Dionysus and The Rejection of the Other and Lost Identity.
Dionysus, conceived in his mother’s womb but ultimately born from the thigh of Zeus, is known as the ‘twice born’, the bringer of wine to the world, travelling endlessly through many countries inorder that all may partake of this new liquor. His spectacular entourage with lions resembled a triumphal procession. Those that opposed him were severely punished but those who received him hospitably he bestowed gifts and rewards. During his travels Dionysus became a roving, itinerant god embodying the notion of being everywhere and nowhere, of belonging and not belonging. Wherever he traveled there were those that worshiped him, so fervently as if a contagious disease, almost epidemic, his worship spreading like a flood. The need to be acknowledged wherever he passes, his prestige and position, as a god must always be rendered to him. Finally Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele returns to his birthplace Thebes, to establish his cult.[i]
Returning to his city after many years, he enters as a stranger, a foreigner, his appearance is seen as different, somewhat unsettling, disconcerting, anomic. Refusal by the Thebean population to acknowledge Dionysus as their god brought dire and terrible consequences resulting in madness and death. The conflict between the locals, the status-quo and preservation of identity, in contrast with the need to accept and welcome the alien, the stranger and ultimately the ‘other’, as long as this divide continues there could not be any resolution, nor possibility of reconciliation. This rejection of the stranger, rejection of the ‘other’ brought conflict and disorder to the population of Thebes.
Those who embodied the unconditional attachment to the unchanging preservation of their value system against all attempts to recognize whatever is ‘other’ from themselves, the refusal to listen to any outside communication; the inability to empathies with those outside, an intolerable and wretched catastrophic thing befalls them. The disability in those that refuse to understand themselves differently away from their superiority, where there is a reticent to seek alternatives, become the fallen and topple into derangement, into horror, into the monstrous and consequently lose their own identity in the process. The civilized man, self-controlled and objectively astute loses all in the denial of the ‘other’. Insofar as one human group refuse to acknowledge another, to grant a share, the first group becomes merciless and egregious resulting in cultural dislocation and the sense of identity is lost.
These are the eternal narratives embedded in such stories as Romeo and Juliet; West Side Story and other such archetypal Dionysian-Apollonian dichotomies which are also rooted in the human tribal pack and deep rooted primordial instincts. The Greek tragedies inhabit the monstrous, inhuman vengeful disease, as depicted in Agamemnon’s house of Atreus, of the parent killing the child and the child killing the parent. Condemned, cursed by contagious revenge and guilt, the ancient tragedians reflected on a culture ridden by its guilt when there is refusal to recognize not only the stranger of justice but also the hand of redemption. Threats to social acceptance and belonging manifest behavioral responses and their construal’s are myriad and at best, deplorable. Rejection; discrimination; ostracism; betrayal and stigmatization encapsulate those in their refusal of acceptance and recognition in the alternative, the neighbor, the ‘other’. These manifestations of the ancient Greek Furies, appointees of filial revenge; harbingers of hate and discourse; ‘blood will have blood’, seek out those who disregard truth, justice, conscience and the law of human nature.
The question of not recognizing the ‘other’ has had prodigious and traumatic effects on millions of shifting peoples from one land to another simply on the basis of an agreed military solution of distribution of land. Forced migration of millions of peoples worldwide, have had to move from their homelands to unknown territory through a coerced and usually violent enforcement. The catastrophe of forced displacement resulting in ‘population transfer’, more often than not, finalizing in persecution and ultimate ethnic cleansing on a biblical scale. Most have never been able to return. Refugee displacement on such a grand order is an indictment of abuse of power and apathetic mind in the ruling political and military might, a corrupting and deliberate action that has affected millions of poor into destitute and marginalized communities. This induced landlessness resulting in the loss of human rights but more importantly cultural fraction and isolation, and of significant social disarticulation, separation, alienation and disempowerment of the family and individual. The 20th century and the consequent break up of the multi-ethnic European empires after World War 1 manifested its many episodes of forced migration as witnessed with the German-Polish; Indian-Pakistani; Greek-Turkish and Cyprus[ii] peoples and the creation of independent post-colonial states. Loss of hope, the final and ultimate barricade to all things evil, finally loses its footing and slides into oblivion and with the total disregard and ultimate refusal to acknowledge the ‘other’, the stranger, we become hideously possessed by indifference, finally losing our own sanity and identity in the process. It is here that the human mind implodes into an anti-evolution where the ‘brute’ relives, not in the Savanna grasslands but the concrete of the city.
“It’s late for us to be preserving our recollections. The essence of them, the first essence, has vanished already. But the core of every migrant’s statement remains the same. Birth in one place, growing old in another place. And feeling a stranger in the two places.”[iii]
[i] Pierre Vernant, Jean, The Universe, The Gods and Mortals. 2001, London.
[ii] Twice a Stranger Project. Twiceastranger.net
[iii] Ayse Lahur Kirtunc, whose family went to Turkey from Crete.