” Some of the reasons why 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 “αἰρέω-ῶ” 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”!

Question: If you were asked to end the play with a line what would it be?

“What you’ve seen , you think it’s true?”

Helen answers in her dialogue with Teucer. While trying to explain why I chose this title as the most important of all, I am given the opportunity to provide a comprehensible answer to the question examined by so many scholars: why did  Euripides use the character of Teucer in this play? Teucer arrives as a victor at his homeland of Salamis island (Greece) and is banished from his country by his father Telamon, due to the fact that he did not support his brother’s Ajax’s claim for Achilles’ armor, he did not prevent him from committing  suicide and, even worse, he did not avenge his disgraceful death.

According to the ancient Greeks, a killer was a defilement, meaning he polluted his family and his compatriots. His exile would help purifying the city. This penalty also helped rehabilitating the criminal, since, being in exile, he was deprived of his fortune and was not allowed to participate in any political activities.

Teucer, although he did not  actually kill his brother, was considered by his father as an accomplish in the crime because he stood silent and did not try to prevent his brother from dying, nor didi he fight afterwards for his brother’s honor. Teucer’s actions gave Euripides the opportunity to sketch a character that would shed light on the weaknesses of some people.

Teucer, although he is one of the victors of the Trojan War, does not feel happy and proud of this result. He was forced to fight for the sake of an unobtainable woman. He was exiled. He wanders for seven years searching for a new homeland. All these events denote the tragic traits of this character, the greatest factor being the fact that, upon reaching Egypt, Teucer cannot discern the real Helen.

He believes that this woman only looks like her and is not the same person. So, this character has reached the stage of conjecture. This stage, according to the Pythagoreans and later Plato in the myth of the cave, is the first stage of Knowledge and represents the man who cannot tell the difference between shadows and reality. He thinks that Helen of Troy is the real one and not the woman he sees in front of him.

He answers to Helen when she asks him if he saw the woman who caused all these horrible events:

Teucer: – With my own eyes I saw magnificent Menelaus drag her by her hair all around the city.

And Helen asks him again: – Did you really see this?

Teu.:- Just like I see you now.

Hel.:- And what you’ve seen, you think it’s true?

Teu.:- I saw her and so did my mind.

So, he expresses the universality of his character, who actually lives trapped in the deception caused by his own illusions. This man trusts only his senses, the word “only” containing dogmatism and the word “sense” containing the present. So this man, who surrendered to his senses, lives only in the present and does not let himself take off his blinders and look clearly at the truth: the future. Because the senses do not link us to the future but to the present. I believe this is the stage we have reached nowadays.

The political powers try to convince us that the path which leads to the deliverance of nations and people and, in consequence, to the rise of the economy is the path of stability, resulting in frugality and income cuts. However, the political powers will continue to follow the course they followed the previous years, which is the same course that led us to this point. Because they did not have the foresight to deal with their domestic affairs. They did not foresee finding ways of salvation for their people, giving them the opportunity to develop mentally, not by reducing their income but by creating opportunities for staff orientation. This means that we’ve been taught nothing from the pain of lifelong learning. We will continue borrowing money and when comes the time for paying back the loans, we will find  ourselves in front of “Calvary”, because we did not foresee increasing our income. In result, what we need is not stability but a mental change so that we are able to take off our blinders and look clearly at the truth.

On a smaller scale, we would say that this is also true regarding the common man. He should stop chasing “Helens” who are essentially vain and ephemeral and start fighting for Ideas (the noun comes from ἰδεῖν=seeing) which he will be able not only to look at but also to really see. We propose that people should know their past and learn from their mistakes, thus securing a future full of positive and not dramatic prospects.

Returning to our play, we are left with an unanswered question. Why did Euripides, among so many Homeric heroes, choose a victor of this war and especially Teucer? Teucer explains to Helen the purpose of his journey: “I came at this palace in order to meet with  the prophetess Theonoe. In an oracle, I was commanded by Apollo to go to Cyprus, live there and found a city that I shall name Salamis.” Salamis was the capital of Cyprus for a thousand years  due to its geographical position. Evagoras, the son of Nicocles, descending from Teucer, was almost murdered, still being a teenager, by the tyrant of Salamis Abdemon, who feared that Evagoras would overturn him. His worst fear came true. In 411 BC,  Evagoras  killed the tyrant and became the  ruler of Salamis. When he came in power, he tried to promote the spiritual and material welfare of his people, while staying on good terms with the neighboring states. Darius II did not react against Abdemon’s murder, due to the fact  that Evagoras continued paying taxes!

 

Eftychia Loizides, actress-director.

The end of the performance

Let’s talk about the end of the performance. How can an ancient drama be associated with Christianity ? I’m referring to Helen singing St. Paul’s Epistle and to the end of the performance featuring a cross, an element that invokes Christianity.

You have forgotten Epiphany or in other words “deus ex machina”.

The quest for God by man of all times and civilizations is a universal fundamental phenomenon. A phenomenon with various forms and expressed in various ways. The quest for God is part of man’s effort to reach the (transcendental) existence of God. This is certainly not a simple phenomenon and especially not an easy one to understand.

The vast amount of bibliography on this subject all around the world emphasizes the composite and difficult to investigate nature of this phenomenon of man’s quest for God.

“What is God, what not God and what is that in between them?” (verse 1137). This is the verse that is part of the title of this present speech.

This verse presents man’s unquenchable desire for seeking out God. It also expresses a distinctly human condition and man’s tendency towards God. Meaning who is the God we search for and which are his preceding qualities.

In the end of the play we come across an Epiphanic  appearance : Dioscuri, the deified brothers of Helen. This appearance is neither momentary nor simple. It contains announcements of significant developments in the life of Theoclymenus as a leader also the lives of the rest of the parts of the play. A substantial part of God’s appearance is the dialogue between the god and the king. In this case we have an intervention by Theoclymenus for the sake of people’s salvation (the Egyptians’ and also the Greeks’- everything is  part of a chain). The irreverent has become fair. We would say that this is a divine appearance during which the human side is not a passive receiver but, through this opportunity, is intervening in the historical status quo.

In this case we see a God that appears in visible and tangible conditions in order to converse with man and make him participate drastically in formulating the historical developments towards a positive turn. This Epiphanic dialogue is a bright example of the search for a God who gives man the opportunity to intervene, which opportunity can modify even the plan of God himself.

In verses 1495-1505, the chorus implores Dioscuri for sympathy and assistance. I believe that Euripides reveals the tendency, that people had up to that moment to look for a god that would appear in times of “emergency”. A god that would be an impartial judge of people and would guarantee the end of every kind of  (social ) injustice. It is distinctive that the word  “justice” appears since the beginning through the end of the play at the tomb of Proteus, the good and fair king that died and with whom justice also died, as we mentioned in a previous chapter.

We are looking for a buried justice. We are looking for a god that is above all a god of justice. And let’s not fool ourselves. Since then till today, isn’t he the one we are searching for?

A god that essentially guarantees and offers justice in its purest and most genuine form. A god that provides knowledge and wisdom. A god of mercy. A god of freedom. A real god. This quest is bringing all humans together. We are looking for a crucified and resurrected god. He may be walking among us, besides, he has promised this. What we need is eyes to discover him. Eyes to see him.

Euripides separated himself from the traditional god-centered perception of his era. For the first time, man is the center of dramatic poetry. Anything that the hero has to endure does not come from God. He is the only one responsible for his actions. Euripides enters the labyrinth of the human psyche to explain that man himself and not his fate is responsible for his life. He shows us the reasons that lead heroes to act the way they do. He shows us their weaknesses and the degree of influence these weaknesses have on their actions.

He was accused of being an atheist although the totality of his works is marked by a religiosity never seen before. Is  it possible to characterize as an atheist a poet who depicts gods showing mercy for humankind and preaching the gospel of love? This is the new meaning that Euripides gave to the notion of God. Isn’t it a Christian meaning?

Perhaps you will say that he propagated an antireligious propaganda. That he attacks the oracles. Meaning that  the audience at the end of the play realize this antireligious propaganda or are they smitten by the trick of Helen and Menelaus at the expense  of Theoclymenus? Aren’t they happy that two people have managed to leave this barbaric country?

If someone isolates some verses against the oracles and the gods he can convince himself and others also that Euripides is propagating antireligious propaganda. This is not a fair attitude. The poets aim was to educate through the stage ( a philosopher  through the stage) and not to have his plays read and especially in a fragmentary way that suits our own interests. Euripides, being a realist, knew that it is normal for man, in times of extreme sorrow and despair, in times of misery and while believing that he suffers in vain, to doubt and curse even gods. And that is a sign of faith. He cannot doubt if he doesn’t believe and he cannot curse god if he doesn’t admit his existence. Of course we must know that a lot of gods are not deities but the personification of natural or psychological forces of love. passion, etc.

With the help of the ancient drama we can have a greater bond with the immediate reality. What the ancient tragedy aims for is to make clear that a man of this kind or another may say or do this kind of things or he may not say and do this kind of things.

The most important: The hero, acquiring the knowledge of things, connects this knowledge to the weight and the standards of the moral choices. Now the spectator and the reader of the ancient tragedy is urged to get on the stage and make these levels of knowledge his own by incorporating them to his life. However, this process is dramatic. Transition from evolution to knowledge is a drama. Why?

Because finding the courage to overcome your illusions is a very hard thing to do. Most people avoid carrying the cross of torment and willingly avoid the dramatic shift= transition of the soul.

 Eftychia Loizide director-actress

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