Daniel Mendelsohn, a longtime contributor to The New York ­Review, teaches at Bard. His essay in this issue will accompany The Greek Plays, a collection of translations that will be published by Modern ­Library Classics in August.
 (June 2016)

IN THE REVIEW

How Greek Drama Saved the City

Jason meeting Medea, with Amor between them; detail of a Sicilian red-figure cup, circa 350 BCE
For us, the children of Freud, great drama is often most satisfying when it enacts the therapy-like process by which the individual psyche is stripped of its pretentions or delusions to stand, finally, exposed to scrutiny—and, as often as not, to the audience’s pity or revulsion. But although there are great Greek plays that enact the same process—Sophocles’ Oedipus inevitably comes to mind—it would appear, given the strange twinning of Athenian drama and Athenian political history, that for the Athenians, tragedy was just as much about “the city” as it was about the individual.

A Striptease Among Pals

Peter Hujar: Orgasmic Man, 1969; from Peter Hujar: Love & Lust, published last year by Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. A new exhibition, ‘Peter Hujar: 21 Pictures,’ will be on view at the gallery, January 7–March 5, 2016.

A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara
The title of Hanya Yanagihara’s second work of fiction stands in almost comical contrast to its length: at 720 pages, it’s one of the biggest novels to be published this year. To this literal girth there has been added, since the book appeared in March, the metaphorical weight of several prestigious award nominations. Both the size of A Little Life and the impact it has had on readers and critics alike—a best seller, the book has received adulatory reviews in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and other serious venues—reflect, in turn, the largeness of the novel’s themes.

The Robots Are Winning!

Alicia Vikander as the robot Ava in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina

Her

a film directed by Spike Jonze

Ex Machina

a film directed by Alex Garland
We have been dreaming of robots since Homer. In Book 18 of the Iliad, Achilles’ mother, the nymph Thetis, wants to order a new suit of armor for her son, and so she pays a visit to the Olympian atelier of the blacksmith-god Hephaestus, whom she finds hard at work on a series of automata.

The Bacchae: Ecstasy & Terror

‘The death of Pentheus’; detail of a red-figure cup by the Athenian painter Douris, circa 480 BC
In the spring of 411 BC, the comic playwright Aristophanes presented to the citizens of Athens a new work, Thesmophoriazousae, lampooning the tragedian Euripides. The tongue-twisting title of the play means “Women Celebrating the Thesmophoria,” a reference to an annual all-female rite held in honor of the fertility goddess Demeter.

NYR DAILY

The Cemetery Dream

For a period of two or three years during the late 1980s or early 1990s—it’s difficult, now, to recall exactly when, but I know it was while I was a graduate student—I repeatedly dreamt the same terrifying dream. Once a week sometimes, sometimes every other week, sometimes twice a week or more, it would (as I then thought) be waiting for me as soon as I dropped off, identical each time in every detail: the open gate, the familiar headstones, the sudden sunset, the missing graves, the dead I knew so well but who didn’t seem to know me any more, chasing me, the gun, the embarrassing horror-movie detail of the silver bullets.

NYR CALENDAR

Ex Machina

Another heir of Blade Runner and Battlestar Galactica, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina also explores the suggestive confusions that result when machines look and think like humans.