I just read Leslie Barcza’s very thoughtful review of the current COC Elektra. It’s an interesting take and, in it’s way, entirely reasonable and please do go and read the whole thing. There was though one theme where I just couldn’t agree and it took me some thinking to figure out why. Paraphrasing a bit brutally, Leslie yearns for an Aegisth and a Klytemnestra he can hate and, as part of that, an Elektra who is more obviously degraded. This had me thinking about my recent experience with a retelling of the last stage of the whole saga; Saga Collectìf’s Iphigenia and the Furies (on Taurian Land) and how that had impacted how I reacted to Elektra.
I guess it’s led me, unconsciously until now perhaps, to come to a different view of the whole cycle that starts at Aulis (or in Sparta or even further back if you like). People do things that are both horrible and perhaps necessary for reasons of state. Each of these actions produces a new cycle of hatred, violence and revenge. Agamemnon sacrifices (or at least appears to sacrifice) Iphigenia for reasons that, in their own terms, make sense. In doing so he incurs the enmity of Klytemnestra and, through that, his own death. Klytemnestra and Aegistheus are then forced to decide what to do with Agamemnon’s children. It’s the classic “new dynasty” problem. Ottoman emperors on succession used to have their own brothers executed. Not because they were evil people but to secure the state. Agamemnon’s children are not killed but they are removed from the royal milieu and married off to peasants or exiled or treated badly in the palace (it varies by version). Chrysothemis’ desire for even a humble but normal life as a woman, rather than a barren life in the palace, is perhaps one of the least remarked aspects of von Hofmannsthal’s version.
Conveniently this leaves Elektra and Orestes alive to instigate the next cycle of murder and revenge with its own consequences; Orestes pursuit by the Furies, which leads him to Tauris. In at least one version of the story he makes his peace with the Gods by stealing an artefact of Apollo’s (allegedly) and returning it to Greece. The Saga Collectìf version sees this as a brutal act against the culture and identity of the Taurians and who knows whether that sparks off another and another round of death and revenge. We don’t know because the Greek dramatists simply weren’t interested in what might have happened to the Taurians; a lesser race without the Law.
Which is a long winded way of saying that as I watched Elektra at the Four Seasons Centre I think I was watching two generations caught up in the same bloody cycle and therefore, more or less morally equivalent. Sure I felt repulsion for Klytemnestra and Aegisth and sympathy for Elektra and Orest but I think I was also feeling the opposite simultaneously. Sympathy for Klytemnestra at Aulis. Revulsion at what Orest would later do.
I guess this is why the stories that the Athenians revisited and reinvented repeatedly 2,500 years ago still matter. They still stir the deepest feelings and the deepest reflection. And no two people will come to quite the same conclusions and each of us may evolve his or her conclusions.