The Iphigenia diary: Iphigenia in Aulis, The Buried Giant and Historical Amnesia.
(Ιφιγένεια) Tούτων ἐγὼ μὲν τῶν λόγων μνήμην ἔχω, σὺ δ᾽ ἐπιλέλησαι, καί μ᾽ ἀποκτεῖναι θέλεις. (Eur. IA, 1231-2)
This has been an Iphigenia week. In preparation for the interesting conference organized by CADRE in Nottingham (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/conference/fac-arts/humanities/classics/iphigenia/index.aspx) I got to thinking about the importance of memory, cultural and personal, in conjunction to the political “message” (for lack of a better word) of this play. In Iphigenia in Aulis collective memory, historical truth and superstition are connected into a thematic web that is worked into the language and plot in a complex and insistent way. At the conference I talked about the strangeness of human sacrifice, an aberration in the civilized world of the play, something that is so unsettling, so confounding, that it points to cracks in the entire edifice of that civilization. There was also a lot of discussion about the enigmatic and strangely apathetic chorus of young women, which was mentioned in several interesting papers. On the train back from Nottingham I started reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, a beautiful book, whose central metaphor links the loss of collective memory to the decline of an entire civilization. After the first few pages of The Buried Giant, I began to grasp the full impact and theatrical potential of the theme of memory and its connection to truth in Euripides’ IA, especially in relation to the staging of that problematic chorus of young women. Ishiguro’s novel emphatically makes the connection between the random occurrence of brutality and historical amnesia. The collective loss of historical memory, its replacement by superstition, and the subsequent loss of humanity in world filled with mindless violence, are themes that the two texts have in common. Both texts, using paradigms from a distant and mythical past, speak strongly to us today.