HomeΨηφιακή ΒιβλιοθήκηΆρθραΆρθρα (Αγγλικά)Sakkas, Dionyssis -"Actualizing Greek Myth as Metaphor in the Training Process"

Sakkas, Dionyssis -"Actualizing Greek Myth as Metaphor in the Training Process"

Actualizing Greek Myth  as Metaphor in the Training Process


Author : Dr. Dionyssis Sakkas, Psychiatrist,

Family and group therapist


  I want to present the way in which myths and tragedies of Ancient Greece are actualized as a metaphor in the context of Experiential Training Programs that address professionals in the areas of Prevention and Therapy.  The work presented lies within the context of the Dialectic – Systemic approach as this is developed at the Athenian Institute of Anthropos  (Athens, Greece )and meets in this case psychanalysis.  The themes chosen are of panhuman, archetypal value while simultaneously reminiscent of the dynamics and patterns that are often met in families with problems of addiction and other psychiatric disorders.  Themes that have been taught in Greek schools, leaving mnemonic traces and different types of processing in individuals and groups, offer the opportunity for experiential understanding of Systemic Epistemology through interaction and group process, role playing etc.  As an example we will use the tradegy of Euripides "Ifigenia in Avlida".


We have actualized this method in therapeutic communities for addictions, for staff and members and especially in family programs where parents and siblings of the addicted are involved. In addition, we have applied this method successfully in school and local communities, where teachers, students and parents as well as professionals in the area of prevention participated.  All this has been part of an effort to create networks of primary prevention.


Allow me to describe an example that best illustrates how we proceed with this work. Euripides, whose play I have chosen for this task, seems quite contemporary to our times.  His last tradegy "Ifigenia in Avlida" was performed and won first award at the end of the Golden Century, in 405 bc, just a year after Euripides’ death. 


The myth has undergone many alterations since Homer’s time with the most important one being that made from Euripides who wants Ifigenia to freely and voluntarily offer herself for sacrifice.  Modern performances keep emphasizing on different aspects of modern greek reality with more alterations.  Euripides writes this tradegy at a time when the assembly of the city of Athens besides Socrates’ objections and under the influence of blusterers condemnes to death the six generals who have won one of the biggest sea fights.


One could claim that the myth undergoes continual social alterations, while it remains open to various interpretations due to the dual or even multiple meaning the poetic speech offers.


From another aspect the myth of "Ifigenia in Avlida" comes to fill in the myths of Helectra by Sophocles and of Orestea by Aischylos, so that those three tragic poets follow different but supplementary approaches of the three siblings’ myths and the system of Agamemnon’s family and the Curse of the Atreides.


Let me briefly remind you of the myth.

The myth originates from the epic poems of Homer.  The Greek fleet is gathered in Avlida and is about to sail off to Troy in order to take back Helen, the most beautiful woman in Greece, who was stolen by the Trojan prince Paris from her husband king Menelaos.  The king of Mycenae, Agamemnon, brother of Menelaos, is the one leading the military expedition.  Goddess Artemis (Diana) is angry at Agamemnon because he has unwillingly killed her holly deer.  She does not allow favorable winds to blow and therefore the fleet cannot sail off.


The Greeks ask the seer Kalchas, who predicts the future and the wills of Gods, for an oracle.  He says that only if Ifigenia, the king’s daughter, was sacrificed the anger of the Goddess wold be appeased.  Agamemnon asks his wife Klytaemnestra to bring his beloved daughter Ifigenia to Avlida under pretext of her engagement to Achilles.  In the mean time, Agamemnon oscillates between obeying the oracle or not and discusses the matter with his brother Menelaos.   In the following scene his daughter begs him to pity herand cancel the sacrifice while his wife accuses him of cruelty.  The couple is in conflict.  In the next scene Achilles offers to protect Ifigenia with his army.  The army is divided, the expedition is at risk and at this moment of crises Ifigenia willingly offers herself for sacrifice in order to save the situation.  Goddess Artemis pities Ifigenia and removes her from the altar on which she places a deer.  She assigns her to be priestess at her temple in Tavrida.  The military expedition takes place.



The seminar begins.  In the begging, the members of the team are invited to a brainstorming about the causes of Ifigenia’s sacrifice.  They fill in three columns under the words :  Rescuer, Victim, Victimizer.  The participants in the seminar have a " collective blind spot" (or do they express by this omission the "common sense"? ), concerning the final decision of Ifigenia.  At this point, they view her only as a victim as they fill in only the column of Victim.  In this way they express a priority of responsibilities.


In the final phase of the seminar, the members will be invited to add to these three columns more causes and ideas that will emerge in the process of the seminar.


The seminar continues.  Members are asked to choose one of the three roles : Agamemnon, Klytaemnestra, Ifigenia.  In small groups of 3-4 persons each indinidual expresses different inner voices of the same role and in this way all of them express several feelings and thoughts which are generated in the process of each role’s transaction woth the others.

Lets attempt, under the permission of the mythology’s principles, to place all the heroes at the Elysian Fields 100 years after the Trojan war, willing to communicate between them.  We may include in this transaction the siblings of Ifigenia, Helectra and Orestis, as we do when we teach family dynamics.  These two were the main heroes in other tradegies written by the three classical tragic poets of ancient Greece.  We have seen more than once a member of the addict’s family taking the place of the first member.  As time went by, we added two more roles to the process of the seminar : the people of Mycenae, where Agamemnon was king, and the Troades slaves who were brought to Greece after the Trojan war was over.  In the groups where professionals were included we have added the roles of Consultants for Agamemnon and Ifigenia.  These roles are expected to enrich the seminar with further views and draw less willing participants into active participation without the fear of a deeper involvement.  Members more cognitively or professionally orientated are invited to give advices to the heroes for actions whose outcome we know beforehand, defending their neutrality and autonomy as consultants.


The participants, after choosing their role, they are asked to keep diaries or write letters to the other heroes and read them aloud in the group and the procedure begins.  The transaction demands from the leaders of the seminar to catalyze – regulate the process.  Each group, according to its composition and phase of development, follows different paths through the task and the leaders are there to facilitate the process.

The scenes of the tragedy that have left various and often different mnemonic traces to the participants, usually after plenty of years from the 3rd grade of high school where the tragedy is being taught, offer stimuli for the experiential processing of the triangle Rescuer, Victim, Victimizer.  We meet similar dynamics in the context of the family with an addicted member, as well as in the context of the therapeutic team and their transactions.  The participants are asked apart from what they have been taught and remember to create through a process of interaction and role playing their own reality, a modern version of the myth based on knowledge, memories and personal experiences.  The phase of evolution and the framework of the team define the depth of the myth’s study. 

People who express inner voices of the role speak of feelings and thoughts and sometimes are asked to move in the space indicated by the inside conflicts of the role.  In the mean time, they reveal the existing dynamic through the interaction of roles.  For example, one part of Ifigenia expresses fear for her life; another, anger for her unable to sufficiently help mother; another, her concern for her parents’ conflict; another, the power and concern of the greek princess etc.

These inner voices succeed one another and interact between them as well as with other voices from other roles.  The final outcome is open to the team.


Role conflict within every basic hero is appropriate for study.  Members of the team emphasize on different roles of the same hero.  Agamemnon, father, husband, lover, king of Mycenae, military chief and religious leader leads the team to oscillate among the different roles.


Ifigenia, godfeared daughter, princess, defender of an emerging national greek identity, with the sides of Rescuer, Victim, Victimizer for herself and the others as sawn from her decision, leads to dialectic procedure.  In the eyes of sophisticated systemic family therapists her role as the daughter in triangle is evident.  Here, as well as in other parts of the seminar, members experience the process by remembering or projecting or identifying selectively with aspects of the role that are compatible to their biography.


Occasionally, the dues ex machine comes if not from the people of Mycenae, then from the Trojan slaves, who are outside the Greek system and therefore have another approach for the triangle Rescuer, Victim, Victimizer.  In this way it contributes to the liberating catharsis.

Besides, the dialog has been placed 100 years later at the Elysian Fields, where there is place for everyone.


It is impressive that according to the groups composition a different myth is being created, although there exist some common and solid places.  For example, in the beginning, Ifigenia is always seen only as a victim from the trainees.  Later, though, their ideas change through the learning procedure and in the end they realize that her decision for sacrifice makes her at the same time Rescuer, Victim, Victimizer of herself and of others depending on the approach and the depth of time.


Another common place is Ifigenia’s complaint and anger for her mother’s so-called detachment, at varience with the reality of Euripides’ tragedy where Klytaemnestra is presented to dispute with her husband and exploit Achilles in an empending civil war.


The participants experience the limits of Ifigenia’s and other heroes’ freedom as too narrow, especially when they consider her genogram.  The myth about the family includes the "Curse of the Atreides" and other patterns such as triangulations, violence, early loss etc, that produce Deos and urge for catharsis.  Similar patterns we often meet in families with addicted members.


At this point,  and throughout the process, the issues of Responsibility, Freedom and Autonomy emerge while various suprasystems ( family, social, economical, cultural )  functioning as contexts that influence possibilities of choice.  The group gradually becomes aware of  the influence of the suprasystems.  Members wonder about the causes that led the hero to the sacrifice.  To what extend the parents’ relationship was involved in the sacrifice?


Ifigenia imagines making her beloved parents happy, as Euripides claims through Agamemnon’s words to his wife.  Does Ifigenia choose the " deviating move" of Epikurus ( as cited by Lucretius and lately by Prigogine ) that verifies human autonomy?


What does all this suggest to the therapists?  Will we restrict ourselves within the family boundaries or will we view the human being as a responsible member of groups of suprasystems that define him as an active citizen, in the way a person was considered in the Democracy of Athens, where the play was first presented?  Will we remain in the chair of the therapist or will we move to the multifocal – multilevel approach to prevention, like the multicausal, multilevel dynamics of the tradegy suggest?


The various theoretical perceptions of the members meet each other through the seminar.  Kalchas, as one of the participants told us, is the archetype of the wise old man who warns about children’s sacrifices, those who want to engage in war and asks the leaders to evaluate the cost to be paid if involved in a contract of war.  Freud’s Love and Death concepts are met in several parts of the play.  The Systemic Approach has to be open and able to integrate all theories, which will later be enriched through a new process of synthesis.  For example, it seems useful to complement the "Oedipal and Helectra Complex" with the "Ifigenia’s Constellation" , as I would risk to name it.


The understanding of the human being cannot be contained in a few human myths.  We need something more than all myths together to approach him as the totality of the bio psycho economic and cultural processes that comprise him.  These are some of the issues that arise at the end of the procedure when the members get out of their roles and enter into mixed groups that consist of members from each role.  The small groups report to the whole what they felt, learnt, understood as persons and as professionals.


In conclusion, I would like to stress the fact that each member who participates in the seminar traces through the whole transaction of the group his personal myths, patterns and mandates that he carries from the past.  I strongly believe that this helps the participant to come closer to the point where he would be readier "to follow his personal bliss" as Campbell said.


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