Monday, September 05, 2011
TROJAN WOMEN at FSC
The Trojan Women, by Seneca. Franklin Stage Company, August17-September 4, 2011.
My daughter Lola got an offer to play Polyxena at Franklin Stage Company this summer. We quickly agreed, and ended up taking Lola six days a week to extensive rehearsals with a company that includes professional actors and a newly minted director (Mollye Maxner) recently graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts. The play opened three weeks ago, and we went to see it and since the opening I've probably seen it seven or eight times. It was a strange experience. I think I could have gone to see it every night for the rest of my life. I reviewed the play here:
The play opens with the remaining Trojan women (the royalty) who are talking about what they will do and whether Troy has a chance to get back on its feet when their children are adults. These royal women are being divvied up by the top Greek generals as concubines and slaves. One will get Hector’s wife, Andromache, another will get Helen of Troy, another will get Hecuba, Priam’s wife, and still another will get Cassandra and yet another, Polyxena. The terror they feel is numbed by the fact that they’ve been through ten years of war and everyone they knew and loved is either dead or enslaved. Many don't know the story, and too bad if you don't, because if you don't know the Homeric cycle you are missing one of the great narratives. Some Christians will say: but we already have the Bible, why do we need them Greeks? It because, as my kids would say.
It's because there are already "intimations of Christianity" among the ancient Greeks, and even among the Romans. They had dimly sensed that life is a "mindless wilderness" unless there are institutions. The first and most important institution is marriage. Without that, most feel unsafe. It is the most crucial of all institutions, and without it, life is cold and dark.
The entire Homeric cycle is about the importance of marriage. When Paris chooses to elope with Helen of Troy (another man’s wife) the Trojan war begins. Many Marxists think that the cycle is about goods and getting booty, and trade routes, and this is emphasized in their writings (read Adorno's foolish take, for instance). But none of these things are as important as a person’s marriage. If you lose your business, you can start another one. Lose your marital partner, and there is devastation. Paris chooses Aphrodite over Hera, or hot love over married love, and steals a married woman, and sets off a conflagration. In doing so, he destabilizes his brother Hector’s marriage (Hector appears to be faithful to his wife, unlike most of the Greeks?), and Paris gets his brother killed, as well as his mother and father and his sisters.
The Homeric cycle begins with a marriage festival to which the goddess Eris (goddess of conflict) is not invited. All good marriages contain conflict. Unless conflict is invited into a marriage, there can be no stability. It's part of it. Eris rolls an apple between three jealous goddesses: Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. They each reach to pick up the apple and then ask Zeus to determine the fairest. Zeus defers to Paris.
Paris chooses Aphrodite. She's hot, but only in the sense that Paris Hilton is hot. Paris Hilton is a nut. The choice of Paris gets Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia killed (for whom the Trojan Polyxena is the symmetrical endpoint), and it is Agamemnon’s betrayal of Iphigenia that gets his wife Clytemnestra to kill him in turn. Marriage is the center of society and implies a commitment to the person to whom you’re married and to the children. People who break the commitment are threatening their partner. Threaten your partner and you threaten your own life. Figure it out. Nothing makes a person more vulnerable than a promise of marriage that is dishonored. This dishonoring destroys whole societies and brings everyone to ruin, even down to the next generation, and the next. What we see are the survivors of Paris’ poor choice. And the Greeks still don't get it: they are busy bringing home concubines which will complicate their lives even further.
Only Odysseus makes it back to his wife. He has to kill the suitors, and only through strategy does he survive. But his own choice of goddess is Athena, goddess of strategy. She helps him to get back to his family, and to help his son survive.
This kingdom is about making strategic choices.
Marriage is first. Of course the economy matters, too.
But the very center of life is marriage. Homer knew this.
(For those who don't know my fascination with myth specialist Georg Bachofen, and his theory of the centrality of marriage, let me be the first to admit that my reading of the Homeric cycle is deeply indebted to him and to his book Mutterecht, which has still not been fully translated from German into English, but does exist in French. An abridged and bowdlerized version is available from Princeton UP. It was edited by a cabal of Jungian feminists in the late 1960s, and changes Bachofen's intentions and ruins his message. Far preferable to read the original if you can read German or French.)