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Musical Language and Performance in Euripides' Troades

Peter Blandino

Music (including dance, instrumentation and poetry) constitutes a major theme in Euripides’ Troades, and the play itself is predominantly musical in its performance. The ratio of lyric to spoken trimeters and recitative anapaests confirms this impression, as lyric makes up approximately half of the drama. A handful of scholars have observed this quality of the play. For instance, Murnaghan  (2011) understands the chorus’ references to choral celebrations prior to the fall of Troy as emphasizing the social breakdown evident in the play’s dramatic present. Munteanu (2011) focuses on a tension between threnos and epic, where the female characters of the play challenge a male poetic tradition, supplanting it with their own musical performances which grant kleos to the victims rather than victors. While these studies increase our appreciation of the Troades’ musical themes, I argue that a closer analysis of the play’s diversity of musical language, rhythms, and physical movement reveals a complex but coherent musical structure as of yet unrecognized. Euripides achieves this effect in the Troades primarily through disturbing amalgamations of different musical forms in single performances and an ambivalence in the play’s musical terms.

An example will suffice to clarify these conclusions. In Kassandra’s celebrated monody, we see mixed together elements of maenadic dancing, the hymeneal, and choral performance: Kassandra’s ecstatic shout, εὐὰν εὐοῖ (326), belongs to Dionysian celebration; the refrain, Ὑμὴν ὦ Ὑμέναι Ὑμήν (331) suggests the wedding song; and references to choruses, and particularly female choruses, continues a pattern of imagery established in the play’s first lines (1-3; 120-21; 146-52). The Dionysian content sits uncomfortably with the epithalamic refrain. Marriage introduces a bride into the husband’s household, a tie which stabilizes relations among citizens. Dionysian worship, on the other hand, removes her from the household during rites which suspend social norms. The mixing of hymeneal and bacchic motifs fits this dramatic context, in which Kassandra’s “marriage” will dissolve rather than establish a household. Her attempt to lead her mother and the captive Trojans in choral dance contributes to the dissonance of the song performance. Her ecstatic state isolates her from the group, and so the monodic form of this song proves thematically important. We witness a failed choral dance “celebrating” a failed civilization.

On the level of language, the song’s acoustic terminology adds a subtext of lament to a crowd of diverse musical references. Words celebrating the present “marriage” contain secondary connotations of suffering. For instance, when Kassandra bids the chorus to “shout out the marriage hymn”, βόασον ὑμέναιον, she uses an ambiguous verb. In the Troades, βόασον refers to celebratory song again in the second strophe of the first stasimon (547), but it also describes the murderous cry of the invading Greeks descending from the horse in the epode (554-6). In the third stasimon, the word is used to describe the headlands echoing with the cries of Trojan women for their lost husbands, children, and mothers (829-32). This is one of several instances where Euripides uses similar musical/acoustic terminology to express both celebration and lament. By destabilizing the play’s musical language, Euripides gives musical expression to a common tragic theme, the instability of human fortunes.

The remainder of this paper examines the play’s three stasima and concluding kommos with a similar focus and methodology. It seeks to move beyond the position that in tragedy musical performance qua ritual emphasizes deviations from social norms (see for example Easterling 1993). While I accept this concept, here I contend that Euripides in the Troades creates a musical structure and languge particularly suited to the themes and mood of this specific play.

Session/Panel Title:

Euripides

Session/Paper Number

30.2

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