Tuesday, January 5, 2010

from Sophocles' Antigone: Ode I

Numberless are the world's wonders, but none
More wonderful than man; the storm-grey sea
Yields to his prows, the huge crests bear him high;
Earth, holy and inexhaustible, is graven
With shining furrows where his plows have gone
Year after year, the timeless labor of stallions.

The light-boned birds and beasts that cling to cover,
The lithe fish lighting their reaches of dim water,
All are taken, tamed in the net of his mind;
The lion on the hill, the wild horse windy-maned,
Resign to him; and his blunt yoke has broken
The sultry shoulders of the mountain bull.

Words also, and thought rapid as air,
He fashions to his good use; statecraft is his,
And his the skill that deflects the arrows of snow,
The spears of winter rain: from every wind
He has made himself secure--from all but one:
In the late wind of death he cannot stand.

O clear intelligence, force beyone all measure!
O fate of man, working both good and evil!
When the laws are kept, how proudly his city stands!
When the laws are broken,  what of his city then?
Never may the anarchic man find rest at my hearth,
Never let it be said that my thoughts are his thoughts.

--Sophocles

At each stanza, the chorus moves together across the stage: first one way (strophe) and then back (antistrophe), singing the poem. The music is lost to us. We do know they were all dressed for their role in robes and masks. The chorus represented, most of the time, the participating audience of the township--the relevant onlookers, or the status quo.
People imagine, because of Greek statuary (white) and the incised pottery vases (black/terra cotta) that the Greeks liked neutral colors. I have read other plays that suggest at least some costumes were otherwise. In addition, they have found that most or all the Greek statuary was painted (called polychrome), and the paint weathered off. That's true for instance of the Parthenon. Dye technology included reds and purples, blues, yellows, and of course browns. The vase below represents one of Euripides' tragedies.

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