Beginning in the End: Poetry of Greek Tragedy in Theo Angelopoulos's Ulysses' Gaze and the Weeping Meadow

Article excerpt

Introduction

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) considers "not only the best, but the most individual parts of" a poet's work "those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously" (48). In Eliot's idea "no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists" (49). This "historical sense," he contends, is related to the presence of the "tradition" of the past. What he calls "tradition," however, is more than something that could be inherited; one "must obtain it by great labor" (49). The past and consciousness of the past are of great significance and a poet "should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career" (52).

In this view "Greek tragedy" may be seen as a "tradition" that is still present today. This idea, however, is rejected by George Steiner, who, in The Death of Tragedy contends that the Greek form of tragedy can never be present in today's world, since modern man has lost those mytho-poetic references that were significant to the ancient Greeks: "The ancient is not a glove into which the modern can slip at will" (329). Steiner illustrates this by reviewing Eugene O'Neill's and T. S. Eliot's dramas as failed attempts. He further argues that these modern writers try to give "the classic fable a novel twist" (326) but the end result is, in O'Neill's case, "vandalism by sheer inadequacy of style" and, in Eliot's case, "stuffed ghosts" even with Eliot who has "tact and formal skill" (327).

This article demonstrates how Theo Angelopoulos (1935 - ) gives a new twist to Eliot's notion of the presence of the past in Ulysses' Gaze (1995) and The Weeping Meadow (2004). Viewed as the "creative helm of the New Greek Cinema" (Georgakas), Angelopoulos makes such an ample use of historical and mythical structures and elements of Greek tragedy that some critics tend to see him as a director who is after "re-presenting" or "modernizing" Greek tragedy. But a closer look at his films shows that he is in fact deconstructing the very idea of mythical destiny. He seems to be playing with mythology itself, going deep into the past in his wandering around the present and the future. In this way his films are historical, even if they narrate only the present. We shall illustrate in this article that Angelopoulos gives a new significance to what can be seen as the historical reality. In other words, we will argue that by highlighting such motifs as river, source/origin, home, and exile Angelopoulos poetizes history, and, without "re-presenting" Greek tragedy's "form" and structure, he utilizes its poetic essence in an attempt at "re-creating" it.

Ulysses' Gaze: Epic Body, Tragic Soul

The plastic artist, like the epic poet who is related to him, is absorbed in the pure contemplation of images. The Dionysian musician is, without any images, himself pure primordial pain and its primordial re-echoing.

Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Greek tragedy is said to be a "flood of poetry, music, and dance" (Kitto 5). However, as many have tried to show, Greek tragedy is not poetic just because of its metrical techniques. There are other aspects that may enrich its poetic spirit. Some critics refer to the familiarity of the Greek spectator with the mythical base of Greek tragedy as what could made it function as poetry. Just as the reader of a poem tries to "see" the formation of an achieved structure in the mind of the poet, the Greek spectator "knew that what he saw was a stylized reenactment of an ancient story as distilled through the mind of the poet" (Hadas 2). The most famous comment on the poetry of Greek tragedy is made by Nietzsche, whose The Birth of Tragedy celebrates the emergence of Greek tragedy from the spirit of music, which, "having reached its highest manifestation in tragedy," can "invest myths with a new and most profound significance" (75). …