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I have hardly heard Silence July 2017

‘Words, endless words.’ How fitting. I love having the words I’ve memorized echoing in my head all day – as I cook, walk, sit in the car.
Lucina Schwartz
Lucina Schwartz at Martha Frintzila’s acting school in Elefsina during the PIIRS Global Seminar in Athens.

By Lucina Schwartz ’19

I have a tendency to fill silences. When there is a pause in class, I speak; I often sing when cooking or taking a walk. This is how I understand myself; this is also how I understand Greece, living here briefly as a student participating in the PIIRS Global Seminar, “Re:Staging the Greeks.” I feel that Greece, too, fills silences, both in the soundscapes of everyday life and in the sounds of Greek Theater.

First in Athens and then in Epidaurus, I was constantly listening to the background – compelling sounds, difficult to tune out. Athens, like any city, is full of people and vehicles, but for me, it also had its own particular sounds – people shouting prices in our neighborhood’s outdoor food market; students chatting as they smoked outside the summer school of Martha Frintzila, our acting professor; the soft drone of cars and the rumble of motorcycles outside my bedroom window. Until this summer, I had never been able to fall asleep easily in a loud city before. I guess it must have helped that, because of all of our seminar’s absorbing activities (hours of class, seeing plays, visiting archaeological sites) I was always exhausted by the time I slept. Strangely, for all the incredible things we have done during the seminar, when I think of Athens the first thing I think of is drifting to sleep each evening, cradled in its night noises.

In Epidaurus, where we have come for our final two weeks, night is the quietest time. It’s when the cicadas finally quiet their buzzing, which goes on relentlessly all day. During the day, I could hear them even behind the walls of my apartment, as if nature wanted to bring its revelry indoors. For the first few mornings here, in my sleepy haze I mistook the buzzing for my roommate, Feyisola, taking a shower. Among the sounds of Epidaurus are the bees buzzing at breakfast and the waves gently breaking on our backyard shore. When the weather changed from hot, humid and stagnant to cool and windy, the environment’s soundscape changed from pulsating garden to whispering shore. The bugs quieted down, too.

‘Words, endless words.’ How fitting. I love having the words I’ve memorized echoing in my head all day – as I cook, walk, sit in the car.

I have hardly heard silence this summer in Greece, not only because of the outside background noises but also because of the clamor of Ancient Greek Theater. In his book, “How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today,” Simon Goldhill says that Greek tragedy is particularly wordy, and he doesn’t mean it in a bad way. When I encountered Goldhill’s statement as assigned reading, I already knew it was true from seeing, reading and performing the ancient Greek plays.

We saw over 10 performances, various and splendid, during our time in Greece. The very first play we saw was Amalia Moutousis’ one-woman performance of Euripides’ “Hippolytus.” For much of the play, she spat, coughed and breathed out words like she was possessed by them. Later, we saw a play, “Metropolis,” made up of messenger speeches from several of the ancient tragedies, and I experienced the same melodious deluge of Greek. Then, last night, we heard our acting professor Martha and her band sing the choral odes of Euripides’ “The Bacchae.” It was one of our last scheduled performances, and even though I was moved by the sound of the music alone, I had never wished to understand Greek more desperately.

In these last two weeks, memorizing a scene from Euripides’ “Iphigenia in Aulis,” a monologue from Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon” and a chorus from Euripides’ “The Bacchae” has given me the close encounter with Greek tragedy that I so craved when I was reading them too quickly earlier in the program. The monologue I perform, Clytemnestra’s speech (spoiler alert) after she has killed her husband, begins, “Words, endless words.” How fitting. I love having the words I’ve memorized echoing in my head all day – as I cook, walk, sit in the car. One day, during a group excursion to town, my scene partner Julia and I recited our scene over and over with as many accents and moods as we could think of. We drove everyone crazy. Here, in Greece’s drowsy heat, there has been time to think about the possible meanings of each phrase and to experiment with its expression. It amazes me how the way I perform excerpts from these tragedies has evolved and is still evolving. Our class discussions constantly prompt me to rethink my existing approach.

So, a few days from now, when I return home bearing a few gifts and a lot of dirty laundry, I will also be filled with the sounds of Greece: motorcycles, bugs, endless words…

Lucina Schwartz is a junior English major from Barrington, Rhode Island. She attended the PIIRS Global Seminar, “Re:Staging the Greeks,” this past summer which was held primarily in Athens, Greece. Michael Cadden, chair of the Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts, taught the six-week course.