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August 23, 2020


Philoctetes was staged for the first time in Athens at the City Dionysia in 409 BCE, which was in the second phase of the Peloponnnesian War. Athens had been deep in an economic crisis and the democracy there had been overthrown by an oligarchy. Their most talented general, Alcibiades, had been exiled (drummed up charges of impiety and religious vandalism) and was under a sentence of death. But two years before the play was produced the Athenian fleet destroyed the Spartan navy and Alcibiades was reappointed to lead them. The fleet won victories that restored the economy of Athens and democracy was restored.

I don't know who Philoctetes is supposed to be, but I think that a historicist reading of Philoctetes would play up the parallels between him and Alcibiades which makes me think that the chorus, speaking as they are to the Athenians, would put the Athenians in the place of the sons of Atreus, seeking to restore Philoctetes/Alcibiades to his place so that he could bring an end to the years of war.

And the backdrop of the Peloponnesian war, with North vs South and outside aid from an Eastern despot (Persia), makes for some compelling symbolism both for Heaney's Ireland and for the US.

And I think the reading of the myth whereby the poison comes from the arrows of Hercules rather than from a punishment handed down by the goddess for impiety betrays a very post-enlightenment understanding of mythology. The Athenians were much more concerned with the way that religious offense (miasma) could pollute a city and bring down misfortune upon them from the gods. That's the whole point of the Dionysia after all. Just read the Bacchae if you want to get a better understanding of that mindset.

Great stuff. The play itself has Philoctetes being punished because he trod on Heracles burial place, another version has him making a vow not to tell anyone, but points it out with his foot to get around his oath. There's also three other versions that have been lost that we know of from an analysis by Dio Chrysostom. Here's a reconstruction of Euripedes version and the last page is particularly interesting concerning parallels.


A little more accessible is Edmund Wilson's The Wound and the Bow, which is what pushed Heaney to choose the myth. Definitely worth reading.

The play also shows how fluent character interpretations in mythos are. There is quite often a huge difference between Greek* stage plays and epics. Neoptolemos is in other contexts usually a very negative character (e.g. Greek vases depicting him beating Priamos to death with the body of the baby child of Hector) while here is a stand-in for the ephebes, the new levvies who swore their oath during the same festival the play was staged. Odysseus (generally an ambiguous figure independent of literary genre) is a stand-in for the military superiors to whom the oath was directed. The play starts sympathetic to Philoctetes but shifts (expressed by the chorus) when he stays stubborn even after he got credible evidence that it's not just a trick to get his bow and arrows but there is indeed a genuine prophecy. Sophocles does not provide a simple solution. He is clearly pro-polis (the common good over the individual) but also warns of corruption (corrupt means by the leaders and the resulting corruption of the ideals of the young men). The play would likely not have survived or get discussed to-day, if it was just a one-sided propaganda piece (again, this is Greek not Roman).

*The Romans had their own biased views in part because they claimed to be descendants of the Trojans.

I hope you're not suggesting Biden shot himself in the foot ...

Nigel wins the thread.

95.866% of Americans have never heard of this.

but, Biden saying it sets up a nice contrast between himself and Mr "Two Corinthians", dunnit?

It's all Greek to them, naturally.

you guys know stuff

Great multi-layered post, lj, and comments, y'all.

I hope you're not suggesting Biden shot himself in the foot ...

I'd say a more obvious interpretation would be that Republicans with integrity shot themselves in the foot. They did so by embracing the nutters, just to win an election -- rather than rejecting them in order to attracting moderates away from the Democrats.

I would say, in answer to lj's question, is that Biden (and others) are not trying to win over dissident Republicans. As Alabama senator Doug Jones put it

the outreach and support from Republicans during the convention is meant to “to get folks comfortable with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris” and show that “that they are not going to lead this country in some socialist agenda”.
That is, the dissidents don't need winning over. They (we) are already there. What's needed is, as a couple of people have put it, to get more of them to feel that they have "permission" to vote for Democrats. That is, that it isn't treason to their party to do so this time.

Speaking of shooting oneself in the foot, I came across this in the Washington Post

“President Trump is the most pro-gay president in American history. I can prove it.”

— Richard Grenell, former acting director of national intelligence, in a video released by the Log Cabin Republicans, Aug. 19, 2020

Ignore, for the moment, the question of whether this has any connection to reality (their fact checkers deal with that). Just think about how it will play with the evangelical base. Either they abandon Trump, or they abandon yet another of their loudly proclaimed principles. Win-win.

you guys know stuff

In this case mere coincidence. In order to fill a gap in the class schedule I attended a course on Greek drama last year, and the Philoctetes was one looked at in greater detail.

Hitler was pro-gay as well, but like Trump (but even here Trump doesn't measure up, yet) he ignored his personal revulsion regarding homosexuality if individuals met the other requirements for leadership in the Third Reich: sadism, ruthlessness, corruptibility, absolute slavish loyalty, thuggery, no particular competence (which might compete with the Fuhrer's, the onetime Austrian vagabond, barely facile competence in anything but demagoguery) other than an ability to flood the Reich's enemies' zones with shit, and a personal attribute that could be used to blackmail and intimidate and coerce his underlings when necessary.

Ernst Roehm, Hitler's closest and most loyal colleague from the early 1920s, leader of the Brownshirts, also a murderous thug and a gay man, was murdered in 1933-34 under Hitler's orders when Roehm became a threat to Hitler, along with dozens of other brutal Nazis in the middle of the night, pulled out of bed and shot dead, along with their young male consorts, and of course Himmler and Goering, the latter also an exuberantly gay man, nattering in Hitler's ear that Roehm and company had to be eliminated.

Roy Cohn, a ruthless far-right role model for Trump's brand of thuggery, was a gay Jew.

A gay-conservative republican nationalist (gay-Nazi). A Jewish-conservative republican nationalist (Jewish-Nazi).

It's not the perfectly natural human quality of what's to the left of the hyphen that is to be held accountable for Cohn's mean thuggish bullying life.

It's what is to the Right of the hyphen that is accountable for his malign subhuman actions toward the Other and made him a useful tool, but ALWAYS inferior, to the EVIL embodied in conservative filth like Joseph McCarthy and Trump.

Just so with Falwell and the Evangelicals useful to Trump.

That they are fallen is no surprise ... the stridently self-righteous always seem to be having more sinful fun on the side than we godless libertines on the Left can ever manage ... it's that they are corruptible conservative nationalists and grifting conmen and conwaywomen that Trump finds employable in the wrecking of America.

It's amazing when you strip away the crypto-Christian quintessentially American bullshit of these cheap, grasping conservative god-botherers that you get right down to the banal, cliched pornographic tropes of their horrid little lives, funded of course by the dumb dupes who finance their prosperity gospel machinations via the offering plate.

Threesomes with the horny little Christian wife and the pool boys.


Do these right-wing churches have Al Goldstein on the payroll as script-writers for their sad little hand-held camera rutting and thrusting, not that there is anything wrong with that?

There must be a joke going around the student "body" of Liberty University when they could overhear Falwell yelling "Jeeee-sus Christ" at the top of his lungs from up at the big house in the small hours:

"Well, AGAIN with the suffering little children coming to him!"

"Yeah, and to think, we could have attended Berkeley and we'd be the ones having the fun."

Pro tip: never deliver a pizza to the Falwell house.

Bet you can figure out why.

The latest (Domino's?) commercial suggests the frisbee approach to hands-off, social distanced, pizza deliveries. Maybe that would be safe. Or perhaps not.

Night 1 of the Republican Convention in a nutshell:


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