Sunday, August 26, 2012

Helen 412 BC – Obama 2012 AD


Critics have said a lot about the part of Theonoe. Some believe that this scene (Menelaus+Helen+Theonoe) is superfluous and the play will not sustain any harm if it’s removed. Some believe that the poet included the episode of Theonoe to show his rhetorical skill, due to the fact that this episode contains rhetorical speeches. In my turn, I will quote the reasons that make this scene important, in its time and nowadays, without overlooking its rhetorical elements which help any further clarification.

In v.973-974 Menelaus says: “... or you make Theonoe be less pious than your father.” Theonoe answers (v.998): “I was born pious and I want to remain so. I will never pollute my father’s name and my name. Because, since I was born, there is inside me a –big- sanctuary of justice. That, I will keep alive.”

Euripides wants to point out that if Proteus was pious and fair, his daughter must be equally pious and fair in order for her to administer justice. Besides, the duty of an offspring, born from a fair father, is to imitate the ways of this father (v.941-942). This conduct makes the offspring better than the father, not only because the father’s piety and justice are preserved, but also because they are further cultivated.

Here, Euripides does not compare the father and his children in order to slight the children, but tries to point out the need for the children to continue their father’s character and carry it forward even more.

At this point, we would say that Euripides is influenced by Pericles’ Funeral Oration. Pericles, after dividing Athenians in three generations says: “... each one of them preserves whatever it has inherited from the previous one but on the same time it gets better because, itself, adds something new to its inheritance. Namely, it honors the ancestors as it is fair and proper. Thanks to their valor, our contemporaries left the country free for our sake. They are worthy of praise, but even more our fathers. Because, in addition to all the things they inherited, after they gained all the power we have today, they passed this power on to us.” So, roughly, he analyzes how we got to the power we have today, under what regime and with the help of what habits our power grew stronger.

Barack Obama tried something similar in his presidential campaign speech: “...If some of you are successful, somebody has helped you with that. Sometime in your life, there has been a great mentor. Somebody helped us build this incredible American system that permitted you to flourish...” and he concludes: “Whatever we have accomplished is due to our individual initiative but also to the fact that we endeavor things together.”
Referring to the previous generations that helped building this country, he tries to convince people before the elections that it would be wiser to tax the upper (from a financial point of view) social classes.

Obama received some negative criticism after this speech, as Pericles would say: “...because any man tolerates listening to the praise of others up to the point where he believes he’s capable of accomplishing some of the feats presented. But, envy comes over him, concerning anything that is beyond his power, and so he does not put his faith in it.”

However, since the previous generations put this principle to test, Obama felt obliged to comply to the law and cater, as far as possible, to the desires and beliefs of everybody.

I’m not trying to take a political stand. My goal is to make it known to everybody that poetry and history are on the same level, they both are part of inquiry (Aristotle). The most certain thing is that our leaders have studied history more than ourselves. Therefore, we could say, in certainty, that Ancient Greeks have shaped our world, infusing the conscience of citizens with the utility of democracy. How? Through the union of democratic Athens with its ancient past. Without Pericles there wouldn’t be any tragic poets. Without these poets Pericles wouldn’t exist.

Ancient Greeks may not have been able to travel to Mars yet they managed to obtain Immortality. From this point of view, Ancient Greeks are the pillars and the shapers of our contemporary world. If America reaches the level of Immortality of the Fifth-century BC (Golden Age of Athens), this country will have to study the mistakes the Athenians made thousands of years ago and break new ground in preserving democracy’s fundamental meaning.

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