26 June 2017

Aeschylus and Euripides and Junia and the Gestapo

As many readers will know, Adolf Hitler was unintentionally (and hideously) by far the most significant benefactor of the Oxford Classics Faculty (called Litterae Humaniores) in well over a century. In the 1930s, Oxford became the home to many of the finest Classicists from the German universities: such as Eduard Fraenkel, 'the World's greatest Latinist' who (not without some opposition) walked straight from his Freiburg Chair into the Corpus Professorship. It has been shown that in his monumental Commentary on the Agamemnon, especially in the figure of Cassandra and in the fate of Agamemnon, Fraenkel's 'strictly philological' treatment of the ancient text is in fact constantly marked by the Holocaust experiences of European Jewry (Fraenkel was a Jew). And, in Pfeiffer's History of Classical Scholarship, largely written during the War, Ptolemy VIII, under whom the great men of the Learned City of Alexandria fled in what came to be called the secessio doctorum, is clearly framed as a Type of Hitler.

It is salutary sometimes to recollect upon ones good fortune; Fraenkel and Pfeiffer had been pupils of the 'legendary' Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf ... what an Apostolic Tradition we callow and naive undergraduates of the 1950s and 1960s were privileged to be admitted to!

And the paradosis continues. I once I went to an undergraduate performance of the Hippolytus in Oriel College (the quadrangle used was once the St Mary's Hall of which Cardinal Allen was Principal). Rather ... undergraduate; twenty minutes late starting because they couldn't get the patio heater to light up! But the Greek text was faultlessly learned (or should I mention that just occasionally the iambs sounded a trifle ... iambic) and vigorously delivered and the tragic conclusion really did grip the (albeit slightly chilled) audience. Oh, the charming, touching innocence of the young ... I bet none of them knew that Hippolytus was also the name of somebody who didn't write the text which Botte and Bouyer so lamentably adapted into that dreadful Eucharistic Prayer, their bibulous pencils dancing frantically as they drafted their opus on the terrace of a trattoria in the Trastevere while the Phaedras of the Night minced up and down before them. And I bet the young people also didn't know, when they got to the line describing Aphrodite as episemos en brotois, that this is a line detested by feminists because grammatically it subverts their daft claim that there ever was a 'Female Apostle' called Junia.

Good thing they didn't know ... the feminist Thought Police or the genderist Gestapo might have demanded its excision ... I wonder what Euripides would have thought of being No Platformed ... no ... Aristophanes would be the man to ask about that ... what a wonderful satire he could have written on No Platforming and Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings and Transphobia and (this is Pride Month in Not-terribly-great Britain) Hubris kai ta loipa. What would it have been called? Hoi Eunouchoi? Hoi Malakoi? Lyssanesos? Eschropolis? [I am indebted to Professor C S Lewis of this University for the last two suggestions.]

Quaeritur ... if anyone's interested ... after the Hippolytus I watched the old 1962 film version, entitled Phaedra, with the myth transposed to a modern Greek ship-owning family ... Melina Mercouri as Phaedra, score by Theodorakis, you name it. Beta question-mark plus, I thought. The Wikipedia entry said it was popular in Europe, but a box-office flop in the US of A. I wonder why?


1 comment:

√Čamonn said...

Mr Lewis never held a chair in your university. Professor Lewis was only titled thus in another university...