On posters during a presidential trip in 2002, on car bumper stickers, on signs raised by protesters in Washington during the second inaugural, the harsh, mocking laughter of trickster was heard ridiculing George W. Bush: “Send the twins to Iraq.” The call was for the president to send his 20-year old daughters to serve in his war. Trickster’s howl pointed out the hypocrisy of North American ruling classes, and conjured the political lessons to be learned from the Greek armies which mustered for the Trojan War.
Send the twins to Iraq because the Achaeans have gathered at Aulis and profaned the countryside, killing a hare “bursting with young unborn,” and Artemis “the undefiled” has bound the fleet with crosswinds until Iphigeneia is slaughtered by her own father. In spite of its seeming barbarity, the command of the virgin goddess of nature and wild things is a metaphor for a wise, tricksterish policy that imposes trauma in order to arrest war. Before the host sails to Ilion, the Greek generals are forced to prove their conviction that the war is worthy and necessary. An exchange between King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra in Euripides’ Iphigeneia at Aulis reveals the dramatic conflict that can be resolved only through Iphigeneia’s fate.
The Queen, protecting her daughter, argues:
to whom it matters most, after all, cut his own
And Agamemnon, affirming the political necessity of Greek nation-states, replies:
we must not be subject to barbarians,
we must not let them carry off our wives.
Proof of his conviction will be the sacrifice of his firstborn daughter. Upfront the cost: Artemis demands a human tax before the war is fought. (Aeschylus, Oresteia, trans. Richmond Lattimore, University of Chicago Press, 1953; Euripides, Iphigeneia at Aulis, trans. W.S. Merwin, Oxford University Press, 1978).
In Euripides’ Iphigeneia in Tauris, (trans. Richmond Lattimore, Oxford University Press, 1973), the daughter of Agamemnon is spirited away at the moment of death by Artemis and taken to the land of the Taurians. Embittered at the grave injustices committed against her, Iphigeneia becomes the priestess who dedicates human victims at the sacrificial shrine of Artemis. Only when it comes to sacrificing her brother Orestes does she acknowledge her complicity in the human sacrifices of the Taurians. Only when the sacrificial knife threatens our own do we feel dissonance, and recognize our own projections for what they are. The emotional distress produced by trauma, especially when the trauma is brought home to those in positions of power, conjures trickster as compensation, in an attempt to restore harmony and balance to the universe. The resolution of Iphigeneia’s tension through a tricksterish recognition of her victim as her own brother—a comic corrective to the tragic plot—allows her to reject the sacrificial knife, and escape to Argos with Orestes, with the blessings of Athena.
OG and RLI