Thursday, November 5, 2009

Euripides on Elvis

I have never understood The Bacchae by Euripides and the various interpretations of it have rung hollow. With that in mind, I was surprised to find myself nodding in agreement over Robert Reilly's take on the play:

Euripides and the Classical Greeks, from whom our Founders learned, knew that Eros is not a plaything. In The Bacchae, Euripides showed exactly how unsafe sex is when disconnected from the moral order. When Dionysus visits Thebes, he entices King Penthius to view secretly the women dancing naked on the mountainside in Dionysian revelries. Because Penthius succumbs to his desire to see "their wild obscenities," the political order is toppled, and the queen mother, Agave, one of the bacchants, ends up with the severed head of her son Penthius in her lap -- an eerie premonition of abortion.

The lesson is clear: Once Eros is released from the bonds of family, Dionysian passions can possess the soul. Giving in to them is a form of madness because erotic desire is not directed toward any end that can satisfy it. It is insatiable.

Reilly then applies this reading to an indictment on pornography.
I would link Reilly’s argument to Carson Holloway’s critique of pop music. The logic behind such music, e.g. Rock N’Roll & Rap, can traced back to Rousseau and Nietzsche who argued IN FAVOR OF Dionysian 'madness' i.e. music should indulge and even inflame one’s passions. What was criticized by Euripides and Plato is encouraged by the late Modern thinkers and is accepted as a matter of course by us today.
Elvis, a symbol of the Sex, Drugs, and Rock N’Roll since the 60’s, might vindicate Euripides on this point. Like King Penthius, his desire for the Bacchic frenzy led to him to a bad end. While it might not qualify as Tragedy, it was rather pitiable finish.

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