My Commonplace Book (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)
Even at their darkest, Shakespeare’s history plays have the built-in promise of a better future, of an ever more civilized England.
The Greek classics, on the other hand, have no such complacency. Among their incontrovertible principles are the beliefs that the human race was born to suffer and to inflict suffering; that empires rise only to fall; that self-knowledge, if it ever arrives, comes too late.
— Ben Brantley, drama critic (2004, from his NY Times review of a new production of a tragedy by Euripides)
When I was young I thought it was unfair and false that Greek tragedies always, inevitably sent their well-intentioned heroes toward destruction and betrayal of their highest ideals. I preferred Shakespeare, whose characters might also end up as dead bodies littered across the stage, but there was always at least one person left to pick up the pieces and promise a better future.
As the years have passed, I have become more “Greek.” Over and over again, I have seen that we betray principles and people that we prize; that we rarely even know, let alone do, what we should have done; that we frequently do what we should not have done.
The quotation, “Those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it,” mocks us. Sadly, those who know our history quite well must be aware of how we keep repeating the same mistakes, denying or ignoring what we should have learned by them.
(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)