Wednesday, November 9, 2016

President Trump


The United States of America - the nation that helped lead the world in the war against fascism, the nation that landed a man on the moon and brought him safely home, the nation claimed by Democrats and Republicans as the fabled shining City Upon a Hill - is now the nation that elected Donald J. Trump as our 45th president. We did it, and we can hardly be surprised that the rest of the world is staring at us with shock and disbelief.

There's no point is counting down the litany of unhinged things Trump said throughout the campaign (though one comes to mind: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters"). No honest observer of this national trainwreck can say that we were fooled in this election. Ignoring precedent, the pundits, and his own advisors, Trump - President-elect Trump, I mean - promised to bring the whole system down. And I am confident that he can deliver.


And yet I'm still horrified. I remember sometime last night, when Stephen Colbert's comedic coverage of the election became a national dirge, I nearly spit out a mouthful of scotch while exclaiming, "Oh my God, the Supreme Court!" Yep, this guy will select the next two or three (or more!) justices who will shape the law of the land for generations to come. He's also the guy who pledged to deport 11 million immigrants, build a wall on our southern border, prosecute Hillary Clinton, dismantle Obamacare, and defeat whoever's winning the "War on Christmas." This is the same guy who after being caught on tape bragging about his ability to grope women dismissed the ensuing furor as "just words."

Well, he said those words, loud and clear. We listened and we elected him anyway.

I imagine that political junkies around the country are looking up that alleged Pauline Kael quotation: "None of my friends voted for him!". She didn't actually utter those words, but never mind. I can honestly say, I don't have a close friend who will admit to voting for Trump, which says a lot about me and a lot about the country. In my benumbed sadness, I'm tempted to put David Bowie's This is Not America on repeat for the rest of the day, for the rest of the year maybe. But doing so would merely demonstrate the provincialism of that apocryphal Kael quotation and my own failure to see what has been in front of my face for the past two years.

This is America. We elected Donald J. Trump as our next president. And now we face the consequences.


Trump image from Wonkette • "I am going to eat you" (by Paul Noth) from The New Yorker • Electorial map from The New York Times.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Yo, Alcibiades

This pseudo-script presents a tongue-in-cheek study guide that draws from translations by Michael Joyce, Alexander Nehemas, Paul Woodruff, and David M. Johnson. It should be noted that Plato’s Symposium outlines a discussion of competing definitions of love and includes a frank preference for pederasty among its participants that may surprise or even upset modern readers.

The players

Agathon: a playwright whose house is the setting of Plato’s Symposium

Alcibiades [all-si-BI-a-deez]: a drunken playboy general (and would-be lover of Socrates)

Aristodemus [air-is-to-DEE-mus]: a young lover of Socrates

Aristophanes [air-is-STOF-an-ees]: a comedic playwright known for mocking Socrates in The Clouds

Diotima [di-o-TEE-ma]: fictional character who teaches Socrates the nature of love

Eryximachus [er-ik-SIM-i-kus]: a doctor known for his overly technical style of conversation

Narrator: the teller of the tale

Pausanias [pow-SEEN-ee-us]: a longtime lover of Agathon and practitioner of the Sophistic arts.

Phaedrus [FEE-drus]: an aristocrat

Servant: a worker in Agathon’s house

Socrates: a philosopher renowned for his sharp wit and search for truth

Narrator: You know, a lot of folks imagine that philosophers just sit around thinking abstract thoughts and scribbling incomprehensible musings. Sure, they may get together for meetings called “symposia” to discuss their ideas, but those gatherings must be pretty boring, right? Well, they're not! In fact, most philosophers are pretty much like most of us. They even go to parties and drink with their friends. In fact, back in classical-era Athens, a “symposium” was really just a fancy name for a drinking party. And sometimes those symposia become the stuff of legend. That’s how this story begins, with a legendary party.

Well, technically it begins with a question about that party when a fellow named Apollodorus is asked to tell the tale of the famous symposium when Socrates, Alcibiades, and their friends debated the nature of love. Now, this party happened years ago, back when Apollodorus was a kid; he wasn’t there (and he doesn’t actually appear in the interesting part of this dialogue). But Apollodorus heard the story from someone who was there – and that guy’s name was Aristodemus. So, we begin on a dusty street in Athens when Aristodemus bumps into Socrates.

Aristodemus: Dude. Did you – did you just bathe?

Socrates: I know, right? And I’m wearing my fancy sandals too.

Aristodemus: What for?

Socrates: For a party, dude! You see Agathon the Playwright just won an award for one of his tragedies. I skipped yesterday’s festivities, but I couldn’t miss out on tonight’s party. Wanna come?

Aristodemus: Well, I’m no philosopher, not like you guys at least. But I’m happy to come as your guest.  

Narrator: Socrates and Aristodemus walk together toward the party – but Socrates, being Socrates, loses himself in thought and falls behind, leaving for Aristodemus to enter the house of Agathon alone.

Agathon: Aristodemus! You made it! I tried to send you an invite, but your email kept bouncing. No matter, you’re here and you’re staying! Now, I know you’re always sniffing around Socrates’s tunic, so I figure you’d know: where is the old fellow?

Servant: He’s on the neighbor’s porch, sir. Just staring into space.

Agathon: Well bring him here!

Aristodemus: No, don’t do that. Just let him be. He’ll wander in eventually.

Agathon: Um, OK. In the meantime, “servant,” why don’t you lay out the party platters? Pretend it’s your house and we’re your guests.

Servant [in droll sarcasm]: Oh, like a game. How fun for us.

Agathon: I know, right? Yet, it’d be a lot more fun if Socrates were here.

Socrates: Did someone say my name?

Everyone [other than Socrates]: Socrates!

Agathon: Late as usual but here at last. Come, sit by me and share some of your wisdom.

Socrates: Oh, I have no wisdom to share. It is I who would be fortunate to borrow some of your fame. Congrats on the prize, by the way.

Andy at Theatre of Dionysus
Agathon: Ah, the beloved Socratic sarcasm. You’ll never regret that sharp tongue of yours, I’m sure.

Eryximachus: Well now that we’re all here, and presuming that we don’t want to get sloshed like we did last night – I’m looking at you, Agathon – I say we dedicate this evening to a discussion about a surprisingly neglected topic: Eros, the god of love. Like, we’ll each take turns, summarizing our thoughts about the topic. And since it was Phaedrus who gave me this idea, he can speak first.  

Phaedrus [Clears his throat]: OK, let’s begin with the most obvious truth. Eros is old. Like, really old. And his love is what binds us together into society. For when an old man loves a young man, he acts heroically, lest he loses that love. And a young man naturally wants to impress his elder. Oh, if only we could create an army of soldiers bound together by their love for each other! This even applies to women – though we know what we’re talking about here, just us guys. Like, remember Achilles and Patroclus? Yeah, an army of lovers like those two could conquer the world. Let me add, though, that Achilles was younger than Patroclus. So his sacrifice was especially gallant! Anyway, that’s how love works: it inspires heroism, which unites men into something greater than themselves.
Pausanias: You paint a pretty picture, Phaedrus. But you risk confusing us since there are actually two kinds of love: an earthly love and a heavenly love. In this sense, love has no intrinsic meaning; it’s what we do with it, and why, that counts. Thus if we are motivated by earthly love, we do things that feel good – sex with women comes to mind – but for vulgar reasons. If we are motivated by heavenly love, though, we leave the women at home. Oh, we might marry a woman, and we might feel some sort of earthly love for her, but we truly love a young man. He can’t be too young, though; it’s wrong to take a child-lover – but a fellow whose beard is starting to grow, he’s fair game.

In fact, look at some of the other cities of Greece, where they fail to distinguish between noble love for young men and ignoble love for little boys. A disgrace. Almost as bad as those tyrants of Persia – or here in Athens, not too long ago – that tried to banish all sorts of personal attachment. No, love is good and necessary, so long as we strive for heavenly love. When we do, we are allowed to debase ourselves in ways that would never be tolerable if our motives weren't pure – so long as our goal is not the transitory flesh but rather the immortal soul. In this higher case, when an older man takes a younger man for his lover, he seeks first to improve his charge, just as his lover hopes to improve himself. These lovers, whose attractions to each other are shaped by virtue, not lust, are the foundations of a just city.

Eryximachus: Well, it’s Aristophanes’s turn. But he’s got the hiccups. So I’ll speak in his place. Now, we can all agree that Pausanias started well with his distinction between two types of love. Problem is, he failed to finish his analysis. His problem is a failure to approach the question as I can, as a physician. In my line of work, we are not concerned so much with actions or motives but with balance to the body. It’s like when that ancient philosopher Heraclitus described harmony as the balance of high notes and low notes. We doctors seek that sort of harmony in the body, which we call “temperance.” That’s why, for example, we counsel our patients not to eat too much or too little but instead to enjoy a balanced diet. That balance is the result of heavenly love, a pious love. Earthly love, in contrast, leads to chaos. So there’s your answer. And now Aristophanes, now that your hiccups appear to have resolved themselves – no doubt thanks to my verbal ministrations – you may say whatever you wish.
Aristophanes: Don’t mind if I do, and not a minute too soon, since you all have missed the point. You speak about human institutions, but you know nothing of human nature. Now you’ll surely dismiss me as a jokester, but I’m telling the truth when I explain how love really works. Originally our race was composed of not two sexes but three: men, women, and people we might term “androgynous.” All of us were shaped differently than we are now; we were circular, composed of two halves, each with its own set of arms and legs. “Males” had two sets of male sex organs, “females” had two sets of female sex organs, and androgynous people had both male and female sex organs. It sounds strange, but we got along OK. In fact, when we turned cartwheels, we could run pretty fast! But the gods, being gods, meddled with us and split each of us in two. The results were, as you could imagine, pretty bloody and uncomfortable. So Apollo stitched us up and Zeus moved our private parts to our fronts so that we could have sex as we do now.

Even so, we constantly sense that awful divide, the feeling of being split from our other halves. So androgynous people, once both men and women, seek after their kind, with men searching for women and women searching for men. Those who were originally all men, though, search for other men. And those where were all women – well, they search for other women. While the androgynous types are less virtuous than pure men and pure women, their form of sex really comes in handy for reproduction. Still, the best of us, our leaders, prefer the company of their own – even when they engage in heterosexual intercourse for practical or social reasons. In any case, “love” is the desire to return to our original state, to be joined once more with those who have been parted from us. And so far as we revere Eros and the other gods, we might yet enjoy that happy day.

Eryximachus: That was… interesting. I’m sure Agathon and Socrates can’t wait to follow your act.

Socrates: Hardly. In fact, I’m afraid to follow Agathon. His speech will surely be amazing.

Agathon: I see what you’re up to, Socrates: Raising the stakes so that I’ll get flustered.

Socrates: But you’ve stood on stage before huge popular audiences!

Agathon: Which you think I’ll confuse with this smaller, more refined group?

Socrates: Well, perhaps we should define our terms, maybe by comparing and contrasting “popular” and “refined.”

Phaedrus: Oh no you don’t, Socrates. We’re not going down that rabbit hole. Just deliver your speech, Agathon.

Agathon: OK, fair enough. Of course, inspired by Socrates, we should define our terms – which means some clarification for Phaedrus: Eros is not old. Actually, he’s the youngest of the gods, which means that any actions that have been attributed to Love before he arrived on the scene were actually caused by Necessity. Moreover, Eros is delicate and flexible, not hard and consistent. That way, he can dwell in our hearts, so long as they are soft and yielding. And finally, love being the epitome of beauty, is only drawn to beauty, never to ugliness.

From this, we may assert that Eros possesses all four cardinal virtues. He is, first of all, just. He does not force his way but rather bends to those who bend to him. He is also moderate, in that he possesses more power than any lower forms of pleasure and therefore governs them. He is the height of courage, in that no one can boast bravery that does not have love. Finally, he epitomizes wisdom, for with the power of love, anyone, no matter how uncultured, may become a poet. He is, in short, “the most beautiful and...” – with all due respect to Eryximachus who understandably reveres his own profession – “the best.”

Socrates: See? I told you Agathon would astound us with his verbal gymnastics. And me, simply trying to answer the question, “what is love,” how can I hope to compare to those who can weave such delights with their clever words, no matter how true or false they may be? So, as you’d imagine, I prefer another tack. Rather than present yet another speech, let me ask Agathon some questions.

Phaedrus: Oh, here we go.

Socrates: OK, Agathon, let’s begin: Is Love a love of something?

Agathon: Well… yeah.

Socrates: Right. And is that love of something a need for that thing?  

Agathon: I… I guess so.

Socrates: All right, let’s put it another way. [Asking in a professorial tone] Does the god of love possess the thing that it desires?

Agathon: Um, no.

Socrates: Right. When we possess a thing, we don’t desire it now. Instead, we desire its continued possession in the future, which, by definition, we do not have. But do you see the conundrum you’ve created for yourself?

Agathon: I’m sure you’ll tell me.

Socrates: Presently. You see, if the god of love loves beauty, he does not possess it.

Agathon: Uh huh…

Socrates: Then by your definition, the god of love can hardly be beautiful.

Agathon: OK.

Socrates: And what about good things? Are they not, by definition, beautiful?

Agathon: I see where you’re going here. So, yes, of course, they are.

Socrates: Then by our entirely correct and unbreakable chain of reasoning, your god of love can neither possess the beautiful or the good.

Agathon [Huffs in frustration]: Once more I am ensnared by your logic.

Socrates: It’s not my logic that traps you, my dear Agathon; it’s the truth. Me, I’m as weak as a kitten.

Agathon: Uh huh.

Socrates: Don’t feel so bad. Once I was as clueless as you until I met a woman named Diotima who taught me the truth about love. You see, I offered an argument just like yours to her, and she trapped me the same way I trapped you.

Narrator: At this point, Socrates offers his own dialogue, a conversation between himself and Diotima who, as it turns out, was likely a dream rather than an actual person.

Socrates: OK, Diotima. If Love is neither beautiful nor good, does it follow that Love is ugly and bad?

Diotima: Why are you such an absolutist? Can’t Love be somewhere in between?

Socrates: I suppose so.

Diotima: From this reasoning, we might further propose that Love is neither god nor man, that he is also somewhere in between.

Socrates: What, what?

Diotima: Your words, dude. You said that to love something is to desire it. And to desire something is not to possess it. Yet you’d hardly argue that gods fail to possess beautiful and good things, which must mean that Love is not a god.

Socrates: So, he’s a duck?

Diotima [patiently, not rising to Socrates’s frustration]: No, you silly goose. I’m just saying that Love is something between god and mortal; he’s a spirit through which gods and men commune. He’s a mediator.

Socrates: So, who are his parents?

Diotima: The parents of Love are Resourcefulness and Need, always searching for the beautiful and the good but never quite finding it. And that’s how Love works with people; he represents the mortal desire for something that cannot be possessed. See, that’s where folks who wax eloquently about “soul mates” have it entirely wrong. Lovers, real lovers, do not desire some other person; they desire something greater.  

Socrates: So far, so good.

Diotima: All right, moving on: Do we desire this greater thing forever? Or do we desire greatness for only a short time?

Socrates: Nope. We want it forever.

Diotima: And that brings us to reproduction.

Socrates: Now we’re talking!  

Diotima: Don’t be silly. I mean the concept of reproduction.

Socrates: Oh.

Diotima: Remember, I’m a figment of your imagination.

Socrates: Yeah, but –

Diotima: – A dream lover.  

Socrates: Yeah.

Diotima: Now stay with me. We cannot actually possess what we desire – the beautiful and the good – or else we would be gods. But with reproduction

Socrates: – We approach immortality!

Diotima: Exactly. Of course, there are different kinds of reproduction.

Socrates [with some frustration]: Of course there are.

Diotima [cheerfully]: Yes. There are those who seek to reproduce other people. And that’s a lovely thing. But the higher form of reproduction – the best form of sex – comes from trying to reproduce virtue, to bring it to life within another person.

Socrates: Um…

Diotima: To help, you might think of the varying types of love as steps on a ladder. On the first step, we are attracted to individual bodies whose appearances of beauty beguile us. But then we climb upward to seek after the form of beauty that is common to us all, despite its varied appearances. That’s the second step. Then we climb further upward, drawn not to bodies but to souls. That’s the third step. At this point, we care about someone’s virtues, not his looks.

But then we climb further still, less attracted to individual souls and more toward collective goods. The fourth step, then, leads us to the best public laws and customs – until we realize that even those are frail, human institutions. So we climb higher, seeking to understand the physical sciences, which transcend human practices. That’s the fifth step. Then we discover that our scientific observations, no matter how precise, limit us to material things; the truth does not fully reside there. So we climb the sixth step, where we search for the eternal reality revealed through philosophy. Only then we ascend to the seventh step, for philosophy is a lens; it is not the goal.

What we seek, ultimately, is “the good,” an endless, unchanging essence from which all forms and all things are born – and to which all people hope to return. That kind of coming and going, far more than human sex, is the key to eternal life.

Narrator: Having concluded his story, Socrates invites his friends to rejoin the conversation when, suddenly and with much cacophony, the playboy general Alcibiades and some of his drunken friends crash the party.


Alcibiades [hiccupping]: Good evening, gentlemen! [Hic!] As you can see [Hic!] I’m drunk.

Agathon: And entirely welcome to our party. Have a seat next to Socrates!

Alcibiades: Socrates?!? What are you doing here?

Socrates: Now, Agathon, you’d better protect me from Alcibiades. Since I’ve admitted my love for him, he’s shown himself to be insanely jealous.

Alcibiades: Oh, I’ll fix you later. In the meantime [Hic!] I think I’ll fix myself a drink. In fact, let’s all have a drink! Not that our drinking will affect our dear Socrates. He can drink all night and never gets drunk.

Eryximachus: Well if you’re going to drink with us, you should join our conversation. We’ve been discussing the nature of love – and it’s your turn to enlighten us.

Alcibiades: Oh, I could never praise anybody in front of Socrates. For I would be subject to his jealousy!

Eryximachus: Well why don’t you offer a speech in praise of Socrates then?

Alcibiades: That’s a great idea!

Socrates: Now hold on there –

Alcibiades: Don’t worry, I’ll only tell the truth. And if I don’t, you can interrupt me. But have some patience because, as I mentioned before [Hic!] I’m a little drunk. OK. To begin, I’ll need to paint a picture. Socrates, you see, is a flute player who casts spells with his instrument.

That being said, Socrates, your instrument isn’t a thing; it’s your felicity with words that you use to make fools of us all. You are, shall I say, the greatest of all Sophists. And you use your power to remind me that, despite my civic power, I remain a bad man. So I struggle not to hear you; I’d rather be dead than hear another one of your speeches. [Sighs in resignation] Yet I cannot ignore them.

Oh, friends, I know Socrates better than any one of you. I know how he plays this game of being ignorant when in fact he’s the wisest among us. And, boy, doesn’t he know it? On the outside he’s like us, chasing after beautiful young men. But inside, he’s stone cold, yo. He couldn’t care less about physical beauty.

So there I am, easily the most beautiful man in Athens, hoping he’ll have his way with me. Not too long ago, I practically threw myself at him. But would Socrates play his flute for me? Goodness knows, I was more than willing to play his flute for him. And when I offered myself, all Socrates did was remind me of that part in the Iliad when Diomedes traded his bronze armor for Glaucus’s gold. Hades, I got into bed with him one night, ready to dive deep into the waters of his philosophy. But when I awoke the next morning, I was dry as a bone.

It’s just like when we fought in the war together when all the other soldiers and cavalry were panicking; Socrates always kept his cool. So in this sense, I both praise and blame Socrates. He offers himself to us, appears to open himself right up, when in fact, he remains closed up tight, demanding that you pursue him! So stay away from him, Agathon, lest you suffer the same fate as I.

Socrates: Oh, Alcibiades, you clever lynx. You claim to be drunk but you’re sober enough to make your point. And now you try to separate me from Agathon, to have me for yourself. Or perhaps you want Agathon –

Alcibiades: Or perhaps you both!

Narrator: The conversation drifted along these lines for a while until another drunken group joined the party. Eventually, most folks drifted off, leaving Socrates, Agathon, and Aristophanes talking throughout the night about the potential for one man to write both tragic and comic poetry. The next morning, Socrates departed – with Aristodemus following close enough to clutch his tunic – leaving his sleeping friends behind.

[Images: Symposium drinking feast: Paestum [website] • Andy at Theatre of Dionysus: Photograph by Jenny Wood • Bertel Thorvaldsen (1823) Cupid Received by Anacreon, Winter: image from Wikipedia • Androgyne [Greek amphora detail]: image from Aquileana [blog] • Sokrates (ca. 250 CE) copy [on a separate herm] in Vatican Museums: Photograph by Andrew F. Wood • Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1816) Socrates and Alcibiades]

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pseudo Scripts

Here's a list of the pseudo scripts I've written. More are coming!

• Yo, Achilles

• Yo, Alcibiades [based on Plato's Symposium]

• Yo, Agamemnon

• Yo, Antigone

• Yo, Candide

• Yo, Euthyphro

• Yo, Medea

• Yo, Phaedrus

• Yo, Socrates [based on Plato's Apology]

• Yo, Tartuffe

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Yo, Antigone

Nikiforos Lytras, Antigone in front of the dead Polyneices
(image from Wikipedia) 
Time for another pseudo-script. This time, we're reading Sophocles's Antigone, the story of a king and a young woman whose battle of values - duty to the state versus duty to the gods - leads to a bloody end.

Antigone: Have you heard what uncle Kreon just announced?

Ismene: Since our brothers Polyneikes and Eteokles killed themselves in battle? No. I’ve kind of been concentrating on that, you know, the bloodbath. But you seem pretty mad about something.

Antigone: Pretty mad? Yeah, you could say that. Uncle Kreon has allowed faithful Eteokles a proper burial but ordered that Polyneikes be abandoned to the vultures. Can you believe that? Anyone who offers Polyneikes a proper burial will get stoned!

Ismene: California stoned? Like, with Doritos?

Antigone: No, Theban stoned. Like, with pain.  

Ismene: Bummer.

Antigone: No, opportunity – to do the right thing!

Ismene: But it’s a man’s world, sister! We can’t defy whoever’s in charge. 

Antigone: But the gods are in charge, not men. And I will serve them, alone apparently. 

Ismene: Well at least tell me what you’re planning. Of course I’ll keep it a secret.

Antigone: Shout it from the rooftops for all I care!

Ismene: See? That’s what I’ve been saying all along. You’re such a drama queen. You don’t care about Polyneikes; you want to be the star of your own reality show.

Narrator: Antigone departs in a huff. A chorus of elders enters singing in celebration for the Theban victory over the invading Argives and commemorating the victory of Kreon, who has seized the throne and (once more) proclaimed himself king.

Kreon: The ship of our state has survived some vicious waves, but we remain afloat. And now, as your captain, I will steer our course to calm waters. But first let me remind you: to faithful Eteokles, we all shall offer our love and respect. But to his brother Polyneikes, who stood with the seven against Thebes, there shall be no rest. We leave his body to the dogs. And anyone who has a problem with that can die with him.

Narrator: A guard races in with bad news.

Guard: First, I didn’t do it.

Kreon: Do what?

Guard: And second, I have no idea who did do it.

Kreon: Do what?!?

Guard: Um, honor Polyneikes with funeral rites.

Kreon: Honor Polyneikes?

Guard: I know, right? And imagine how I feel, being the poor sap who has to tell you!

Chorus Leader: Say, King, before we blame the guards, might we not consider the possibility that the gods did this?

Kreon: Gods? Gods buried that traitor? Like the gods have nothing else to do but climb down from Mount Olympus and meddle with… OK, I see your point. But still, no, this wasn’t about gods; this was about money. As in, someone paid the sentries off and did this dirty deed. So you, Guard, tell your men: Someone had better come clean and deliver the scoundrel who disobeyed me, or else!

Guard: You… you seem sad, my lord.

Kreon: And you seem like a guy begging to get speared.

Guard: I see your point.

Narrator: The guard departs and the Theban elders sing about the plight of humankind who, for all of our talents has yet to conquer death, and who, despite all our laws and best intentions, is easily corrupted. Later the guard returns, bringing Antigone before the king.

Guard: I’m back, and I brought a friend! This is the woman you’re after; she’s the one we caught burying the rebel Polyneikes.

Kreon: Antigone, is this true?

Antigone: You’re damned right it is.

Kreon: OK, Guard, you’re forgiven. Now, Antigone, perhaps you didn’t know that I’d made some remarks on this topic – offered some, shall we say, helpful hints about how we should treat the traitorous Polyneikes.

Antigone: Oh, I heard about your law, Mr. Man, but I also heard about the laws of the gods. And those laws don’t allow us to leave corpses out to rot.

Kreon: Now that’s just insolence, pure and simple. Of course that’s your nature, I suppose. And for that, you’ve got to die. And your sister too. She probably helped.

Antigone: Oh, fearful king, oh dreadful king: Am I supposed to beg your forgiveness now? Not gonna happen! I’m not afraid to say the truth, yo. We all know you’re wrong. Right?

Narrator: Everyone stares in silence.

Antigone: Typical. Anyway. I’m not afraid to die for what I know to be right.

Kreon: That can be arranged!

Narrator: Ismene returns.

Ismene: I helped! I was happy to help bury Polyneikes. Heck, it was my idea from the beginning! So I’m happy to die with my sister.

Antigone: Hold on there, sister. You had nothing to do with this. Don’t try to take credit now for my bravery.

Kreon: Curse me sideways; of course it had to be two women.

Ismene: And might I add, Antigone is engaged to your son Haimon. Are you sure you want her to die?

Kreon: Oh, Haimon will be OK. There are always other fields to plow.

Everyone other than Kreon: Ewwwww.

Narrator: The Theban elders sing about the ways in which gods curse the children of those who commit evil, reminding their listeners that no evil deeds go unpunished. At this point Haimon arrives.

Kreon: Haimon, my son! I’m guessing you’ve heard that the wedding is, shall we say, off.

Haimon: You’re my dad, and I respect your wishes.

Kreon: That’s my boy! That’s what I’m talking about! Why can’t everyone in Thebes be like you? Sure, some folks try to get out of line, to break the rules. But you’ve got to hold firm:

“That’s how you handle them, son. Never give ‘em an inch, and maintain discipline at all times. Remember that word: discipline.”

Haimon: Yes, father. And naturally I agree with everything you say. Let me just add, though, that sometimes a king can be too strict; sometimes a leader, with the best of intentions of course, can err by ignoring the will of the people. And the people of our city, they don’t want Antigone to die. They honor her dedication. So – and again, while I totally agree with you – might you not just consider changing your mind?

Kreon: And why don’t you change your skirt! You’re acting just like a woman – or worse, the slave to a woman. Well, I won’t allow any woman or slave to dictate to me! You, guards, bring Antigone to me for summary execution. We’ll end this farce once and for all.

Haimon: I’m outta here.

Chorus Leader: King, is it possible, just possible that you’re taking this a bit too far?

Kreon: Nope, just about far enough. So here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna lock Antigone up in a cave. Let her virtue save her then. Or not, for all I care. Either way, we’ll leave her with some food, so that if she dies, it’s not my fault but rather the will of the gods.

Narrator: The Theban elders sing about the power of love, how it leads us sometimes to madness and hate. Then Kreon’s men bring Antigone to meet her fate.

Antigone: Can you believe this? I’m dressed for a wedding, only to be sent to my death. And all of you are happy to watch it happen.

Chorus Leader: Well, Antigone, you can take some pleasure knowing that you, unlike the rest of us you dismiss as sheep, go to your death willingly.

Antigone: Yeah, but my death will live on as a constant reminder to you all, reminding you to wake up, sheeple!

Chorus Leader: Just remember, this isn’t really about courage. Ultimately you’re paying the price for the sins of your parents.

Antigone: The whole Oedipus thing.

Chorus Leader: Yeah.

Antigone: And the whole brother-was-a-traitor-thing.

Chorus Leader: Yeah.

Antigone: And you know what’s crazy? I could avoid this whole mess! If my husband were dead, or my child, I could just get married or pop out another kid. But I can’t replace my brother with another one, like by going to a store and getting a spare. He’s the one brother I had; I had to honor him! And for that I must die. Where’s the justice in that?

Narrator: While Antigone is entombed, the Theban elders sing about other miserable folks who died in caves, noting how none could escape their fate. Then Tiresias, a blind prophet, enters the scene.

Tiresias: King, you’ve got to call this thing off. You can’t entomb Antigone. The gods won’t allow it! Already they are refusing our offerings. And it’s all because of your stubbornness!

Kreon: Oh, Tiresias, go peddle your prophecies somewhere else. I’m not buying.  

Tiresias: I’m not selling; I’m telling. Stay on this path and your children will pay the price.

Narrator: Tiresias departs.

Chorus Leader: Wow.

Kreon: Yeah, wow.

Chorus Leader: So you’re going to give in?

Kreon: Um, yeah. That guy really freaked me out.

Narrator: The Theban elders call for Dionysus to heal Thebes. Then a Messenger arrives and delivers bad news to Kreon’s wife, Eurydike.

Messenger: Yeah, so your son’s dead. See, King Kreon went to bury Polyneikes at last, after clearing away the dogs and vultures tearing at his corpse. Then they went to free Antigone from the cave where she’d been entombed. But too late. She’d hanged herself. And when Haimon saw what had happened, he tried to kill the king and then ended up stabbing himself, spurting his blood all over his bride. So now Antigone and Haimon are married, sort of. In Hades, yes, but married all the same. And dead.

Narrator: Eurydike departs without saying a word.

Chorus Leader: Well that was… unexpected.

Narrator: Kreon returns, bearing the corpse of his son.

Kreon: Well, I guess I’ve learned my lesson.

Messenger: Not quite.

Kreon: Um…

Messenger: Yeah, your wife just killed herself. But she did leave you a parting curse. So, there’s that.

Kreon: Wow. Those gods don’t mess around.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Belfast Murals


During my summer travels in Scotland and Ireland, attending the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and exploring the landmarks (and pubs) of Dublin, I caught a two-hour train ride to Belfast. My goal was to wander the streets in search of murals commemorating The Troubles, that period of conflict between (mostly) Protestant Loyalist/Unionists and (mostly) Catholic Republican/Nationalists that produced spasms of violence in the form of bombings, kidnappings, torture, and inhumane prison conditions. While the bloodshed largely ceased after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, tension remains.


My colleague Matt Spangler advised me to avoid crossing the Peace Lines that still divide Unionist and Nationalist sides [see map], recommending that I treat those domains as spokes of a wheel by returning to the town center before passing into each neighborhood. While his advice was undoubtedly sound, I was simply too amazed by the prospect of walking through one of the few “interface structures” that allow passage between the districts. The portals were not staffed during my visit - though the checkpoints are closed during marching season when opposing sides parade near and through each other’s neighborhoods.

 

I shot those photos on August 14, 2016, between Crumlin and Shankill Roads (on the Loyalist/Unionist side) and along Falls Road (on the Republican/Nationalist side).

















Saturday, August 27, 2016

Europe 2016

Here are some memories from my Summer '16 European adventures: teaching in Jyväskylä, rediscovering old haunts in Rota, searching for a decent absinthe in Paris, exploring the fringe of Edinburgh, and sipping pints in Dublin...

• Finland: Geisha chocolate

• Finland: Tango Finlandia

• Finland: Two nice things

• Spain: One day in Rota

• Spain: Missing batteries in Barcelona

• France: Parisian drizzle

• Scotland: Wandering Edinburgh

• Scotland: "That’s not the one you want"

• Scotland: First Fringe

• Scotland: Wrecked

• Scotland: Plunging further into the Fringe

• Scotland: Bad Shakespeare

• Scotland: Vivaldi for Breakfast

• Scotland: Trumpageddon

• Scotland: Trainspotting

• Ireland: Dublin

• Ireland: Belfast murals

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ireland: Belfast

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.


Four hours of hiking through Republican and Loyalist sides of Belfast. And despite some good advice, I crossed one of the "Peace line" transit points without going back to the center of town. So many murals, so many chance discoveries, and even a parade complete with Bobby Sands flags and grim faced elderly marchers for whom "the Troubles" were no mere historical period. But, wow, are my dogs barking. So you can imagine my delight when I find a place that serves Guinness, free wifi, and comfy chairs! That's where I am right now... I think I'll sit, enjoy the accordion music, and have a pint or two.