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1 COMPAKATIVE i ama Volume 33Fall 1999Number 3 The Double Vision of Euripides' Cyclops: An Ethnographic Odyssey on the Satyr Stage Carol Dougherty Theater—the very word means to be a spectator—is all about looking, wondering, and watching the action on stage, and this visual experience transports the audience temporarily to new worlds and places.1 Euripides' satyr play, the Cyclops, for example , offers its fifth-century BCE Athenian viewers the slightly skewed vision of a hybrid world—part contemporary, part Homeric , part fantastic. The play blends the ribald conventions of satyr drama with a contemporary, late fifth-century setting; it combines the myth of Dionysus' capture by satyrs with the famous Odyssean episode ofPolyphemus, the man-eating Cyclops. In fact, as many scholars have noted, the plot of Euripides' satyr play is unexpectedly faithful to its Homeric model—the shipwreck , Maron's wine, the blinding of Polyphemus, and the "Nobody " pun all appear in Euripides' play just as in they do in Book 9 of the Odyssey? In other words, the play transports the audience to the long-ago and far-away world of Odysseus. While scholars have paid a great deal of attention to the relationship of Euripides' play to its Homeric predecessor, the question of why Euripides would invoke Homer so carefully has not been ad313 3 14 Comparative Drama dressed. Euripides, after all, is a poet known for his mythographic creativity. Why take such pains to present a clearly recognizable epic version of the story on a satyr stage? What is it that epic in general or the Odyssey specifically brings to the late fifth-century Athenian audience? The Odyssey, like theater, offers its audience a glimpse into brave new worlds and peoples. It is a rich and exciting tale of overseas travels and foreign encounters, and I will argue that it is this "ethnographic" quality of the Odyssey that Euripides draws upon here to set the stage for his updated presentation of the Odysseus and Polyphemus tale. Like many later, more explicitly ethnographic texts, the Odyssey combines a curiosity about the exotica of far-off lands with a more inwardly-focused examination ofhow the Greek world at home is changing and adapting to the new world emerging around it. At the same time, the genre of satyr drama holds contemporary Athenian life up to a "fun-house mirror"—satyrs distort the basic categories of life to interrogate (within the safe circle of the Dionysiac theater) the very essence of what it means to be human or Athenian. Thus, in the Cyclops, thanks to this melding of genres, the reflexivity ofthe Odyssey's ethnographic gaze combines with the comic self-scrutiny of satyr drama to provide the Athenian audience with a kind of double vision—a comic but critical view of their role as an imperial power toward the end ofthe fifth century, and perhaps a renewed insight into the complicated relationship between home and abroad . I An Ethnographic Odyssey. Let's start by exploring the ethnographic nature of the Odyssey in order to understand better what Euripides brings to the satyr stage when he invokes the famous story of Odysseus' encounter with the man-eating Polyphemus . Homer's Odyssey is a poem about travel, cross-cultural contact, and narrative, and in it new world accounts of trade and overseas exploration intersect with familiar tales from epic poetry to produce a rich and complex picture of a world in transition .3 Homer's fabulous tales of savage lands and magical palaces are more than folktale or fantasy; they are also steeped in the social, political, and cultural transformations taking place in the archaic Greek world. By this I do not mean that the Odyssey offers us an unproblematic reflection of the archaic period in Greece (or indeed of any one historical period)—the world ofthe Carol Dougherty315 Odyssey is a highly-constructed, poetic world and for this reason will not strictly conform to any one time period.4 Nevertheless, it is my contention that a poetic text like the Odyssey is very much a part of the world that produced it—it actively engages in the political and cultural negotiations of the archaic period rather...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 313-338
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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