Cheating with the Greeks.
Ok, I’ll ‘fess up, while I may be earnestly hacking at the rockface of Proust, I picked Sophocles’ ‘The Theban Plays’ to write about because I studied them at school. From the very first page, I was hurtled back to the stuffy classroom, to once again marinate in waft after waft of our teacher’s stale BO, ripening in the heat of clanking radiators on full blast, while we took it in turns to read aloud, murdering the lovingly-crafted words of Sophocles one by one with impassive monotone.
Still, nightmares of childhood aside, I thought this would be a fairly easy ride, being I’d read it before.
What I hadn’t expected was the joy! I’d forgotten how, for a while back there I developed a sort of crush on Greek Literature – Aeschylus, Euripedes, Aristophanes and Homer, as well as Sophocles. In fact, the infatuation had begun years before when as a tiny tot of 5 or 6, the infeasibly tall Junior school Headmaster would occasionally take the Infant school’s assemblies. He would tell stories from Greek myths which flew in the face of the Bible stories that I’d been exclusively fed on until then. He gave us alternative versions of creation, gods, and of thunder and lightening, and I remember even at my tender age that this all felt thrillingly subversive. I would even go so far as to pinpoint the telling of those myths as the moment that I realised that there are more than one version of events, and that one person’s truth is another’s fiction.
So, when, as a teenager, my crush was rekindled with study of the Greek tragedians, I would make special pilgrimages to Foyles and other London book shops, (occasionally bunking off school for added kicks – yet more subversion!) and step into the hushed rarified air of the black-spined Penguin Classics section which made me feel giddy with wisdom, and ensured that my IQ felt decidedly improved on leaving the shop merely from being in close proximity to such greatness.
Much has changed in the years since – primarily the vanishing of book shops in the wake of internet shopping, (I’m as guilty as the next person!) but I wonder whether returning to these books and plays will exert the same subversive pull on me as they did on my younger self. Only time will tell!