Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More on Greek and Medeia and Euripides and awesomeness

Previously I shared with you some observations on the word order that is available thanks to an inflected language. This time there will be an observation of how the word endings (morphemes remember) can add ambiguity to a text, which, in the context of Euripides 'Medeia' is awesome and so so clever.

So, here is the quote:

ἀλλ᾽ οἵδε παῖδες ἐκ τρόχων πεπαυμένοι
στείχουσι, μητρὸς οὐδὲν ἐννοούμενοι
κακῶν: νέα γὰρ φροντὶς οὐκ ἀλγεῖν φιλεῖ.

My translation: 
But these children, having stopped playing with hopes, are coming, not having in mind of the evils confronting their mother, for it is unexpected of the children to love to reflect sorrowfully. 

However there is an ambiguity in the Greek. This is the highlighted ending of μήτηρ. It is genitive, so a really natural translation is "the evils of Medeia", however we have no idea what are the evils of Medeia this early on in the play, so the sort of logical reading is a more objective (in the sense that Medeia is the 'object of evils') genitive, where it is more like the one above. But, not so fast, this is poetry after all. We should (and can) embrace the ambiguity, and perhaps try and allow for both. As we further read about these Medeia person, we begin to discover an unsavory character who goes on to kill her own children as a means to get back at her (ex)husband Jason. So, in some ways this ambiguity is foreshadowing the future evils, much like the earlier juxtapositioning of "νέον παλαιῷ" which got is to think about what are the older evils? Well, this ambiguity also invites us to ponder what could the 'evils of Medeia' be?

On another note, this ambiguity is annoying in other contexts, the bible for example (well particular Paul the apostle) uses this little phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ about eight times in his letters. What does it mean? Is it subjective or objective? (By the way, it is objective, people just like being contrarian). The difference is either 'Faith in Christ' (objective, i.e. Christ is the object of the faith) or 'Faith of Christ' (subjective, i.e. Christ is the subject of Faith and so its the faith of Christ). Your bible will translate it as 'in' most likely. Once again, they are right, and here are 100 reasons to think so. So there. 

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