Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Continuing to Flog the "Greek Drama" Metaphor

Yesterday Huffington Post readers were treated to an analysis of Wall Street as "A Modern-Day Greek Tragedy." Today, in a blog post by Jeremy Zogby, the metaphor has passed to Bush. Yesterday, I argued that the metaphor was "nothing more than a rhetorical ploy of attracting attention through pretension." Today I find myself thinking in different terms: If Bush were a character in a Greek drama (or, for that matter, any literary narrative), who would he be? After considerable thought, I think I finally found a satisfactory answer: Pentheus, the king of Thebes who inherited the throne upon the abdication of his grandfather Cadmus. In Euripides' play, The Bacchae, Pentheus bans all worship of Dionysus (son of Zeus and born in Thebes), because his personal morality does not tolerate the orgiastic rituals (celebrated by the Bacchae), which constitute that worship. The play is basically about Dionysus' revenge; and, as can be expected, Pentheus comes to a really bad end!

Yesterday I observed that most of the Greek tragedies involve αγών (antagonism) between two nobles (Antigone versus Creon, for example). However, Dionysus is less an individual than a representative of a prevailing culture. It is not that Pentheus is defying a god (or demi-god) but that he is defying the life style of a sizeable number of his subjects. That is where I see the answer to my question, but Bush has acted on a scale that dwarfs that of Pentheus. If Pentheus defied the accepted practices of a single city-state, Bush escalated his defiance beyond the boundaries of his own "realm" in his formation of his "coalition of the willing" (sic).

Needless to say, the author of a drama has a much better job of resolving matters than those of us who are stuck with the consequences of bad decisions in "real life." Nevertheless, I find it interesting that in The Bacchae the final words (translated by William Arrowsmith) of the Chorus can easily be read as a recrimination of the sort of "faith-based" reasoning that Bush shared with Pentheus:

The gods have many shapes.
The gods bring many things
to their accomplishment.
And what was most expected
has not been accomplished.
But god has found his way
for what no man expected.
So ends the play.

If that "way" is the way of statecraft (as in the title of Dennis Ross' book), then our country may get over the problem that "what was most expected has not been accomplished" and relegate the memory of Pentheus/Bush to a bad dream best applied to another screenplay!

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