Where superheroes dare to tread

Can a Greek tragedy from the 5th century teach us about our own era, war spoils and amnesia? An HRDC production asks a timely question.

By Gregory Schaefer '17

The war in the Middle East and the refugee crisis surrounding it has been a major hot-button topic in the 2016 presidential election debates. But these topics are not new. In the 5th century B.C., Euripides wrote The Trojan Women, a play about the fates of Trojan women and their families who survive the Sack of Troy only to be enslaved by their captors. The tragedy transports a contemporary audience to a world where the Greeks take on the affect of American

"The Fall of Troy and the Escape of Aeneas" engraving by Giorgio Ghisi (1545), from the Harvard Art Museums
politicians. The Trojan Women and its tragic themes have been pervasive throughout history: Euripides wrote the tragedy possibly as a commentary on Athens’ capture of Melos and the subsequent massacre and subjugation of its inhabitants; Jean-Paul Sartre translated the play to update the language with references to European colonialism in Asia; Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club director Federico Roitman ’18 hopes to demonstrate through a production that closes Oct. 22 at the Loeb Ex that U.S. foreign actions, such as those in Iraq, Vietnam, Panama and other countries, have negatively affected and displaced people in those regions. An edited version of my conversation with Roitman follows.

What drew you to Euripides and The Trojan Women?
I’m a government concentrator, and so naturally I was watching the political debates. I noticed that the rhetoric of both presidential candidates surrounding refugee crisis was extremely heated. I am from Argentina, a country that, at one time, felt the weight of United States involvement, as many other Latin American countries felt during the Cold War era. This history lives with me and is a part of me, just as it is a part of my parents and grandparents as well; but this is not the only history that forms a part of me. I am also American and proud of it, but to analyze and criticize one’s country is to show pride in it. All this drew me to want to tell the stories of the other side of these conflicts: the regions affected by United States foreign policies. I could only find shows from the perspective of American soldiers and not those who are occupied, waking up to destruction and foreign soldiers marching through the streets. But when I found Trojan

"The Burning of Troy," oil painting by Johann Georg Trautmann (1759/62).
Women, I knew it was exactly the story I wanted to tell because it portrays what happens after the war and once the aggressor leaves.

What were the major parallels you drew between the Greeks and Americans as well as the Trojans and refugees?
I did not want to portray the Greeks as robots, but I wanted to highlight their carelessness. Helen is one major example of Greeks going into new places, very impulsively making decisions relevant to their own interests which results in destruction, and then disappearing and get away with it by twisting the situation as if there’s no blame to be shared. The Greeks are meant to be portrayed with very little awareness of the things they have done and then forget what they’ve done. That amnesia is something we have in our political sphere as well: forgetting our past actions and repeating them only to forget again. I believe that the United States can be the superhero of the world if we cease only having our own interests in mind. For the Trojans at the end of the war, I wanted to emphasize the sheer exhaustion and weight they all must feel living in a refugee camp with little food and water after 10 years of war, bombings and threats. I looked at videos of refugees being interviewed and there was a tired numbness to the events that had gone on; it was shocking to see how resigned they were to the events that had occurred, and I used the Trojans to emulate that fatigue.

What do you hope your audience has taken away from your production?
We know the monetary cost of the war in Iraq, but not the amount of people displaced. We know how many soldiers were deployed, but we do not often speak about the Iraqi lives lost. We talk about the improvements we have made to Iraq, but not about how our departure assisted the growth of terrorism in the region, which in turn helped fuel an already massive refugee crisis. If more of those discussions were had, I think people in the United States would start to reflect more and would be more interested in seeing what our government is doing in other countries.