Jimmy Jack Cassie, for whom the world of ancient myths is as real and as immediate as everyday life, provides us with our first examples of the classical content in Translations. He acts as a human bridge between the present worlds of Baile Beag and those of Ancient Greece and Rome, and links many of the themes and events with classical history and mythology. One of the most important thematic links is the development of Jimmy Jacks relationship with the Goddess Athene. Jimmy fails to treat her like a fictional character, even comparing her to women from his village no harm to our own Grania¦
But I would go bull straight for Athene. His relationship with the mythological character is real to him, and thus the problems he faces are as realistic as the problems faced by the people around him. As Jimmy contemplates his impending marriage to Athene at the end of the play he brings up the word exogamein meaning to marry outside the tribe and asks Is Athene sufficiently mortal or am I sufficiently godlike for the marriage to be acceptable to her people and to my people? . This idea becomes especially significant when parallels drawn between this relationship and the relationship between Maire and Yolland.
Jimmy sees these parallels and asks Maire to think about his question. Probably realising that a similar question to Jimmys can be asked of them: is Maire sufficiently anglicized or is Yolland sufficiently Irish for their union to be acceptable to her people and to his people? . Many people would not want to accept this union. In the play the part of the disapproving populace is played by the Donnelly twins who are suspected with having caused Yollands disappearance. They represent the catholic nationalists who strongly opposed the union between Ireland and England (and perhaps also of Maire and Yolland) and often reacted violently.
Both Maire and Yolland are in a similar half-way stage to Jimmy Jack. Irish Maire has dreams of learning English and moving to England, whilst British Yolland describes is feelings for Ireland as a sense of recognition, of confirmation of something I half new instinctively showing his sense of belonging to this foreign country. Another parallel between the two relationships is the existence of a barrier between the people in it. In Jimmy Jacks case it is the obvious fact that Athene does not actually exist in the physical world. His communication with her may be effective but it isnt real eye to eye, conventional conversation.
Maire and Yollands barrier is that of language. They too communicate effectively but are unable to use conventional methods as they do not speak the same language. Like Jimmy and Athene they are from different worlds. Barriers in Translations exist not only in relationships between people but also those between countries. These themes are also developed through the classical content. Friels choice of Athene as the main mythological character in Translations is especially significant in both this and the exploration of Jimmy Jack as a character.
Athene is the patron of war and wisdom, which seems fitting in a play which is based on conflict. She is also the Goddess associated with heroic endeavours 1, which is equally fitting given the struggles against the British colonialists described by Hugh and Jimmy Jack Cassie, such as their involvement in the 1798 uprising against British rule and their defiance of the soldiers who come to Baile Beag after Manuss disappearance. Their portrayal as heroes is made both my implication and directly by dialogue we got homesick for Athens, just like Ulysses. This shows the audience where Brian Friels sympathies lie.
We are made to feel for the Irish and admire their courage. Critics of the play, such as Seamus Hearney, argue that by doing this the play shores up a dangerous myth that of cultural dispossession by the British. Meaning that the story told in Translations, i. e. that the Irish language and culture was forcibly taken from them isnt true, and gives us a skewed view of the process of colonisation. However it could be that this isnt Friels whole intention. Although Hugh and Jimmys attempts are shown as heroic we hardly given the impression that they were actions to be taken seriously.
Their contribution to the uprising in 1798 can be seen as satire. Two young gallants with pikes across their shoulders and the Aeneid in their pockets going of to war and getting sidetracked and homesick in a pub can is easily interpreted as comedy, rather than propaganda, as can their comparison with mythic heroes. Friels inclusion of characters such as Maire also provides the audience which viewpoints which are supportive of the colonisation thus providing a more balanced picture. Colonisation is explored through references to classical history as well as those to mythology.
Jimmy Jack once again provides us with the link a Bridget tells Doalty that Jimmy had cried Thermopylae! Thermopylae! during the advance of the soldiers through Baile Beag. Jimmys reading of classical texts lets him draw a romantic parallel between the events in Baile Beag and the historic battle of Thermopylae, a battle between the Persian colonialists and the Greeks in 480BC1. The battle was lost but it is an often used example of fighting heroically against the odds. The connotation that the Irish resistance is heroic reinforces some of the mythological content.
However the loss of the battle of Thermopylae brings with it prophesies of doom which set the tone for rest of the play. One of the strongest parallels between Ancient Greek and Roman culture with the traditional Irish culture shown in Translations is our knowledge of the fall of their civilisations. One of the most poignant parts of the play is Hughs last speech. He translates a passage of Virgils Aeneid: HUGH: Urbs antiqua fuit there was an ancient city which, tis said, Juno loved above all the lands¦ Yet in truth she discovered that a race was springing from Trojan blood to overthrow some day these Tyrian towers¦
kings of broad realms and proud in war who would come forth for Lybias downfall such was such was the course such was the course ordained- ordained by fate¦ Multiple meanings can be construed from Friels use of this passage. On first glance it is easy to see the similarities between the fall of Carthage and the fall of pre-colonial Ireland. The descendants of Aeneas conquered Carthage and colonised it, making it part of the Roman Empire during the Punic wars2. It also carries with it the idea that all civilisations are one day fated to end.
This interpretation matches Ireland with Carthage and Rome with the English colonists. Astrid Van Wayenberg3expands this idea with making a connection between Ireland and a second race that sprung from Trojan blood, the English descendants of Aeneass grandson Brutus, this race seems now to be fated to destroy the Irish culture. A second idea, put forward by Alan Peacock is that when Hugh stumbles at the end of the passage it is because he is imagining that just as Rome traced its ascendancy from the ashes of Troy, so will Ireland at some time renew herself.
This interpretation however seems unlikely when put into context with the rest of Hughs comments. Realising that mythology is often very different from the real world Hugh sums up one of the most important conclusions in the book, as he seems to resign himself to the fate of his culture. We must learn where we live. We must learn to make them [the new place names in the name book] our own. We must make them our new home. 1. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell www.wikepedia.org