Iphigenia in Aulis
Artemis, having been deeply offended by the arrogance of Agamemnon, demonstrated just why you should never risk the wrath of the gods. At the moment of Agamemnon’s greatest triumph, the assembled armies of Greece under his command, ready to set sail across the wine-dark sea to sack and loot their great rival Troy, and incidentally ‘liberate’ the beautiful Helen, Artemis calmed the winds. The greatest army ever raised, including in its ranks such incomparable heroes as Achilles and Odysseus, was forced to wait in increasing desperation for favourable weather, precious supplies eaten up amidst growing certainty that the gods would not bless their grand venture.
And it was all Agamemnon’s fault. The seer, Calchas, said so. Indeed, so furious was Artemis that she demanded the impossible from the Mycenaean king: the sacrifice of his first-born, Iphigenia. But Agamemnon’s ambition as leader of the Greek armies was greater than his compassion as a father. Following the advice of Odysseus, ever the trickster, he lured the girl from her home under the pretense that she was to be married to Achilles – no less! – but when she was led to the altar it was not marriage that awaited her there but death.
But a deal is a deal. The winds blew, the armies sailed, and we all know the rest of the story. Achilles sat around sulking for nine years, Odysseus’s passion for wooden toys got a little out of proportion, and Helen eventually got married for the fourth time.
Iphigenia in Splott
All of which has very little to do with Iphigenia in Splott, set in modern-day Cardiff, in the district of Splott. (From Wikipedia: ‘Splott is characterised by its once vast steelworks and rows of tightly knit terraced houses.’) This is a new play by Gary Owen, performed for the first time in May 2015, and is a monologue by Effie (Iphigenia, obviously) and featuring, as one of the characters in the tale she tells, a lad called Lee (Achilles) discharged from the army having lost the lower part of one leg to an IED.
The parallels stop there, however. This is not a modern retelling of the story of Iphigenia. Effie is not an innocent princess. She spends her life getting drunk and having sex, and fighting her way through hangovers, and being aggressive in every encounter. Dare to tell her to mind her language and she’ll lay into you verbally; threaten her with the police and she’ll threaten the safety of your children. She has a nothing life with nothing and no one to live for.
The perfect sacrifice.
But as she gains motivation to change her life, and as we gain hope for her future, we, like Agamemnon, are torn between the desire to see her sacrificed and the desire to see her treated as any human being should be.
As a book, the play is an easy and entertaining read, and also thought-provoking. The story of Iphigenia is a very important one for me and I worried at times while reading Iphigenia in Splott that the title was not doing justice to the brilliance of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, but the ending laid my misgivings to rest.