Friday, July 20, 2012

Some of the Reasons We Chose This Play by Euripides

by Eftychia Loizides, Director- Actress

Menelaus appears on the stage, presenting the identity of his character. Who he is, where he comes from, what he did and what state-condition he is in. He has left his sailors in a cave with  Helen, whom he recovered from Troy. Actually, he has recovered a mannequin of the real Helen, that he thinks to be real. He has reached the palace to ask for food and clothing, the things he lost during the tempest he faced while trying to return to his homeland with his crew. This poorly dressed king asks for help and conjures "Xenios Zeus". The answer he received left him discouraged. The doorkeeper comes out of the palace and sends him away insulting him. However, he doesn't give up easily and tries to change her mind. The doorkeeper feels sorry for him and expresses her fear  by saying that "any Greek that sets foot here finds death! Theoclymenos hates all Greeks!" "Why?". cries Menelaus. "For the sake of Helen." We see Menelaus staggering and trying to understand who she is referring to. The answer he receives is "The daughter of Zeus that lived in Sparta." How is this possible? How can the world be turned upside down? Among the Gods, he says, there is only one name, that of Zeus.

Since we mentioned names, let us examine the etymology of the name "Ελένη" ("Helen") . It comes from the root " Ελ" of the verb "αρέω-" which means  to snatch, to conquer, to deceive, to capture, to destroy, denoting  a negative meaning. According to  another theory, the name comes from the word " σελήνη" ("moon"), thus making Helen a woman of light. Hesychius confirms the positive meaning of the name and mentions that it comes from the noun "ελάνη" which means torch. The ambiguity of this name is obvious.

So what is the truth? The meaning of Helen is positive or negative?

Anaxagoras, Euripides' teacher, teaches us that everything is perceptible through its opposite: "the principle of polarity." Everything is double, has two poles. Everything has its own pair of contrast. Everything is made of a (+) and a (-). Collision is a part of the unity and not a part of rupture as many people think. The same and the opposite are equal in their nature. They differ only in their rhythm.  All the true elements are found in the extremes. All the paradox elements can converse. Everything has two poles, two opinions, two opposites that are actually two faces of the same coin.

Helen, having heard by Theonoe the good news that her husband is alive, comes out of the palace and ... there! ... she sees him in front of her! But she cannot really see him, due to the fact that this man does not look like her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta, being dressed in rags. She assumes he is a spy sent by Theoclymenos to capture her  and deliver her to his master. Menelaus, from his part, recognizes her face and staggers seeing the resemblance between this woman and his companion. He asks her who she is and Helen gives him all the convincing answers that prove her identity. However, this is not enough to convince him.

This character has reached the second stage of knowledge, which is faith. He is a man who does not surrender to his imagination. He thinks for a while, "Is this really the way things are? Or are they different?" He lets Helen give him the information. He begins to exert a moderate critical control: "Is this woman telling me the truth? Is she a phantom? What is happening?" He is not dogmatic as we saw before with Teucer. He tries to explain the events logically. However, although the truth was presented in front of him, he did not have the strength to face it and prefers walking away. How many times did man look at the truth in the face and could not stand it? Menelaus prefers the delusion. He prefers the woman in the cave, who is no other than the woman of shadows. He went through all of his misfortunes , he was able to leave the eidola and the shadows in the cave and reached  a place where he saw the real light: the Helen-Truth. And still he throws away this truth, because he is not satisfied with this turnout of events. He cannot accept the fact that he spent all these years fighting "... for an empty shirt, a Helen." He prefers, as it suits him, living in the dark. That's why people avoid lifting  the  cross of ignorance towards knowledge, considering it a weight of life. Trying to avoid the uphill road of transition to knowledge, they choose  security. their possessions. The do not have the courage to look at themselves in the mirror and they prefer standing in front of things and judging them from above, without implicating themselves in the situation. So, finally, Menelaus leaves Helen saying: "For seventeen years I've put up with sorrow and pain! And this pain is more real than you!"

He is about to leave when arrives the messenger-a faithful slave of Menelaus, who claims that the pain he had to suffer was in vain. His wife (the phantom that he left at the cave) disappeared. He saw her ascent to the sky. Before leaving she said some horrible things... "Poor Greeks and Trojans, you were killed for my sake! I'm a creature made of mist and air!" "Oh! Glorious day!", cries Menelaus. "This means that you told me the truth."

Next is the scene of recognition, where we see the meeting of Lights. Menelaus looks at the Truth. Then we can hear the messenger talking, imparting wisdom that we never expected coming from a man deprived of his freedom. He was marginalized, suppressed, exploited. However, he managed to do something that his master was not able to achieve. To preserve his qualities, reaching the point of having exquisite intellectual abilities. His devotion to his master is not a sign of servility but a choice of a free mind, a sign of nobility and character.

The most important is this: Helen of Troy left him, but his slave remains faithful to him. Menelaus fought for his "stolen Helen" but did not fight for his slave's freedom, that he himself stole from him!

In addition, in the play, the slave condemns divination. The oracles played a political role similar to the one played nowadays by television. Tele-vision is the price one pays to see the world. The globalization of vision is promoted, as it is known by colossal business firms that control governments, politics and strategies. The result? A lack of democracy. It leads to a very dangerous separation. It divides people into pessimistic and optimistic. The first category contains people who speak in a lamenting tongue about the evolution of mankind. They present man as being worse than an animal, a mixture of mud, brutality, despair and pain that has no meaning in life. They prophecy a catastrophic future.

The other category has a diametrically different view of things. Optimistic people extol the achievements of mankind and believe in a bright future. But they cultivate utopia. The answer to this separation is given by the messenger. He informs the spectators-readers that God's Word is the only solution for reaching the Truth. The slave, actually, frees the human mind from slavery, as far as people like Menelaus are concerned, who ignore God as God+Man.

We live in times of fear and oppressive space-time. Due to this fact, a great number of people turn to exotic religions and to  the quest for spiritual experiences. The only thing they accomplish is becoming victims of astrology and fortune tellers (the mass media lead us in this direction every day). However, in conclusion, we must understand that the "homo adorans", the functional  adoring man that Euripides really appreciated, is a reality that cannot be neither approached-nor, most importantly, described- by computers and polls that lately are out of control!

All this is taught by a "slave"!

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