Cahill on Euripedes

Cahill on Euripedes January 28, 2004

In his beautifully written tribute to the ancient Greeks. Thomas Cahill interprets Euripides’ Medea as a cautionary tale to aristocratic Athenian men. The question he poses to the audience is: “What could drive a woman to such extremes that she would kill her own children.” Cahill’s summary of Euripides’ target is revealing (and at least R-rated, for you kids out there):

“For the strutting aristoi of the symposia, the nature of life was obvious: you gave it or you got it. To represent ancient Greece as a homosexual society is to miss the central lesson. It was a militarized society that saw everything in terms of active and passive, swords and wounds, phalloi and gashes. Aristocratic boys were courted by aristocratic men as part of a puberty ordeal, the last step before adulthood, during which the man was to act as a model and help the boy achieve bristling manhood . . . . He was not . . . allowed to make him a passive partner. Of course, he – and any male citizen – could do whatever he liked to anyone else, male or female, adult or child, so long as his object was not another citizen or a properly married woman. If she were divorced, as Medea was about to be, she was as fair game as anyone. The Homeric insights into longtime love between two people – Hector and Andromache, Odysseus and Penelope – are never spoken of again in Greek literature after the close of the Odyssey. Sappho’s expressed preference for love of an individual – ‘black earth’s most beautiful thing’ – over the beautiful cavalries, infantries, and navies that entranced most Greeks remains a solitary preference, never again voiced after her death in the early sixth century. Rather, the Greeks became ever more striving, ever more competitive, ever more bellicose. Sometimes, all they seemed to be left with was f***ing or getting f***ed.”

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