder. But if we take the matter neutrally, we shall find that she is not altogether responsible for this murder. Clytemnestra’s taking vengeance can be justified on several grounds, because the things that contributed most in killing Agamemnon are the hereditary guilt, Agamemnon’s murder of ‘Iphigenia’, pride , conceited elements in his character etc. It is Agamemnon and his fate which are mostly responsible for his tragedy in the play Agamemnon.

Let’s start our discussion with the analysis of Clytemnestra’s personality. In Aeschylus' tragedy Agamemnon the character of Clytemnestra is portrayed as strong willed woman. This characteristic is not necessarily typical of women of her time. As a result, the reader must take a deeper look into the understanding of Clytemnestra. In Agamemnon she dominates the action. Her most important characteristic is like the watchman calls it, male strength of heart. She is a strong woman, and her strength is evident on many occasions is the play. Clytemnestra is Agamemnon's wife and has ruled Argos in his absence. She plans his murder with ruthless determination, and feels no guilt after his death; she is convinced of her own rectitude and of the justice of killing the man who killed her daughter. She is, a sympathetic character in many respects.

In the first place, Clytemnestra is not a murderess but she is an executioner. She is the personification of an old curse which haunts over the house of Atreus. Atreus , son of Pelops, had a brother named Thyestes. Atreus and Thyestes quarreled about succession to the throne of Argos. Moreover, Thyestes seduced Atreus’s wife. So, Atreus wanted to make Thyestes commit some unclear or sacrilegious act which would render him permanently taboo in the eyes of the Argine citizens. He secretly murdered Thyestes’ two young sons, and served their flesh to Thyestes at a banquet. Atreus himself got away with the murder; but such debts are not forgotten. His eldest son  Agamemnon inherited the throne of Argos, and with it the curse that had settled on the family. So, sooner or later Agamemnon must die to pay for the sin of his father. There is a ‘Fate’ above which determines the life of everyman. And Clytemnestra during her debate with the chorus puts forward this argument that she is not one to be blamed for the murder. In her words-

                     Dressed in my form, a phantom
                     of vengeance, old and bitter
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
                    Has poured this blood in payment.

Through these exulted words Clytemnestra tries to convince the chorus that an old curse ‘dressed in her form’ has poured this blood. And we, the audience see the ruin which the gods, in their mysterious will, sent down upon the house of Atreus stands visible in Clytemnestra.

But apart form this hereditary guilt, Agamemnon’s own wrongdoing is also no less responsible for his downfall. When Agamemnon found himself faced with a fearful dilemma, he made the wrong choice- to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia at Aulis. ‘Fate’ always confronts man with a choice, and if man chooses wrongly the sin in his. Agamemnon chooses wrongly, so the sin in his. In his ‘Agamemnon’ Aeschylus gives us a different kind of justice, which can be called the ‘Avenging justice’, the successful and triumphant wrongdoing by the strong against the helpless finally becomes intolerable to the gods. The shedder of much blood does not escape the eyes of the gods and the wrath and power of the house of Atreus are no defense against the indignant pity of the gods. So, to pay for the sin of slaying Iphigenia Agamemnon must die- the slayer must be slain.

The weaknesses in Agamemnon’s character are also to an outstanding degree responsible for his tragedy. Pride or conceit is the striking characteristic in Agamemnon’s character, which according to the ancient belief, invites the envy and wrath of heaven. Agamemnon’s pride is spectacularly symbolized by his triumphant entrance in his chariot with followers and fanfare, and in his subsequent walking on the red-carpet which greatly evokes the disgust and hatred of men and the vengeance of the gods.

Besides these arguments, there are other grounds on which the Clytemnestra’s murder can be considered with sympathy. We can look at Clytemnestra from two different perspectives namely, as a mother and as an individual woman. When we consider Clytemnestra as a mother, it becomes our duty to defend her. She appears at her superhuman height when she comes forth with the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. She confesses her former deception with no shame or compunction. And in the impassioned clash with the chorus these plausible words come out of Clytemnestra-

                        The guile I used to kill him
   He used himself the first,
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
When on my virgin daughter
His savage sword descended,
My tears in rivers ran.      
Clytemnestra’s defense is a mother’s defense. Her defense is convincing, as such a cold-blooded murder can be compensated only by another cold-blooded murder. Agamemnon slew her daughter and at the same time violated the motherly feelings. So, we can rightly say that the penalty matches the deed.

We can also consider Clytemnestra from another perspective namely as a Grecian woman. We see the whole magnificent file of the heroines in Greek tragedies such as Clytemnestra, Artigone, Polysena, Jocasta, Phaedra and even Medea. They were free women, free in thought and spirit. But the difference between Clytemnestra and other women of that age lies in the fact that she had more individuality and personality than any of the women. But Agamemnon, the muddle-headed king gave little heed to this facet of Clytemnestra. Agamemnon cheated Clytemnestra when he had taken Iphigenia from her bosom by giving her a false promise. So when her individuality is at stake, Clytemnestra takes up the weapon for Agamemnon. She appears as a monster for violating her womanness and motherly feelings.

However, it can be argued that Clytemnestra’s illicit relation with Aegisthus induced her to kill Agamemnon. But in growing the relationship up Agamemnon’s contributions are no less responsible. Aegisthus honoured Clytemnestra and her personality. On the other hand, Agamemnon wronged her. Agamemnon’s indifference to Clytemnestra’s personality was responsible for her perverted behavior. It is hard to say whether she would kill Agamemnon, if she had proper assessment of her personality from him.

Concluding our discussion we can say that we have no strong ground to blame Clytemnestra as a cruel murderess. She lays before us certain premises which contain the truth. She speaks of the revenge for Iphigenia’s death and all feel convinced. She draws a grim picture of the Furies of Erinnys, hovering over the house of Atreus. We feel once again that Agamemnon must die sooner and later because of the hereditary guilt. And finally, we are told of two of the concubines of Agamemnon, namely Chyseis and Cassandra, we again lend our moral support to Clytemnestra.

Significance of the Red Carpet episode in Aschylus' Agamemnon

Agamemnon is the first play of the trilogy the Oresteia, which is considered Aeschylus' greatest work, and perhaps the greatest Greek tragedy. Of the three plays in the trilogy, Agamemnon contains the strongest command of both language and characterization.  ‘The Red Carpet episode’ is the most significant scene in the play .It plays a leading role in the play, Agamemnon” and constitutes the climax of the play. 

 A red carpet refers to a red colored rug, usually fairly long, that would be rolled out so that various dignitaries would receive what was considered a suitable welcome. Initially, as in plays like Aeschylus’ 5th century BCE play Agamemnon the carpet may have been purple rather than red, although there are conflicting views on translation. In Aeschylus’ play, Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra lays down a carpet, red or purple; to trick her husband into thinking he’s getting a suitable welcome before she murders him. Agamemnon does speak of his suspicion and the temptation to anger the Gods by such treatment. Similar to the red carpet is the idea of strewing rose petals on the ground so that the feet of various dignitaries, royals, or others needn’t touch the ground with their feet.

While there’s a dispute about carpet color in the Agamemnon, it’s quite likely that purple carpets would have been more standard than red Ancient Greece and Rome. Purple was the color from Ancient Greece that was associated with royalty, with Tyrian purple in Ancient Greece one of the most expensive dyes to purchase. So early red carpets were more than likely purple carpets."

In the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, Agamemnon has left his wife, Clytemnestra, to rule his country while he fights the Trojan War, and he returns expecting a loving welcome. Ambition makes him sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, and leave his country to help another. Pride causes him to yield to his wife, walk on the purple carpet, and disrespect the gods.In the tragedy Agamemnon the character of Clytemnestra is portrayed as strong willed woman.

 Clytemnestra was profoundly shocked at the sacrifice of her beloved daughter, Iphigenia. Clytemnestra, for obvious reasons, could not appreciate this. She was madly and desperately in love with Aegisthus during her husband’s long absence. Here she must engineer her husband’s death by any means, fair or foul. She was all the more provoked when she was told that Agamemnon had brought Cassandra, the lovely princess of Troy, as his concubine. For long ten years she waited, and at last the much-sought hour had arrived. It was a grim and tense moment .

It was Clytemnestra, who had ordered the Watchman to look for a light. It was her    plan to arrange for a chain of light from Troy to Argos. Anybody might imagine that Clytemnestra had planned all this on such a grand scale in order to extend a hearty welcome to her husband. It was, however, all contrary to popular imagination. She was determined to slay her husband at the earliest opportunity. As soon as she would see the light, she could know that Agamemnon was first approaching. She would not let thing lying down. She must avenge the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Beside herself with joy, she kindled all the alter-flames, and burnt incense.

In the speech of welcome, Clytemnestra was at once rhetorical and hypocritically submissive .Doing every thing strictly according to her plan, she turned to her husband to get down. Clytemnestra was slowly but cautiously tempting the unwary husband to the trap. The red carpet was laid, and Agamemnon should be asked to tread upon it. A mortal, whatever might be his earthly rank and position, must not walk upon the red carpet. To walk on the red carpet was an act of effrontery, an act of sacrilege defying the authority of the gods. Anybody doing it was charged with hubris or pride. Clytemnestra would take infinite pains to persuade Agamemnon to walk on the red carpet. Agamemnon willy-nilly would become a sinner, and that would justify Clytemnestra to murder him with no plot on her soul. Strictly in accordance with the ancient manners, Clytemnestra should have waited to receive her husband. Had she been really happy to be united with her husband after years, she would break out first.

But she deferred it to the later part of her address. Agamemnon entered triumphantly at the head of a procession. In another chariot was Cassandra, his concubine. The whole city was ablaze with the fire of sacrifice.  Clytemnestra was determined to lead Agamemnon to the height of pride. She stood silent for her opportunity.  She must persuade him to commit an overt act of pride which would symbolize the sin he was about to expiate. That is the meaning of the sacred tapestries on which he was about to tread.   The chorus knows full well that humility was not Agamemnon’s strong point .

Clytemnestra appealed to her husband to step down from the chariot. She spread Red Carpet on the ground for her husband to walk upon. Perhaps Agamemnon had a shrewd suspicion that his wife was leading him to a trap. That is why he completely ignored her request at first. He, for a while, suffered from the chastisement of hubris. He was getting confirmed in his view that he was being duped. His eloquent speech on modesty and humility should, in the fitness of things, stop Clytemnestra’s mouth. But as his wife she knew the stuff her husband was of made of pride was in his blood, and that atoned his hamartia and mochtheria, his tragic flaw and moral lapse. 

Hamartia is an unintentional error, while Mochtheria is a conscious act. Agamemnon was thoroughly conscious that what he was doing .Yet the persuasion from his wife brought about his temporary deviation. In fact, it was momentary insanity, and her thought that he was no more a mortal, but as great as a Olympian. Clytemnestra was steadily gaining ground. Agamemnon was no more a match for her , Humility was not deeply ingrained in Agamemnon, and he gave in .He was unmasked and his hubris, lying dominant asserted itself. He was so long hesitant only because he did not like to spoil the rich carpet and tapestries by walking on it with dust- stained shoes on. Clytemnestra could understand that her husband was simply posing, when he said;“Honour me as a man ,not as a god”Clytemnwstra at once changed her tactics like an astute politician. She was thoroughly satisfied that he gradually yielding. In the worldly duel Clytemnestra was winner. Agamemnon asked facetiously:” Is this a battle in which you care to win?”Clytemnesra replied with levity: come, let me triumph on the taker of Troy” Agamemnon stepped upon the Red carpet and invited his own doom.

 Agamemnon’s weaknesses in character include a lack of knowledge, careless ambition, avarice, egotism, and pride. Agamemnon’s flaws lead to errors in judgment, as shown in the sacrifice of Iphigenia and the walk on purple. Pride causes him to yield to his wife otherwise he needs not to yield.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Use of Dramatic Irony in Oedipus Rex

There was no suspense in the Greek tragedies, because the stories on which the tragedies were built were known to the audience. For this reason the playwrights had to recourse to some other means to heighten the tragic effect. The most effective method for the intensification of the tragic atmosphere was to use the dramatic irony, a situation in which a character's words and actions are seen to be wholly contradictory to the actual situation known to some other characters or to the audience. The tragedy ' Oedipus Rex' pulsates with dramatic suspense and this is largely due to the effective use of dramatic irony by Sophocles.

Except Teiresias all the characters in the play such as Oedipus, Jocasta, Creon, Messenger and the chorus are supposed to know noting about the proceedings of the story, so their speeches contain the dramatic irony. But the most dramatic ironies are found in the speech of Oedipus. Almost every word uttered by Oedipus from the exposition of the play to the discovery is attributed with dramatic irony.

The play begins with the gathering of a group of suppliants before the palace of Thebes, who appeal to Oedipus to save then from the dreadful pestilence, as he once saved. And the dramatic irony begins with the first appearance of Oedipus in his kingly robes and with his first words,"

I, Oedipus, whose name is known afar.

Every word is charged with dramatic irony, as the very situation is charged with it. The pitiful townspeople have appealed for aid to the one who in reality is the cause of their woe, but both the people and Oedipus fail to understand it.

Dramatic irony is also found in Oedipus’ proclamation for finding out the killer of Lauis, when Creon brings the news from Delphi that the city's peril is due to the shedding of blood of the last king Lauis, and the pitiful condition requires the banishment of the killer or the payment of blood for blood, Oedipus at once takes steps to find the killer out and announces that of the killer makes confession of his guilt he will earn only banishment instead of capital punishment. The dramatic irony lies in the fact that the killer is searching for nobody but himself unknowingly. Thus the announcement greatly heightens the tragic effect of the discovery which comes towards the end of the play.

Another pitiable example of dramatic irony is found in the quarrel scene between Oedipus and Teiressias. Teiresias, knowing the truth, tells Oedipus that he himself is the killer of his father husband of his matter and father of his sisters and brothers. But Oedipus is quite ignorant about the true facts and mocks at Teiresias in a cruel way calling him...

Shameless and brainless, sightless, senseless sot.

Here every word of Oedipus is charged with dramatic irony. The dramatic irony lies in our knowledge that though Teiresias is physically a blind man, he knows the truth and Oedipus, in spite of having eyes, is sightless.
But the most suspenseful and tragic dramatic irony occurs in the scene between Oedipus and Jocasta and the Messenger. Each time Oedipus addresses Jocasta as ‘O wife’ or ‘My wife’, each time we shudder at the thought of the consequences that are to follow and feel great pity for Oedipus. Jocasta's words in which she tries to disprove the oracles are also full of dramatic irony. When the messenger arrives to inform Oedipus about the death of Polybus, Jocasta is overjoyed and cries triumphantly,

Where are you new, divine prognostications?
The man whom Oedipus has avoided all these years,
Lest he should kill him dead! By a natural death,
And by no act of his!

There is a palpable dramatic irony in Jocasta's unbelief in oracles and she provokes the prognostications of the oracles. All the remarks made by Corinthiar messenger are also full of dramatic ironies. The messenger tells Oedipus that he has brought the news that can please and may make grievous also. It is grievous because Oedipus has lost his father and it is pleasant because Oedipus is going to be crowned soon. But dramatic irony lies in the messenger's ignorance that by bringing the news he only complicates he whole situation. His news brings a reversal to the whole situation and after that there is no dramatic irony, as the truth is being gradually revealed to each of the characters. But the chorus is still in ignorance of the true implication of the messenger's news. The chorus visualizes Oedipus as the offspring of a union between some god and a mountain nymph which contrasts the actual situation. And the arrival of the Theban shepherd is the prelude to the final discovery, the point at which the climax of the tragedy is reached.

Concluding our discussion we can say that the dramatic irony is the most important element of the play which constitutes suspense and thus helps to bring the play to the climax, where the truth is revealed to everyone.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Homer's Use of Humor and Comic Elements in 'The Iliad'

Homer's humors in The Iliad are related with his treatments of gods, men and war. Homer is a realist and finds his humors in the very texture of reality. Whenever he introduces a humorous scene he introduces it to reflect the reality. Most of the times he introduces humors to point out the foibles and weaknesses of gods and men and his humorous become savage. But the most noticeable thing in his treatment of humors is that he has portrayed two distinct worlds- the world of gods and the world of men and he introduces humorous in these two worlds separately. When he makes the gods laughable, the humans are not concerned and when the humors are related with men, the gods are not concerned. So the humorous elements are introduced solely when gods are shown together in sympathetic or in hostile action, but when dealing with mankind they are for from being amusing.

Homer's sense of humour is seen in his treatment of Olympus in the Book I. He introduces us to the Olympian court and household. There is a patriarchal family, which consists of father all seeing Zeus, mother Ox-eyed Here and their daughters and sons. The head of the family Zeus is not care free as he has many obligations to fulfill. Thetis of the silver feet comes to Zeus and implores him to help her son Achilles by giving a victory to the Trojans. At first he does not answer and she appeals again. The pathetic appeals move Zeus but he is afraid of his wife Here.

“This is a sorry business, you will make me fall foul of here.. Trave me now, or she may notice us. ”

It is absolutely humorous that Zeus- the father of men and gods is constantly bothered by the thought of his prying and nagging wife here. And soon we see that the husband and wife are quarreling each other and Zeus- the authoritative husband threatens to beat his wife. But Hepaestus, their lame son comes between them and tries to console his mother Here.

Homer's sense of humor is also seen in his portrayal of Hepaestus- the great artificer. He limps, but he is active on his slender legs. He serves in the banquet of the gods with nectar which he drew from the mixing bowl, and a fit of helpless laughter seizes the happy gods as they watch him bustling up and down the hall. That the gods laugh at the deformity of another god is humorous, though if becomes savage.

Homer also introduces the humorous seen in his portrayal of the battlefield. In the book II, Thersites the ugliest man that had come to Ilium becomes the source of humors. Through him Homer satirizes men's attitude to war. Thersites throws insults at Agamemnon, and he is stopped savagely by Odysseus. It is supposed that Therisites is half witted but we see that his words contain the very truth. And when he is struck by Odysseus on the back and shoulders everybody laughs at him. This kind of humors may distress us, as Thersites is laughed by all for his physical deformity, but this kind of physical deformity has always been an object of humor and the gods were constantly laughing at lame Hephaestus.

In the Book V Aphrodie and Ares also become the source of amusement. In this book, Diomedes, encouraged by Here attacks Aphrodite and Ares violently. Aphrodite reaches Olympus and implores Zeus that she has been injured by mortal. Zeus instead of punishing the offender smiles at her and says that fighting is not her business. She is in charge of wedlock and the tender passions. Again, Ares the war god, injured by Diomedes travels rapidly and reaches the high Olympus. He shows Zeus the immortal blood pouring from his wound and tells his story in a doleful vice. He accuses Zeus saying that he is indulging Here to do such havoc. But Zeus enraged by such accusation rebukes Ares severely. Zeus tells Ares that he hates him more than any god on Olympus. In a counter attack Zeus tells Ares that it is not Zeus but Ares and his mother Here are coursing all the troubles. So in this attack and counter attack among gods we find the touch of comic relief before the ultimate tragedy.

In the Book XIV Here's seducing of her husband Zeus also provides helpless laughter. Poseidon is helping the Greeks and Here wants to prolong this help. She dressing in her first garments and borrowing the magic girdle of Aphrodite flies of to Mount Ida to seduce her husband so that his attention is diverted. Zeus ,the father of men and gods is coaxed by the feminine charm and forgets his duty. And when he wakes up and takes Here to task, she lies. These scenes on the Olympus really add comicality to the story.

Home's another humorous treatment of war is seen is the Book XXI, where the immortals engage in combats on the human issue. Apollo and his sister Artemis put up a ludicrous show when they are at war with their uncle Poseidon and their father's consort Here. Apollo avoids fighting with his uncle on the ground that it will be improper thing to come to blows with his uncle. Artremis is also boxed on the ears by Here. And this scene is the final comic relief; we get before the tragic death of Hector.

So considering all the humorous scenes we can rightly conclude that Homer's sense of humor is very acute and realistic. He blends humor in his characterization of Heaven and earth. He uses humor sometimes to contrast between these two worlds and sometimes just to provide comic relief.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Seneca's Treatment of Evil in his tragedy Phaedra

Great tragedy happens not when good confronts an evil but when two good things confront each other. So the conflict between good and good is the essence of ‘true’ tragedy. But Seneca has violated this rule. He has recognized the conflict only between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and upheld the power of ‘evil’ to destroy ‘good’. He does not delay or complicate an issue by any moral dilemma exhibiting the conflict of justifiable but mutually incompatible ideas, as Aeschylus and Sophocles have done. In Aeschylus ‘Agamemnon’ we find the conflict between two truths. That ‘Agamemnon’ as a slayer must be slain, but as in slaying his daughter not his personal rather his national factor/interest is concerned, so this killing can be justified on the martial ground. And in Sophocles’s ‘The Oedipus Rex’ we see Oedipus suffering from untold suffering for his wrong-doing but his wrong-doing is fate-bound. So here also we have a conflict between two truths.

But such kinds of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ situations are not present in Seneca’s Phaedra. Here we find the conflict between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and evil is always overriding good. After from her conversation we know that Phaedra is madly in love of Hippolytus, her step-son. To engage in such kind of relationship is not morally supported and surprisingly Phaedra is totally conscious it. Here we find the co-existence of two ambivalent feelings in Phaedra, namely passion and reason which stand for ‘evil’ and ‘good’ respectively. She freely admits the criminal nature of such kind of love she is pursuing but her moral consciousness is so obtuse that she feels no obligation to struggle against her passion or even to rationalize its criminal aspect. Madness rules her, as she herself express-

Unreason drives me into evil,
I walk upon the brink with open eyes,
Wise counsel calls, but I cannot turn back
To hear it.

She also continues-

What good can reason do? Unreason reigns

Phaedra’s eyes are open but she cannot bring herself rationally to consider the impossibility of seducing Hippolytus. She is driven by a passion that is reckless of everything but its own desire. So here we see that Phaedra’s willful passion to subdue her reason that evil destroy the good.

Throughout the act I we see a combat between the nurse and Phaedra over an illicit love. Here the nurse and Phaedra are the very personifications/embodiments of ‘good’ and willful ‘evil’ respectively. The nurse tries her best to resist Phaedra from her illicit love to her step-son Hippolytus. She appeals to Phaedra that she should stop thinking about the design of love. She should closer the good which is the first rule if life. The nurse says-

“Willful sin is a worse evil than unnatural passion,

That comes by fate, but sin comes from our nature.”

By the saying she reminds Phaedra that her mother also fell into such amoral love, but her love was fate- destined, whereas Phaedra’s love is wilful, as she is conscious about it. But all the efforts of the nurse breed nothing as at the end of the Act we find Phaedra to have the nurse bent to her will. She wins over the nurse to her side by a false resolve to commit suicide. Here once again we see the triumph of willful ‘evil’ over ‘good’.

But the ultimate destruction of good by evil is seen in the Act (III). Here we see the triumph of wicked Phaedra and ruin of the innocent Hippolytus. When Theseus comes from the underworld, he is informed that Hippolytus has deflowered his stepmother Phaedra.To this Theseus becomes very much shocked and in a long monologue calls upon his father Neptune to destroy Hippolytus. And in the Act (IV) the messenger comes with the report of the destruction of Hippolytus. In the final Act Phaedra confesses her guilt and commits suicide. Then Theseus understands his fault and laments for his son. He curses himself in the most extravagant manner. He accuses the gods that they are deaf to truths. In his language-

For ever…Ah, the gods are deaf to prayers-
Yet they would answer readily enough
If I were praying for some evil purpose.

That Theseus prayed for the destruction of his son, which was evil in nature and granted at once, but now he is praying to the gods for taking his life and his praying is not granted. So here he recognizes the influential power of evil.

So, considering all the events it will be justifiable to say that Seneca has only recognized the power of evil to destroy the good. But the thing contributed most in Seneca to develop such kind of outlook was his personal encounter with such kind of situations in his life. He has seen three heinous murders in his life. He has seen the murders of Claudius and the son of Claudius by Agrippina and finally that of Agrippina herself. And he has also seen Nero’s discarding of his wife Octavia. So the triumph of all the evil doings convinced Seneca to see only the dominant power of evil in society.