Tag Archives: ancient playwrights

Interlude 6: Another poem by me/myself.

19 Nov

(I’m writing, writing, writing, writing. And reading, reading, reading, reading. Here’s another poem. By yours truly.)

“Greek dogs on fire”


This morning I learned about the Festival of Argis.

An ancient holiday in Argos.

The day of dog-killing.


The story goes like this:




he was a teacher of music to Orpheus

he was the inventor of melody

he was—this cannot be true—

killed by Hercules over a tiny rebuke

he was the embodiment of lamentation

he was a son of Apollo


was exposed to the elements as a child

and killed by Argive children.

Apollo sends Poino

—the spirit of vengeance—

in the shape of a giant dog.

Poino is killed.

The Argives are happy.

Hence the festival.


Round up the wild dogs in a pen.

Spear them through their necks.

Heap the corpses on a giant pyre.

Light it all on fire, in praise of Apollo.

Re-enact the old victories.


Symbolism can be so very literal.



Ancient values seem so strange.

Heroes seem cruel.

Villains seem confused.

The gods are vicious and rapacious and sick.

Rape is expected.

Murder is the norm.

Mercy is in short supply.

Every knows Ares and Hades and Zeus.

But who celebrates the gods of peace and calm and joy?


Ares had sons

—Deimos and Phobos—

the gods of terror and fear.


Athena has a half-snake for a son named Erectheus.

She kept him locked inside a tiny box.

Some nuns looked inside and threw themselves off a stony cliff.


There’s a pointless anecdote for you.


Dionysus had dozens of children.

Thysa, the goddess of violent orgies.

Telete, the goddess of Bacchic mystery.

Methe, the goddess of drunkenness.

Phthonus, the god of envy, who murdered all his wives.

Priapus, the god of the holy boner.


Sex and murder and madness


It goes on and on

a freakshow of dismemberment and slaughter

a complex information system of near-infinite savagery.


It’s inspiring to read the old masters.

They knew life’s antipathy so much better than we do now.



I admire Euripides.

He is pitiless.

He is humorless.

He is grim.

“The Bacchae” remains one of the great works of drama.

(Only don’t look to it for any sort of solace.)

It ends with Dionysus destroying the city of Thebes.


I adore Sophocles.

He is systematic.

He is prescient.

He is cruel.

“Oedipus Rex” remains one of the grand works of antiquity.

(Only don’t look to it for any sort of solace.)

It ends with Oedipus jabbing out his own eyes.


Aeschylus scares me.

He is schematic.

He is frightful.

He is vengeful.

“The Libation Bearers” remains nigh unreadable in its nastiness.

(Only don’t look to it for any sort of solace.)

It ends with Agamemnon and Clytemnestra murdered.


But I love Aristophanes.

He is laughter.

He is mirth.

He is ribaldry.

“The Birds” starts with two old men farting at each other.

(Only don’t look to it for any sort of solace.)

His endings don’t matter.



Four playwrights, most of their work lost.


And did they baptize their plays with animal sacrifice?

And did they dance, drunk on the blood of their enemies?

And did they celebrate the murder of innocent children?

And did Euripides beat his wife?

And did Aeschylus spit on the poor?

And did Sophocles cheat at cards?

And did Aristophanes molest little children?

And did they scheme with the rich?

And did they prey on the poor?

And do any of their actions, while alive, matter?


And—I can’t get it out of my head—

did they attend that goddamn dog-killing Festival of Argis?