3 October 2010

Euripides and the Canons of Glasney

One of the fascinating things about the plays of the great Athenian dramatists is found in the question of what the audience at the first production expected; and what would have surprised them. The Greek myths often had a given framework but were unfixed and fluid in detail; for example, Homer tells us that when Agamemnon returned from Troy he was killed by Clytemnestra's lover Aigisthos at a banquet; but Aeschylus cheerfully makes Clytemnestra herself entangle Agamenon in his bath with a net, and then slaughter him with her own hands. And the first audience of Euripides' Medea would have known that her and Jason's children ended up dead; but who killed them - Jason's relatives? - would have been unclear until it was revealed to them, in the play, that their own mother slaughtered them to spite her unfaithful husband. Euripides actually got away with a play that portrayed Helen as not even eloping to Troy; it was but a wraith of her which fled with Paris. Meanwhile, she visited Egypt ...

In the Middle Cornish dramas composed by the Canons of Glasney College, the outline is often Biblical and known. But ...

The Resurrexio Domini follows the main outline of the Gospel narratives. But at the end of it (curiously like the way in which the Athenian dramatists, after a dramatic trilogy, added a fourth play in a lighter and racier genre ... perhaps to relax the atmosphere) is added a much briefer Mors Pilati. What interests me here - perhaps some of you have the broad literary knowledge to give me an answer - is: to what extent is the narrative of this in accordance with well-known and iconographically familiar stories? To what extent not?

We begin with Tiberius sick of leprosy; he is cured by Veronica who deploys her vernicle. Now a fervent Christian, he desires to execute the Pontius Pilatus who killed the Lord. Some knock-about comedians called Tortores secure Pilate; but when he is brought before Tiberius, the emperor is unable to harm him. This turns out to be because Pilate is wearing the Seamless robe of Christ, which he declines to remove on the dual grounds that it is rather dirty by now; and that it would be disrepectful to appear naked before his sovereign ...

And so and so it goes on. Did the Glasney clerics invent it all; were the Cornish peasants on the edges of their seats to know what would happen next; or did they have a pretty sound knowledge of where the story was leading?

3 comments:

Sue Sims said...

Straight out of the Golden Legend, Father - from the 13th century onwards, probably the most popular book in the whole of Christendom. (You'll remember that it was one of the two books - the other being the Gospels - in the castle where the future St Ignatius was convalescing after his leg had been reset).

Fr LR said...

I'm partial to the Heliand. Especially the part where Christ's warrior-companion the mighty and noble swordsman, Peter, flies into the berserk and raging he advances, draws his weapon and slashes off the ear and cheek of Malchus who falls from the mortal wound delivered by the mighty thane.

Bryan said...

Dear Sue Sims,

Sorry the other book St Ignatius read was not the Gospels but a Catalan translation of De Vita Christi by Ludolphus de Saxonia (aka Ludolph the Carthusian) (1300-1378)

It is suggested that St Ignatius developed his method of meditation from Ludolph's approach see:

Sr Mary Immaculate Bodenstedt, "The Vita Christi of Ludolphus the Carthusian", a Dissertation, Washington: Catholic University of America Press 1944 British Library Catalogue No. Ac2692.y/29.(16).

Sadly never translated into English apart from Fr Coleridge's** translation of the meditations on the Passion. The is a good French translation published between 1870 and 1876; it's a long work.

**A nephew of the poet who was a Jesuit.