The journal of an average reader – Day 5 (The Israelis’ hybris and Orestes’ vengeance)

     For some time now I wanted to go again through King David’s story and, since yesterday I finished John I thought that today might be a nice moment to do so. I started from the beginning, 1 Samuel, before David was even born. Let’s dig right it.

      Right in the first chapter I noticed once again, the great humility of Hannah. She was the second wife of Elkanah and couldn’t have kids. So the other wife Peninnah mocked her every time she had the occasion, but we’re not told that she’d ever answer back. She kept it for herself and told her pain to her God.

“6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because theLord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

     Once again, I got confused and angry . I sometimes find so incredible how the Israelis, who claimed to have the real God, whose hand saw so many time working for them, so easily abandon their beliefs and lose control of themselves.

“12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. 13 The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, 14 and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.15 Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” 16 And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” 17 Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.”

     Now, everybody who knows a bit of the ancient world is aware that YOU JUST DON’T MESS WITH THE SACRIFICE. You can’t, you just can’t. Doing that was an act of hybris and bore God’s or the Gods’ wrath upon you, which is exactly what we’re told that happened:

10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.”

     We’re being told that the Israelis got lost once again and started serving other gods once again. They repented in the end and went back to their God.

“3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.”

     As you read through the Old Testament you see so many scenarios like these up and downs and you start wondering what was in their heads…

    Now let’s get to something completely different.

   One of my biggest weaknesses in this world is the Greek tragedy. Whenever it comes to this subject I’m always all ears. Due to its impact back in Ancient Greece’s society, the scholars realised how complex and deep it is and tried to make it as clear as possible for everybody. I deeply recommend Nothing to Do with Dionysos?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context. It’s a book that made so many things clear to me.

     Today’s reading was Euripides’ Electra. If you plan to read this one, I suggest to walk the extra mile and read the Aeschylus’ Oresteia as well. It will complete the story for you and clarify some things. Some might say that I should add a “spoiler alert” banner or something here for what I’m going to say next, BUT since the Greeks knew all those “spoilers” and nothing was that new to them, let’s try to imitate them and be a proper tragedy audience. I read a Spanish translation by Alberto Medina González and I have to say that I was pretty impressed by the accuracy and clarity of it. What I didn’t like so much was the edition of the book, which is part of the collection “Grandes Genios de la Literatura Universal” basically for one reason: the lines are not marked, so if you want to cite a passage you have to take another edition that has them, which is pretty inconvenient.

     After a long time, Orestes comes back to Argos to take vengeance on his father’s assassination. His father was Agamemnon, the Greek general who fought in Troy and died by the hand of his wife and her lover, Egistus. His sister, Electra was given as wife by Egistus to a weak peasant, so she won’t bear to the world strong children who would eventually take revenge on their grandfather death.

     Earlier I said that Greek tragedy had a big impact on the Greece’s society. We already saw before when I talked about Antigone that some of the passages we find in it should have a big impact in us as well, because the things said are true and totally make sense.

“Peasant

When it is day, I will drive the oxen to my lands and sow the fields. For no idler, though he has the gods’ names always on his lips, can gather a livelihood without hard work.”

     What a beautiful and strong anti-laziness passage. I love how there is no imperative call to work, but a self-example. I loved the way Euripides shaped the Peasant role during the entire play and I’m going to focus a bit on him.

     Next, Orestes, arrived in his homeland visits his sister who doesn’t recognize him, and acts like he’s a stranger trying to get as much information as he can from her, before letting her know who he really is. Another passage about the peasant:

“Electra
I am married, stranger; a deadly match.

Orestes
I pity your brother. Is your husband a Mycenaean?

Electra
Not one to whom my father ever hoped to give me.

Orestes
 Tell me so that I may hear and inform your brother.

Electra
I live in his house, at a distance from the city.

Orestes
A ditch-digger or a herdsman is worthy of the house.

Electra
He is a man poor but noble, and respectful to me.

Orestes
What is this respect that your husband has?

Electra
He has never dared to touch me in bed.

Orestes
Does he hold some form of religious chastity, or does he think you unworthy?

Electra
He did not think himself worthy to insult my family.

Orestes
And how was he not delighted to make such a marriage?

Electra
He thinks the person who gave me did not have that right, stranger.

Orestes
I understand; he fears that he may someday be punished by Orestes.

Electra
He does fear that, but he is also a virtuous man.”

     Another reflection of his:

“It is in such cases, whenever I fail in my intentions, that I see how wealth has great power, to give to strangers, and to expend in curing the body when it falls sick; but money for our daily food comes to little; for every man when full, rich or poor, gets an equal amount”

     One of my favorite moments from this play is the very emotional scene when Electra realises that the stranger whom she was talking to is actually her long-gone brother. I won’t write here the entire scene because I wouldn’t like to destroy it for you so you’ll enjoy it while reading the entire play.

“Old man
Where are the guests? I want to see them and question them about your brother. As he speaks, Orestes and Pylades come out of the hut.

Electra
There they are, coming quickly out of the house.

Old man
They are well-born, but that may ring false; for many of the well-born are base. However; I give the guests welcome.

Orestes
Welcome, old man! To which of your friends, Electra, does this ancient remnant of a man belong?

Electra
This is the one who brought up my father, stranger.

Orestes
What are you saying? Is this the one who stole away your brother?

Electra
This is the one who saved him, if indeed he is still alive.

Orestes
Oh! Why does he look at me, as if he were examining the clear mark impressed on a silver coin? Is he comparing me to someone?

Electra
Perhaps he is glad to see in you a companion of Orestes.

Orestes
A beloved man, yes. But why is he circling all around me?

Electra
I too am amazed, looking at this, stranger.

Old man
O mistress, daughter Electra, pray to the gods.”

547-563

     I hope you find all these helpful and give you a taste of the books mentioned here. If you need any suggestion concerning the translation, the edition or anything else, I’d be more than happy to answer.

Bonus: Picture of me at the theater of Epidaurus. 10995449_10204289264172304_2801385959396752511_n

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