Medea’s Swerving Flight through Art and Literature

[MUSIC] Stanford University.>>Right, well, good evening,
I’m Walter Scheidel, the chair of the Classics Department. And it’s a great pleasure to welcome
you all to the what I believe is the tenth Lorenz Eitner lecture,
on ancient art and culture. A lecture series designed to promote and
publicize classics, and the classical scholarship to our audience, so thank you
all for showing up on a Friday evening. The series has been made possible now for quite a number of years by the generosity
of Peter and Lindsey Joost. Who are great friends and
benefactors of the classics department, here in the audience today. Because it’s lecture number ten, they have earned a round of applause for their continuing support.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>The series has been named in honor of the late professor Lorenz Eitner,
who was an art historian here at Stanford. The director of the museum,
that is now the Art Cantor Center, from the early 60s to 1989. He was the chair of what was then the
Department of Art and Architecture, and a very renowned expert on
French Romantic painting. A lot of publications,
successful students, and he was very instrumental in putting
the art museum on the map, and make it more than a local attraction. Our distinguished guest
tonight is Oliver Taplin, who is Professor Emeritus
of classics at Oxford, and he will be introduced by my
colleague Professor Richard Martin.>>Thank you Walter,
some introducers play the bibliographer, reading a virtual card catalog
of their subject books. Some introducers act like
Academy Award presenters, practicing their lifetime
achievement speeches.>>[LAUGH]
>>Then there are the introducers who moonlight as obituary writers.>>[LAUGH]
>>I used to write obituaries, but I’m not one of them. There are the satirists,
there are even the matricians. I once had a former male colleague,
who shall remain nameless, wax lyrical about the mellifluous shape of the female
speaker to be’s first and last names. Which formed, so he claimed,
the pleasingest combination of dactyl, and I am tripping off the tongue.>>[LAUGH]
>>Maybe I can say her name, Emily Vermule.>>[LAUGH]
>>The honored speaker on that occasion took the podium, and if you remember
Emily, you’ll appreciate it. And retorted laconically,
thank you Professor X, you are a trochee.>>[LAUGH]
>>For what it’s worth, Oliver Taplin neatly, and
most appropriately, I think, makes a perfect metrical shape right
out of Sappho, the Adonic segment. Just like old [FOREIGN], Oliver Taplin, where is this preamble of mine leading? Directly to my confession that
rather than any of the above, I would play the role as
introducer of sketch artist. Like one of those guys who does your
picture on Pier 39, only much faster and probably not as good. The thing is, I want my bit to be over so
I can hear Oliver Taplin talk, not myself. And I want to do so because I could listen
to him all day long, and so could you. So here’s the sketch, emeritus
professor of classical languages and literature at the University of Oxford,
holds the DeVille from Oxford. Fellow of the British Academy, former
president of the Classical Association, and until his retirement for
35 years, fellow professor and devoted teacher at Magdalen College,
Oxford. Now, Magdalen has been graced by a diverse
range of characters as undergraduates or fellows. From Lord Alfred Douglas,
friend of Oscar Wilde, to Erwin Schrodinger, of the famous cat. King Edward VIII to Edward Gibbon,
Nicholas Kristof, George Will, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey,
and Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is not my intent to describe
how this evening’s speaker is in any way similar to any
of these characters. To my knowledge,
he never opposed a king’s annulment, nor did he co-author a musical history
of the life of Evita Peron. Although, I have no doubt that he
would be totally up to either task.>>[LAUGH]
>>But it is worth noting in the very
roll call of these maudlin men, a strain that is abundantly represented
in the life and work of Oliver Taplin. In a word, it is his total
involvement in performance. Whether on the page or the stage or
the screen, Oliver lives, breathes, and forcefully expounds
the performance culture of Greece. And all the performances that have rippled
out of that in the last two millennia. I believe that he personally
has reached more persons and more diverse audiences, bringing
the message of the power, beauty, and danger of Greek culture than
any other living classicist. Oliver does this by a profound
empathy both for such audiences, but also for the lived experience that
underlies his scholarly passions. Most prominent among his fields
of expertise are Greek epic, tragedy, and comedy. Greek face painting, the material
culture of theater, performance studies, the reception of ancient literature,
and practice of translation. One can spend a long time explaining in
detail the importance of his contributions to each of these. Let me intend instead to sketch
briefly how Oliver has managed to fit them together. So at the core of his work is a vast and
difficult imaginative effort. It involves nothing less than
a total envisioning of Greek drama as it might have been performed. The book which inaugurated his career,
The Stagecraft of Aeschylus, The Dramatic Use of Exits and
Entrances in Greek Tragedy. has been called, quote. The single most influential work
of Anglophone scholarship and Greek drama in the three
decades since its appearance. That’s because it was the first to
combine a meticulous text study with a dramatist’s insights for
how tragedy was structured. His followup book,
Greek Tragedy in Action, made this fundamental scholarly
insight even more accessible. And it’s telling that a much-read, scuffed-up copy of the book is said to
have resided permanently backstage. When the famous director Peter Hall
put on his amazing production of the Aristeia trilogy of Escalus
at the National Theater in 1981. Oliver was a crucial consultant on
that historic project, and by the way, you can see a series of his video
recollections on the National’s website. Which brings me to another
prominent part of his profile, his involvement in major
productions of tragedy and epic. Some of you may recall Rush Rehm’s
direction of the Odyssey at Stanford Summer Theater,
a couple of years ago. That brilliant adaptation of
the Homeric epic as a stage production was done by Oliver, originally for
the Getty Museum in Malibu. On the topic of epic, I’d have to say as a
Homerist, I personally owe a great debt to Oliver’s re-imagining of Homer’s Iliad in
terms of a three-day festival performance. As he demonstrated in Homeric
Soundings,The Shaping of the Iliad. He’s also worked on The Thebans with the
Royal Shakespeare Company, The Oresteia, again at the The National Theater,
in 1999. And there are few, if any, other scholars of ancient Greek
literature with his real life experience. By the way, the all-seeing eye of
the Internet tells me that at least once, Oliver donned a pair of inflated
balloons As part of a costume, when he himself appeared on stage,
for a production of Aristophanes, something that we may want
to ask him about later on.>>[LAUGH]
>>But more seriously,
it’s worth quoting his own words on his crisscrossing scholarly text
study to theatrical passion. He wrote, what we scholars have to accept,
whether we are writing in our study or participating in the rehearsal room,
is that the aspects that most interest us are not necessarily those
that are going to interest or inspire the theatrical interpreters. It is nice to think that the current
preoccupations of scholarship are going to be the very things in the air that
are going to excite the practitioners. But the match invariably proves
to be far from complete, and the emphasis quite different. And sometimes it’s aspects
that are unfashionable, even academically unsustainable, that
capture the creative interest, end quote. The scholarly study of modern performance
has become an established area of specialized study in classics over
the last few decades, and in large part, Oliver made this flourish. Along with Edith Hall, he founded at
Oxford the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama in 1996, devoted to the international production
and reception of ancient plays. Performance, Iconography,
Reception, Studies In Honor of Oliver Taplin is the title of the fast
trip dedicated to him on his retirement. I’ve mentioned now the two end terms,
as for the middle term of that title, Iconography. Oliver has achieved the remarkable feat
of bringing together the study of ancient vase painting, itself a difficult,
controversial field, with the study of the spread in
ancient times of Athenian theater, in places like Sicily,
where there’s a thriving theater culture. And he does this in not one,
but two books, Comic Angels and Other Approaches to Greek Drama Through
Vase Painting, which came out in 1993. And in 2007 was followed by Pots and
Plays, Interactions Between Tragedy and Greek Vase Painting of the 4th Century. As if mastery of these very distinct
areas, text study, live theater reception, was not enough, Oliver is also
a translator and in two important ways. First, he translates for wide audiences
the deep significance and importance of Greek culture, he’s forever doing this,
it seems, in all forms of media. Most conspicuously, he made the channel
for a documentary series, Greek Fire, which centered on the influence of Greek
culture in modern art, thought, and society. The book accompanying the series has been,
sorry, translated into five languages. In the more narrow sense, Oliver is a
translator of tragedy, and only last year, the University of Chicago Press,
in its authoritative series, published his translation of
Euripides’ terrifying play, Medea. Which brings me to Oliver Taplin’s
lecture this evening. From the title, it promises to combine
pretty much every one of the various fascinating interests that I’ve
been cataloging and praising. It’s called Medea’s Swerving
Flight Through Art and Literature. I want to shut up and
hear it, okay, Oliver?>>[LAUGH] [APPLAUSE]>>Well, thank you very much, Richard, it’s gonna be rather
difficult to live up to that. It reminds me again of the support act,
and then the support act turns out
to be better than the main act.>>[LAUGH]
>>It’s a great pleasure to be invited here to Stanford, and
particularly a pleasure to be able to pay this tribute to
the memory of Lorenz Eitner. And he was the world expert on early 19th century French art, and particularly Jericho, and this is his most famous painting, The Raft of the Medusa. If I’d known this in time, I might have called this lecture,
The Wrath of the Medea.>>[LAUGH]
>>But then I thought also maybe that’s
a bit too much of an idea of what the audience might be feeling like
towards the end of the lecture.>>[LAUGH]
>>It’s more apt, in fact, to turn to this painting by
Jericho’s greatest disciple, Delacroix, a really,
truly terrifying Medea. This is, as you can see,
a deeply unsettling painting, she is so strong, she’s so
set on her intentions. Set that against the pale, soft flesh of
her little boys, who are so vulnerable. Medea is, in this painting,
the very denial of the mother instinct. The mother instinct is a phrase
that comes in a film or movie that you may have seen,
which I would recommend very strongly, Before Midnight,
that was released last year. And it’s set in the most beautiful
part of the Southern Peloponnese, particularly of the house of Patrick
Leigh Fermor, the great travel writer. And in one scene,
I won’t go into the full details of the trilogy that it belongs to and
everything, but in one scene, Celine, who is the character played
by Julie Delpy, is complaining, is in vain against the first wife
of Jesse, played by Ethan Hawke. The first wife who has custody of his son,
and the dialogue goes like this,
so Julie Delpy first. She has the mother instinct of Medea,
and he says, Medea? And she says,
it is a Greek myth after all. And he says, well, actually,
it’s a play by Euripides but, and then she interrupts and
says she is using, she’s killing kids to
punish her ex-husband. So we have this quote, now,
I say it’s a wonderful film, and I wish it had been nominated for
some Oscars, we’ve already had some mention of
the fallibility of those judges. But they didn’t, and
it’s interesting that in ancient times, too, judges of drama could be fallible. Because each year at Ancient Athens,
there was a competition between three tragedians, and
they were ranked by a panel of judges. And Medea was one of the tragedies
entered by Euripides in 431 BC, and it came last,
it came third. I’m going to put up a different slide,
I find that one so upsetting that I don’t want to show it for
the whole time. And yet, Medea very soon became
one of the most famous and most performed of all tragedies
throughout the Ancient Greek world, and it’s been one of the most famous and
performed tragedies ever since. Now you might just say that,
like the judges of the Oscars, they didn’t always spot a future winner. And it’s true that Sophocles’ Oedipus
did not come first in its year either. But actually I suspect that Medea
went down so badly at first in 431, and then was a box office hit later, very
soon later, for one and the same reason. That it is a deeply, deeply,
unsettling play, and its shock and challenge is especially acute,
was and is especially acute for men. For men, it shatters the one thing that
they believe that they can take totally on trust about their women. That they will cherish and
protect the kids. The mother-child bond is so
basic, it’s the mother instinct. But Medea has the mother
instinct of Medea. Medea is the woman who
killed her children. That is a core myth. And if we ask where that core
myth came from, the answer is, as Jesse says in Before Midnight,
Euripides’ play. Euripides’ play of 431. It was tragedy that made her name,
that made Medea into Medea. And she does this, what is so
challenging about this is in the Euripides’s version, that she
doesn’t do this in a fit of madness. Nor did she do it in a fit of
unfeeling cold blood either. She chooses her act with
reasoned argumentation, and she determinedly overrules her own strong,
maternal feelings. And then, she triumphantly
escapes to freedom at Athens in a magic flying chariot, leaving her
husband Jason humiliated and crushed. Now I wonder, at this point, if I
could ask to have the house lights up. I feel I have,
after my jet lag of yesterday, a better chance of staying
awake during this lecture.>>[LAUGH]
>>With the lights up and I’m not going to come to this slide for
a while. If we were to circulate a questionnaire
asking what was Medea’s defining act, then most respondents would surely agree that
it was that she killed her own children. They might well add that she did it to
get revenge on her unfaithful husband. And they might add that she
escaped through the air in a chariot drawn by dragons. That Medea is the Medea,
with minor variance, of Seneca, of Cornet, of Cherubini,
Martha Graham, Pasolini, Christof Wolff, and
it’s fundamentally Euripides’ Medea. And it’s that role that has been played by
many of the great divas of modern times. Sarah Bernhardt,
Margaret Anglin, Maria Callas. In fact, the only film that Maria Callas
ever made was the Pasolini Medea. Diana Rigg, Isabelle Huppert, Fiona Shaw. If our questionnaire then goes to
ask about the other Medea stories, we might collect smaller returns. But returns for quite a few, often
involving her skills with potions and spells. First she helped Jason to
acquire the Golden Fleece from her home city of Colchis,
which is in present-day Georgia. She threw off the pursuit of her father
by cutting up her little brother and leaving a trail of bits behind the boat. That was off the coast
of present-day Romania. And then at Iolcus back at Thessaly in
Greece, she tricked the daughters of King Pyerness into killing their
father,and she eventually lived with Aegeus, the king of Athens, and nearly got
him to kill his own lost son, Theseus. So it’s quite a bloody history, really. All of those stories
that I’ve just mentioned, very probably predate Euripides,
predate 431, and most of them are found in earlier art,
and some figured in earlier tragedies. Now, Euripides’ play is set in
the prosperous city of Corinth, and there were also pre-Euripidean,
stories from before Euripides, about Medea’s time there in Corinth with
Jason, after Iolcus and before Athens. And the stories were largely unhappy and
mostly involved her unfortunate children. Narratives told that either because
of her ambitions for power or because she had killed the king Creon,
the Corinthians killed her children in revenge, the Corinthians killed
her children in revenge. More particularly,
that Creon’s relatives killed him. So how far did Euripides make
innovations in the Medea myth? Above all, was he the first to
make her kill her own children? There are a couple of ancient sources
that say that Euripides adapted or even plagiarized the whole lot from
another playwright called Neophron. There’s a good discussion
of this question by Donald Mastronarde of Berkeley
in his commentary of 2002. And he shows that very probably,
all of the following features were introduced into the story by
either Euripides or by Neophron, that all of these were the innovations
of one of these two tragedians. The Corinthian princess and
Jason’s proposed new marriage, the involvement of Aegeus of Athens,
the killing of the princess and Creon by means of magic robes, the
deliberate murder of the children by Medea herself, and
her escape by use of the flying chariot. In other words,
all the important elements of the story are either introduced by Euripides or
by Neophron. All the most important elements
of the story as told in our play, the Euripides play. And Donald keeps a characteristically
cautious open mind on which came first out of Euripides or Neophron. Who is Neophron? Otherwise completely unknown except for
his Medea and the three fragments of texts that we have from it, which have
a great deal in common with Euripides. Now, I’m not gonna spend a lot of time
on this, was it first Euripides or first Neophron? Because two more recent discussions by
James Diggle and by Judith Mossman, both say very much what I would say and
they both seem to me to be conclusive. What they demonstrate is there
are things in the Neophron fragments that must be derivative from Euripides and
not the other way around. And I would add one interesting
if slightly recherche little piece of evidence that
turned up since the Mastronarde and indeed the Diggle and Mossman discussions. There was a papyrus
newly published in 2011. It’s obviously Oxyrhynchus’ papyrus 5093. And it shows that Euripides’s Medea and
allegedly earlier versions of the Medea play were being
exploited in a rhetorical debate, or rhetorical exercise
from the 2nd century AD. Where one of the two sides
in this debate had to put forward the case Euripides
always pandered to the public. Was always changing things
to suit public taste, and the other side had to say Euripides
never compromised with the public. Well the editor,
Daniella Colomo of this Papyrus, rather charmingly puts it like this. Declamators do not invent, rather, they manipulate by not paying any
attention to any historical truth. So slightly fine distinction. This rhetorical debate simply makes
up stuff about Euripides’ Medea and earlier versions. And it emerges quite
clearly from this document that Euripides’ classic was
a plaything for the debating. Allegations about its originality and
its plagiarism was stock subject matter, regardless of the truth. It may not be 100% certain, but
is extremely likely that Euripides, in 431 BC, made major and
lasting innovations in the Medea myth. He was the first to make Medea, our Medea, the first to have her kill her
children with her own hand, and along with that goes the murder
of the Corinthian princess, and hence the invention of the entire
motivation through sexual resentment. Not to mention the escape
in the dragon chariot. As I’ve said, it may well have been these
shocking moves that led the Athenian judges in 431 to give Medea
third prize out of three. This may, however,
prove more of a boost than a setback for the play’s reputation, because it’s pretty
clear that Medea became an instant hit, attracting notice and
getting widely re-performed, and stimulating a lot of imitation and
emulation. And the most vivid evidence for
this comes from vase paintings, or vase paintings, and
I shall come to those in a moment. But first, just a quick survey of the theatrical repercussions
of Euripides’ Medea. It’s directly quoted in Aristophanes,
Frogs of 405, it’s directly quoted in two 4th century comedies and there were at
least four comedies with the title Medea. And Euripides’ play was the start
of a whole line of tragedies with the same title during
the next 100 years or so. And this is what I’m gonna concentrate on,
the swerving flight through tragedies in the 100 years or so
after Euripides’ first performance. As well as Neophron,
we hear of Medea’s by Melanthius, by Dicaeogenes, by Theodorides,
by Diogenes, and by Carcinus, none of whom you’ve heard of,
and not surprisingly, though you might like to know that
Theodorides won second prize in 363. Carcinus I’m gonna come back to,
she was hugely popular for tragedies in Latin, including plays by
Ennius, the much admired Medea of Ovid, from which we have one line, as well
as the Medea of Seneca, which survives. And I said, there’s a new
commentary on that by Tony Boyle, just come out, which looks extremely good. Now most if not all of these tragedies
will have explicitly followed in Euripides’ epoch making footsteps. They will, that is,
have followed his Medea in some ways while departing in others,
have both paid homage and attempted to outbid to have
both admired and challenged. And we have explicit testimony to
the great variety of tragic variations from Diodorus of Sicily who was
writing the 1st century BC. He covers a lot of myths in the first
books of his history of everything and he comes to Medea’s stories in book four. And among the variants, he discusses variant versions
of other things including, who was it who killed her children and
why did they kill her children, how many children were there, there are
usually 2 but there’s 14 in one version.>>[LAUGH]
>>What happened to the children’s bodies? How one son escaped and
had a future dynasty, and towards the end of all this, Diodorus
says with a touch of exasperation, I quote, in general there are such varied
and inconsistent accounts of Medea because of a desire of the tragedians for
the weird and the wonderful. [FOREIGN] Of the Terratean, the sensational. So can we trace any of these
other tragic versions? I believe that we have documentary
evidence of three of them and we have artistic evidence
of three of them, and that one of those three is the same. Let’s say there are three literary versions apart from
Euripides that we can trace, three artistic versions, and one of the
literary and artistic are the same play. So first on the literary side, the Neophron fragment show him
following Euripides closely and trying to make minor improvements,
for example, Euripides’ Medea predicts that Jason will be killed by
a lump of the Argo falling on his head. Neophron changed this to
something a good deal more bitter. In the Neophron,
she predicts that he will hang himself but actually Euripides has more of a point. The fallen hero,
the great golden argonaut, is killed by the rotting hulk
of his famous Argo, the vessel. So Neophron is one of
the three literary versions. Secondly, there are some
rather fascinating but frustratingly tattered papyrus
fragments published in 1906, they’re in the British Museum, they’re
a literary property of London, number 77. And there are bits of over 100
lines in which Aegeus is mentioned, Creon is mentioned, Jason is addressed,
the Chorus are greeted as women of Corinth, so very nearly everything
points to a post year Medea tragedy. And yet, even classicist probably
you have never heard of this and you won’t find it in the standard
editions of the Tragic Fragments. And the reason is there’s a speech in
which Medea’s railing against Jason and she employs two rather explicit phrases
about Jason’s arousal by his new bride. And scholars have almost universally
regarded this genital language as out of the question in tragedy,
tragedy doesn’t talk dirty like that. But Euripides’ Medea, actually herself,
does more euphemistically imply the same sort of thing with words that
are sexually suggestive, including for example, she says to Jason at one point,
go and join your new wife, [FOREIGN], do the bride-groom thing. Is it so inconceivable that a later
tragedian from the fourth century would spell out Medea’s burning jealousy
in more explicit language, piling on the shock value? I don’t think it’s at all inconceivable,
in fact, I’d rather like the idea, so that’s the second of my
other literary versions. Now, I’m gonna turn to the vase paintings. Can people see this
clearly with the lights? So if we could not have the lights off,
I don’t mind having them dimmed a bit but I quite like to be able to see you people. I’m gonna argue that with the help of vase
paintings, we can reconstruct something about two of our Medeas, even though
we can’t describe the named author. And given what Diodorus says, I hope that
you’ll agree that tragedy rather than any other source is the likely explanations
of the variations in the story. First, though, two paintings which can, I believe be plausibly claimed,
to reflect Euripides’ play. Especially when set beside the others,
I’m gonna show, you’ll see how closely aligned
this is to Euripides’ play and how different the other
ones are by comparison. Both these two were painted
in Greek Southern Italy and both are painted to around 400 BC,
plus or minus 10 years. So one or even both of them
might possibly have been painted within Euripides’ lifetime,
and in any case, they come from less than 40 years after
the first performance of his Medea. Now, at first glance, they may seem
very different from each other. This plainer one was excavated at
Policoro, in present day Basilicata, in 1963. Actually seems somehow symbolic, That in some ways, the most crucial bit of the picture is
the triangle of ceramic that’s missing. But at least we do have Medea’s name there
by her and as you see she’s flying off in her dragon chariot and chasing,
here below the son’s lying dead below and here’s Jason completely
helpless trying to catch her. And this other one, which may
actually even be by the same painter, far more spectacular, as you see. This spectacular sunburst and luminescent
dragons was first published in 1983, it’s now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. But as I say, in terms of attribution,
they’re close in time and place of production,
they’re even possibly by the same artist. And their iconographic
dynamic is the same, with Medea triumphantly above,
Jason helpless below, again, here. And that scene, and
that whole spatial arrangement of power, with Medea triumphant in escaping,
and the ex-hero, Jason, completely helpless
to do anything about it, is the invention of the final
scene of Euripides’ play. So these are actually also the earliest
representations of Medea’s chariot drawn by snakes or dragons. So, nowhere in Greek art before
these two vases I am showing you, do you get the chariot drawn by dragons or
snakes. And yet, from here on,
they are always there, they’re inseparable from Medea’s escape,
both in Greek art and literature, and even more in Roman art. The odd thing is that there’s no
trace whatsoever of any snakes or dragons in our text of Euripides’ Medea. She has a chariot led by her grandfather,
the Sun. And there can be little doubt that
Euripides made use of the flying machine that there was in the ancient Greek
theater, known simply as the mechane, the device. But there’s no mention of how the chariot
was propelled in Euripides’ play, so where did the snakes come from? Actually, I’d love to
go into that in detail, because I can think of at least
five possible explanations. But I will tell you what my own favorite
is, which is that very early on, some touring actors added
the snakes to their staging of the play as
a spectacular embellishment. So they had the flying machine, they put these dragons on the front,
it was the most terrific, sensational hit. And immediately, probably even before 400, they became a signature of
the portrayal of Medea. And audiences and
the public of vast painters, and of other arts,
were not happy without them. [COUGH] So those two I regard as being very
probably closely related to and formed by reflecting the Euripides, the final scene of the Euripides play. [COUGH] So now,
here’s the first of my variant versions. [COUGH] It’s the upper band from a huge
funerary amphora, a whole meter high. Painted around 340 BC, so
we’ve jumped to 60 years later, it was excavated in 1851, it’s now
in Naples, can you see that clearly? Could the lights be made slightly dimmer,
or is that actually a problem,
is that better? Okay, good, that’s fine,
lovely, thank you. Now some scholars claim that this scene
is so similar to the Euripides ending that it too must be reflecting the ending
of Euripides’ play, but hold on. The differences are far greater,
most importantly, the chariot is not flying up and away. And Jason is not helpless below,
cause that must be Jason, here, on the horse with the javelin. On the contrary, Medea’s chariot wheels
are stubbornly on the ground, and Jason is close behind her. And actually, Even one of the snakes
is looking quite anxious.>>[LAUGH]
>>Now assuming that this is following a play,
and as I said, the diadora suggests that that’s where
these various versions all come from. It’s probable that it’s recalling
a messenger speech, which told how Medea fled, and that Jason was on the very verge
of catching her up and taking vengeance, he’s very nearly caught her. And the crucial indication I suggest
is one which measures itself against Euripides while also introducing
a novel twist of terror, of the sensational,
the weird and wonderful. Medea has taken the two corpses of
her sons with her in the chariot, and one lies at her feet
with his arm dangling out, here, the other has
fallen out on the ground. Sorry about the light on this photograph,
but that’s simply the way
they do things in Naples.>>[LAUGH]
>>Now the dropped sword may also give a clue. You remember how Medea chopped
up her little brother and dropped pieces in the sea
to delay pursuit. What I’m suggesting is that what
we have here is a kind of reprise, a kind of grisly repetition of
that characteristic Medea action. And in this play,
Medea doesn’t only kill her sons, she actually uses their mangled
bodies to help her own escape, leaving them behind her, so
that Jason stops to look after their poor little bodies and
doesn’t catch her up. I think I am the first person since 1851, since this was excavated in 1851,
to have made that suggestion, and I think it’s a pretty plausible one,
I have to say. So, secondly, so that’s one version, which is both indebted to Euripides,
and different from Euripides. It’s actually going one step
crueler than Euripides, this, sorry it’s not a better photo. As soon as it was excavated in 1814, it
was purchased by King Ludwig of Bavaria to be a prized exhibit in his new museum
in Munich, which is where it still is. It was painted about 320 BC,
it stands 1.17 meters high, it has no fewer than 19 figures on three
levels, many of them with name labels. Now, there’s only time for
one or two highlights. First is, you see that
the composition of the whole thing is dominated down the central
axis by the dying princess, who is dying from the affect
of the flaming tiara, and of her father,
her doomed father, beside her. And then below is the emblematic
snake chariot, but it’s not Medea who’s in the snake chariot. It is the allegorical figure of Oistrus,
whose name is written here above, Oistrus, meaning frenzy, it’s actually
the word that estrogen comes from. He separates Jason, here,
from Medea, over here, where she is about to
slaughter her son on an altar. So again,
it’s Euripidean in some features, to kind of homage to Euripides, but
it’s a divergent rival in others. I’ll just point to a couple of
the several features that indicate an ambitious Medea tragedy by one of
those other fourth century playwrights. Firstly, On our right
over here is an oriental figure who’s explicitly labeled {FOREIGN} the ghost of Aeetes,
that’s Medea’s father. So that ghost most likely delivered
either the prologue or the epilogue. Secondly, found in this corner, where Medea is killing one
of the two sons, the other is being hurried away by an unnamed
young man armed with two spears. Now among the many variants
reported by Diadoris, there are two in which a son escapes from his
mother, escapes from her murderous hands. And this play surely
included a son who escaped. So now we’ve had two other
literary versions, Nephron and the London papyrus with
the slightly obscene phrases. And they’re not drastically obscene, I felt they should observe the decency
of not actually quoting them. But anyone who wants to know afterwards,
I’ll tell them what it says. And then the two artistic versions,
the one in which she’s in the chariot dropping the body of the son
behind on the ground. And this one in which, among other things,
one of the two sons escapes. So I’m gonna come lastly to
the strangest variant of them all. And I think, in fact I know,
that I’m the first to suggest this verse that I’m gonna show you can also
be related to a fragmented text. So first I’m going to talk about the text,
the play in question, we can put a name to it. It is the Medea of carcinus now this
carcinus was one of the most famous and successful fourth century dramatists. And often won first prize at
the Athenian Dionysia, so not like Nephron, who we’ve never
heard of, carcinus was famous. I thought you might like to
decipher that while I’m talking. Until recently we had only one piece
of information about carcinus’ play. A rather complicated passage in
Aristotle’s rhetoric, and according to this passage, Medea’s children were
nowhere to be found in this place. Nobody could find the children, and
she was accused of having murdered them. But, in fact,
this is what Aristotle says reports, she had made a mistake in the way
she sent the children away. [FOREIGN] She made a mistake
in the way she sent them away. And when she was accused, her refutation
of the accusation was, she had made an absolutely stupid mistake if she’d
killed the children and not killed Jason. So in carcinus’ play, it seems Medea
did not kill her children, but she packed them off. Now, scholars have assumed she will have
sent them to the sanctuary of Heraion near Corinth. A cult site for
the cult of the children, and which is actually figures
in Euripides play. So that was the situation until 2006
as far as carcinus Madea was concerned, that was all we knew about him. Then this papyrus was published, it had
in fact been in the Louvre since 1891. And I thought I might do a little bit
of practical papyrology with you, is that something that perhaps doesn’t
occur often in public lectures. And show you the kind of thing that
papyrologists have to struggle with, and as I say this one just
came out published in 2006. So as you can see it’s a scrap,
it’s got holes in it, unfortunately, but the actual writing,
the actual ink is quite well preserved. It’s not a very pretty hand,
I mean some of the papyri are very, very beautiful calligraphy, but
it is this is the best photo that exists. And it’s not that great, but it’s more or less legible, and that, I’m not asking
you to look at the detail of that. I’m just saying that’s
a transcript of the fragment, and this is, it’s not even focused very well,
I’m afraid. A modern edition of it,
by Martin West, from 2007. And one thing that’s very
interesting about this fragment, is it has musical notes added,
above some of the lines. That’s what these letters,
in the transcript here are. But that’s not my point for today,
the crucial passage for us And the bit that ties it to Carcinus
is the lines from the top here. And this, I’m hoping,
is gonna be more legible. In the first two lines, somebody,
very probably Jason, says if, as you say, you have not killed the children,
then show those you have not killed. Which, you see how that
corresponds with the carcinus. If you’ve not killed them, then show them. And Medea replies, I swear by,
and then she swears by something I have not killed the children
that I myself bore. [FOREIGN] I thought you might like to
hear a little bit of ancient Greek, pronounced with a rather modern accent. Then so, I’d not killed the children
that I myself bore, but I’ve sent them to a Pharoah. Probably as West suggest, sent them
to safe sanctuary to Asulian asylum. Then, This is the crucial line, entrusting them, [FOREIGN], to a something [FOREIGN] to, entrusting them to a carer. To a nurse or a pedagogue, or a carer. And in between those two words,
in between entrusting and entrust in to a carer, there is
a word that I want to concentrate on. Which, as you can see in the transcript,
is mainly gaps, okay? Just a little papyrology lesson for you. This is the, because I think it’s just
such a nice illustration of the kind of things that papyrologists have to do. So it’s not that legible is it? [FOREIGN] Can people see that? There’s [INAUDIBLE]. You’re gonna have to take my word for
this, then there’s definitely a G, a gamma. The word begins with guh, and
it definitely ends with omega, which you can see very clearly. It begins with gamma, ends with omega. And so Martin West had a guest at
entrusting them to an old carer, to a. The trouble is that actually, the trace here before the omega
can’t possibly be an eye. And an Italian scholar,
Franco Ferrari, suggested in sound, instead these two [FOREIGN]
Sending them beyond the borders of this land with a carer,
with a nurse. And that does fit their traces. And it’s slightly odd wording but it’s, nobody can think of
anything else that fits. So what we have is sending them outside
the land and trusting them to a carer. So in this play, which is almost certainly
Carcinus, Medea has not killed her children, on the contrary she’s sent them
abroad to a safe place under supervision. And it’s clear enough that this plot
is a response to Euripides, but with the major countermove of having
Medea do her best to rescue her children instead of killing them. So she’s not done the very thing that
Euripides had made into her hallmark. So now the scene’s set for
the last vase painting. First published by the great
AD Trendall in 1984, it’s in the University Museum
of Princeton. And there are in fact two inscribed
labels on it, two inscriptions, one here, and one here. But it’s worth asking what could
we infer just from looking at it? It’s another of these from the same
period of the height of the south Italian Greek vase paintings,
the 340s, 330s, actually probably by the same painter as one of the earlier
ones, the great Darius Painter. And these are big, they stand this high. If you go to the University Museum in
Princeton, they’ve got it very nicely up on the wall at a height where you can
see it and it’s in a great big case. What could you infer
just by looking at it? Well you might infer, up here from
the top right we have Demeter and Kore, Demeter and her daughter. And there’s a lot of these cross torches, now that tells people,
tells us that this is Eleusis, the great Sanctuary of Demeter
in Attica to the west of Athens, and that location is actually confirmed
by the highly unusual inscription. There by the way,
here is Athens, here is Corinth, here is the now,
there is the [LAUGH] modern motorway. In ancient times it was actually
a rather difficult journey, it involved particularly nasty bits of
cliff and coast here around Megara. But there is Eleusis, so
you see how Eleusis is on the coast in Attica where the old
road goes over to Thebes. And here is Corinth down here. Can you see Eleusis [FOREIGN],
this is Eleusis the shrine, the famous cult site of the mysteries. It’s actually some 14 miles west of
Athens, on the road towards Corinth, and Corinth is another 37
miles along that road. [COUGH] Then,
sorry I’m going to have to go back. There’s also some kind of victory for Athena because there is Athena
being crowned with victory, and Heracles at the bottom
right is also involved. Now this little old man in the shrine
he’s a type who often crops up in vases of this period and usually, if not always,
with tragic associations and he is a paidagogos,
a pedagogue, a male carer. Girls have their nurse,
their female trophos, and boys have their male trophos,
their paidagogos. It’s pretty unusual though for
him to have a traveling hat, there’s his hat, he’s been on a journey. And I can’t recall any other vases
where the little old man figure, the paidagogos figure,
is as prominent as he is here. So this central sacred building with
Eleusis [FOREIGN] here, the Eleusis, the temple on this lintel, is occupied
by conversation between him and a serious looking woman. Now we surely could never in a month of
Sundays have guessed who that woman is were it not that she is identified
by an inscription beneath her feet. And you will have guessed
what the inscription says, it’s actually very difficult to read,
but it says Medea. And this was in the Getty exhibition in 2010 and at that I was able
to look at it really closely. And actually you can, even here you
might be able to sort of see the E-I-A. So here we have Medea in the shrine
at Eleusis with a little old man. [COUGH] There’s an excellent article about this
vase in 2007 by Luca Giuliani and Glen Most, and they convincingly
argue that the two boys at the altar, these two boys on an altar beneath
the scene here, must be the sons of Medea. And then what we have here is a version
of the myth as told in a tragedy, where far from killing them Medea has rescued
them from the vengeful Corinthians and got them away to Eleusis. And there with the help of Heracles and the protection of Athena in her city,
she succeeds in saving their lives and the old paidagogos evidently played
an important role in this adventure. Right now, Most and Giuliani write,
I quote, we have no evidence about who the author is to whose
play this vase seems to make reference. But in saying that, they had overlooked
the Aristotle passage that shows that in Carcinus’ Medea she saved, or at least tried to save her
children by sending them away. And now the Louvre papyrus
adds that in Carcinus she entrusted them to a trophos, to a carer. [COUGH] Now when this first clicked
with me I thought carer, tropho, entrusting them to an old male carer,
perfect, that fits beautifully. But as one has to concede,
it doesn’t fit the traces of the ink so it’s not carer, it’s not an old carer. But I can now see that actually [FOREIGN],
sending them outside the country, sending them beyond the borders of
the land, is actually even better. It means she didn’t send them to the local
sanctuary of Hera as has been supposed, she sent them right away from Corinth. [COUGH] Excuse me. Now we already knew that Carcinus had
changed the key event of Euripides’ story by having Medea do her best to protect
the sons from danger at Corinth. If you’re persuaded by this
combination of the Louvre papyrus with the Princeton vase, then we can now add
that she got them safely to Eleusis, with the help of their loyal old carer,
and that they were protected as
suppliants by the city of Athens. Well it’s a speculation, but I won’t
deny that I’m pretty pleased with that idea which is, and it’s recent enough for
me to know that nobody else has said it.>>[LAUGH]
>>If it’s wrong, well that’s not a disaster. If it’s wrong, than we have two more
variant Medeas instead of one more variant Medea, a third one on the vase and
a third one in the literary sources. If it’s right, then it may have
crossed your mind that this Carcinus Medea would have involved
a change of scene from Corinth to Eleusis, because the papyrus is
clearly set in Corinth and the rescue of the boys is
clearly set in Eleusis. Now changes I’ve seen are very
rare in 5th century tragedy, but I think in the 4th century when
the course was less fixed and less integral,
they may well have been more acceptable. Well in conclusion Greek myths were
not fixed, so don’t believe anyone who says they knew the story already
it was totally fixed and immutable. They were extremely flexible,
they were extremely variable, and open to innovation. And the Medea myth, as we’ve seen, was revolutionized by the great
unsettling play of Euripides and that could produce in one
direction a retelling which has made Medea protect her children
instead of kill her children. In the other direction, in the reception
of Euripides’ play by Delacroix, it even takes her away from the domestic
setting of the play Into this savage cave. And it even bares her breasts, not as a symbol of motherhood and
of nurture, but so that she has more freedom of
movement to strike her little boys. So as Celine says in Before Midnight it
is a Greek myth, but as Jesse then says, he’s right to qualify her,
actually a play by Euripides but, he’s then interrupted, I’d like to know
what he was gonna say after that but. Thank you.>>[APPLAUSE]
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4 Replies to “Medea’s Swerving Flight through Art and Literature

  1. Fascinating lecture demonstrating how Greek myths, particularly of Medea, were flexible and innovative (to use Professor Taplin's words) over time. The use of pottery to illustrate his examples was particularly interesting.

  2. 18:13 He's wrong. In Christa Wolf's version the people of Corinth murder Medea's children. That's a major variation.

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