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Odd Gospel Greek: drama around women around the cross

March 30, 2013

I just re-read Anne Carson’s translations of the Greek in An Oresteia: Agamemnon by Aiskhylos; Elektra by Sophokles; Orestes by Euripides.  In one of these dramas, her English renders the following:

MENELAOS     Yet it’s not surprising, given your crime.

ORESTES          But I have one escape.

MENELAOS     Don’t say death, that would be stupid.

ORESTES          No I mean Apollo, who assigned me to kill / my mother.

That’s her translation of the not-so-odd Greek of Euripides.

But I’d been reading the gospel of John yesterday, and these four lines sent me back to that odd gospel Greek. I read chapter 19:25-27 as the following drama. My translation is first, and then that Greek.

There they were, standing by the cross of Joshua:

Mother of Joshua,
The sister of Mother of Joshua,
Miriam the wife of the man of K’lofah,
and Miriam of Magdala.

Joshua beheld them:

Mother
and Talmid, standing by, who was beloved

He declared to Mother of Joshua:

Woman behold:
Son of Mother of Joshua

Then he declared to Talmid:

Behold:
Mother of Talmid

From that Hour he
took her,
Talmid did,
as his own Mother

εἱστήκεισαν δὲ παρὰ τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ,

ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ,
καὶ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ,
Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Κλωπᾶ,
καὶ Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνή.

Ἰησοῦς οὖν ἰδὼν

τὴν μητέρα
καὶ τὸν μαθητὴν παρεστῶτα ὃν ἠγάπα

λέγει τῇ μητρί αὐτοῦ

Γύναι ἰδοῦ
ὁ υἱός σου

εἶτα λέγει τῷ μαθητῇ

Ἰδού
ἡ μήτηρ σου

καὶ ἀπ’ ἐκείνης τῆς ὥρας
ἔλαβεν αὐτὴν
ὁ μαθητὴς
εἰς τὰ ἴδια

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2013 12:07 pm

    Can you unpack that for us, Kurk? I don’t see any connection…

  2. March 30, 2013 12:20 pm

    Thanks for asking, Victoria. Well, there’s little connection between (a) suicidal threats and matricide and (b) making sure that one’s mother and own loved ones survive one’s own death and dying at the hands of others. That’s sort of the point I was trying to make by showing these two dramas side by side. You may notice too that her translations of Euripides (also “Grief Lessons”) are so very much more straightforward than Carson’s translation of Sophokles’s “Antigonick.” I didn’t really need, then, to give you the playwright’s Greek. But the Hellene of the gospel, now it’s odd indeed, and I felt like my translation if some too my formatting of the lines only just barely hints at that. There’s a kind of metamorphosis or there are metamorphoses happening not only in the phrasing and word play but also in the play of the narrative dialogue (i. e. in the tragic theatre spectacle) itself.

  3. April 3, 2013 7:54 pm

    Isn’t one popular interpretation of these verses that the disciple (“talmid”) is a universal figure; supposed to apply to all disciples; so that all disciples (including the reader of this gospel) are to take the “Woman” to be their mother?

  4. April 3, 2013 8:33 pm

    Theophrastus, I touched on this question in a paper I wrote on the miracle at Cana, John 2:1-11, because these are the only two scenes in which the mother of Jesus appears, and in both of them, she is addressed as “Woman.” (A usage which is unusual in John, who normally has Jesus address women by name if he knows them. While this form of address is not a disrespectful form of address from a man to a woman in this culture, it is unattested between mother and son.)

    I was focusing on the figure of Mary rather than the beloved disciple, but perhaps this will still be of interest:

    Because neither the mother nor the beloved disciple is named, many authors infer that they are both symbolic, rather than personal, figures; and that whatever Mary symbolizes here, she must also symbolize in the earlier scene at Cana. However, there is no consensus as to exactly what or whom she represents; the literature is plentiful and diverse. Suggestions include the Jewish people, the Jewish Christians, the Church, and Eve.

    Adeline Fehribach’s The women in the life of the Bridegroom: a feminist historical-literary analysis of the female characters in the Fourth Gospel provides a brief survey of these views (23-25); however, she argues that the figure of the mother of Jesus must be interpreted separately in each pericope, and presents an interpretation by Schussler-Fiorenza.

  5. April 3, 2013 9:12 pm

    Very interesting, Victoria. I hope you will consider posting more parts of your essay online. I would enjoy reading more of it.

  6. April 4, 2013 7:57 am

    In this particular context, the universality of the talmid and (the) Mother is touching. It’s especially that if the narrator is seen (and/or trying to be understood) as this talmid by, for, and to his readers.

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