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LABYRINTHINE STRATEGIES OF SACRIFICE: THE CRETANS BY EURIPIDES Giuseppe Fornari The application of René Girard's mimetic hypothesis demands drastic re-interpretation of the history of our culture. The denunciation of sacrificial violence performed first by the Hebrew Bible and then by the Gospels figures as an objective watershed in the evaluation ofcivilizations and historical periods. This new methodological and theoretical situation brings Girard's ideas into conflict with current trends toward relativism. The victim is the reality at the root ofhistory, an extra-historical element that disrupts the circle of interpretation and confronts us as an absolute value demanding our commitment one way or another. The epistemological problems thus become one and the same with a frankly religious need. In an elegant and paradoxical way Girard's thought gives new, vital emphasis to the Christocentric interpretation of human history typical of patristic and medieval thought. In this light, comparison ofour Christian Western civilization with its Classical predecessor becomes crucial. For the Middle Ages Antiquity was not separate from Christianity but itsfigura (préfiguration), in a positive or negative way. Modern culture, however, starting from humanism and the Renaissance, discovered the historical dimension of Classical civilization with ever-increasing admiration until, finally, Neoclassicism set it as the great alternative to modern civilization. This tendency became openly anti-Christian first with the French revolution and then with thinkers like Nietzsche and Heidegger. The very identity of Western culture is determined by its varying attitudes toward Classical Antiquity and Christianity, to such an extent that the different periods in history could be subdivided accordingly. The comparison is like asking ourselves 164Giuseppe Fornari what we would be without Christianity, or who we are and what Christianity is. The radical nature of these questions and the overall development of our culture therefore confirm Girard's radical, metahistorical model. Classical civilization is the inevitable touchstone for this trans-historical question of identity. The comparison is fascinating and complex, and it cannot be dismissed simply by juxtaposing victimary awareness and blindness. Girard himself in Violence and the Sacred notes the profound investigation of mimetic violence in Greek tragedy and pre-Socratic philosophy.1 Further research of my own into these aspects of Greek civilization confirms and widens the analysis, revealing a surprisingly varied and dramatic picture.2 The most interesting discovery may be that the Greeks had already faced this question of meta-historical identity in relation to the victim. I have chosen Euripides' lost tragedy,the Cretans, to illustrate this: its highly original subject within the corpus of Greek tragedy and its symbolic richness fully justify its choice. The few remaining fragments, which are almost entirely reproduced here, provide enough material for analyses that are necessarily more limited but more complete in themselves and thus more suitable for a single essay. Besides, they possess high literary quality and do not deserve to remain the sole preserve of specialists. The tragedy of the labyrinth Euripides probably wrote the Cretans before 430 B.C. The premisses of the plot are supplied by traditional mythical material. To demonstrate to his brothers that he has a divine right to the kingdom of Crete, Minos asks Poseidon to send a white bull from the sea for sacrifice. The god satisfies his request and Minos's power is confirmed, but he decided the bull is too beautiful to sacrifice. The wrath of the god is not slow to strike the king's family. Minos's wife, Pasiphae, falls in love with the bull and copulates with it. From this bestial union comes the Minotaur, the being, half-man half-bull, which is shut up in the labyrinth. Minos's nonperformance of the sacrifice therefore causes a grave crisis on the island, 1It could be said that the exciting comparison with Classical civilization is one of the inspiring forces of Violence and the Sacred. An analogous direction, as regards Virgil and sacrifice, is followed by Bandera in The Sacred Game (13IfI). See also note 1 1 . 2G. Fornari, The Esoteric Knowledge of the Greeks: From Orphism to Tragedy, A SacrificialReading (forthcoming). Labyrinthine Strategies ofSacrifice165 jeopardizing the boundaries between man and animal. The monstrousness ofthe Minotaur represents the breaking-down ofthose differences that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 163-188
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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