April 20th, 2013, 03:25 PM
Daughter of the Pilani
Yes, it makes it seem even lazier when you realise that this supposedly mediaeval moral code is a composite of 'old-fashioned' values that only solidified in the Victorian era. I think there's certainly scope in having a world with a moral system that we are meant to find disturbing - ASoIaF is a case in point, though beyond that it does have its problems. On the flipside, there are also dangers in creating a world that mysteriously espouses very modern values in a past setting, like in some of Tamora Pierce's work. So it's a difficult balance to tread and one where more creative approaches than the ones we're getting would be very welcome. But I feel like anything is preferable to an author just deciding to work within a society which was ready made in the 1950s and still upholds all their own assumptions.
Argh, I'd forgotten all about that! I haven't read the 'Iliad' in far too long - you made me remember how great random bits like the forging of the shield are. Also I am very jealous that you got to read Helen's speech in Greek.
That's really interesting about the possible dynamics between Helen and Hector and how that affects how we read her speech. I always thought she got that speech to remind us, right at the end, of how it all came about, and that it was all in vain even for her, and of all the hopes that were ended. I don't think there needs to be any additional link between Hector and Helen to make that very poignant, but it's certainnly an intriguing thought. I'd be really interested to hear your other thoughts about her, if you have time! Though don't worry if you don't - I don't want to distract you for your revision (even for such intellectual conversation) and this isn't an obligation after all.
April 22nd, 2013, 12:51 PM
I was thinking of ASoIaF too! I haven't read any TP in quite a long time, but I'm curious - are there any particular instances where the morality seemed really incongruous? I agree that she basically transplanted the perfect liberal 2000s values into the minds of her main characters, but while that seems almost "too easy", it's making a pretty big statement against the grain of most fantasy and I feel that it needed to be done. I'm certainly glad that I read her books when I was very young - they probably did a lot of work subliminally in counteracting the sexual morality found in other YA fantasy that I'm not consciously aware of.
The shield bit is so gorgeous, isn't it? I'd thought it would be boring but it's just such an amazing microcosm of society and intricately written and Achilles.
Mmm, there's a really strong sense of closure in her speech. The interesting thing is that she gets nothing comparable at the beginning, and that the end of the Iliad isn't the end of the war - but Homer makes it feel like it is. There's something very desolate about 24 even in its more prosaic moments. Haha very quick Helen thoughts:
1. Homer seems somewhat ambivalent about her - there are moments where it feels that she's being blamed, but the portrayal of her can also be very sympathetic. She's quite clearly unhappy in Troy; there's that moment after she watches the battle in which Aphrodite basically coerces her into having sex with Paris, and she argues with Aphrodite. What's interesting about that is how Helen is a character with a potentially huge amount of agency and power, yet she's manipulated by those around her: chosen by Paris, tied to him by Aphrodite's will, auctioned off by her father, won by Menelaus, chased by him, idolised as a symbol by the Greeks, hated by the Trojans, again as a symbol of suffering.
2. Menelaus won the throne of Sparta through her - basically, she is the rightful queen. Her (step-)father abdicated to them jointly. In her childhood she's described as exercising and hunting with her brothers, too. So she's not simply your average wife, but was born with power. The intriguing thing is that she survives the war fought for her - she's above it all in a very symbolic way, and it almost seems as though that's a way of dealing with the fact that, from birth, she's been passed from hand to hand, alternately damned and worshipped, despite who she is. Who she is as a person is almost irrelevant and very difficult to get a picture of.
eeeeee and Homer portrays her as petulant quite often, but that's such a huge contrast with the other assorted women in the poem. Who are not all weak at all - Hecuba and Andromache express amounts of murderous rage - but who are noble, who do the right thing. Helen's refusal to do that, and to be a good wife, is interesting narratively because it places her on a scale of morality which is closer to the goddesses. The things she says sound like things Hera might say, and while Hera is not exactly positively portrayed by Homer - indeed, he did a bit of a hatchet job on her reputation - that's got really interesting implications.
Last edited by Eyes of Wolf; April 23rd, 2013 at 02:17 PM.
April 23rd, 2013, 01:53 PM
Daughter of the Pilani
I haven't read any Pierce since I was younger either, so my memory of this is a bit sketchy, but in her police books she manages to have the main character espouse very modern ideas about lots of things (the role of women, of course, but also birth control and LGBT rights), while still taking part in police brutality. I think you're right that the reaction against women in fantasy needed to be there, especially when she first started writing, but portraying the society as grappling with a lot of modern problems in a modern way while implicitly accepting that aspect of it is a bit problematic. There's something to be said for challenging readers' assumptions like that, but it was kind of jarring. Her later books get slightly more preachy than her earlier ones, which were just centred around the simple 'girls can do it too!' message.
Yes, Homer does make it feel like the end, and I suppose that's partly because for the Trojans, Hector's death means the end; they can only wait.
That's fascinating about Helen's agency! You're right that she's portrayed almost as one of the goddesses in her defiance. I wonder if the grief that causes her could be seen as a kind of comeuppance-for-hubris narrative? Like the idea that women must pay for the power their beauty (and not just beauty) gives them. It's true, though, that she's portrayed sympathetically - just like he gives an even hand to Greeks and Trojans rather than creating propaganda, Homer seems oddly keen to be fair to Helen.
In her power over the men in the story, Helen almost is a goddess, but that power can't help her personally at all. I suppose her petulance as symptomatic of her isolation within Troy and feeling so powerless - once everyone hates her, there's not much incentive for her to seem loyal, unlike for Andromache, say. But you're right, she's like all the mortal women in the 'Iliad' in that she's primarily important as property, a symbol on a pedestal. Interestingly, though, the 'Odyssey' is completely the opposite: look at Circe and Penelope and Arete and Nausicaa and Calypso...
April 23rd, 2013, 02:32 PM
Oh yeah, I'd forgotten the level of violence in the Bekah Cooper books - the argument that the police have to be really repressive because of this disordered society starts to fall down when we look at the other attitudes in the character, you're right. I have a lot of admiration for TP as a person and a writer, but that's very true. If I remember correctly, Bekah does try very hard to be fair, and uses a baton rather than anything more serious, but I'm making excuses - we could say the same of a lot of the police involved in putting down the 2010 protests.
24 is the calm before the storm, promising another 12 days of peace - but those 12 days mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, and we know what's about to come, and so does everyone involved. 24 is so full of quiet acceptance and melancholy. I find that a bit hard to deal with after the passionate love and anger and violence of the previous 23 books.
She is symbolically paying; not only with her happiness but her reputation. In "Trojan Women" and other subsequent works, authors consistently damn her with a huge vehemence that we can read as almost being a type of masculine hatred for the influence Helen wields, even if it is only a sexual influence.
Exactly, she doesn't use that power herself - it exerts itself without her really wanting it to. She can't do anything without bringing down huge consequences on herself and others. That is a really interesting contrast with the Odyssey! Perhaps it's the episodic nature of the Odyssey, where the women can be amusing and powerful personally because the consequences aren't as huge? Whereas with the Iliad, the women's roles are symbolic and archetypal in a self-conscious way.
April 24th, 2013, 12:03 PM
Daughter of the Pilani
Yes - if I recall correctly, even torture is used in the City Watch (I'm assuming it's called that, as a standard police force in a fantasy world). It's true that she tries to be fair and political protest is different from bar fights in a world where everyone is armed, but it's still a strange contrast
I feel like the quiet acceptance in 24 is borne from complete despair, and as such it's difficult to see how it can last long. The only one who really changes is Achilles; he'll take Troy because that's who he is, but his heart won't be in it anymore. The story of his anger is over and the rest is worse left to the imagination.
Yes, and even though (or perhaps because) sexual influence is the only influence she, or any woman, really has, it exerts more fear over the male characters than anything else about her. The thing about sexual influence is interesting from a historical point of view in that the daughters and wives of powerful men, like Helen, could have a lot of influence when the 'Iliad' was composed, but by the time 'Trojan Women' was written the Athens' democratic system meant that this was very much reduced: Euripides is warning that giving women that power to use their sexuality to shape politics is dangerous.
Ooh, interesting point! I think it's partly that - Nausicaa and her mother, for example, have small freedoms which are important to the story, but they don't need to have the kind of significance Helen does. Another thing is that many of the women in the 'Odyssey' just don't have men around. Circe and Calypso are self-sufficient because of their magical powers (and dangerous to the men because of it), and Penelope's greater freedom in Odysseus' absence is actually a source of tension between her and the growing Telemachus.
April 29th, 2013, 12:52 PM
I wish I remembered those books properly, because atm I have nothing intelligent to contribute!
Achilles' character arc is so great. I get jittery just thinking about it. And the fall of Troy itself really isn't as interesting, tbh, it's just a series of calamities and banality. The emotional microcosm of it that is the Iliad makes better drama in the end.
Mmm, though Trojan Women's attitude to women's place in society is a little ambivalent in general - Helen comes off as a schemer given too much power, yes, but if Euripides had felt the experiences of the other women were basically worthless the play wouldn't have been written, and I find it interesting that it was at all. Then again, treating powerful women who wreak havoc as a dramatic subject was a big thing for Euripides, and others in general, I guess: Medea springs to mind! And Medea can be a thrilling character but his treatment of her is unequivocally a warning.
The idea of powerful female characters living entirely without men is indeed a bit of a theme in the Odyssey. But they're risks, things he has to get away from! Ooooh good point about Penelope, and Telemachus' growth out of the domestic sphere - poor boy, he has a pretty rough time of it from life and readers, doesn't he?
You didn't happen to see the NT's Othello, did you?
May 3rd, 2013, 04:49 PM
Daughter of the Pilani
Ha, that was pretty much the limit of my knowlegde too actually. And I completely agree about the story arc of the Iliad working much better without the fall of Troy.
I don't think it's so much that women's experiences are seen as worthless as that portrayals of both their plight and their scheming are intended to stress the necessity of male control and protection. It's part of why everybody still loves Euripides (et al.) that he recognised some of the challenges of being a woman in the ancient world, and as such there is textual support for real sympathy for Helen and Medea. I suppose that's just an extension of the tragic form where you're made to want two opposed elements both to triumph, but in doing that he succeeds in making his female characters complex. Ultimately, they do tend to fall into the victim/schemer (or good girl/bad girl) dichotomy pretty easily, but they're not one-sided.
We're doing Aeneid 4 at the moment and Virgil's portrayal of Dido fits neatly into this tradition- we're meant to feel sympathy for her but ultimately reject the (supposedly) feminine values she embodies to follow Aeneas. But it's perfectly possible to read Dido as a highly capable queen driven to destruction solely by the gods' meddling, not her feminine weakness. And that's what makes the tragedy of it compelling.
Oh, yes, the women of the 'Odyssey' are absolutely dangers - we can't have strong women co-existing with men!
I didn't catch it, no - I never see as much theatre as I want to. Was it any good? Last thing I saw was 'This House' at the National, which was actually fantastic - it's about the House of Commons in the 1970s, as Labour slowly loses its grip on power. Definitely go if you get the chance.
May 9th, 2013, 01:45 PM
I wasn't arguing that they are seen as worthless by Euripides, just that they easily could have been. Trojan Women seems to be written within rather than without, if that makes sense - it arises from the words of the women and is created my them. It's not a play that looks like an observation, to me. Yep, you're right about the plays trying to show the need for men to oversee women. The issue is that, by making this need such a poignant one in the case of Trojan Women and such a pressing one in the case of Medea, Euripides empathizes too strongly with the women and ends up giving them a surprising amount of depth!
And of course, modern readers, especially women, tend to empathize more with Dido (and, earlier, Creusa...) than they do with Aeneas. Psychological complexity ends up hurting the intended moral rather than aiding it. Modern re-imaginings of Dido do tend to take that stance, too - that she was very independent and able to run her own affairs until Aeneas and the attendant divine attention turned up. Which is interesting and shows how our values have changed in relation to literature; we're suspicious of people who follow one cause and feel irrevocably bound to it, rather than seeing it as noble. That's not necessarily always a good thing, because it means an instinctive distrust of idealism that can be harmful and unnecessarily cynical!
Oooh it was amazing! I had a really good seat and it was such a great show. The setting worked perfectly, and the acting was just amazing. Adrian Lester makes a surprisingly compelling Iago, with some really chilling twists. At the end he doesn't seem to be able to respond to the situation at all; he looks a bit shell-shocked and it's hard to decide what he's feeling about it. Blblbl I'm currently occupied with my ASes a little...I wish I had more time for cultural activities. I think I just bombed my German oral.
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