In every telling of Trojan War stories from Homer to Hollywood, Agamemnon is depicted as a jerk: cruel, small-minded and rude. That should have made him an inconsequential character in a saga of heroic mortals and spiteful gods but for the awesome power of his position as supreme commander of the Greek armies. It’s his hubris—plain yabang—that is a companion vice to small minds, that drives the narrative of that magnificent tale.
He takes as war prize the daughter of Apollo’s priest in Troy so the god sends a plague to his armies. He returns her to her father and takes for himself the war prize of his greatest warrior, the half-god Achilles, who then refuses to fight anymore so the Trojans keep kicking their butt in battle after battle. Even before his armies sail for Troy, he slays a sacred stag and boasts that he is a better hunter than Artemis, so the goddess withdraws the winds from the seas, disabling their thousand ships.
To appease Artemis, Agamemnon slays his own daughter in sacrifice.
It’s mind-boggling how awful the suffering can be when brought on by awesome power in the hands of a jerk. But it’s also heartwarming that such suffering can bring out the valor in mortals: in the warriors Ajax and Diomedes and Patroclus, of course, but more so, if also heartrending, in the jerk’s own daughter, Iphigenia.
She is summoned by Agamemnon on the pretext of being wed to Achilles. When she discovers the deception, she agrees to die by his hand at the altar of the goddess he has offended. To save him from the wrath of his own generals, whose quest to redeem the honor of Greece is being frustrated by his transgression. To save Achilles, whose own sense of honor compels him to protect her to the death. And for the honor of Greece: “I forbid you to shed tears. I come to bring the Greeks salvation and victory,” she says to her mother in Euripides’ scintillating play, “Iphigenia at Aulis.”
Such is the nobility of the daughter of a jerk.
A week or so ago, in the saga titled “Chief Justice on Trial,” I think I saw Iphigenia’s valor in the defendant’s daughter, Carla Corona-Castillo. Quezon City Sheriff Joseph Bisnar, a witness Corona’s lawyers presented in his defense, declared under oath that she had acquired 90-percent ownership of a corporation established by relatives on her mother’s side. In an auction conducted nine years ago, with her as the only bidder, of shares owned by the surviving heirs, her own cousins, who only learned about it from Bisnar’s testimony. Her winning bid was P28,000. At the time of the transaction, the corporation had over P34 million in cash—proceeds from the sale of a property her great grandparents had acquired and bequeathed to ALL their children.
But where’s the valor in that? one might ask. It’s in her consent to have her role in that sordid transaction proclaimed to the world and inscribed in the archives of Congress. I assume she gave consent, for what parent would sacrifice a daughter without it? Even the jerk Agamemnon sought Iphigenia’s, after his deception was discovered.
My own reaction to Bisnar’s testimony was, What is she thinking? Until now questions keep popping up in my head, like a Greek chorus. What mother—which she is, I’m told—would soil her own name, that her children wear to school each day, to try and wash the already soiled name of her father? Can filial piety be stronger than maternal instinct? Or is her piety not just filial but civic as well? Does she believe it is our judiciary and not her father that’s on trial, as his defenders profess? Does she think she has sacrificed her own dignity, if not quite honor, to save the Supreme Court’s? Does she really think her father’s acquittal would wash the slime off everything this trial has dragged through: his family, the high court, our judiciary?
Does it matter anymore if, by some deus ex machina, the slime is proven malicious and false?
But the more head-shaking questions are those that pertain to the Chief Justice himself. Why drag his daughter’s name into the slime with his? Does he really believe his acquittal would redeem his dignity? And his family’s? And the high court’s? And our judiciary’s? If so, does he think those dignities greater than his daughter’s? Still, if so, what father would sacrifice his daughter to redeem those damaged by his own transgressions? Well, there’s Agamemnon, but who would emulate a jerk whom mankind has maligned for 3,000 years? What father would not emulate the criminal Michael Corleone, who told his daughter, “I would burn in hell to keep you safe”?
Does it matter anymore if, as Corona defenders profess, none of the transgressions he is accused of is true?
Like the great Greek tragedies, this saga is being driven by its protagonist’s “tragic flaw,” which is not necessarily a failure of character but a fatal error in the scheme of things set off by his appointment as Chief Justice—in violation of law, judicial tradition, basic decency, as variously characterized by its critics. In which case it’s not his hubris that has brought about his tragedy but Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s.
In his mind he could be the great Hector, for all we know, whose own tragic fate is caused not by his hubris but that of his brother, Paris. And which does not end in his death: His infant son is thrown from the walls of Troy, his wife and mother are enslaved, and his nation is sacked and burned.
Indeed, the Chief Justice’s family has suffered so much. Does it matter anymore if he is acquitted? Well, it does—to our nation. In the end it’s the Council of Elders in Troy that seals its fate, by rejecting the Greeks’ demand for Helen’s return. By abiding Paris’ hubris, in other words.
In the end it’s the Senate that will seal the tomb of our self-respect if it abides the hubris of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Romeo D. Bohol is a retired advertising copywriter.
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