Monday, April 17, 2006

The Persians

I saw The Persians last night at the Shakespeare Theatre, and I just loved it. I really had low expectations - a heavy night of Persians lamenting at the loss of their armies at the hands of a smaller force - eeesh. But, really. It was really, really good. I thought the set was imaginative, the costumes (as usual) beautiful, and the actors well cast. It could have been so boring, a bunch of men standing around talking about whatever did happen to all those men we sent to make war on Athens, and disputing whether or not they were both justified and right to go to war against a smaller inferior nation. But it really wasn't. I found it so compelling, as they went back and forth and finally settled on the answer that made them feel best. And when they finally find out the result of the battle, and find that their magnificent army has been destroyed, and their best men are currently floating dead in the mediterranean ocean, they are overwhelmed with grief and mourn that their mighty empire has been brought low.

I think it's hard to connect emotionally with very old plays. They're from such a different time, and they had different purposes. There is a debate about The Persians, and whether Aeschylus' purpose was to celebrate Athens' great victory and imagine the lamentations in Persia when the defeat was discovered or whether it's meant as a mediation on the futility of war and the mortality of even the greatest empires. I think it could certainly be interpreted either way (the first one seems sort of mean spirited, but the Persians didn't really have a defensible cause to attack Athens). The production left that open to the audience's interpretation. Certainly, it was difficult to imagine any current politician wailing at his failure and weeping for the future of the country he's failed. Not that that was going to change a thing, of course.

I think the one thing I took away from this is that humans never change. A leader depends so much on his counselors, but when it goes poorly, everyone will be looking for the culprit and the blame starts flying. I would say that that is something that never changes. It seems to be hardwired into our psyches. Despite our cultural biases and how we view the world, it seems that that never changes. Everyone is trying to find the best position, the right place to be, hoping that when things go bad, they land on the right side of the fence and are pointing squarely at the designated fall guy.

Wow, I just realized what a cynical view of politics and humanity I have.


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