2018.04.20 | By Gregory Nagy
The comments in this posting about the Herakles of Euripides derive from a set of compressed notes I had started writing in 1999. These notes were meant as a companion to the Herakles as translated by Robert Potter—his translations of Euripides first appeared in two volumes, 1781 and 1783—and as adapted by Casey Dué and Mary Ebbott in 1999.
2018.04.13 | By Gregory Nagy
Pindar’s Pythian 6 is one of the earliest attested compositions attributed to this poet. Highlighted in Pindar’s song here is the grand epic moment when the youthful hero Antilokhos gives up his own life for his father Nestor after the old hero gets entangled in his chariot—and is just seconds away from getting killed by the hero Memnon, whose onrush is now thwarted by the dutiful son. Antilokhos gets killed while rescuing his father, and the song of Pindar goes on to praise the young hero’s filial piety by holding it up as a model for Thrasyboulos, son of Xenokrates of Akragas. The father’s chariot team was winner of the four-horse chariot race in 490 BCE at the Pythian Festival in Delphi. In the comments that follow, we will see that the chariot driver may well have been Thrasyboulos himself, as signaled by way of a gesture: he is pictured as crowning himself with a garland of victory. A parallel gesture is noted by Malcolm Bell in his study of a most celebrated marble statue known today as the Motya Charioteer.
2018.04.05 | By Gregory Nagy
I continue from where I left off in Classical Inquiries 2018.03.01. I will highlight here a ritual noted by Pausanias at 1.27.3 involving two Athenian girls who are selected annually to serve the goddess Athena. The word that refers to these girls in their overall role as servants of Athena is arrhēphoroi, hereafter transcribed as Arrhephoroi. After the annual service of the two Arrhephoroi is concluded, they are replaced by two new Arrhephoroi, and the cycle is repeated, notionally for all time to come. The concluding event of the service performed by these two annually renewed Arrhephoroi is the ritual that I will highlight when I get to my comments on Pausanias 1.27.3. In this ritual, as he describes it, the two Arrhephoroi descend from the top of the Acropolis to a sacred space down below—while carrying on top of their heads containers that contain things that cannot be mentioned. Pausanias is being ostentatiously guarded here about revealing the full significance of the ritual, which as I argue can only be understood by way of correlating it with the myth about the daughters of Kekrops—a myth to which Pausanias himself refers at 1.27.2, and this reference occurs, most pointedly, right before his description of the ritual. The aetiological connection of ritual and myth here, as I also argue, is in some details so old as to reveal traces of a Mycenaean tradition.
2018.03.29 | By Gregory Nagy
Was the Ariadne of myth a cult hero or a goddess? In this essay, which is a draft of a Foreword that I am preparing for an online book by Robert T. Teske about Ariadne, my ultimate answer has to be this: Ariadne was both a female cult hero and a goddess. When we examine what we know about the rituals as well as the myths concerning this complex figure of Ariadne, rooted in traditions that go back all the way to the glory days of the Minoan-Mycenaean civilization that flourished in the second millennium BCE, we find that the idea of her death is central to her very identity. The death of Ariadne, consistently caused by the goddess Artemis in the many myths that survive into the first millennium BCE, defines her as a cult hero whose hero cult is linked to the myths about such a death. As I argue in this essay, such an identity of Ariadne as a cult hero in the historical period of the first millennium BCE is prefigured by her earlier identity as a goddess in the prehistoric period of the second millennium BCE.
2018.03.26 | By Thomas Scanlon
An exploration of the figure of Achilles in Euripides’ Iphigeneia in Aulis in relation to its historical context, particularly the Peloponnesian War.
2018.03.22 | By Gregory Nagy
This new reader, posted 2018.03.22, “decorates” an earlier reader posted 2018.03.07. As I once tried to explain by way of simile, the earlier reader was like a Christmas tree waiting to be decorated with ornaments. But now I adjust the simile by comparing the new reader to that famous plane tree so loved by Xerxes, mighty ruler of the Persian Empire, which he honored as his very own Tree of Life by decorating it with ornamentation fit for a king—or, better, for a king of kings. The fame of the king’s beloved plane tree has been perpetuated by the corresponding fame of an aria composed by Handel for his opera about Xerxes. This aria, loved by lovers of music worldwide, features the intense countertenor voice of the king himself singing his song of adoration for his beloved plane tree: Ombra mai fu | di vegetabile, | cara ed amabile, | soave più. ‘Shade there never was | of any plant | so dear and lovely | or any more sweet’. To my mind, a fitting new symbol of this musical object of love may well be the plane tree gracing a corner of Syntagma Square in Nafplio: under its shade flourish countless memories of happy conversations about unforgettable travels in Hellenic realms. Such memories are now being encoded in the ornamentation for a new Tree of Life. The “ornaments” consist of photos, videos, and written comments contributed by fellow-travelers who participated in a travel-study program described in what follows.