Thursday, May 29, 2014
Euripides' "Bacchae": Book Review
Mendelson explains how this drama "explores both the benevolent and the punishing faces of divinity." Ecstasy and terror follow instead, as the natural wonder and delight transfers through a breakout of the repressed tendencies within us, once under some spell cast, into dread and sorrow. Euripides tells this story swiftly; this can be read in a short sitting, and it moves as rapidly as a well-written thriller might in an short television production today on some "prestige" cable network. Like shows now, the critics stay divided. As Mendelsohn notes, consensus is lacking "because its subject--among other things--is the irrational, and how conventional intellectual resources wither in the face of a wildness, a potency beyond reason."
From Robin Robinson's translation, an excerpt illustrates the swift concision of his rendering. Cadmus mourns Pentheus' end: "If anyone still disputes the power of heaven./ let them look at this boy's death/ and they will see that the gods live." Certainly the reaction of this grandfather captures the human response to the whims and imperatives of a divine plan unfathomed by mortals, yet again.
This edition includes a supplement, complete with a glossary on how to pronounce names, as this assumes we now lack this preparation. A chart of who's related to who, and an introduction to Euripides, about whom we know nearly nothing, helps the reader. It's sobering to be reminded that out of a thousand works performed in the 5th c. BC from Greece, we have only 33 of them today.
(Amazon US 9-12-14)