Iphigenia and Other Daughters
The "Illiad", by Homer marks the dawn of western civilization. Written almost three thousand years agoâhundreds of years before the democratic experiment in Athensâit describes the character of our culture. The basic plot follows: Helen, according to many, the most beautiful woman of the world (the face that launched a thousand ships), is married to Menaleus, King of Sparta, and brother to Agamemnon, King of Mycenea. Paris, prince of Troy, visits Sparta, falls in love with Helen who abandons her husband and daughter to return to Troy with Paris.
Agamemnon, in a dream, is told by a god to gather an army to destroy Troy to avenge this insult. In the course of gathering the troops, the winds die and the army idled at the shores. While finding food for the troops a sacred deer of the goddess Artemis is killed. The goddess demands a sacrifice be given before Agamemnonâs army can sail. That sacrifice must be his first born daughter, Iphigenia. At the moment of her death, the winds rise and the army sails to seek their revenge and begin the senseless slaughter that is the Trojan War. The attention of the gods and the poet moves to Troy.
The story has many parallels today. Agamemnon is a king by birth not deed. His sole focus in life is his own glory and riches, gathered by the captains under him. His hubris alienates even his greatest allies, leading to ever more unnecessary deaths.
Ellen McLaughlinâs attention remains at the shores of Greece and examines the effects of war on those left behind. The play opens with an act of deceit that fixes the familyâs fate. Agamemnon coaxes his wife Clytemnestra and Iphigenia to the shores of the Aegean with the promise of marriage to the great warrior Achilles. In an amazing gesture it is the young girl Iphigenia who accepts her fate willingly and achieves what so many Greek heroes fail toâa fearless death.
Clytemnestra, born of a god, is no less a Greek than her husband. She, too, is bound by fate to act on the events that befall her. During the ten long years of war she cultivates her vengeanceâfor the taking of her first born and favorite daughterâknowing the turn of fate to come.
The second act is set twenty years later. The Trojan War over, Agamemnon returned to meet his fate at the hands of his wife, witnessed by the younger daughters Chrysothemis and Electra. The son is away fighting new battles, honing his skills, preparing to play his role in the familyâs misfortune.
Chrysothemis is the eyes, the ears and the voice of McLaughlinâa thoroughly modern women. Playing no role in perpetuating the cycle of violence that drives her siblings, she witnesses the unraveling of her family in full acceptance.
The final act resolves the problem in a way that confounded the Greeks. The ancient Greek playwright, Aeschylus, needed the gods to intervene and subdue the furies to end the cycle of violence. McLaughlin provides a more modern resolution, but one
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