Dionysus Caught Reading

I didn’t spy Mayor Jerry Sanders in the audience Friday night at The Theatre Inc.’s ancient Greek twinning of Prometheus Bound and Cyclops. Would he have found it edifying?

This week, under the direction of Mr. Sanders, large city vehicles roved the beaches of San Diego, removing concrete fire pits and secreting them into an undisclosed storage location until some civic-minded (and deep-pocketed) person or group pays a Lindbergh-grade ransom—289k US dollars for 18 months cleaning and upkeep.

This is the latest development in an evolving littoral culture. A temporary alcohol ban on city beaches was made permanent by voters in November. The putative reasoning for the temporary ban: civic order. Now that the mob has grunted its approval, the rights of the few are permanently subordinated.

Cyclops is the only surviving satyr play. The satyrs are lusty, drunken followers of Dionysus and in this play they’re also cowards, though hardly more cowardly than mighty Odysseus, who tries, like any good general, to get someone else (in this case the satyrs) to fight the Cyclops for him. Friday night, this play began immediately after the first one ended, appending some jolliness and frivolity to the tragic meditation on torture, the anger of the Gods, and man’s unhappy fate—kind of the way you might go to the beach after a long day of soul-crushing work and go for a swim and then sip from your wineskin as the sun settles pacifically into the sky’s western hem.

But until now, if you couldn’t sip your wine, you could at least start yourself a fire when it got dark.

The tragic part of the program featured Prometheus, whose name means “forethought,” chained to a cliff in the Caucasus by Zeus, who wasn’t a fan of Prometheus’ decision to steal fire from Mount Olympus and give it to mankind. Prometheus also vouchsafed man the ability to plan and the creative arts such as writing, and for this he suffered greatly.

Amazingly, MJS also tried to close some of our libraries, but luckily the city council voted to keep them open temporarily. One of the books you might still find on a public shelf is Percy Shelley’s Poetry and Prose. The closet play Prometheus Unbound is Shelley’s attempt to close the gap between Aeschylus’s tragedy and what’s been lost in ensuing years (namely, the ending: only 1/3 of Aeschylus’s trilogy survives). His Jupiter (aka Zeus, the one who imprisoned and tortured Prometheus) understood well man’s cruel fate—that some gifts are burdens, and should be taken back. From on high, he intones:

Henceforth I am omnipotent.

All else has been subdued to me—alone

The soul of man, like unextinguished fire,

Yet burns towards Heavan with fierce reproach and doubt

And lamentation and reluctant prayer,

Hurling up insurrection, which might make

Our antique empire insecure, thought built

On eldest faith, and Hell’s coeval, fear.