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Sententia Cotidiana VII

Someone once asked me, ‘which literature from the ancient world do you think best illustrates the relevance of Classics?’ I remember all of the following thoughts rushing through my mind: first, I thought of my beloved historiography and how applicable I felt some of their approaches to explanation still were; but would this necessarily be the one clearest to a modern audience? What do we mean by relevant? Still worth studying? Containing messages relevant for our lives nowadays? is ‘relevance’ deeply personal in this case, for a text that speaks to one person may not to another. I think this question is best answered by asking oneself, which literature from the ancient world will most likely draw the reaction, ‘gosh, that’s just the same as us’, or ‘I understand how they feel’. Taken this way, I could give only one answer – Greek Tragedy. Yes, people might find supernatural bulls called up by angry demi-gods (Hippolytus), gods or goddesses who suddenly appear and announce it will all be ok silly and laughable. But strip these away and Greek tragedy is essentially human tragedy, giving a raw display of emotions and motivations, with which we can all still identify:

  • · Wanting revenge (Agamemnon, Medea, Hecabe, and many more)

  • · Jealousy and envy (Medea, Andromache)

  • · Passionate pursuit of action when we believe something wrong (Antigone)

  • · Regret and shame (Oedipus, perhaps not for the same reasons)

  • · Fear (all the time)

  • · Struggle to oppress a feeling we feel guilty about (Hippolytus)

  • · Anger at being humiliated (though hopefully with a little less murderous intent than Ajax).

And I could go on. Has the tragedy of war as displayed in Euripides’ powerful Trojan Women really changed all that much?

My first Greek Tragedy was Medea. What will yours be?

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