Friday, 18 November 2011
Reading and (indeed) writing Euripides' Phaethon, leaning heavily on: James Diggle (ed) Euripides: Phaethon (Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries XII; Cambridge University Press, 2004). It hadn't occurred to me before, but I'm now wondering whether the point of the play isn't to literalise, in the tumble from the sky, the sense of a 'downward' trajectory in familial inheritance. The play opens with an intense confab between mother and son about the true identity of Phaethon's paternity; this (with slightly heavyhanded irony) is followed by the ceremony of the impending marriage of Phaethon to a royal bride -- the ceremony, that is, designed to confirm and legalise the process of paternity. But, in the broadest sense this is a play that says: unlike maternity, paternity is never certain, and that single, terrible fact can strike down anybody, no matter how talented, how loved by the gods, or how guiltless (‘Still more guiltless [than Hippolytus] was the young Phaethon of Phaethon, who was destroyed by Zeus as he tried and inevitably failed to drive his father Helios’ sun-chariot across the skies. Euripides' Phaethon makes this attempt not through hubris, but through inexperience and insecurity’ [Martin Cropp, 'Lost Tragedies: a Survey' in Justina Gregory (ed), A Companion to Greek Tragedy (Blackwell: John Wiley & Sons, 2005), 271-292; 283]) they might be. That's a very unsettling thought, really; one of the most unsettling.