FROM AESCHYLUS TO ATWOOD
Updated: Feb 14, 2018
A note on the title of my blog.
By training I'm a Classicist, but by day I mostly teach (and let's be honest, read) English - so these two work for me. Whilst they both start with A, they fall pretty far apart on the literary canon - however, they both tell some pretty awesome stories.
Aeschylus isn't really my favourite tragic playwright, but he is the playwright that added actors and thus formed tragedy as a thing and as such is pretty fundamental to the foundations of Western literature. And he did write some pretty interesting plays - whilst they can be a bit stodgy in places he also wrote some striking characters. Clytemnestra murdering her husband on his triumphant return from Troy is definitely a compelling moment, even if it is then swept away by her son murdering her. (Lots of death in Greek tragedy - if you thought it might be all happy-and-hugs - its really not.) Sophocles writes some amazingly crafted works; the descent of Oedipus into despair in his chase for the truth, and the opposition of Creon and Antigone and her defiance at all costs are things that are not easily beaten. I could easily write a lot about Greek tragedy - I have, a whole thesis, that no one bar a select few of people who were for the most part paid, have read - but I'll try and keep it short here. If we're thinking about women, Aeschylus gave us Clytemnestra, Sophocles, Antigone - Euripides, well. He created the Bacchae, the women in thrall to a god so much they would tear their own sons apart; Medea who killed her children to spite the man who would leave her; Iphigenia who lay herself down on the altar so the ships could sail to Troy; and the haunting narrative of the Women of Troy. Euripides' women are dark and complex and pose some difficult questions and whether you think he's a proto-feminist, mysogenist or realist really depends on which play you're reading and how you want to interpret his narratives.
Leap forward a few centuries and we get to Atwood. I have a lot of literary heroines and heroes, but there is something seminal about her. Maybe students on a space station somewhere will be reading her books in an intro to terrestrial lit class in another thousand years, dreaming of Earth as I dreamt of Athens. The settings change and the names of the characters too, but the humanity, peril and love doesn't seem to. So - Aeschylus to Atwood - there are a lot of authors in between, but these two can be my book ends and I hope neither would be offended by the comparison.