Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Reflections: A Memory of Wind

When the ravishing half-Goddess Helen was seduced by Paris and was taken to Troy, her husband, King Menelaus was thirsting for war to avenge the infidelity. King Agamenmnon, Helen’s sister Clymnestra’s husband, offers his allegiance to support the war. The troops arrive at the harbor at Aulis and prepare to sail to Troy. But there was one major obstacle - the Goddess of Wind refused to provide the winds to set sail. The priest of Artemis opines that the Goddess needs to be appeased by sacrificing King Agamenmnon’s eldest daughter, Iphigenia. Agamenmnon didn’t want to lose his facade of bravery in front of Menelaus and hence agrees to it. Rachel Swirsky gives voice to the poor young girl who was cruelly treated as a sacrificial goat in this popular segment of Greek mythology.

Mythological stories such as the Trojan War of Troy have focused on the many romantic and heroic aspects of the story. But there are so many countless characters that usually get pushed to the side because of their apparent triviality in the grand scheme of the epic. However, these seemingly “insignificant” characters play a pivotal role in the story’s major turning points. I appreciated that Rachel Swirsky focused on one such a character. She poignantly portrays the girl’s frame of wind and thoughts, and presents the story and its popular characters from the standpoint of this young girl and her terrible fate. Swirsky’s sensitive and beautiful writing transcends Iphigenia’s character to a memorable place in the epic. She also presents Agamenmnon as a confused warrior and father, torn between understanding where his duties lie. And contrary to the glorification heaped on Helen, Swirsky shows a possible darker side to her.

It was a very short, but touching read. The romanticism surrounding Helen and the war is disillusioned in the light of such innocent victims. 

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