It is said that history repeats itself. I would restate the idea that is at the core of this sentiment. It is not that history repeats, but rather, it is the patterns enacted in historical events that repeat.
Euripides (480 BCE—406 BCE), along with Aeschylus and Sophocles, was a preeminent Athenian tragedian, and the youngest of the three great dramatists. Many of his plays tell of the murder or sacrifice of royal children, either as part of the immediate drama, or as backstory. They include Medea, Children of Heracles, Hippolytus, Andromache, Hecube, Thyestes, The Trojan Woman, Erichtheus, Antigone, The Bacchae, and our play, Iphigeneia at Aulis. These killings are often, though not exclusively, the killing of girls and young women. What might account for the propensity of the deaths of so many royal children, especially princesses, and in particular, the sacrificial murder of the princess Iphigeneia? What, from Euripides’ view of the world and in his poetic mind, might be being murdered by Athens at the time he lived and wrote? Given that patterns repeat in history, how might his powerful metaphor be a mirror held up as a harbinger for us, and our historical time? Let’s explore.
July 29: Remembering that theater was for ancient Greeks a religious ritual, tonight we shall move through Iphigeneia at Aulis, imagining what Athenians experienced while being engrossed in the drama. We will ask these perennial questions. What’s the story about? Who are these people? Where and when the play it set? What is the background that undergirds this tragic family drama? What is the poet’s underlying spiritual message?
August 5: Tonight we will step back from the play, and ask questions to help us understand the story, the backstory, and “my” story—what happens in, and for, you, as you take the story in? We will look at each of the key characters for their stories—Klytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigeneia, and the goddess Artemis. If there is time, we will also touch on the supporting characters, Odysseus and Achilles.
August 12: As an artist, Euripides fulfilled the idea Shakespeare put forth in Hamlet, that art holds a mirror up to nature, and particularly to human nature. There is no doubt that Euripides wrote this particular drama at this particular time to show his beloved Athens, and its faltering leadership, where they were heading both morally and spiritually. Tonight we will look at Euripides in his historical time, as a preeminent Athenian tragedian and citizen.
Finally, looking at all we have covered, we shall see if we can draw some conclusions about how and why Iphigeneia at Aulis, and Euripides’ story, speak to us today. For, to my way of thinking, nearly 2,500 years after this play was performed in Athens, the Master Poet continues to holds the mirror up for us today.
Please read Iphigeneia at Aulis before we meet. I am using Euripides. Iphigeneia at Aulis, translated by W. S. Merwin and George E. Dimock, Jr. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. For those who want to go more deeply into the life and works of Euripides, I recommend Gilbert Murray’s excellent book, Euripides and His Age. London: William and Norgate, 1913. It is available in print and online at www.guttenberg.ca.
There is also an excellent film version that is available on DVD with subtitles, adapted and directed by Michael Cacoyannis, 1977. The action is, of course, is configured for cinema.
I hope to see you on July 29 for Iphigeneia at Aulis: Euripides, His Art, and Our Age.
Dr. Bonnie L. Damron is a psychotherapist, ethnographer, storyteller, and Archetypal Pattern Analyst in private practice in the Washington, D. C. metropolitan area. She is an independent scholar, with a particular interest in pre-patriarchal, goddess-based, and woman-centered cultures. During her many years in practice, she has led seminars on the writings of C. G. Jung, archetypal motifs in fairy tales, myths, the arts, and has conducted study tours to Crete and the Greek mainland.
Dr. Damron holds a Masters of Social Work degree from Catholic University, a Doctoral Degree from the University of Maryland, Department of American Studies, and a Certificate as an Archetypal Pattern Analyst from the Assisi Institute for Archetypal Studies.
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