Tag Archives: tragedy

Game of Thrones Red Wedding and Ancient Greek Xenia

WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS: If you have not watched Season 3 Episode 9 and care about being surprised, do not read any further!

So I’m a bit of a Game of Thrones fan which is probably no surprise being that it draws some influence from the classical world, although probably more influence comes from the northern myths, stories, and legends. I found myself spending the last few days watching reactions to the last episode because they are completely hilarious (clip above).  I usually don’t write about obvious evidence of classical influence, but this particular episode brought up a very important theme in ancient literature and epic. This theme is known in Greek as xenia. Xenia is a common rule in ancient cultures of guest-friendship meaning that there is a certain expectation of safety and hospitality among travelers, guests, and hosts. There is also a cool small souvenir and novelty shop in Philly called Xenos (guest/foreigner) but that’s another story.  In Game of Thrones this custom was clearly not upheld as just about everyone who was a guest at the wedding was killed.

Breaking the customs of xenia has a tradition in ancient literature of leading to terrible things and usually huge wars which kill far more people than those involved in the original dispute. I have no doubt that this will be the case in Game of Thrones. This blog is not about my predictions for HBO television shows so I won’t go into them more than that, but what I know from reading ancient literature is that once the rules of xenia are broken, Pandora’s box is opened because those customs of trust are what made travel possible in the ancient world and were necessary to a functioning civilization. Once one side breaks the rules, all sides break the rules. This was so important that to violate xenia was actually insulting Zeus.

Side note: The documentary Craigslist Joe is an experiment in modern American xenia.

Some examples in Ancient Greek literature of breaking these rules are as follows.

  1. The Trojan War- Yes the Trojan War started as a result of a breach of hospitality. This was opposite of the Red Wedding though in that the guest was the perpetrator. Paris stole Menelaus’ wife while he was a guest at Menelaus’ house; whether Helen went willingly or not has always seemed irrelevant to me.
  2. The Odyssey- Xenia is all over this story as it is basically an epic of travel. The most important in my mind is that of Odysseus’ house in which the suitors were demanding things beyond the custom; this doesn’t end well for them.
  3. Euripides Alcestis– This entire play is based on the importance of xenia. Alcestis’ husband Admetus was such a great host that Apollo convinced the Fates to allow him to live past his given time of death.  Ademtus is so devoted to the custom of hospitality that he betrays the last wishes of his dying wife in order to be a good host to the famous Heracles.
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Phineas and Ferb meet Greek Tragedy

Sorry I have been away, but this blog is back and up and running. This is probably my favorite post yet because I am truly a kid at heart.

I was recently watching the wonderful cartoon Phineas and Ferb. For those of you who haven’t seen it you must it is quite funny even for someone who is only a kid at heart. The show is about two kids, Phineas and Ferb, who are constantly building something or having some sort of adventure. They have an older sister Candace. Candace will be the focus of this post. Her role is as a stock character who is never believed, classicists reading this already know where I am going with it. She is always correct in her observation, especially when she is trying to show her mom what Phineas and Ferb are up to, but she is either not believed or whatever they are doing has magically disappeared by the time Mom gets there and she calls Candace crazy.

The connection to classics is the tragic character Cassandra. Cassandra was cursed with the gift of prophecy but the additional problem that no one will ever believe her prophecies. The most famous account of this is in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon where Cassandra gives the account of her curse herself.  She explains that Apollo came to her with desire and she accepted that she would be his if he would give her the gift of prophecy: “I promised I would be his, but I cheated him of that” (Agamemnon, 1208).  She goes on, “Once I had wronged him, I could persuade no one. They believed nothing” (Agamemnon, 1211). Due to this portrayal in Greek tragedy characters have been described as having Cassandra syndrome or a Cassandra complex (note: there is deeper psychology associated with this complex than I am giving here which has to do with the way relationships determine rationality).

While Candace, of Phineas and Ferb, does not see the future she is privy to a select knowledge due to her closeness to her brothers. This knowledge is often unique because others do not have access to it. In this way Candace is a modern adaptation of Cassandra and fits into the pantheon of archetypal characters which have been influenced by the ancient Cassandra.

To become further familiarized with the role of Cassandra you might turn to Homer’s Iliad, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, and Euripides’ Trojan Women and Electra. For more information about the Cassandra complex in psychology you can look at studies by Melanie Klein and Laurie Layton Schapira.   

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