Greek Myths and Modern Refugees

Greek  Myths,  Modern Refugees: Reading from Greek Tragedy on refugees, Migrants, and Immigrants in the Ancient World. Presented by the BYU  Eta Sigma Phi Classics Club. 

PROVO, Utah (February 19, 2019) Hauntingly beautiful retellings of people ravaged by war echoed in the JFSB auditorium on February 19th. The Eta Sigma Phi Classics Club and theater students recited passages from Euripides’ Trojan Women, Andromache, Helen, and Aeschylus’ Suppliants.

These ancient Greek tragedies portray refugees displaced by war and the response of those around them. The issues and themes raised in these plays are not just confined to the past; the purpose of the performance was to not only to listen and experience the flow of emotions, but also, as Mason Williamson (a graduate student in Comparative Studies) said, to “bring attention to [the refugee crisis] and bring it to light.”

The plight of refugees is as old as humanity itself. The stories of these characters told in the tragedies—mainly women—brought chills with the thought of the truthful reality of their suffering. Although dramatized, the concepts that lurked behind the words rang too true to the women who have been sold as slaves and became as “a walking shadow with a voice, you talk and talk but have no power…” (Euripides, Andromache)

When participants were asked what they hoped the response of this performance would be, one participant said that they hoped “people would understand how these tragedies and stories are still applicable today and how we can use these wonderful tools we’ve had at our fingertips for over 2000 years.” Greek tragedy isn’t dead, it still has wonderful themes and issues that can emphasize current issues—especially the refugee crisis.

Chiara Aliberti, a graduate student who participated in the performance and has volunteered with refugee camps, gave some insight into her own personal experiences with refugees. When asked how she connected personally with the characters in Greek literature, she explained how Hecuba, the queen of Troy who was sold as a slave and deported to Greece, resonated with her because of similarities to a friend’s experience. Chiara’s friend had to leave the Ivory Coast and eventually lost a child due of the consequences of war. While Chiara acknowledged the difference in everyone’s experience, she emphasized the recurring themes that occur not only in Greek Tragedy, but also in the stories of refugees from all over the world: feeling objectified, dealing with uncertainty of the future, and fearing to leave home and the security it brought with it. Through Chiara’s experience from working with different refugee camps, she found that what the refugees she met needed the most was to be heard. Dr, Jeppesen, a professor of Classics at BYU, said he hoped these readings would “find a way to adequately provide a voice for this really terrible issue that has become so prominent.” 

The hope is that readings like this will continue giving a voice to those who aren’t heard, as well as encouraging the connection between Greek tragedy and modern-day issues. 

Jessica Mellor (B.A. English ’19)