Also Seen: Medea is as relevant today as it was in Ancient Greece

At a site called The Conversation, in medias res:

[…] Indeed, Medea’s situation bears a chilling resemblance to current research on maternal filicide. She’s been abandoned by her husband in a foreign land where she has no support network. Isolation, low social status, and stress have been cited as crucial factors in maternal infanticide both in humans and in primates. Medea’s motivation is a desire to punish her husband, a major category used by researchers investigating the background to such crimes. One research article even suggests that mothers are more likely to kill male children if their motivation is vengeance: Medea’s is, and her victims are both sons.

Not only are Medea’s actions psychologically realistic, but so is the way that other characters respond to them in the play. A research study from 2006 examined more than 250 news reports on maternal infanticide in the US to see how journalists present these cases. It concludes that women tend to be presented in over-simplistic terms, either as being driven to insanity due to caring so much, or as fundamentally heartless. At the start of the play, Medea screams hysterically off-stage. At the same time, her nurse describes her as incapable of controlling her emotions due to deep grief. […]

Reconstructing European Climate from Ancient Drama?

This is one of those things that might raise an eyebrow. Here’s the summary in PhysOrg:

The open air plays of the ancient Greeks may offer us a valuable insight into the Mediterranean climate of the time, reports new research in Weather. Using historical observations from artwork and plays, scientists identified ‘halcyon days’, of theatre friendly weather in mid-winter.

“We explored the weather conditions which enabled the Athenians of the classical era to watch theatre performances in open theatres during the midwinter weather conditions,” said Christina Chronopoulou, from the National and Kapodestrian University of Athens. “We aimed to do so by gathering and interpreting information from the classical plays of Greek drama from 5th and 4th centuries B.C.”

Ancient Athenians would enjoy the open theatre of Dionysus in the southern foothills of the Acropolis and when possible they would have watched drama in the middle of winter between 15 January and 15 February.

From Second World War bombing raids, to medieval Arabic writings historians and climatologists continue to turn to surprising sources to help piece together the climate of our ancestors. In this case the team turned to the writings of 43 plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes and several were found to contain references about the weather. Greece enjoys long, hot, dry summers, yet in contrast the rare theatre friendly ‘halcyon days’ of clear, sunny weather during winter appeared to be especially noteworthy.

“The comedies of Aristophanes, often invoke the presence of the halcyon days,” concluded said Dr. Chronopoulou. “Combining the fact that dramatic contests were held in mid-winter without any indication of postponement, and references from the dramas about the clear weather and mild winters, we can assume that those particular days of almost every January were summery in the fifth and maybe in the fourth centuries BC.”

So I read all that and say to myself, “Shirley (don’t call me Shirley) they can’t be suggesting that just because a drama is put on in a winter and a character mentions the weather, that is an indication of the weather at the time?” Meanwhile, despite the dead link at PhysOrg, it is interesting that there is an “enhanced” html version of the article available online:

Ancient Greek drama as an eyewitness of a specific meteorological phenomenon: indication of stability of the Halcyon days - (Weather – Wiley Online Library)

… check this out; inter alia on halcyon days:

The Halcyon days, a phenomenon also observed nowadays, has its origins in an ancient myth. According to one version, the goddess Halcyon, daughter of Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, insults Zeus and Hera. So, the father of gods transformed her into a bird and condemned her to lay her eggs only in the mid-winter. Consequently, the little birds were hardly able to survive. Crying and praying endlessly, Halcyon managed to make Zeus feel pity for her and so he decided to give her 14 days of good and calm weather in mid-January in order to lay her eggs in security. The Halcyon days were named after this Greek myth, and in Aristotle’s Histories about animals (p. 5.8; 350 BC) he writes The halcyon breeds at the season of the winter solstice. Accordingly, when this season is marked with calm weather, the name of “halcyon days” is given to the seven days preceding and to as many following the solstice (Wentworth Tompson, 2007).

So it’s a couple of weeks in January that are nice (in Ontario we refer to this as the “January Thaw” and we didn’t get it this year) … then we get the data sources:

The data sources are the classical dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, classical theatre of fifth and fourth centuries BC, which provide us with earlier information about historical weather than the geographers of the third century BC, and they act as ‘eyewitness’ accounts.

In those 43 plays – 7 by Aeschylus, 7 by Sophocles, 18 by Euripides and 11 by Aristophanes (Lesky, 1988) – we notice seven references with information about the weather in Athens from 458 BC until 401 BC, providing direct and indirect indications related to clear weather and the beneficial Halcyon days in mid-winter. The chronological order of the dramas studied is as follows: Aeschylus in Agamemnon 458 BC, Euripides in Medea 431 BC, Aristophanes in Acharnians 425 BC, Aristophanes in Birds 414 BC, Aristophanes in Frogs 405 BC, Sophocles in Oedipus in Colonus 401 BC. In the following we present fragments of Greek drama not in chronological order, but according to the volume of information provided.

… after a section on Athenian festivals, there is a bit about the Lenaia which is interesting:

Lenaia seemed to be the second most popular celebration after the City Dionysian festival. Famous plays, especially the following comedies by Aristophanes, won the first or second prize in the dramatic contests in Lenaia: Acharnians (425 BC) won first prize, Knights (425 BC) first prize, Wasps (422 BC) second prize and Frogs (405 BC) first prize, but there is no information about Lysistrata (411 BC) winning a prize.

Lenaia seemed to be the second most popular celebration after the City Dionysian festival. Famous plays, especially the following comedies by Aristophanes, won the first or second prize in the dramatic contests in Lenaia: Acharnians (425 BC) won first prize, Knights (425 BC) first prize, Wasps (422 BC) second prize and Frogs (405 BC) first prize, but there is no information about Lysistrata (411 BC) winning a prize. […]

It’s here that we enter a dangerous circularity. It’s warm enough to put on a drama during Gamelion (when the Lenaia were held). Any ‘weather talk’ in the plays that suggest it was warm is evidence that it is. So here’s the conclusion:

The comedies of Aristophanes, especially those presented in Lenaia, often invoke the presence of the Halcyon days. Combining the fact that dramatic contests were held in mid-winter without any indication of postponement, and references from the dramas about the clear weather and mild winters in Attica, we can assume that those particular days of almost every January were summery in the fifth and maybe in the fourth centuries BC. Information is also drawn from the paintings on vessels showing that the clothes worn in Lenaia and in the wedding ceremonies were not designed for rainy weather. All these references concern indications for the fifth century BC. We found no weather indications in the fourth century BC dramas, but dramatic contests continued to take place during that century, because Aristotle’s references to Lenaia were in the fourth century BC.

So far so good, even if the assumption there might be taking it a bit far (Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious. But it continues:

In addition it should be mentioned that the classical period, which the indications of meteorological weather stability concern, coincides with a time of significant cultural and philosophical development.

Whaaaaa? And the price of tea in China was?

In case you missed the link above:

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Classics Confidential: Nancy Rabinowitz on Greek Tragedy

A couple of interviews with Dr Rabinowitz … here’s the intro to the lengthy blurb for the first:

On the occasion of the Classical Reception Studies Network graduate workshop that they co-organised at the Institute of Classical Studies CC’s Anastasia Bakogianni talks to Nancy Rabinowitz, Professor of Comparative Literature at Hamilton College. They discuss their shared interest in the theme of war and the portrayal of women in Greek tragedy, theme of their workshop. […]

… and the intro to the second:

In the second interview with Professor Nancy Rabinowitz CC’s Anastasia Bakogianni asks her about her work teaching Greek tragedy in American prisons. The starting point for her was the desire to diversify the appeal of Greek tragedy by engaging with modern revivals of Greek tragedy and by taking these ancient dramas beyond the classroom. […]