The Essential Euripides: Dancing in Dark Times

The Essential Euripides: Dancing in Dark Times

The Essential Euripides: Dancing in Dark Times

The Essential Euripides: Dancing in Dark Times

Excerpt

This volume is the work of exactly twenty years, roughly a third of my life. Not a very long time. Or so it seems. Remember how Jacob, after laboring seven years for the hand of Rachel, said those years seemed to him as several days. Gladly, he took on seven more. And, at the end, he at last had Rachel's hand. Twenty years are a blink of the eye when the prize is not the hand but the essence of Euripides. In truth, however, the title of this volume is deceptive. The "Essential Euripides" indicates more honestly the aspiration than the accomplishment of these bound pages. What they may offer instead is the scent of the man, enough to track him to his lair, enough to begin to read his mind and his heart. Enough, I hope, to fuel another seven year's labor.

Why Euripides? Beyond his secure place in the curriculum and on stage, he tells the truth. He acknowledges the darkness and defies it. I have in mind three rows of seemingly subdued seniors in a matinee production of Hekabe, who suddenly sat forward in their seats and found voice when Hekabe threw out these words to them: "you politicians, panderers—you pretend to focus the energies of a people and do no more than unleash your own greed. I loathe you all. I don't want to know you." "You can say that again," one of them added. Then there was an auditorium in Tennessee at an all-girls high school, when a blatantly captive audience of adolescents was confronted for the first time with the incinerating rage of Klytemnestra over her powerlessness to protect her own daughter from insane violence. "You go girl," they called out. And, a moment later, one girl behind me said to another in astonishment, "Shit. I didn't know it would be like this." Truth is a force, not a fact. It lies in the plays of Euripides waiting to be released. And when it is, it comes as a surprise.

Why Euripides? I suppose it comes down to companionship, something we all seek on some level. "You have noticed," teaches the Ogala holy man Black Elk, "that the truth comes into the world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure . . .

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