ricardienne: (library)
There are only two weeks left: Greek Tragedy meets twice this week and then no more, and the linguistics paper is due a week from Thursday. And then I'm done -- if done means no more excuses for not getting back to Thrasea, Helvidius, & Co. All I want to do is read Trollope and Lysias, and I don't want to wait two more weeks to do it; I rediscovered my favorite window seat on the fourth floor of the library, and I have secreted a Greek dictionary there.

It face the Shakepseare shelf, and while I was browsing a book about How Much Better Shakespeare's Classical Plays are than Johnson's, I found a reference to this story. It's one of the most hilarious things I've read in a while, I think -- the first half for the Latin, and the second half for the Boys School Story.

Also, I am weirdly fascinated by 19th century translations of Shakespeare into Greek (more here)

I know that being able to turn Shakespeare or Milton or Keats into Sophoclean trimeter is not the most useful classics-related skill to have, but...
ricardienne: (Default)
So tonight, John Crowne's Regulus (c. 1694). In many ways, this is the best of the three I've read (obviously, Havard's was no-contest awful, but Crowne's is better than More's, I think, in some ways). For one thing, Crowne takes up the Polybian tradition, and starts in Carthage, where, once we finally meet him, Regulus is overambitious and over-confident; ignoring everyone's advice and escalating bad omens (including multiple appearances of his dead wife's ghost) in his arrogance. For another, the Carthaginians, far from being Evil Villainous Types are embroiled in their own power struggles to save/get control of their city.

The first two acts are completely taken up with Carthaginian politics, where wicked-demagogue Asdrubal is trying to stage a coup against decent-prince Hamilcar (whose daughter Elisa is in love with the noble Spartan mercenary captain Xanthippus); commentary, political manouvering, and comedy is provided by the Corrupt Priest, Snobbish Noble, and Grasping Merchant-type (I forget their names, but it's never hard to tell who's talking; it's also pretty clear that this is all satire on English court/clergy/etc., although I don't know enough to pick out the particular references. On the other hand, there is also a strong anti-populist current going on: I really need to learn more this period and its politics, I think.). This is much more successful, though, than Havard's extremely pathetic attempts at Roman politics and conspiracy.

When we finally get to the Roman camp, Fulvia, Regulus' new fiancée who is inexplicably hanging out in an army camp along with her father the proconsul, is moping and worrying about her lover, on the grounds that someone as perfect as Regulus is doomed to an early death. Lepidus arrives and tries to reason with here. They talk for a while, and finally Fulvia mentions the rather good reasons she has: earthquakes, ghosts, mysterious eclipses. This is going to become a theme: no one ever seems to mention the obvious reasons for anything before they have exhausted debate on the trivial ones.

So Regulus goes off to fight, and then we get back to Carthage, where Asdrubal stages his coup, then offers to spare Hamilcar if his daughter will marry him. Hamilcar, being the upright Roman Carthaginian that he is, will have none of her betraying her engagement to the equally upright Xanthippus, but Elisa plans to stage a murder-suicide at the altar, and agrees. Just as we are starting to wonder why the play is entitled "Regulus" Xanthippus arrives, having, under Hamilcar's orders, tricked and captured Regulus. Asdrubal is captured, the coup is averted, all of the satiricals punished and Xanthippus and Elisa reunited. After a momentary "damn, where did we put Regulus," Hamilcar goes off to deal with him, since Xanthippus and Elisa are clearly being too lovey-dovey to do anything useful. Until, that is, Xanthippus hears that Regulus has been chained in dungeon; then he ditches his bride-to-be to go off and demand better treatment for his noble and amazing captive. Eventually the Regulus-as-ambassador is proposed -- Crowne has him just embassying to the Roman camp, which keeps him on the better side of history, I suppose.

But first we have another bizarre scene in the prison, where Snobbish Noble, Asdrubal, and Corrupt Priest are planning to buy their way out and getting drunk until Snobbish Noble's wife shows up, reveals that she's actually in love with Asdrubal, and curses out her husband for having betrayed Asdrubal in a last-ditch attempt to save himself. Then she flounces out. Some Senators come in, annoyed at the high-handed way Xanthippus has been managing his prisoner, and offer power to Asdrubal. He promptly turns on his former accomplices.

And then we finally get to Regulus' big scene. Once he's captured, unfortunately, Regulus reverts to type and becomes noble, stoic, and unyielding in the good Roman way. Lepidus sics Fulvia on him, in the standard last-ditch attempt to save the life of noble self-sacrificing commander. Regulus pretends he's been poisoned; it convinces everyone except Fulvia, who flips out, until Regulus' first wife's ghost appears and makes her faint so Regulus can get away.

Meanwhile, Asdrubal's second coup is quashed again. Regulus comes back. The Carthaginian senate wants to torture him; his admirer Xanthippus protests and storms out. Fulvia shows up leading a sortie of Romans whome Xanthippus has let in, but she is just in enough time to watch Regulus die from his torture. Fulvia suddenly goes mad and starts raving. Xanthippus, Elisa, and Hamilcar go off to Sparta to live happily ever after, taking Fulvia with them. The end.

So this one had comedy, crazy melodrama, true love, and speeches about Roman Virtue. The only thing it doesn't have is arguments about who gets to stand up in whose presence, which is a bit unfortunate. Overall, though, the best Regulus play so far. (I still have Jacob Jones, which the introduction to the Crowne claims is unspeakably bad, so it should very entertaining.)
ricardienne: (Default)
That would be Hannah's, not Thomas'. Although I wish Thomas More had written a Regulus, because that would be pretty awesome.

I'm not sure why I am fixating on this right now, but tonight I read my second post-classical Regulus play. I know of at least one more (Crowne -- the introduction makes it out to be unbelievably bad, possibly worse that the Havard, so that should be exciting).

Hannah More based her play on either a play or a long poem of an Italian poet, so I don't know which plot elements can fairly be called hers, and which are borrowings. But basically, this play had most of what I wanted in Regulus fanfiction an expansion of the story: there were no Carthaginian secret agents, in fact there were no villains, and the one character (the consul Manlius, more on whom later) who is presented as slightly less than good, turns out to be the Second Most Virtuous Roman. The plot mostly focuses around Regulus' family: son Publius (historically, either Gaius or Marcus, but we'll let that pass), daughter Attilia, and protegé and now tribune Licinius. Most of the play is Regulus storming on about virtue, with Publius protesting that he can't abandon his filial duty (but: "are you a son, or are you a Roman?"), Attilia weeping and wailing, and Licinius telling himself that if they can just save Regulus, he'll thank them later. There is also a small love triangle between Publius, Attilia's Carthaginian slave Barce, and Hamilcar, the Carthaginin ambassador, and a sort of half-baked romance between Licinius and Attilia. And Manlius appears to hit on Regulus at one point, just to complete the romantic entanglements, but I assume that wasn't intentional on the part of the authoress.

More follows Horace, in general, more than Havard, and this a good thing. (I think Horace is the most extended classical version, but I should probably check Appian, or Dio, or something). For my purposes, this means there is a hilarious/thrilling scene in the senate when Regulus refuses to sit (can a slave sit in the presence of senators?), then Publius jumps up (can a son sit while his father stands?) and Regulus more or less tells him to sit down and shut up (and if you were really a good son, you'd obey me). I think that the promise of this sort of thing is why I am hunting down Regulus sources: open discussion of hierarchy in terms of who is sitting when. I admit that this has fascinated me at least since I connected us all standing up in elementary school orchestra concerts when the director walked, with all of those scenes of standing up: when the judge comes in, when the President comes in, when, in movies and plays, the king came in, and realized that it was the same thing. Then I wondered whether it was supposed to be as meaningless a gesture as I mentally treated it, or whether I was actually supposed to be feeling some sort of sense of inferior status and/or respect due. Then I started to obsess, and the rest, as they say, is history. In my case, the history of rather a lot of my thought.

But anyway, what I liked about More's treatment of Regulus was that it mostly wasn't about Regulus. It was more about all of the people around him as they variously Don't Get It, then, Get It But Wish They Didn't, and, eventually, Come to an Understanding of It.

That said, I had one major personal issue with this treatment:
African vs. Roman. Now, in general, I don't get that uncomfortable with Roman moral division between themselves and "Africans." There are political reasons (124 year war, for example, plus that unpleasantness with Cleopatra later), and cultural prejudices going on that I don't feel guilty about, because I can distance myself. The Romans can be pretty condescending/prone to rude stereotypes about the Greeks, the Persians (as are the Greeks, obviously), the Germans, and provincials of all types, including people from the 'wrong' parts of Italy. But when an Anglo-American (obviously, Hannah More is only the former, and I probably shouldn't take them together, England having a different (maybe less problematic) history of race than we do, but I'm not talking so much about slavery as about racial attitudes in general) makes a big deal about this, I do get uncomfortable. And I couldn't help but read more into "African" than "Roman generalization about people from Africa" when the two Carthaginian characters most profoundly, and, actually, alone of the characters, didn't get it. They admired the amazing virtue and honor of the Romans, but completely failed to understand it. There was a really iffy scene where the Carthaginian ambassador decides that he's going to show Regulus that Carthaginians have honor too, and so offers to let him escape. Regulus rants a refusal, of course, but the ambassador doesn't even get that he doesn't get it. Very awkward.

Three further observations:

1. About half way through, around the time when Regulus won his son over, I started to think about the division that seemed to be happening men Getting It and women Not Getting It. Obviously, women:emotion::men:reason, particularly with all the exhorting to repress ummanly passions that was going on. This was mostly confirmed when Attilia finally Gets It, although with much suffering and weeping, and makes the interesting claim that "Roman virgins should be better than women" i.e. not be weepy and wimpy. Again, clearly not original with More or her era, but nice to see a default vs. potential identity being applied. (On the other hand, what finally pushes Attilia into fortitude is her father's comment that since she can't do anything useful for the state, she can at least not embarrass him by making a scene.)

2. The more interesting division into Getting It and Not Getting it happened by class. By the end, we get a huge confrontation between the senators, led by Manlius, and the people, led by the still-misguided Licinius. The moral, as expounded by Regulus when he finally 'shames' the masses in acquiescence, is certainly "listen to your betters, damn it, because you're fools." And certainly, barring the Carthaginians, who never Get It, Licinius Gets It even later than Attilia, making patrician vs. plebeian possibly the more telling distinction. Except, of course, they are all Romans, and all basically committed to Doing the Right Thing. I should probably find out how (or whether) this is is relevant to Hannah More's politics, which I suspect it is, but I don't feel like it right now.

3. An amusing "hasn't language changed in 175 years moment" occurred when Manlius apostrophized Regulus as "thou awfully good Roman."

So. I think that's all for tonight.
ricardienne: (Default)
I have an acoustics exam tomorrow, but I really don't want to study, which is stupid, but instead, I'm reading Regulus: A Tragedy. I think it is quite possibly the lamest play I have read, certainly in a while. Part of the problem, I think, is that the Regulus story is basically a martyrdom story: exceedingly virtuous person does an exceedingly virtuous and upright thing even though it will kill him. The interest, I would think, should be internal. I'm imagining a successful play as something like Murder in the Cathedral, possibly centering around interaction with his wife.

Instead, we get all of these random and Carthaginian secret agents, whose only motive for wanting to Betray Their Country seems to be generally evilness and (also general) hatred of Regulus. They seem to be the main characters, actually, in terms of stage time and number of lines. The chief secret agent is also in love with Regulus' daughter, who is in love a worthy young man who had left Rome voluntarily to follow Regulus into captivity. (How this would work, since Regulus was, you know, captured in battle, and presumably, traveling out to North Africa for the purposes of surrendering to the enemy would be rather frowned on by prospective father-in-law.) There are lots of stupid speeches: Regulus and Decius (the Worthy Young Man) expound a lot about Roman Virtue, and the villains make wimpily angsty remarks about how much they hate Regulus. I am also disappointed that Regulus, on first meeting, got all lovey-dovey with his wife, instead of making some dramatic gesture of self-exclusion. And besides this (and some totally anachronistic ripping-off of Aeneid 6) Which is why, of course, I've been reading it straight through.
ricardienne: (Default)
So: the Regulus Ode. Most of me is horrified. Regulus is really awful: the worst kind of stiff-necked more-virtuous-than-thou Roman type, and I am still a little bit in doubt about the intention of the whole poem: surely Horace can't be writing straight-faced?

But then, I get to parts like this, and I'm moved, in spite of myself, because, OMG SO NOBLE AND PRINCIPLED (and plenty far away in time from actually affecting me):
fertur pudicae coniugis osculum
parvosque natos ut capitis minor
ab se removisse et virilem
torvus humi posuisse voltum,

But what I really want to talk about is Regulus Black, actually. I only have DH in French, as it happens, but this is more or less what happens: Regulus became a Death-Eater, then volunteered Kreacher to Voldemort, who took him to The Cave and forced him to drink the potion in the basin, then abandoned him. But Regulus had ordered Kreacher to return, so he did. He related the experience to Regulus, who later took Kreacher back to the cavern, ordered him to switch the lockets and keep the real one safe/destroy it, drank the potion himself, and died.

Obviously the parallel is the self-sacrifice and bravery for 'the cause' but I think there may be more subtle things going on, too. It's hard to know much about Regulus' (HP) state of mind and motivation, but I'm tempted to think of him applying some of Regulus' (SPQR) words to himself: nec uera uirtus cum semel excidit/ curat reponi deterioribus and deciding that death is the only decent way out for him, having once been a Death Eater. It's certainly an attitude that seemed to play elsewhere in the series. Atqui sciebat quae sibi barbarus/ tortor pararet is more clearly relevant to the situation, being true of both Reguluses. Similarly, it's hard not to read about the fundamental baseness of the one who fears death, and not not think of Harry Potter. Noble man resists being taken in by the lure of the easy way out and personal gain. He stands up for his principles and dies.

One thread that is very present in the Regulus Ode is slave vs. free, and Regulus (SPQR) makes much of the indignity of Roman soldiers (and therefore citizens) being treated as slaves and suffering to be treated so. For Regulus (HP), too, the blurring of the line between slave and free is crucial to his ultimate noble decision. But for this Regulus, it is the mistreatment of a slave that changes his allegiance. Regulus (SPQR) takes on the identity of his captors' slave as a condition of his captures with the claim that one who has been so can never really be a citizen. Regulus (HP), too, effectively takes the place of a slave, by letting himself be killed in the manner that Voldemort had intended Kreacher die expendable.

But given how, I'm sorry, repulsive much of Regulus' (SPQR) speech is, I think I can actually see Reglus (HP) as a subversion of Horace's Attilius Regulus. (At this point, I'm not sure that it's necessary to think about Horace Slughorn setting Regulus Black on a certain path of honor and tradition, but then, that is present, isn't it?) Regulus (HP) is held up fairly consistently as the "good son" in the old-fashioned, blood-status conscious world of the Blacks. He is, in a way, the robustus … puer of the second Roman Ode who is going off to fight the good fight for the elite wizarding world. But, as we know, this good fight is actually the bad fight. Regulus (HP) is more the immiserabilis/ captiva pubes whom Regulus (SPQR) condemns than Regulus himself. It is true that Regulus (HP) has been "captivated" by Voldemort, but his disillusionment is with the end result of a system he has been brought up to support, not with a deviation from it. His death, likewise, is toward the (secret) destruction of that system. I want to come back to Kreacher here. Regulus (HP) is redeemed (or lost, as I want to take it from the opposite point of view) through compassion to someone he isn't necessarily supposed to think of as worthy of it (a very HP theme, and maybe one that is not possible for pre-Christianity Romans). His personal loyalties to his dependents come before his loyalty to 'the cause' and prove to be much worthier. Contrast this with Regulus (SPQR) who is adamant about a slaves unworthiness, and who will not take up his place as a spouse and parent in order to make a point. From the last stanza, one might even argue that he has made 'the state' his business and has fulfilled it instead of his ordinary duties to his personal dependents. So Regulus (HP) is really the anti-Regulus, who is betrayed and enslaved by 'the good fight' and dies in abandoning it.

I suppose I can't really take Harry Potter as a deep subversion of Horace's militaristic streak, where the brave young youth is actually just as much a degraded captive while serving his country as he is when dishonorably surrendered to its enemies. But that is what happens to Regulus (HP). And it's worth noting that the things Horace starts his ode by deploring -- mixed marriage between Roman soldiers and the daughters of Eastern enemies -- is an issue straight out of the later HP books.


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January 2017

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