“With some important exceptions, scholars and translators, from the 19th Century onwards, have been virtually at one in their indifference to Seven Against Thebes; an indifference which has been deflected from time to time only into overt hostility and contempt. The play has been accused of being static, undramatic, ritualistic, guilty of an interpolated and debased text, archaic and in a word, boring.” — Introduction to Aeschylus’s Seven Against Thebes; translated by Anthony Hecht and Helen H. Bacon.
These translators found themselves in “profound disagreement” with this assessment and so, apparently, did a troupe of hip-hop performers with library cards. That may be terribly unfair; if so, I suppose I apologize. It’s just that I can’t help chuckling to myself when I think, Yo, trip! Nothin’ says street cred like Aeschylus. And yet someone, Justin Ellington for one, may think so.
“La Jolla Playhouse presents Will Power’s hip-hop, ‘sampling’ take on Aeschylus’s Seven Against Thebes, developed and directed by Justin Ellington.” (online event listing).
And why not? The 1959 Italian sword-and-sandal epic that my brother and I snuck into the Mercury Theater in Chicago to see, Hercules Unchained, one of Steve Reeves’s finer efforts, was based on nothing less than Seven Against Thebes, the very same.
“Greek tragedy meets hip-hop in writer/composer Will Power’s modern adaptation of Aeschylus’ story of a cursed family and a society unsure of how to free itself from war. Power’s urban remix, with rhyming verse and diverse musical styles, shines with relevance through the eyes of a new generation.” — LaJollaPlayhouse.org
Adapted from Aeschylus’ “Seven Against Thebes”
Book and Lyrics by Will Power
Music by Will Power, Will Hammond, Justin Ellington
Choreography by Bill T. Jones
Developed and Directed by Jo Bonney
Originally Produced by New York Theatre Workshop
Through March 16, 2008
“So the honor of this mothering land may not be extinguished, either for her children whom she brought forth and cherished, or for herself, their parent and devoted nurse. For when you were infants on all fours, dandled upon her nourishing hills and valleys....” — Aeschylus: Seven Against Thebes
Or here, another translation of, I think, the same passage: “[T]he beloved mother who nourishes her offspring, so that defence of one is the defence of the other. So the honor of this mothering land may not be extinguished...she welcomed the familiar burdens of child-rearing, tended you, brought you up, so that you would be filial keepers of her house, bearers of shields....” — Ibid
If I may be so bold? The mother in question is Mother Earth or Mother Greece or, in a contemporary leap (if I’m pickin’ up what time it is, know what I’m sayin’?) the Mother Hood. I can see this working.
In The Birth of Political Science in Ancient Greek Thought, author Arlene W. Saxonhouse observes, “[Seven Against Thebes is] embedded in a series of myths that lie behind the action and help to draw out the central themes of the action.”
I can’t help but wonder how Will Power and Justin Ellington might make use of what Saxonhouse calls, the “autochthonic,” Mother Earth, for example. I guess I’m wondering how the word “mother” will be used in a hip-hop context. I don’t know about you, but the concept of a hip-hop version of a Greek tragedy fires my imagination. I can, for example, see Eteocles’s words in the play:
If man find hurt,
yet clasp his honour still,
Tis well; the dead have honour, nought beside.
Hurt, with dishonour, wins no word of praise!
That might emerge like this in a modern street rhyme:
Yo, you gotta cap popped in yo’ ass?
And you don’t roll over on a homie?
You doin’ a solid fo’ yo’ wasted brother.
The brother got no respect without yo’ solid.
Yo catch a cap and you roll on a brother?
Doan even get no rhyme from me!
I wonder what Death Row Records might have paid me not to write that or anything else for the rest of my life?
I’m aiming for Friday night, March 7, to catch the 8 p.m. performance. I’m hoping the cast is off my foot by then and I’ll be able to get a ride. I feel it is incumbent upon me to see this, even if, and maybe especially if, it is a kind of punishment. I probably deserve it if for no other reason than because I wrote a rap piece called, “Comin’ to a Drive-By near You,” an unloving tribute to that amelodic form and one my girlfriend told me I’m going to hell for.
“But you’re Jewish. You don’t even believe in hell,” I remember telling her.
“That’s because it usually doesn’t exist except right here. But in your case, for this, I think God will open one up.”