Sex and Violence

These three pieces all concern classical tragedy’s relationship to sex, which The Waste Land then coopts and places in a modern setting. Within the chapter “The Medicine Man” in From Ritual to Romance, Weston inserts an assertion that from “the Agon of the Fertility Spirit, his Pathos, and Theophany,” originated Greek tragedy. It introduces this concept of the struggle of fertility as well as how is visits mankind that is more explored in the Ovid reading. In both the stories of Tiresias and Tereus, Procne, and Philomela, sex becomes tragic in the violence that accompanies it. The reference to Bacchus, god of fertility and ritual madness, in both works contributes to the close association of sex and violence that is played out in the bloody scenes that follow.

In The Waste Land, section III. The Fire Sermon, Tiresias presides over a modern tragedy that both echoes and subverts its classical antecedents. A young woman in lines 218-227 submits to sex without love. While it explicitly references both of Ovid’s poems, the young woman’s lack of sexual pleasure as well as her apathy towards what can be read as a rape scene directly defy both of them. However, the violence associated with fertility is just as present in the young man’s “assault” (239). Elliot depicts what he presents as a quintessentially modern scene (complete with gramophone and combinations) as possessing all the tragedy and more of the ancients’ understanding of sex and violence.

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