Tuesday, January 19, 2010

© Eso Antons Benjamins, a.k.a. Jaņdžs

74 Climbing Mt. Citheron (VII)

The response that I received over my interpretation of Sophocles’ “King Oedipus” (“Tiresias’ Revenge”) was somewhere between a statement and a question: “How is anyone to perform all those deaths in one [the last] act?.” I was taken aback. I thought that this is what directors of a play do—besides choosing a cast, they also solve problems and think of ways to do what may seem impossible to do. A stage need not have only one platform.

Nevertheless, on second thought, I could only agree that one may get the impression that death arrives as a pile up of speeding cars speeding cars. It all comes after the discovery of the facts or, if you will, the truth. Let me count the deaths.

1. First to die is the blind seer Tiresias;
2. then comes Iocaste, Oedipus’ mother and wife;
3. & 4. their two sons, Polynices and Eteocles;
5. then Antigone, their daughter;
6. Antigone’s lover Haemon, Prince Creon’s son;
7. then Prince Creon’s wife, Eridike, because Creon will not pardon Antigone for burying her brothers. No doubt, Creon also does not forgive his son for not abandoning Antigone.

This makes for a total of seven (7) deaths. However, these seven were preceded by four (4) others:

1. The infant who was substituted for Oedipus, but whose death is not declared.
2. King Laius, killed by his son Oedipus.
3. Polybus, the king of Corinth. He is killed by the Queen of Corinth, Merope, Iocaste’s sister.
4. Oedipus.

Seven plus four is eleven, quite a few deaths indeed. A dramatic denouement, not least because the central act no longer is Oedipus stabbing out his eyes as Sophocles seemingly wants to makes us believe, but the other deaths. All lose their lives as a result of the refusal by Queen Iocaste to expose for a night her son Oedipus on Mt. Cytheron and discover whether he is fated to become the king of Thebes, Greece,  or not. And then there is the “plague” itself, obviously with death lurking at the end of the road.

The reader, who knows the play according to Sophocles, will quickly notice that either Sophocles hid the motive why Oedipus was exposed to the elements, or I have added it. In Sophocles’ version of the play, at least the version that has come down to us, King Laius wishes to kill his newborn son for reasons unknown. In my rewrite or deconstruction of the plot, I propose that Laius does not wish to kill Oedipus for reasons unknown, but to test the will of the Gods. In other words, by exposing Oedipus to the elements on Mt. Citheron, Laius and all Thebes will know if the fates are agreed that he is suited to grow up to be king of Thebes. There are other additions as well, for example, Sophocles nowhere mentions that Queen Merope of Corinth is Ioacaste’s sister.

My acquaintance made no comment on my interpretation of the play or, more accurately, my resolution of the riddle posed by Sophocles. Rather than probe and embarrass myself by having to listen how perhaps my Latvian skills made reading the play difficult, I let the matter rest. Perhaps on another day would come and offer another opportunity. After all, the plague that plagues Thebes may be said to plague Riga and Latvia, and plagues do not simply disappear. King Oedipus may be renamed King John, and imagined as a descendant of the king of Jersika, King Visvaldis. [See blog 58 ff. for a discussion of the kingdom of Jersika and its king.] An interesting coincidence is the fact that the current President of Latvia is a surgeon, and the English name “surgeon” may be read as “sur-john” or Superjohn.

In any event, the several years that separate my probe into the nature of the Protestant mindset in Latvia has done little to change my impression that self-sacrifice as the cause of death is a subject too touchy to touch. It has obvious political implications. The sacrifice by Adolfs Buķis (see blogs 16, 36, 67, 68) of his life in front of the Freedom Monument in Riga and the dismissal of the event as inconsequential by the authorities and the media is ample evidence of the unwillingness of Latvia’s post-Soviet government and society to take itself “that” or so seriously as to involve self-sacrifice. The bureaucracy of the state, with self censorship its second nature—thanks to eight hundred years of self-repression—knows how evade any subject, itself including.

Mostly my disappointment was however the way the echoes of self-sacrifice rebounded on Latvian society itself. It simply had no ear for it. No doubt, the fate of Oedipus and Thebes could be imagined as in some way applicable to not only the current political situation in Latvia, but indeed to the political atmosphere the world over. Whatever the rest of the world may think or make of self-sacrifice, in Latvia it is but a clump of clay stuck to the shovel and what the shovel needs to be freed of. This is taken for evidence that everything is as it should be. Self-sacrifice as a phenomenon necessary for the creation and maintenance of a community, which makes it a political force, has not been able to find room for imagination here.

Now the act which my actor acquaintance was questioning is the last act, the fifth. (See blogs 46-47.) It is true that most of the deaths in the play (eleven +) occur or, better, are declared in this act. The entire network of relationships among those who are part of or somehow connected with King Oedipus’ court unravels here.

For the time being my probe to try discover Latvian reaction to tragedy had proven itself to be unsuccessful. As I came to interpret it, it was simply too risky to risk upsetting a Latvian audience with a play that insists in introducing such radical changes in how we have grown up to see ourselves. Latvians would rather continue to perceive the Sphinx as a mystery rather than a revelation.

However, there is a solution to the difficulty of having to present to the audience death after death after death. One solution is to tell the audience the story first or by giving it a hint of what the play is leading up to. Not all of the eleven and more deaths need to happen in the last act, but can be told in a brief introduction. In this way, the audience is given some tools with which to imagine the events in the play more easily.

Let see how this might work in the next blog.

Asterisk & Notes of Interest:

On material depravation in Latvia.
On the theme of “more-equal-than-others” Orwell's Animal Farm  
A recommended read: “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” by Emmanuel Goldstein (A book within a book from George Orwell's "1984".) 
Of great interest to me is this and like articles. It presents some of my reasons for supporting the growing of Johns Grass in Latvia.
These blogs tend to be a continuum of an idea or thought, which is why—if you are interested in what you read—you are encouraged to consider reading the previous blog and the blog hereafter.
Partial entries of my blogs may be found at LatviansOnline + Forum Home + Open Forum –ONLATVIANPOPULISM vs LATVIJASLABEJIE. If you copy this blog for your files, or copy to forward, or otherwise mention its content, please credit the author and http://esoschroniclnes.blogspot.com/

No comments:

Post a Comment