Ukraine, Iphigenia, and War’s Ulterior Motives (Which Euripides Got Exiled)

Aristotle referred to the playwright Euripides as “the most tragic of the poets.” Due to the present events in Ukraine, we will limit ourselves to examining his play Iphigenia in Aulis – a telling anti-war play.

To be clear, Greece was right to denounce the Russian invasion of a sovereign nation for obvious reasons. War is always nightmarish, but particularly when it involves countries that share a common faith, as well as common cultural, historical, and linguistic traditions. Elements of Hellenism were present in the war-torn area since antiquity, while Greece has maintained historically close ties to both sides.

While the West’s role in destabilizing Ukraine and encroaching upon an area traditionally belonging under Russia’s sphere of influence cannot be overlooked, Moscow’s decision to resort to violence to settle bilateral differences cannot be tolerated. The violation of international law must carry severe penalties and sanctions that will deter such behavior in the future.

Particularly with a hostile neighbor like Turkey, it is important that Greece goes on record to condemn actions that were and continue to be espoused by Ankara. Still, while Greece’s alignment with its allies against Russia’s “special military operation” is logical and serves the national interest, its failure to point out the obvious hypocrisy of the West’s preferential treatment of Turkey, which has done far worse than what Russia is doing in Ukraine, is disturbing.

Cyprus has been under Turkish occupation for nearly half a century, while Ankara’s encroachment upon Greece and Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zones, air space, and its threats against their territorial integrity is growing progressively worse – unchecked by NATO and the EU. Athens’ unwillingness to call out its Western partners on this ongoing problem and demand sanctions against Turkey has the makings of a terrible blunder which cannot be justified by excuses regarding bad timing or being off topic.

On the contrary, there could be no worse timing than to miss this opportunity to compel Turkey to respect international law, now that the West is demanding a united front against Russia. Besides, Greece’s passiveness may end up being mistaken as a relinquishment of its claims for a just and viable solution in Cyprus and its insistence on the ‘red lines’ it will adhere to regarding the defense of its territory and interests.

The ability to point out cognitive dissonance is an essential tool to initiate policy changes. Especially when it comes to conflicts where there is a power differential, establishing solid arguments that reveal the hypocrisy arising from the cognitive dissonance being exhibited acts as a force multiplier for the weaker side against the cynicism of the stronger side.

The success of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was based largely on activists’ ability to point out America’s hypocrisy and create a sense of cognitive dissonance both nationally and internationally. The Cold War actually helped this cause, as the incompatibility between segregationist policies and the liberties America claimed to champion against the communist threat was tarnishing its image. This would have automatically cost it valuable points in the battle for public opinion, which played a key role in shaping the political choices of citizens’ worldwide.

Now that the United States is facing challenges to its global hegemony from the rising superpower China and a Russia seeking to recover as much of its erstwhile power and influence as possible, it will need the active support of its allies more than ever. Hence, its acceptance of double standards in the application of international law is something that may not be tolerated so easily by its allies in the emerging new multi-polar international system.

Another ill-advised action by the current Greek Government that could prove costly involved the Prime Minister’s unilateral decision to send weapons to Ukraine – unnecessarily provoking Moscow. Greece is under no obligation to send weaponry to Ukraine – which, incidentally, collaborates with Turkey for the production of the latter’s deadly Bayraktar drones, which were already deployed against Armenia and are currently ominously hovering above Greek air space.

One hopes that this decision doesn’t come back to haunt Greece in the future, although it does create questions regarding the Premier’s motives…

In Euripides’ play, Iphigenia is offered as a sacrifice to Artemis, who was keeping the Greek fleet from sailing to Troy to recover Helen. Although initially opposed to the idea, Agamemnon quickly overcomes his paternal reservations and insists on the sacrifice of his daughter, despite protests to the contrary by Achilles and even Menelaos.

While Iphigenia’s sacrifice is ballyhooed through patriotic rhetoric, the real tragedy of the play lies in the fact that Agamemnon does not hesitate to sacrifice his own daughter to serve his interests (in this case, preserving his throne for fear that his soon-to-be-deposed brother will return from Sparta to Argos to inevitably overthrow him) … and if rulers have no qualms about sacrificing their own flesh and blood, they certainly won’t lose any sleep over sacrificing other people’s children!

One cannot help but wonder if Ukraine is not America’s Iphigenia, sacrificed to serve some veiled interest…If Euripides’ views on war are correct and those who start them usually do so to primarily serve their personal interest and not the greater good of their nations, this also begs the question whether the current Premier’s decision to send weapons to Ukraine serves Greek national interests or just his own (i.e., securing the blessing and support of the West for another term). The same can be said of his predecessor’s decision to sign the Prespa Agreement and cede the use of the name Macedonia to the onomastically challenged pretenders to the north…

Incidentally, Euripides followed with a sequel, Iphigenia in Tauris – modern-day Crimea. Phrynichus’ play the Capture of Miletus was banned in ancient Athens, while Lysistrata was deemed unacceptably subversive. Meanwhile, Athens’ greatest poets, Aeschylus and Euripides, died in (self)-exile.

With censorship and the proverbial ‘thought police’ abounding, the reader is encouraged to consider a quote by Euripides during this age where references to ‘freedom’ monopolize the news, but there is seemingly less of it by the day: “This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.”


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