Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Much Misunderstood Medea of Euripides Radical new interpretations of ancient Problems

Prolegomena

I contend that Sexuality is all, and all is sexual.
This definitional concept of Life usually linked with Freud’s name, has really nothing to do with him, and is as old as wo(man)kind and her/his first consciousness of it. It is definitely the first principle, grounding the Hebrew Old Testament, classical Greek Drama, and Plato’s Philosophy that followed it. It is there, the cornerstone of the arch that subtends the life of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus that begins on the theme of its failure – the decimated fertility of all, the land and its people, in search of an urgent cure. It is the fulcrum upon which Euripides’ play Medea balances, with the mythical Aegeus, father of the mythical Theseus, trying desperately to procreate… with the promise of help from Medeanic sexual therapies! [vide, my article following this one, titled ‘Re-Discovered, A Sensational 2,000 years old Masterpiece etc.’]

A Promethean Box vs. Pandora’s

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) discovered a Pandora’s Box of subliminal sexual forces at work throughout human history. He didn’t know what to do with it – he struggled to open the box fully, but couldn’t manage, he frequently jammed the lid, and some of his own mental illness caused by decades of cocaine snorting (Wilson and Zarate 2002) was stuffed through the holes of the punctured box already full of unknown diseases… While awarding him the status of a pioneer, we shall not deal with Freud’s pornographic fantasies; paedophiliac child-sex interest, female penis envy, male Oedipal incestuous desire for own mother, sexual jealousy cum hatred of own father, homoerotic friendship amongst the male of the species (Freud-Fliess correspondence) etc. all of which gained public respectability in an age of private hypocrisies.

Ours is the discovery of a ‘Promethean Box’ of secrets of healthy evolutionary developments that have forged human history via the power of natural heterosexuality.

One of the first such secrets revealed here for the very first time shall be the profound observation that human cultural history has been the product of the enormous tensions arising from the massive forces of the Polygamous social structure defending itself in diametrical and dialectical opposition from the equally powerful force – a tidal wave of Monogamy threatening to engulf globally all human social relations, under pressure from Western Christianity. Today, what American and English sociologists misunderstand childishly as a political “clash of civilizations”, I would define as a titanic World War between the socio-sexual forces of the polygamous Islam, and Africa, collapsing under the effective hypocrisies of monogamous Christianity. Political causality apart, suicide-bombers firmly believe in the reality of the fantasy of entering heaven to be instantly awarded with endless courtesans and concubines… their political masters merely exploit the youth’s (no OAP-bombers here) pent-up heterosexual frustrations within the strict Islamic context of sexual mores prohibiting sex-before-marriage. As for the permissive African heterosexuality – the AIDS virus came to devastate whole economies, the long term effects of which are still incalculable.

Christian monogamy in the West, after 2000 years of theoretical definition, still has not won the day from mankind’s natural state of heterosexual polygamy – instead, Christian institutions, including the religious ones, have turned hypocritical, harbouring vicarious vicar-ly perversions like Paedophilia.

Many are the ways of human ingenuity that subvert the monogamous strictures of Western Christianity that needs further research. A common way, for example, has been the ‘homosexual marriage’ of convenience – Hollywood stars acting as heterosexual camouflage. Secretive male homosexual liaisons, until the success of Gay Liberation, were the acceptable polygamous alternative for the ‘happily’ married Christian wife to tolerate. Open Homosexuality itself, by definition, cannot be monogamous (of course there are exceptions – exceptions do not make the rule) – it blossoms and thrives ideally within the Christian monogamous matrix as an alternative dialectical polyandrous sexual practice.

Although in a definitional sense Monogamy was invented by St. Paul who constructed it on a dictum of Jesus about ‘man and wife becoming one flesh and blood’ (symbolized by the Christian marriage ceremony), the seed of evolutionary monogamy arose in nature, and developed very slowly, almost invisibly in all ancient cultures through the individual female’s need for exclusive security of survival for her own progeny.

Those seeds are detectable and come to sudden blossoming in a play like Euripides’ Medea to such an extent that in the hands of Christian commentators – historically the whole of the Western culture, whether atheist or not, people brought up in the monogamous tradition – it overrides the evidence of polygamous social infra structures, which are then drowned in the mire of ‘Christian’ scholars’ intellectual super-structures, distorting the original meanings of the play some of which (more would need a book!) we shall attempt to recover and re-discover.

Massive amounts of misinterpretations in endless treatises have treated the entirely misplaced ‘problems’ of Euripides’ play – Why does Medea kill her children? Must she become mad (maddened by ‘love’ = sex, really – see, my article following this one, titled ‘Re-Discovered A Sensational 2,000 years old Masterpiece etc.’) for such an act to follow? She wants to hurt her ‘husband’ – a Christian notion this – if the Greek word is ‘aner’, it means merely ‘a man=the male of the species’ – and, why hurt herself too as the Chorus warns her?

You may become the most miserable woman
(Loeb classical Library, No. 12, line 818, in my own translation from the original Greek).
The sentence is definitely multiple-meaning, equally valid grammatically to translate as the most miserable of all women).

And then, Medea gets away with murder, literally, as Euripides allows the oldest Sun-god (an aspect of the God of Gods under whatever guise – in this play it is Helios, although a divine name, the word also literally means sun) be Medea’s grandfather, thence protector, and saviour. Why should that be? And of course the whole paraphernalia of Christian-monogamous nonsensical interpretations, accrued over centuries of misunderstandings – that Jason broke his marital bond, commitment, faith, and what not…Christian problems all.

The most reasonable, rational, and compassionate Jason is universally abused, mocked and ridiculed by post-modern feminists as a sexual weakling and a fool, an uncaring father and a paedophile pervert chasing young skirt! Etc.

The golden key to the absolute truth of the play (buried under centuries of monogamous Christian hogwash) – and it is here revealed for the very first time – is in 5 lines from the dialogue between Medea and Jason (ll. 585-90).

I shall forego examining the original text in classical Greek, only because their translation does not present cruces in terms of the points I shall make. Let me quote here two different translations (for the non-Greek scholars among the readers) to show that they more or less agree in terms of the overall content; first the banal outdated translation by Philip Vellacott (1963);

Medea: One word will throw you: if you were honest, you ought first
To have won me over, not got married behind my back.
Jason: No doubt, if I had mentioned it, you would have proved
Most helpful. Why, even now you will not bring yourself
To calm this raging temper.
Medea: That was not the point; (ll. 587-91)

Now for an excellent ‘translation’ by Eleanor Wilner, who I think does not know Greek (with Ines Azar, I think the Greek scholar in the partnership) (from Slavitt and Bovie 1998);


Medea
A single point destroys your case –
if this marriage were so advantageous to us all, you would
have asked for my consent before you made it, and not
gone sneaking out to wed behind your family’s back.


Jason
And a fine support you would have given had I brought
you this proposal before the fact; had I asked for your
approval of a marriage, which even now, being done,
has set a raging fire in your heart – a fire which neither
reason nor good counsel can persuade you to put out. (ll. 629-37)


Revealed here for the First time

A large bracket here necessary to explain some of the innovative discoveries researched for this essay to validate the further points in the forthcoming argument – Never captured hitherto by classical scholars, a Euripidean sardonic pun on the name of the King (Creon) in this play is the word khreon=prophecy, an ancient prophet-king so short-sighted as not to predict Medea’s plots unravelling under his nose – what is already known to the Chorus, the King’s very own subjects!

One of the most widely used puns of the cognate verb-forms khreomai / khraomai is the extension into the sexual meaning for intercourse, throughout Herodotus, for example – khresthai gunaiki means nothing else but to f*** (a woman in this case), with precisely the same connotations as in English (rarely understood by ordinary folk) of sexual use meaning abuse. Even the Homeric non-sexual use of the word (attack, assail, be eager) indeed includes violence and desire, the basic components of sexual lust. Another ancient cluster of presumed non-sexual meanings (perhaps even contemporary with Homer) is to scrape, graze, wound – yet all cognate with the violence/thrust of the male sexual act.

Aristophanes, history’s greatest writer of comedies, used abundantly the different forms of the verb khrao as a deliberate pun on its extended meaning of f*** and nothing else.

What has never been understood hitherto by the grand Anglo-German conglomerate of Christian classical scholars of Greek Drama is that the Aristophanesian pun is indeed very active and alive in all of Euripides, and possibly is the source of Aristophanes’ own inspiration.

Incredibly, this point is ‘discovered’ in this essay for the very first time – why are we so certain?

Because it could never occur to any ‘respectable’ German or Victorian Oxbridge classical Greek scholar (Gilbert Murray et al.) that so-said ‘obscene’ language, even camouflaged as puns, could ever be used in grand Greek Tragedy – their imperialist racist purist conceptual framework would never permit such ‘filth’ in noble Greek Drama – the source of Wagnerite myth-making for the delectation of the upper classes. Of course they could not and would not deny its existence in the ‘lesser’ medium of Comedies written for the rabble by Aristophanes.

They could hardly speak of the Satyr plays (with massive ‘mechanical’ phalli worn by the actors as part of their standard costume – profusely in evidence on Greek vases), performed in honour of the Dionysiac phallic cult, even though, they could not deny the uncontroversial archaeological fact that a priapic statue (=with massive outsize erection) of Dionysos, the god of drama (and wine, and female wild sexuality, and Transvestism etc.) would have been placed as an altarpiece in the Orchestra before any theatrical performance.

Euripides’ Medea (pre-dating Aristophanes) using abundantly the different forms of the verb khrein / khraomai throughout the play, puns each time saying to Jason ‘literally’ you’re f***ed! Another instance of the same pun occurs for example, when Medea is complaining to the sexually-stressed-obsessed Aegeus, who has been unable to impregnate women, and is on his way to consult a friend about the Oracle of Delphi he has visited for a cure, that Jason has been adikei=unjust to her (line 691) – a great barbaric insult this, because dikeh=justice was synonymous with civilized citizenry, Aegeus asks with a naughty Euripidean pun; “What necessary [khrehma] has he done?”(line 693) – the pun translates absolutely as post-modern as in a Tarantino US film – “what the f*** is he doing?”

Yet another First

The Anglo-German Victorian ‘imperial’ dogmatists fixed once and for all (or so they thought), for all eternity, the meaning of the label orchestra as the spatial place in the Greek classical theatre where the Chorus dances… deriving the noun from the verb orcheomai = to dance, which produces a cluster of cognate meanings – orchestes = a dancer, orchesis = a dance, etc.

No ‘noble’ classical dogmatist could allow himself to grasp that the Greek orchestra has everything to do with the (ironically feminine) word orchis meaning literally and nothing else but testicle!

Thus, the orchestra in the classical Greek theatre, the temporary home of the Greek Chorus – one of the most astounding inventions in the history of theatre – was actually conceived of as a seed-bed of fertility – ‘the place of the testicles’… To combine both the traditional and the new meaning herein suggested for the first time ever, let us say succinctly that the classical Greek orchestra was the playing field area reserved for the dancing testicles – a woman’s body as a field to be sown with male seeds is a commonplace metaphor in all of Greek Drama (and Comedy) – upon which depended the fertility and the very life of a society and its city-state.

It is precisely where Sophocles, the second of the triumvirate of the greatest Greek dramatists the world has ever seen, takes up the story of Oedipus Tyrannos, history’s most famous play – it begins on the plight of a society in meltdown, because the fertility of its people and their sustenance-providing animals is decimated for a mysterious reason not even the Oracle at Delphi is able to clarify.

The plight of Aegeus desperately seeking fecundity in Euripides’ Medea is a mini-caricature of Sophocles’grand Oedipean theme (made the paradigm of all Tragedy by Aristotle in his book the Poetics, the first book of literary, and art-criticism in general, in history) – the name of Creon, Oedipus’ uncle, surfaces blatantly un-altered in Euripides’ play, for no other conceivable reason – there is, for example, no known king of Corinth bearing that name! Close the bracket.

Medea’s (both play and Character) true problem hitherto not-understood

But what is the significance of all the above in terms of the play’s central meaning(s)? Having explained some of the true meanings of the original Greek, we can now state with confidence that the passage (quoted above at length in translation) contains the throbbing heart of Euripides’ immensely complex, historical world of socio-cultural, psycho-sexual multiple-meanings hitherto un-discovered – a mirror held to the strictly ‘hieratical’ hierarchical social stratification of polygamous social relations, the single focal seminal rule of which – its cardinal law – is the consent of the 1st wife to the taking of a 2nd wife, and so further on sequentially down the line, viz. the consent of the 1st and the 2nd wives must be obtained absolutely by the patriarchal alpha male (‘husband’) for the 3rd etc.

This archetypal grand rule of polygamy is still preserved in all African polygamous societies still extant in our own times, and is fundamental to the Koranic shariah law in Islam (which limits the number of wives to 4, and de-limits the number of ‘concubines’ ad infinitum – hence the total elimination (for the male) of any potential for illicit adultery. If the latter would still occur… then it can only be regarded by the Sacred Law as the result of sheer lunacy and/or defiance of it, hence meriting death by stoning!

Of course the problem for the female should not even exist, as theoretically, in patriarchal law globally – also in ancient China, and not only in Islam – the woman’s sexuality is defined and identified exclusively in relationship with the male.(*) The female lacks any autonomous sexual definition outside her relationship with the alpha male. This cardinal seminal law of polygamy ensures and identifies progeny, as a necessary evolutionary change in human social relations different from the animal kingdom, where other more violent mechanisms are at play – the alpha lion of the pride for example, kills the babies of all the females he takes over from the male he topples, to impregnate them afresh!

Demosthenes (384-322 BC) has preserved a record of the survival of this (Sabben-Clare and Warman 1978, p.34), almost a thousand years before the appearance of historical Islam;
Living together, means producing children, enrolling sons among clansmen and
demesmen and giving away daughters as one’s own to husbands. Courtesans we
have for pleasure and concubines to satisfy our daily bodily needs, but wives to
produce true-born children and to be trustworthy guardians of the household.

Extraordinary functional distinctions of the female are refined within this terse text – ‘wives’ ensure the certainty of the paternal progeny (hence family wealth), and once inseminated are taken out of the male sexual-needs formula altogether – they are used to sustain power relations for aristocratic alliances, while countless numbers of females service “the daily” male sexual needs – the distinction between these as courtesans…for pleasure playing music, reciting poetry, conversing intelligently, and concubines to satisfy…daily bodily needs surfaces a thousand years later in Islam almost verbatim.

Thus, it is that cardinal seminal law of polygamy, with its profound evolutionary socio-economic repercussions, that Euripides’ Jason is breaking, as evidenced by the hugely important 5 lines/passage discussed above in two translations.

Medea is absolutely entitled to her archetypal single grand right of consent to Jason’s choice of a new heterosexual relationship (‘wife’ in the Christian sense). It is precisely what Medea is accusing Jason of – not seeking her consent – but doing it stealthily behind her back.

Euripides’ Jason’s thunderous reply comes as a sardonic classical Greek ‘post-modern’ mockery of the whole socio-political structure of Polygamy, decrying the absurd contradiction of its socio-sexual relations grounded on the grand rule of the 1st wife’s consent, which dis-empowers the alpha male within the context of volcanic female sexual jealousies – in evolutionary terms, female sexual jealousy guards the security of exclusive access to male resources – while simultaneously empowering him in the patriarchal social sphere…

Euripides is thus converting Jason into the post-modern ‘new’ man of his day – causing shock and horror to the expectations of the ‘traditionalist old guard’ – the aristocrats among the audience, while at the same time winning the gleeful admiration of the ‘new’ young citizens of his day – Euripides, like Socrates, was accused of corrupting the young…

I have no space here to analyze further the enormous ramifications of the sensational discovery revealed above in terms of the rest of Euripides’ play.

Suffice it to conclude that Sexual liberation for both genders has never been complete, or without volcanic consequences – human sexuality still remains the most powerful force in Nature forging history – one could even reinterpret the military-industrial complex responsible for the wretchedness of the world as no more than a pathological aspect of it – military personnel exposing themselves to the rest of the world seeking macho admiration for their perverted tools…




Notes

(*) In the Chinese grammar, there is no gender. Traditionally, in the patriarchal Chinese culture, down to the days of Mao’s wife’s political power, ‘the woman’ did not exist – she was there all right, but the Chinese would not notice ‘her’, so much so that, unlike in the West, vicious misogyny is completely absent from Chinese literary documents. One of the worst practices of Imperial China was of course female baby foot-binding, whereby the adult female would develop stunted baby-feet for sexual purposes pleasuring the male – but this had no conscious evil purpose in it (as the burning of the witches in the West), rather was the product of ignorance and stupidity.
It is only in our own days that ‘the woman’ is finally ‘surfacing’ in China, but unlike in the West, without any baggage of misogyny hindering her appearance and progress.
The Chinese language today reflects and documents this huge sociological phenomenon in a most fascinating manner – The most interesting linguistic evolutionary phenomenon witnessed today in current Chinese use is the case of the genderless ‘character’ for the third person pronoun ta=he/she, which is being differentiated for the very first time in the Chinese language today by the pre-fixal addition of the character for woman=nu signifying altogether she, and the radical for the ‘standing man’ to signify he, even though these additions do not amount to gendering the pronunciation of the differentiated characters, they are still pronounced in both cases as the traditional genderless ta.


Bibliography

Loeb Classical Library, Number 12, Euripides, Cyclops, Alcestis, Medea, Bilingual edition by David Kovacs, 1994//2001, Harvard University Press.


Sabben-Clare, J. P. and Warman, M. S. (eds) (1978) The Culture of Athens, LACTOR 12, Lact Publications, Text CA92, p. 34.


Slavitt, D. R. and Bovie, P. (eds) (1998) Euripides, 1 – Medea, Hecuba, Andromache, The Bacchae, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.


Vellacott, P. (1963) Euripides, Medea and other Plays, London, Penguin Classics.


Wilson, S. and Zarate, O. (2002) The Freud Wars, Icon Books UK + Totem Books USA.

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