Loredana Salis, ‘Edna’s Euripides: Ritual and Language in Edna O’Brien’s Iphigenia’ [PhD Thesis UUC 2004].

Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides (408 BC) explores the implications of Agamemnon’s agreement to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia for the sake of a Greek victory at Troy. Over the past few years, a number of “new versions” have appeared. Of them, no less than three are by Irish writers including Colin Teevan (IPH…, 1999), Marina Carr (Ariel, 2002) and Edna O’Brien (Iphigenia, 2003) [1].

In the present study, I wish to consider Ireland’s most recent adaptation of Euripides, Iphigenia by Edna O’Brien, written for Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre where it was premiered in February 2003. Focusing on some of her changes to the original, I explore her use of myth with special attention to the interplay between ritual and language.

In the first part, I employ René Girard’s model of the scapegoat mechanism to illustrate the process through which ritual articulates social crisis in O’Brien’s play. I hope to show how language and the dynamics of language exchange in society lie at the heart of O’Brien’s reading of Euripides, and of her perception of social malaise. Accordingly, I consider the notion of mythic necessity as defied and exposed in O’Brien’s reworking to suggest with Girard that in contemporary society sacrifice is a travesty for violence. No longer does sacrifice serve to appease the gods: ‘once violence is revealed … scapegoats can no longer save men … and truth shines into dark places’ (Girard, 1986, p.189). Finally, I investigate the play’s self-referential mode and infer that the process of writing is at once a constituent and an outcome of crisis resolution.

Ritual is crucial to conflict resolution, Girard argues. In his “hypothéses”, he promotes the scapegoat mechanism – the selection and eviction of a sacrificial victim by the community in crisis – as an illustration of the necessary role of violence in society and of its foundational value to the individual’s process of self-definition and to society’s cultural production (cf. Girard, 1977, p.49). This type of crisis is called crisis of differentiation. At its heart lies desire: desire at once divides and unites rivals (Girard, 1987, p.293). Thus, the opposing parties become similar to one another through their longing for the same object. Girard maintains that this type of crisis is mimetic since one ultimately longs not so much for one’s rival possession as for the status which accrues to that possession (Girard, 1987, p.349).

Seen in the light of Girard’s model, Iphigenia is a stereotypical sacrificial victim (Girard, 1977, pp. 16-19) [2]. Not only is she a young virgin of noble descent, but she is also a self-sacrificing victim whose death will ingratiate Artemis and grant victory to the Greeks. As we learn from the myth, her death is rendered necessary by at least two factors. On the one hand is the goddess’ specific request that Agamemnon slaughters his own child – ‘there must be sacrifice, a maid must bleed / their chafing rage demands it’ (Aeschylus, 1959, p.49) [3]. On the other hand, and most importantly, there is a latent crisis affecting the Greek community. ‘The leaders of the army have been locked in a competitive struggle for power … Social hierarchy is collapsing; the leaders reject or are inadequate to leadership’ (Foley, 1985, p.99). As Foley observes, the play ‘opens with a Girardian sacrificial crisis … in accord with the Girardian scenario, Iphigenia’s sacrifice restores (and even recreates, if she is deified) the religious system and ensures religious unanimity’[4]. Her death, no doubt, is ‘the harness of Necessity’ (Aeschylus, 1959, p.49).

Like Euripides, so too O’Brien presents a community in crisis. Here however, I suggest the object of contention or desire is language. Language – not simply as words spoken by the characters but as the community’s mode of articulating meaning – is what induces the mimetic crisis. In other words, language is a stumbling block, it is a barrier that limits and delimits characters’ interaction. There are barriers that prevent words from turning into action, and there are barriers that prevent words from turning into tragic action. In the play, language is at once threatened by such barriers and is a barrier itself in its turn. Its presence, or indeed its absence, at once dominates and is dominated by human relationships; it complicates them but also defines them. In the following sections I explore the crisis as O’Brien presents it and demonstrate the way in which in her play she defies the notion of necessity and exposes the truth about Iphigenia’s death.

*  *  *

The play opens at nighttime, ‘windless, hushed. A starlit sky. A high wall with ladders’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.5). The wall with ladders is a haunting presence throughout. Characters ‘hide under the wall’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.5), they ‘climb the ladders’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.7), ‘stones are thrown from beyond’ it and then ‘thrown back’ (O’Brien, 2003, pp. 22 and 26); people ‘climb the ladder to escape’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.24) or in triumph (O’Brien, 2003, p.42). The wall even has ears O’Brien, 2003, p.17). It is perhaps worth noting that walls and stones are recurrent metaphors in Hélenè Cixous’s writings about writing, or, as she says, ‘coming to writing’. ‘Breaking down the wall’ or getting past the wall’ indeed means ‘daring to throw off the constraints, inner and outer, which join together to “forbid [one] to write” (Cixous, 1991, p.ix). Interestingly, Cixous pictures herself sitting ‘down at the top of a ladder whose rungs were covered with stained feathers’ (Cixous, 1991, p.41). O’Brien deploys analogous images to explore the dynamics of interpersonal relations – like Cixous she knows that ‘there is more than one way to get past the wall and more than one kind of wall to get past’ (Cixous, 1991, p.x). One such wall is the wall of sexual difference.

* * *

The representation of men and women and of their relationships in the play is articulated in terms of language difference and language barriers. The wall of sexual difference is built upon the semiotic/symbolic opposition whereby women turn to pre-linguistic or non-verbal means to convey meaning whereas men rely primarily on the written word to exert power and control. Accordingly, female characters in the play express themselves through ritual, dance and body language, women adopt the language of flowers; they sing or tell stories. Orality and the arts allow them to communicate and to assert their presence in the world. Thus, for instance, upon her arrival in Aulis Iphigenia brings flowers to Agamemnon and then presents him with “a huge embroidery for you … a lamb in a meadow” (O’Brien, 2003, p.23). Earlier, in Scene Three, the Sixth Girl tries to seduce Agamemnon by offering him boiled eggs:

Ag.: This … husband … of yours?
S.G.: What about him?
Ag.: What about him … did you give him boiled eggs?
S.G.: Sometimes … if we had any …the morning he left I did […]
Ag.: And now you’re giving me boiled eggs … is that a … (instead of the word he traces her lips). Little serpent
She starts to dance. He joins her in the dance but is not as carefree with the steps as she. (O’Brien, 2003, p.16)

Women in the play have a language of their own, and this is at times perceived as second rate. So, for instance, Agamemnon turns to the sky and prays for his daughter’s life:

Agamemnon (to the constellations): What star are you and you and you? Do you shine into my child’s bedroom where she sleeps innocent of all that will befall her? Send her a dream, tell her not to come here, tell her in language that befits her unschooled years (emphasis added, O’Brien, 2003, p.8).

In a later scene, Iphigenia and Five Girls – corresponding to the Women of Chalkis in Euripides – “are having a pillow fight. They speak in a made-up inexplicable language” (O’Brien, 2003, p.11; emphasis added). Language fails Iphigenia ‘If I had Orpheus’ eloquence … the voice to charm the rocks … If I could bewitch with words I would bewitch now … but I only have tears and prayers’ (emphasis added: O’Brien, 2003, p.38. Interestingly, ‘to charm the rocks’ is also a metaphor for bringing down the wall).

Two women are storytellers. One, the Witch – who is later transmuted into Artemis - opens the play to tell us of Agamemnon’s broken vow (see note 3). She then introduces the prophet Calchas and so the play begins (O’Brien, 2003, p.5). The other woman, also an added character, is the Nurse, first pictured while she tells a story. To Iphigenia and her sisters she recounts how baby Achilles was ‘dressed as a girl in the palace of the king … where he lived among the king’s daughters’ until one day Odysseus revealed the boy’s true identity and had him ‘recruited in the Greek army’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.13). The passage – an entire addition of O’Brien’s – confirms women’s gift for storytelling as much as showing a case of gender crossing. Men dressed up as women get caught, O’Brien seems to suggest: when the wall of sexual difference is broken into the result is bound to be deceptive. Similarly, Agamemnon’s decision to officiate at his daughter’s nuptial rite is bound to end in failure (O’Brien, 2003, p.25).

Unlike women, men in the play exert control over written language and consequently they hold ultimate decisional power. Thus, Agamemnon is pictured walking around with a ‘book-shaped pine tablet’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.7) as if he were, to quote Helene Foley, in the ‘process of rewriting the traditional script by revoking and rewriting his original letter’ (Foley, 1985, p.94). The image is perhaps evocative of Moses on Mount Sinai, and in such terms, it reinforces the patriarchal imagery invested in the Achean leader. Accordingly, the power to make things happen is in Agamemnon’s hands, or better, in his logos.

The wall of sexual difference is an important image in the play. In this respect, the play offers sufficient evidence to assert and reiterate the Mars/Venus opposition with women eternally relegated to inferior roles. Similarly, it is plausible that since ‘the strategy for salvation comes from a woman’ (Foley, 1985, p.91) the play attempts a role reversal to the benefit of the female figures. A third suggestion can be raised, that while the play contemplates issues of sexual difference with especial emphasis on language in a way that exposes false hierarchies, more importantly it questions the idea of “women” being a monolithic group other than men.

In this respect, O’Brien deploys a second image of the wall which better reflects, I suspect, her intent in adapting Euripides. This we may call the wall of indifference or wall of isolation, a tougher barrier found at the heart of what Turner calls communitas – the ‘unmediated relationship between historical, idiosyncratic, concrete individuals’ (Turner, 1982, p.45). In the present context, I will be looking at one such barrier as it is portrayed within the female communitas in the play. In her recasting of Euripides O’Brien brings to life a group of colourful female characters that share one particular condition: they are all solitary women. ‘Don’t send me home …. there is no one there for me’ pleads the Sixth Girl (O’Brien, 2003, p.17); ‘There is no one left for her’ observes a chorus member of the same (O’Brien, 2003, p.43); ‘And now I am all alone’ cries Iphigenia (O’Brien, 2003, p.40). As the play progresses, solitude becomes a matter of social relegation, deriving at once from distrust of the other and of one’s self.

Women lie to each other, they even lie to themselves. Women betray, mistrust or compete with each other all the time in the play. Thus, for instance, Clytemnestra does not believe the Sixth Girl when she tells her of Agamemnon’s designs:

Sixth Girl: Your daughter is to be sacrificed in order that they can hoist the sails and make war on Troy
Clytemnestra: You rave (O’Brien, 2003, p.27).

Likewise, when Clytemnestra tells Iphigenia ‘Your father intends to sacrifice you to Artemis the goddess’, the young girl’s reply is ‘What a tall story’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.35). In Scene Three, the Sixth Girl tries to seduce Clytemnestra’s husband:

S.G.: You must be high up.
Ag.: Would you like me to say that I am?
S.G.: Of course.
Ag.: That I am a King?
S.G.: Of course … every woman desires a king (O’Brien, 2003, p.10)

The Nurse competes with the queen for her child’s love: ‘The night you were born … my name was the first you said … not your noble mother Clytemnestra’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.14). In their confrontation with men, women feel that they are inferior. Thus, on the eve of Iphigenia’s death, in her encounter with Agamemnon, Clytemnestra advocates his manly prowess and urges him to ‘defy Artemis’: ‘Others. Lesser men. Menials. Stand up to them, show courage’ (emphasis added, O’Brien, 2003, p.32). There is a profound laceration at the heart of the female communitas as O’Brien presents it in the play. This is what I have called the wall of isolation or wall of indifference earlier; it is a wall surrounding both male and female characters as the play’s emphasis on language use also suggests. This wall is ultimately not broken, as the added finale tragically confirms.

Euripides’ play famously ends with Artemis’ intervention at the sacrificial altar (Euripides, 1978, p.94) [5]. O’Brien considers this to be a ‘false’ and ‘substanceless’ ending. Like other contemporary translators of the play, she eliminates the dea ex machina and brings in the prophecy of Clytemnestra’s revenge[6]. There is no substitution of the girl’s body here, just blood – blood on Agamemnon’s hands (O’Brien, 2003, p.42), blood all over, a ‘bloodied rain starts to fall’ symbolically drenching Clytemnestra (O’Brien, 2003, p.43).

Like the wall, the blood metaphor is very prominent in the play. Like the wall, blood for O’Brien is crucial to the interrelation between ritual and language. Rituals are all similar in that they mark a transition from one state to the other – from virginity to marriage, from youth to old age, from life to death. In the play, Iphigenia undergoes at least three rituals, one forestalling the next almost necessarily and all of which symbolically involve the breaking of a wall with subsequent bloodletting.

The first ritual marks the passage from childhood to maturity. It occurs at the end of Scene Two where Iphigenia learns that she is to marry Achilles (O’Brien, 2003, p.11). As in the original, King Agamemnon writes to his wife telling her that ‘they are awaited here and she is to bring the dowry gifts for Iphigenia’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.8). However, with the unfolding of events, it turns out that the wedding is a travesty for the planned sacrifice of Iphigenia (O’Brien, 2003, p.20). In the scene, Iphigenia prepares to go to Aulis. The Nurse is helping her dress up for the wedding when the young girl ‘becomes woman’: ‘Iphigenia lets out a cry – her menstrual blood has started to flow, running down her legs’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.14). The episode – an addition to the original – anticipates the forthcoming rituals of Iphigenia’s presumed marriage and her actual sacrifice. Iphigenia’s becoming a woman ironically signifies to her being ready for marriage while not being ready for it – to the audience it is quite obvious that she may be too young; as it is obvious that marriage is not what awaits her. The ritual is accompanied by a ‘pre-wedding hymn’ performed by a Chorus of Young Girls in ‘balletic precision’ suggestively lying ‘on the floor on their bellies’ and ‘making their way along stage and off’ in the same position (O’Brien, 2003, p.14). The ‘bellies on the floor’ position indicates submission. In these terms, it may reinforce the idea of women’s inferiority suggested in their language use. The position also ironically refers to Iphigenia’s ineluctable fate – she is to die (lie down) unwed and therefore never to become pregnant (the bellies on the floor). Thus viewed, the scene reinforces the correspondence of the marriage and sacrifice rituals in the play.

In the episode, Iphigenia takes off the night-gown and wears a corset (O’Brien, 2003, p.13) while the Nurse tells her stories about Achilles. Sister One – the Electra character – brings in the nuptial veil, she winds it around ‘showing off and treading on it’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.14). She is jealous of Iphigenia – ‘She gets everything’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.12). The veil is another image for the wall here. For one thing, it refers to ‘the fundamental nature of the transition in which the [future] bride [is] involved (Blundell, 1995, p.123). More importantly though, the veil is a scandalon itself contended by the two girls, and an object signifying Electra’s desire: ‘Achilles might prefer her to me’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.14). With her playful attitude, Sister One violates the sacredness of the rite; with her feelings of rivalry, she instigates a Girardian mimetic crisis thus calling forth a resolution through sacrifice. Sacrifice is clearly anticipated in the menstrual flow image above, and hinted at in the breaking of a woman’s veil (and the loss of blood) of a new bride. It is eventually epitomised in the outpouring of Iphigenia’s blood on the sacrificial altar.

The wedding/death parallel demonstrates the ambivalent nature of ritualistic practices. Accordingly, the unfolding of the plot gradually exposes the underlying crisis which, as said, demands more blood for its resolution. Fittingly, the scene which follows opens with images of chaos: ‘The sound of men shouting, disputing, off-stage on the other side of the wall’ (16). This is what Girard calls the lynching mob, and a tragic reminder of the crisis - very soon violence will erupt with people throwing stones from either sides of the wall.

*  * *

In order to be successful, a sacrificial offering must be carried out under specific circumstances. One crucial requisite is that the victim remains oblivious, or else volunteers (Burkert, 1966, pp. 106-107). In Iphigenia’s case, she agrees to her wedding and almost simultaneously to her death – the distinction is blurred in the original and even more so in O’Brien where the moment of decision coincides with the play’s ‘turning point’. This is also a significant alteration. A soldier rushes in:

The anger of heaven is nothing to the anger of men. They had heard that Achilles wanted to save the girl and they leaped upon him, seizing him by his helmet, swung him from his feet and as the first stone was thrown, a hail of stones were aimed at him to decapitate his head from his neck (O’Brien, 2003, p.39).

Achilles is literally taken as the mob’s scapegoat until Odysseus intervenes to stop them and a few of his men ‘make a wall before him and take the stones’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.39, emphasis added). Carried in by two bodyguards Achilles is immediately attended by Iphigenia who ‘begins to take out the stones from his wounds’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.39). ‘This’, O’Brien writes, ‘is the turning point for her’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.39).

It is at this moment that Iphigenia proposes herself as surrogate victim – ‘I will die. Let me save Hellas if that is what the gods want’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.40). Iphigenia speaks her last words almost in trance – ‘Mother, I am happy’ […] I do know (Pause) it is the end for me. … Now I am alone’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.40). This is, O’Brien writes, ‘a heightened, histrionic moment which pitches its heroine in the ranks of the immortals. … Betrayed by both God and man, [Iphigenia] pitches herself into an exalted mental realm, the realm of the martyr-mystic’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.vi).

The identification of Iphigenia with a martyr-mystic here tells us much of O’Brien’s reading of Euripides in terms of her condemnation of violence. It is also suggestive of how as a writer she perceives her relation to her work. Accordingly, the play can be a metaphor for the writer’s struggle to break the wall of isolation and come to writing. O’Brien brings this immediately to our attention in the introduction to her Iphigenia. Of Euripides she says that ‘[he] was the scourge of his native Athens, his plays regarded as seditious and corrupting. Born in exile … he died in exile’ (O’Brien, 2003, p.v). Here, as elsewhere, one gets the feeling that she is talking as much of herself as she is of Euripides. In an interview O’Brien claims:

I suppose most real writers are exiled in their minds always – whether from family, parish or country – because writing by its very nature is an extremely isolating and reflective job. Even though you are embroiled in the human stories, the work is done alone in the crucible of the imagination. (Lee, 2003)

Like Hélenè Cixous, so too O’Brien shares a perception of writing as ‘always close, intoxicating, invisible, inaccessible’. Unlike Cixous, though, O’Brien does not, I believe, endorse current criticism of female adoption of male discourse especially in relation to rewriting a classical text. If anything, in fact, her adapting Euripidean drama has more to do with how women live with each other than with traditional feminist practices that resist patriarchal power.

According to Cixous, women tend to borrow patriarchal language to speak or write, and when they do so, they end up denying ‘their own bodies and that body of knowledge that a feminine body of language can reveal’. These women, Bonnie Lynn Davies concludes, ‘are not only imitators impersonating man’s discourse, but they are forced to express themselves as outsiders’ (Schrank (ed) 1996, p.73). O’Brien’s “borrowing”/“imitation” is an act of appropriation neither more nor less than Heaney’s or McGuiness’s. Contemporary rewriting of Greek tragedy is a widespread phenomenon concerned with the difficulty of articulating meaning in the fragmented context of a contemporary society in which, to quote Michael J. Walton, ‘borrowing is inevitable’ (Patsalidis and Sakellaridou (eds) 1999, p.328). Whereas Cixous’s claims may illuminate the dynamics of linguistic expression vis-à-vis sexual difference, they fail to encompass this particular example of woman writing.

Imitation can be initiation proper as the Iphigenia by Edna O’Brien demonstrates. Being her first ‘imitation’ of a Greek tragedy, Iphigenia is initiatory per se. The textual emphasis on ritual and in particular the reiteration of initiation rites are signs of departure from (the patriarchal voice of) Euripides, and in that sense they go beyond mere ‘imitation’. Cixous’s critique of imitation is perhaps best seen in terms of expropriation rather than appropriation of the paternal voice (Foster ed., 1998, p.73) [7]. Accordingly, O’Brien appropriates rather than expropriates, and in doing so, she does not remain entrapped nor does she retain the symbolic position of outsider that women arguably occupy in relation to language.

In conclusion, the Iphigenia myth provides fertile ground for the exploration of the dynamics of human relations in contemporary society. Here, Iphigenia’s death is not justified by the demands of ritual/religion (Girard, 1977, pp. 40-41). Rather, it is a consequence of that social malaise which O’Brien identifies in language barriers and lack of solidarity within the community. In other words, the mythic belief that a sacrificial victim will restore peace is no longer valid – ‘once understood, the [scapegoat] mechanisms … collapse one after the other’ (Girard, 1986, p.101). Once this revelation comes about, the true nature of violence in society is tragically exposed. In this respect, the episode of the menstrual flow is of particular interest. If the loss of blood signals a transition to maturity and leads to motherhood in the nuptial rite, it also signals the loss of virginity. It is, in other words, an index of pollution. The presumed marriage thus appears to be compromised from its inception: Iphigenia presents herself as a virgin but her purity has been stained with menstrual blood. This, together with O’Brien’s emphasis on solitude and the altered closing of her play, serve to question the notion of Iphigenia’s necessary death established by Euripides.

Solitude at once characterises a writer’s work and their relation to society. This was true of Euripides in the fifth century BC and it is true of contemporary writers as well. Thus, the play reflects O’Brien’s perception of her work while also questioning common assumptions on her writing as necessarily feminine. By arguing that the use of Greek tragedy is best interpreted in terms of appropriation, I therefore hope to have demonstrated that Iphigenia can be read aside from traditional discourse of patriarchal expropriation.

  • Aeschylus, The Oresteian Trilogy (Harmondsworth, penguin 1959). English translation by Philip Vellacott.
  • Sue Blundell, Women in Ancient Greece (London: British Museum Press 1995).
  • Burkert, Walter, “Greek Tragedy and Sacrificial Ritual”, in Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 7, (1966), pp.87-121.
  • Cixous, Hélenè, Coming to Writing and Other Essays, ed. Deborah Jenson, trans. from French by Sarah Cornell, Deborah Jenson, Ann Liddle, Susan Sellers (London: Harvard UP 1991).
  • Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis, trans. by W.S. Merwin & George E. Dimock Jr. (NY: Oxford UP 1978).
  • Foley, Helen, Ritual Irony. Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides (Ithaca & London: Cornell UP 1985).
  • Foster, Hal, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic. Essays on Postmodern Culture [1st edn. Bay Press 1983] (NY: New York Press 1998)
  • Girard, René, The Scapegoat, trans. of Le Bouc Émissaire by Bernard Grasset [Paris 1982], trans. by Yvonne Freccero (London: The Athlone Press 1986).
  • Girard, René, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World trans. by Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer [orig. as Des Choses Cachées depuis la Fondation du Monde, Editions Grasset & Fasquelle, Paris] (London: The Athlone Press 1987). .
  • Girard, RenéViolence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory[originally as La Violence et le Sacré by Editions Bernard Grasset, Paris 1972] (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins UP 1977).
  • Lee, Veronica, “Edna O’Brien: ‘The Anger of Men is Nothing to the Anger of Men’”, review of Edna O’Brien’s new translation of Iphigenia, in The Independent (9 Feb. 2003).
  • O’Brien, Edna, Iphigenia [by] Euripides (London: Methuen 2003).
  • Patsalidis, Savas, & Elizabeth Sakellaridou, eds., (Dis)placing Classical Greek Theatre (Thessaloniki, Greece: University Studio Press 1999).
  • Schrank, Bernice, ed., The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies [Special Edna O’Brien Issue] 22, 2 (Dec. 1996)
  • Turner, Victor From Ritual to Theatre. The Human Seriousness of Play (NY, performing Arts Journal Publications 1982).


[1] Alongside these, two major productions of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis in Ireland are worth mentioning. In March 2001, Neil LaBute’s trilogy Bash opened at the Gate Theatre, Dublin where it ran until 14 April. “Iphigenia in Orem” is the first piece in the trilogy. Meanwhile Katie Mitchell’s production of the Iphigenia in Aulis, based on Don Taylor’s translation, opened at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, where it ran until 21 April.

[2] “In order for a species or category of living creature, human or animal, to appear suitable for sacrifice, it must bear a sharp resemblance to the human categories excluded from the ranks of the “sacrificeable”, while still maintaining a degree of difference that forbids all possible confusion. […] The list [of human victims sacrificed by various societies] […] includes prisoners of war, slaves, small children, unmarried adolescents, and the handicapped; it ranges from the very dregs of society, such as the Greek pharmakos, to the king himself. Is it possible to detect a unifying factor in this disparate group? […] What we are dealing with, therefore, are exterior or marginal individuals, incapable of establishing or sharing the social bonds that link the rest of the inhabitants. Their status as foreigners or enemies, their servile condition, or simply their age prevents these future victims from fully integrating themselves in the community”. René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, p.12.

[3] The antecedents are recounted in the Agamemnon by Aeschylus. Here we learn that the eponymous king has angered Artemis when, on shooting a deer, he said that the goddess could not have done it better. Moreover, Agamemnon’s father, Atreus, had vowed to sacrifice to Artemis the finest of his flock but when a golden lamb was born he broke the promise and kept the lamb for himself. It is on this account that Artemis creates adverse weather conditions for the Hellene fleet. Cf. ‘Agamemnon’, pp. 46-49. 

[4] ‘Cultural distinctions such as those between sexes … begin to be blurred. Mob violence is imminent; the army is gripped by ēros for war and revenge’. Foley, p.99.

[5] The scene is recounted by the Messenger: ‘The priest / took the knife, / praying, and looked for the place / to plunge it. … And the miracle happened. Everyone / distinctly heard the sound of the knife / striking, but no one could see / the girl. She had vanished. […] There it was, / we could see it, but we could scarcely / believe it: a deer / lay there gasping … and its blood ran / streaming over the altar of the goddess’.

[6] Both Colin Teevan and Marina Carr operate a similar alteration. Speaking of his translation, the former says: ‘In this process of reconstruction [I began] with the fortasse Euripidei. I stripped away the additions and accretions and distortions, translated that which remained and laid them out to see if there was anything more than just ‘the storyscraps of an agewrinkled fool’. Colin Teevan, ‘Introduction’ to the first published edition of IPH… After Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis (London: Nick Hern Books in association with Lyric Theatre, Belfast, 1999) p.xiii.

[7] The appropriation/expropriation distinction is traced in a reading of contemporary artist Sherrie Levine. Craig Owen describes her strategy: ‘Levine’s disrespect for paternal authority suggests that her activity is less one of appropriation – a laying hold and grasping – and more one of expropriation: she expropriates the appropriators’.

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