What Else Is Wisdom

Look up from the jugglers, the escape artists, the tightrope walkers performing on the piazza at Covent Garden. Look across to St, Paul’s Church on one side of the piazza, opposite the cafes and shops. Go around to Bedford Street and you can walk into the garden and into the church.

Built by Inigo Jones in 1633, it is known as the Actors’ Church because of its association with actors, being near to the theatre area of the city. Inside there are plaques noting the death of stage and screen actors.

On one of the plaques, a line caught my eye – a quote from The Bacchae by Euripides.

What else is wisdom? To stand from fear set free: To stand and wait.

I went to read the Bacchae, or read some of it. It is a play written by Euripides in about 480-406 B.C, and it runs to about 18,000 words in the English translation. It is the story of Dionysus, the god of wine, of prophecy, of transcendence, and fertility, who returns to his home in Thebes to clear his mother’s name and to punish those who have refused to allow people to worship him.

The full stanza reads:

What else is Wisdom?
What of man’s endeavour
Or God’s high grace, so lovely and so great?
To stand from fear set free, to breathe and wait;
To hold a hand uplifted over Hate;
And shall not Loveliness be loved for ever?

It is said by ‘Some Maidens‘, and it’s a plea, is it not, to be kind.

That’s not how the play ends. Dionysius banishes Agaue from the city and turns Cadmus and his wife into snakes that will terrorise the city ever after in the form of hordes of barbarians.

Ah well.