Read Gerald Owen's column below. Identify what you think are the best examples of pathos, anagnorisis, and peripeteia in each of the following works: Aeschylus, Oresteia; Euripides, Alcestis
; Sophocles, Philoctetes; Euripides, Hippolytus; and Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound. (5 works x 3 examples in each = 15 examples total in your essay response)
Casting pity on Europe's translators
June 25, 2005
Last weekend, the British press was full of reports that Jacques Chirac, the President of France, had called Tony Blair's behaviour at the recent European Union summit "pathetic."
This is a case of a faux ami or false friend. The French word pathetique does not mean "miserably inadequate; useless or worthless (a pathetic performance)," the second listed sense for "pathetic" in The Canadian Oxford Dictionary.
It's true that the EU had an angry summit. Other European leaders wanted Mr. Blair to give up a long-standing rebate -- now (ps)3.2-billion -- designed to compensate Britain for getting less in subsidies than the Union's mainland members.
The point of the request was to free up some money to help out the comparatively poor new members from the former Soviet empire.
Mr. Blair refused.
What Mr. Chirac really said was rhetorical and highfalutin, but not insulting. In French, pathetique has kept its old meaning of "arousing pathos." Implicitly, Mr. Chirac was calling Mr. Blair hard-hearted, but not contemptible.
Immediately after the summit, Mr. Chirac spoke to the TV audience about how the east Europeans had proposed to surrender part of their subsidies in return for a British surrender of the rebate. He described his emotion at the sight of the threadbare poor proffering up their meagre pittance, in futile hope of a compromise with callous Albion: "We arrived at a pathetic moment," which was emouvant -- it was a Shakespearian tragedy!
The mistranslation was not just the work of the sensationalist tabloids: The Guardian, the BBC, The Observer, the Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph were all guilty.
For instance, the Telegraph said last Saturday, "Mr. Blair's stubborn refusal to compromise over Britain's (ps)3-billion-a-year rebate was 'pathetic,' Mr. Chirac sneered."
And The Guardian: "Chirac strode on stage to condemn Britain's 'pathetic performance.' "
But The Sunday Telegraph got it right:
"Minutes after the summit broke up in the early hours of Saturday morning, M. Chirac said he had been 'moved' when the eastern European nations offered to give up some of their subsidies.
'He said that it was a 'tragic' moment, 'filled with pathos.' "
The word "pathos" has a very old link to tragedy. In ancient Greek, the word simply means "suffering," but it began its life as a technical term in Aristotle's Poetics, his short book on literature, which focuses on tragedy.
One of the three elements of a tragic plot, said Aristotle, is pathos, which is "a destructive or painful action, such as deaths on the open stage, torments and woundings." He also uses the corresponding adjective pathetike, applying it to tragedies that emphasize suffering rather than character.
Pathos or suffering was an essential ingredient, according to Aristotle, because he thought tragedy stimulates our pity and fear -- and thus gives us relief from these emotions, from which we get the concept of catharsis.
So pathos then was an event rather than a quality that evokes compassion. The word did not make its way into English and French until the late 1600s. In his comedy The Learned Women, Moliere used it satirically, putting it in the mouth of a pretentious male character called Vadius. The adjective "pathetic" had migrated into modern languages somewhat earlier.
The currently predominant sense of "pathetic" is only about 70 years old, appearing in Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, published in 1937. Likewise in The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the second sense cited above is still listed as "informal."
The change in meaning is natural. Pity implies some superiority of the person who pities by comparison with the person who is pitied. The same shift has happened with the scornful adjective "pitiful," which is no longer a synonym for "pitiable" (or the archaic "piteous").
One can say that someone would be an appropriate object for pity, without feeling any pity at all. On the contrary, this is often an expression of contempt.
The scornful new meaning has begun to make its way into French, too. A recent film review in Le Monde complained about "a pathetic concern for realism."
Mr. Chirac was not expressing contempt for the east Europeans, but by deploying them as a stick with which to beat Mr. Blair, he may after all have been showing some contempt.
Mr. Chirac and Mr. Blair could both learn from someone who earlier this month invoked another of Aristotle's three elements of tragic plot, peripeteia, or reversal of fortune:
"We live and we learn," said Mike Tyson, the boxer, in Washington this month. "We make mistakes. I don't know, you come through life and every time in life one of us, I'm trying to find a word, peripeteia -- it's when we believe something and as we get older we find everything that we believed was a lie and not true. And that's what I realized in life."
Mr. Tyson could equally well have referred to Aristotle's third tragic element: anagnorisis, or recognition.
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