This weekend we started in on Aeschylus's Oresteia trilogy, beginning with "Agamemnon." Last week we read Euripedes's "Trojan Women," a play that we are performing in a few weeks. Thankfully Greek drama calls for very spare productions!
Greek drama is long on speeches and short on, well, drama. At least the sort of drama and realistic acting that we have come to expect from Hollywood or even Broadway. While the text of Greek drama is sometimes difficult for untrained ears to follow, it is worthwhile to make the effort. More on that in a bit.
This winter I have thought a lot about friendship through the reading that I have done. First, I read Lewis's Four Loves which has me thinking about philia in a new way. Not long after that I re-read Chaim Potok's novel The Chosen, which deeply affected me. As Lewis describes it, philia love is the love of two people facing together a common aim or purpose, like the Greek warrior and his armor-bearer (this image resonated far better with me thanks to our school study of Homer last fall). In The Chosen, Reuven and Danny loyally support each other through their journey to manhood. Their relationship is marked by philia as well as agape, the sort of love described for us by Paul in I Corinthians 13. Selfless love that bears all things.
Another book in my stack at the moment is Tim Keller's The Meaning of Marriage. (This is a highly recommended book about marriage and let me add my own endorsement. Very good.) In the chapter "The Mission of Marriage," Keller writes about the importance of building a marriage on Christian friendship. Keller writes,
"Christian friendship is not simply about going to concerts together or enjoying the same sporting event. It is a deep oneness that develops as two people journey together toward the same destination, helping one another through the dangers and challenges along the way."
The ultimate destination in a Christian marriage--or friendship--is Christ. Dangers and challenges encountered may be physical and may be spiritual and may be emotional, but Christian friends ought to selflessly be ready to help a friend or be ready to receive help from a friend as they journey toward Christ.
Back to Greek drama.
That selfless agape love Paul described, added to the philia love (and in a marriage friendship eros love) is impossible to live out apart from Christ. And so it is no wonder that Aechylus puts these words into the mouth of Agamemnon, who has returned from waging war in Troy alongside friends for ten years:
"In few men is it part of nature to respect
a friend's prosperity without begrudging him,
as envy's wicked poison settling to the heart
piles up the pain in one sick with unhappiness,
who, staggered under sufferings that are all his own,
winces again to the vision of a neighbor's bliss."
(Lattimore translation, lines 832-837)
Envy is indeed a poison and the only antidote is contentment in Christ. Sad that the Greeks perceived so much truth but lacked knowledge of Truth.