Editor's Note: Guest blogger Ashley Myers '19 of Winchester, Massachusetts, is majoring in English with a concentration in fiction writing, and minoring in Classics and Psychology. She is the president of Cadenza, the literary magazine on campus, a member of Relay for Life, and is an intern at SWAAY, an online media platform that is empowering women in business. Writing is her passion, and she wouldn't want to pursue it anywhere other than Conn.
Last week, I left the long-awaited spring sunshine and entered Tansill Theater, the black box theater on campus. Contrary to my usual aversion to being stuck inside when the weather is fine, this was a welcome shift to darkness; soon I was raptly listening to dramatic readings of the Greek tragedies I’d been studying in class. The dim-lit setting reflected the grim nature of the tragedies. It would feel wrong to discuss infanticide, deserted soldiers and mourning sisters in the pleasant glow of May light. The event itself was titled: “Truth, Lies, and Deceit in Greek Tragedy,” a collaboration between my “Greek Tragedy” class, taught by professor Nina Papathanasopoulou, and professor David Jaffe’s class “Acting II: Play Analysis.”
While reading these plays is truly fascinating—I wouldn’t be a Classics minor if I thought otherwise—listening to them is much more impactful. Plays are meant to be heard, not solely read on paper; our eyes miss nuances that our ears deftly catch. During the reading of a scene from “The Libation Bearers,” one line in particular stood out to me, as if reborn from ink into soundwaves: “I am the snake.” To give some context, the character Orestes says this when the chorus tells him of his mother Clytemnestra’s nightmare about giving birth to a snake, which is a clear manifestation of the fear that Orestes will grow up to harm her. The vehemence with which that line was spoken in the play by Orestes (played by Mark McPhillips ’20) marked a striking revelation, going beyond what a reader may perceive as textually overt. After the performance, the discussion commenced. Professor Tobias Myers, a Classics professor who teaches one of my favorite Conn classes “Beauty Stand Still Here,” brought up that same line that had struck me, emphasizing auditory importance and piquing my curiosity. Did others in the room also feel the weight of those four words differently when hearing them read aloud? I may be referring to just a single line but imagine how many other lines, spanning the dense wealth of ancient plays, lose their power when simply read by our eyes.
Tone of voice also had a tremendous role in my experience of hearing the tragedies, oftentimes changing my perception of certain characters. For example, both the characters of Clytemnestra (played by Julianna Goldfluss ’20) and Medea (played by Scarlett Power ’20) managed to tug at my heartstrings with their beseeching, earnest tones. These are two vilified characters that failed to garner much sympathy from me while I was reading “Agamemnon” and “Medea.”Yet there I was, feeling pity for Clytemnestra, the woman who swiftly bedded another man after her husband, Agamemnon, left for Troy (before killing him upon his return) and subjected her daughter to a dreary slave’s life. With that being said, I was more shocked at my new-found sympathy for Medea, the child-killer, who I abhor and felt not an ounce of pity for until listening to the dramatic reading.
The difference listening made astounded me. While my eyes quickly scanned over the plays mentioned, my ears relished in their dramatic reading. Thanks to this event and the several classes I’ve taken with Professor Papathanasopoulou, I now understand that to fully appreciate a Greek tragedy, it must be heard.