HomeΨηφιακή ΒιβλιοθήκηΆρθραΆρθρα (Αγγλικά)Manolopoulos, Sotiris - "The Theater of Threat in Medea's Tragedy in The Character and in the Function of the Group"

Manolopoulos, Sotiris - "The Theater of Threat in Medea's Tragedy in The Character and in the Function of the Group"

The Theater of Threat in Medea's Tragedy in The Character and in the Function of the Group

Sotiris Manolopoulos

It is the productions of psychic work that the tragedy imitates in actions, sequences of events, changes in time. Poetry and history are of the same order, that of research (Aristotle). With childhood sexuality and fantasies a child solves the enigmas of creation: in playing he dramatizes the beginning of his story (Freud 1908α, 1908β). The space-time dimensions of primal scene - where he comes from - the child realizes everyday, in a network of cause-effect relationships forming a plot of a tragic story, a ‘constitution of things (Aristotle): a prism through which he reads-recognizes reality (Laplance & Ponatlis 1973) (2). A child is born with pre-conceptions of primal scene, which with realizations become concepts (Bion 1962). What is realized is his capacity to be linked in networks of meanings and relationships. What are at stake are his true origins: his access and participation in authentic, not spurious false, experiences. His originality is at stake: his autonomy and contact with innermost experiences.

The Greeks believed in an ecumenical harmony, world balance. Gods, mortals, individuals, groups, cities, formed and belonged to a network of links and relationships. A hurt on this grid resulted in an ‘amartia’, a miss, a disharmony. The ancient dramas were derived from these hurts and the need to restore the harmony, to correct the disorder. The amartia breaks the existent order, brings a change and a threat of catastrophe.  

As an amartia, a breaking of a promise, a parent may perceive the very development of his child, who becomes autonomous, ‘says his own word’, that signifies the passing of time. As a betrayal a growing child may perceive the fact that his parents do not support him they used to. The question is (Fenichel 1934, p. 260): How does he go to the next stage? What happens with the ‘residue’ of pregenital instinctual quantities that do not get repressed? The character absorbs a part of them (in latency). These are externalized: assigned in a compelling way to external world.

The Greeks had no religion with dogma (except Orphism); they had instituted rituals, as frames, that absorbed the forces that had not been internalized. An evolution of rituals were the myths and the tragedies, where the ‘residual’ elements come from a foreign land to be narrated and integrated in the subjective history. Medea comes from a foreign land, brings a change in stability, and challenges the coexistence of elements that constantly change. She does not present a character primitive infanticide woman but the feminine primitivism of motherhood.

Medea was taught by Euripides in 431 in Athens (Delcourt 2004, p. 104): The ... grand-daughter of Sun, is overcome with erotic passion for Jason, and … she helps him … to steal the Golden Fleece. For his sake she murdered and cut to pieces her brother. And she provoked the death of old Pellias, leading his daughters to cut him to pieces. Euripides had told this story 20 years earlier. The new thing now is the danger of being associated with a sorceress, a murderess, because of which you have no place to stay! In Corinth, where the couple finds refuge, the King’s daughter is bewitched by the captivating stranger, Jason, who denies Medea …. and determined to remarry, he waits for his wife to abandon the city. Medea sends to the young bride a dressed soaked in poison that burns her whole body, together with that of the king who rushes to save his daughter. As soon as Medea is certain that Jason has lost everything, she kills their two children with her own hands and leaves to Athens.  

Medea, the Princess of the Sun, suffers because she feels like a mortal. For the sake of love she was humanized, for the words of a Greek she left the paternal land. Love, however, sends her back to her primitive sources, the roots of primary femininity, in a tortuous commitment of feelings and thoughts, assuming their responsibility under a regime of internalizations and their pain (Potamianou 1998, Αlexopoulou 2000, Green 2001, Varveris 2005, Stein 2005, Tzavara 2006). The pain is so unbearable that she wants not to feel, to annihilate the excitations, the wishes and the becoming of the history: the marriage to the King’s daughter, the succession, the primal scene, the exile, the overwhelming and inaccessible father, and the fantasy of being punished-loved by the father in order to cohabit with him and behind this to unite secretly with the primary mother (Freud 1919). Medea kills what she loves (pieces of self-brother-children). With the primary separation (deep sorrow) the ego finds-creates the not-ego (in hate) as a threatening enemy. The individual is defined by the founding violence of the first movements of capturing the world.

The restoration of ‘amartia’ in tragedy is achieved with the meeting between myth and the language that gives the possibility of links, the perspective of time, the outcome of a story towards a future. For Pierce the verbal sign, the symbol that contains iconic and indexical elements, is the third (law, frame), that is variable, so that its stability – its general meaning – gains new specific meaning with each sequences of events (Jakobson & Pomorska 1980) (3). Following this changeability,  Euripides, the stage philosopher, presents an ambivalence towards the language as well the knowledge and the body of it, the mother.

Medea’s tragedy is opened by the Nurse with icons of the past: ‘Ah! Would to Heaven the good ship Argo ne’er had sped its course to the Colchian land through the misty blue Symplegades…’ [1]. Now [they] come the indices of threat: ‘…but now their love is all turned to hate, and tenderness ties are weak. For Jason hath betrayed…’ [15]. ‘… wasting away in tears’ the thick time of all her life [20]. The time is lived as compact: ‘and she lends as deaf an ear to her friend’s warning as if she were a rock or ocean billow…’ [28]. With this love and the simultaneous loss her heart became a rock of negativity: ‘She… hath by sad experience how good thing it is never to quit one’s native land…’ [29]. She cannot bear to suffer any longer. Her suffering never end, it feels as if it is beyond time. Tomorrow something will occur, the today the day does not turn. While the mist of her mania becomes dense around us, we hear the cries of a dazed Medea: ‘Ah, me! A wretched suffering woman! O would that I could die!’ [96]… ‘Curse you and your father too, ye children damned, sons of a doomed mother’ [111]. ‘O, to die and win release, quitting this loathed existence’ [148]. She wants to disappear. The chorus responds: ‘Didst hear … the piteous note of woe the hapless wife is uttering? How shall a yearning for that insatiate resting-place ever hasten for thee, poor reckless one, the end that death alone can bring? Never pray for that…’ [149]. Euripides’ chorus does not participate in the plot, sings a commentary, accompanies and softens the savage passions. It speaks about the sweetness of tears of mourning, about the sweet music. In the rustle of nature, the chorus hears magically those who no longer have a voice, the shadows that return to give us courage to go on living. Death needs no motivation; life does.  

With a constitutional pre-verbal honesty, a primitive naivety and violence, Medea the priestess of Hecate - the provider of eloquence and magic -speaks of broken promises and oaths: ‘thus scorned, appeals to the oaths he swore, recalls the strong pledge his right hand gave…’ [21]. ‘Do ye hear her words, how loudly she adjures Themis, oft invoked, and Zeus … keeper of … oaths?’ says the Nurse. ‘No doubt I differ from the mass of men on many points; for, to my mind, whose […a word missing??] hath skill to fence with words in an unjust cause, incurs the heaviest penalty; … so do not put forth thy specious pleas and clever words to me now, for one word of mine may thee low’ [579]. However, words may be overcome: she fears that her words my not be heard … inside the howl that springs from her soul [790].

Medea, uses speech and persuades the King Creon not to execute the decision of exile at once but to give her one more day, an endless day. She becomes active again. The compact becomes time of action, the real time of tragedy. Now the real participation is played out and tested, the authentic experience of the true self. Medea does not make light of the hatred: ‘On all sides sorrow pens me in’ … ‘Now, though I have many ways to compass their death, I am not sure, friends, which I am to try first. Shall I set fire to the bridal mansion, or plunge the wretted sword through their hearts…’ to tear up their liver, to cut their genitals … ‘best to take the shortest way – the way we women are most skilled in – by poison to destroy them’. That is how it will be done: by using her natural wisdom, with her magic potions… [364-409]. The chorus sings: ‘Back to their source the holy rivers turn their tide. Order and the universe are being reversed’ [411]. With regression the female sexuality reaches its origins. Then suddenly Aegeus appears in time like a harbor to ‘make fast the cables of our ship…’[768] to the oedipal structure (4). Inviting Medea to Athens signifies its strength that it will be increased by internalizing the powers of the primitive woman.  Medea promises Aegeus to help him have children and decides to leave Jason without children and wife. The revenge (for the primal scene) clears the confused mist of alienation: ‘for she must die a hideous death, slain by my drugs. Let no-one deem me a poor weak woman’, a passive one [805].

On the borders of narcissism-sexuality Medea emerges from primary fusion, sovereign on the scene with herself as the sole objecting-opponent. She faces her children as auto-erotic parts that her vigilant superego prohibits, sending them to take cover in sleep, in the unconscious. A mother gives space to her child by negativating herself. In its extreme form this negativation it becomes a ‘self-killing murder’. The chorus sings: The Muses of women have an unbearable song; not all women stand to hear it… It is better not to bear children, better not to have [1085]. Few women can stand to be hated by their children: they react masochistically to the destructiveness in order not to lose them. ‘Alive neglect’ is necessary ingredient of mother care.

The children appear on stage before Medea and the Nurse gives them cover: ‘Go children within the house’ [59]. Go and settle inside. The children appear again when Medea sends them to take her poisonous gifts to her enemies. They return after 25 verses and with a heart-breaking poignant monologue, Medea takes leave of them, speaking of their sweet smile, their laughing round eyes, hands she loves, lips most dear to her, sweet embrace, the soft young cheek, the fragrant breath… It is as if she sings a lullaby. She invests their body and the functions that emerge when the compact of existing order breaks up and the primitive defenses and shifting investments become a changeable give and take. These children will die shortly and only then do we hear their voice, a cry… a few verses of weak exclamations (De Romilly 1986, p. 103).

When the Deus ex machnae lifts her up, Jason tries, with merciless hate and desperate violence, to reach her through words. On the carriage of Sun nobody touches her, and for a moment she achieves the fusion via primary identification. Then time turns. Medea ends with the chorus exhausted by this tremendous activity, saying: With unexpected horrifying things Gods weave our lives. Those that should have happened never happened. And what happened should not have happened. That’s how this thing turned out [1415]. It turned out. There was an outcome, a catharsis. Even the most primitive conflicts of ambivalence that reach experiences of annihilation can be represented. It works. The psychic work makes forms that satisfy, because they bind the excitations. Every work of art is a struggle to maintain psychic quality with pleasure in function, in ‘μανθάνειν’, in-formation, formation of tragic affects out of the emerging transitional undifferentiated emotions in the psyche of the spectator (2). That is how Aristotle (Rhetoric [30-32]) gives meaning to Homer’s verse (Odyssey Δ 183 and Iliad Ψ 108):   ‘He spake, and in each man’s heart he awakened ‘the love of lament’’ (Ι. Sykoutris).

Delcourt (2004) states: The Poet made of Medea a terrifying woman who posses the secrets of nature and she is determined to use them. She is barbarous and wise (5). She brings us the primary femininity, a threat to the cosmos (order and universe). Her wisdom reminds us the early trauma resulted from experiences that should have happened but never did, and overwhelming experiences that should never have occurred. Her barbarous origins reveal many layers of tragic irony. A barbarous threat are the drives, the autarchic superego, the idealization and the poignant diference between self and object. Barberous is the regression that can reach to the crude stripping and exposition of the somatic ingredients of representations. Barberous is the reality that is too much, when there is no frame to contain reality not to be operative in an action without outcome. The worst threat of all is the annihilation of desires, with total disinvestment and indifference (Green 2005). (5)

The outcome in Euripides’ fragmentary plots is executed by a Deus ex machinae who appears suddenly, gathers things, and declares a program for the future. It reminds an unelaborated perception that breaks out as a whole phenomenon that is magically convincing – like a dream on its way to being formed (Manolopoulos 1999). It has been compared to acting out on the transference scene. In the transference acting out the words have become an unconscious factor on the scene, they have lost their thirdness but not their functional relativity (Donnet 2001) (6).

In theater, the separation from the wings (backstage) makes the stage possible (Potamianou 1984). It represents the separation between conscious-unconscious, internal-external reality. The narrator (messenger) faces the lacks of memory that the violence of acted passions created in the spectator (Braunschweig & Fain 1975): He does what the verbal registration of thing representations does in the preconscious: it reminds the first registration in the unconscious (6).

With reversal to the opposite and on to the self, the returned from the repressed elements circulate. However, not only the repressed but also severe traumas of loss of primary object that did not survive the infant’s destructiveness come on to the stage involving an external object in the place of a lacking symbolic one, provoking it to do the work that forms containing affects lest destruction occurs. Those who have lived traumas, intense body handling and incestuous excitations that transgress the narcissistic boundaries of sexes and generations, believe that they are entitled of special treatment and they demand in a compelling way that we comply with their wishes as they did comply with the compelling demands they were posed on thjem and they could not question them with thinking and speaking in order not to destroy the narcissistic union with the primary mother (Hartocollis 1998).

McDougal (1989) sensitive to the theatrical aspects of the analytic scene is interested in patients who have the need to externalize. These are patients who have been burdened with a heavy emotional load that they could not represent with words. The key to gain access to these experiences are the somatic pole of the affects. In The Dream Interpretation, Freud (1900, p. 111) notes that there is at least one spot in every dream that is implumbable – a navel. As it were, that is its point with the unknown (Bokanowski 1998). For the contact with the unknown Euripides uses uncanny episodes with perceptual fragments as gates for time travels. Many moments in Medea’s Tragedy we look at this implumbable unknown.

McDougal (1989) has described the incapacity of the psychotic to stay on stage by allowing the mechanical elements of the backstage (body elements of representations) to remain behind the scene, the unconscious. She calls it the Theater of the Impossible in contrast to the Theater of Prohibited in neurotics, where representations of things come from the backstage via associations with words.  

In Medea we are in the theater of Threat: the realism of the pit (audience) of the theater comes up on stage. Ordinary people with realistic problems try to avoid something and gain time. Like Thucydides, Euripides describes simple episodes of everyday life; he places them inside their historical epoch, and then the whole epoch comes to life. In Medea we listen to an everyday dialogue to be surprised in the end that the whole time we had Zeus himself on stage.

The realism on stage makes ‘present’ the character traits, everyday ways that synthesize inner-outer reality, enhance narcissism with identifications, sublimations, counter-investments, reaction formations. The traits are externalized and return from outside as a threat. The threat is that the illusion of a secret narcissistic union with the primary mother will be exposed and destroyed. The character is perpetuated as a protection from the threat it poses in a mafia way (Fain 1997).

With a character organization we split the perceptions that threaten the illusion of primary fusion. This removal from consciousness of these perceptions renders them latent and bearers of hallucinatory realization of satisfaction. Because of an excessive perceptual presence we have a hallucinatory function that overwhelms the ego, which has no access to language. The passionate verbal struggle (αντι-λαβή) becomes a cry that makes things visible in the clarity of a surface, an Epiphany of Apocalypse. It is a miracle. From the first body-object contacts the functions emerge.

The influences of the environment that have not been internalized and integrated in the superego are revealed with projections of the character on the actual everyday reality. They are placed in the presence of the group. Then ‘truth’ is what a group believes that has been re-constituted. This is a historical truth. It is convincing because it contains a grain of material truth, the actual materiality of an unelaborated excitation. The spectators trace the somatic ingredients from which they make clear tragic affects, following the steps of the hands, the skin, the eyes, the nose, that are linked to phonetic components of the words (icons of contiguity, indices of similarity), the sounds where the Poetics of the psyche is realized (Fenichel 1934, p. 152, Green 2005) (2, 3, 6, 7). 

Gifts, magic, and potions point to the history of sexual identifications and a regression to a more ambivalent and bisexual relationship with the object. With regression we reach the threat against the containing skin and the body of representations that are at risk of losing their capacity to contain the excitations (Bokanowski 1998, Schmidt-Kitsikis 2001, Bolognini 2006). Then instead of tragic affects the spectators experience dysthymia. The poisons prepared in the vessels of magic, the empty clothes impregnated with poisons, the ornaments deep in the matter of the feces hold a continuity of the self inside a threat: these are the ‘residue’ debts that are assigned to the group and are transmitted to the children (next generation).

In groups, the speaking communities where cooperation is required in networks of relationships and identifications, the character is revealed as a living process. History does not exist only in memory, but also in the here and now living process of poesis of psyche – history in the making. The group creates a convention, a symbol, it sets the externality of a frame, it stops the saturation of meaning. It assures us that our reality will not be operative unfailingly. It sends the unelaborated elements to where they belong in the private space.

Medea contains in its body sound the word ‘μηδέ’ that means ‘not’ and the anagrams Δήμος and Δήμιος (public, and executioner), thus recalling the dialectic between the group and the negative (8). The pessimist bleak Euripides’ theater of threat reminds us the theater of Pinder (2000), which accordin to a critic M. Esslin) is characterized by the presence of an executioner torturer who terrorizes in a crude way his victims. Behind this cruelty there is a panicky wish, a search in agony  of a personal space for the individual to be protected from the terror of persecution by executiners that have only a vague idea of the real powers that give the commands and of the threads that link them together. Euripides’ persistence with the ordinary reality risks to slide in a form of legal debate as to what is verifiable with third degree interrogations.

Like Thucydides, Euripides begins to tell a living story with ‘antilogies’, in a dialectic way. The innovator of myths shocked Athenians, dissolved accepted ideas, panoplies of false pretences. ‘Inside the myths he did not search, but only for those extraordinary moments when the envelope of the psyche is torn violently to reveal its innermost recesses’ (De Romilly 1986).


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The Theater of Threat in Medea’s Tragedy in The Character and in the Function of the Group

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