Thursday, March 09, 2006


Trawling Radio 4's website (actually looking for Bettany Hughes' series about the Medici), I came across the archive for Melvyn Bragg's series In Our Time. There's quite a few programmes there related to Classical antiquity.

I listened this morning to Bragg, Edith Hall, Simon Goldhill, and Tom Healy on Aeschylus' Oresteia. The most interesting bit was where they talked about the final play, the Eumenides. Hall talked about how the Furies are bought off at the end, but how the play admits that they cannot be got rid of, that victim's feelings need to be taken account of in any system of justice. Goldhill made the sensible point that the Furies' power is suborned to the interests of the state.

The confrontation between Athena and the Furies is something that has long fascinated me. Thwarted of their vengeance upon Orestes, the Furies threaten destruction upon Attica. Athena talks calmly and reasonably to them, treating them with respect, offering to ensure that they are honoured, that justice demanded Orestes' acquittal, and asking that they not visit war upon Athens. I have always seen a subtext here. Athena is trying to bribe the Furies not to resort to violence, but behind her words is a message that says, "I don't want this fight, but if you force me to it, there will only be one side standing at the end, and it won't be you." And the Furies know this - that is why they blink first. (Is Athena meant to represent Athens here? Perhaps an expression of how Athens - and every other state with pretensions to liberality ever since - wanted its foreign policy to be seen: "We do not want war, and will do everything we can to avoid it, but if you force us then we'll give you a war you won't forget.")

I must check out the programme on the fall of the Roman empire. And I'm looking forward to Lord Bragg's Presidential Address at the Classical Association this year.


Carla said...

I heard the programme on the Oresteia when it was first broadcast and found it fascinating. Not being a classicist, most of it was new to me. Have you looked in the Philosophy archive for In Our Time as well as the History archive? They very often cover classical philosophers and classical thought.

Tony Keen said...

What first put me on to it was the link to the programme on Aristotle's concept of friendship, but I ended up listening to the Oresteia because it seemed more interesting (which I actually found in the Culture archive). I shall listen to some more soon.