all photos are © Ireno Guerci
Sri Aurobindo wrote the first version of Rodogune in Baroda, in 1906. Its original, together with other documents, was seized by the police when Sri Aurobindo was arrested. Basing himself on notes from another notebook, he was able to reconstruct the play in Pondicherry around 1912.
From Sri Aurobindo’s five complete plays, one is a tragedy: Rodogune.
In theatre, a Tragedy is a play with a sad ending, especially one in which the main character dies. Most known are the greek tragedies and the ones by Shakespeare. Setting humans in the middle of a vast field of overwhelming energies, where they feel powerless, the Tragedy usually brings in deep elements of transformation.
In a Tragedy the sense of the Invisible surrounding the physical becomes palpable. We can feel that something greater than us is at work, a Power that is behind the physical world we live in.
Tragedies stress the vulnerability of human beings, whose suffering is brought on by a combination of human and divine actions. They deal with human Archetypes, and until such Archetypes are not transformed, tragedies will have a hold on us.
One can asks why? Are our daily life not already full of tragedies, the ones being enacted all around the planet, the ones we get information about all the time?
It is perhaps at such times that we can better understand why Tragedies have been continually put on stage and on screen, keeping alive an age-old fascination.
It is maybe in such times that we can discover their relevance and their deep meaning.
The Greeks called this process katharsis. Purification.
In sanscrit the word suvrkti has a similar meaning, according to Sri Aurobindo:
The clearance, the riddance of all perilous and impure staff from the consciousness.
Performed on January 19th, 20th, 21st, 2013
At Sri Aurobindo Audithorium
A synopsis of the play in five Acts by Sri Aurobindo
The king Antiochus is dying, and queen Cleopatra, his wife, is exultant, because now she can call back her twin sons, exiled in Egypt since early childhood by order of the king Antiochus. These boys, Antiochus and Timocles, are sons of the previous king, Nicanor, Cleopatra first husband and brother of the dying monarch.
One of the twins will be declared king, but no one knows who is the first born, except the queen Cleopatra and the nurse, Mentho. The upheaval provoked by the arrival of the twins excedes all expectations. The queen is deeply distressed because one of her sons, prince Antiochus, does not show outward signs of love towards her, only a respect that for her is not enough. Timocles, the other son, on the contrary, bestows on her all the love and tenderness of a child kept for so long far from his mother. As the queen wants to keep her power through the future king, she begins to think in announcing Timocles as king, instead of Antiochus, the first born, and try to convince the nurse to hide the truth. Mentho refuses.
The two brothers both fall in love with Rodogune, princesse of Parthia, kept in the palace as attendant and slave of the queen. This love makes the brothers enemies, and Timocles, for the first time in his life, shows how jealous he is of his brother, that all believe will be the future king. This jalousie is used by Phayllus, a counsellor to the court, and his sister Cleone, to convince prince Timocles that he can be king, and at the same time have Rodogune. During the ceremony where the new king will be announced, realising that she can not oblige Antiochus to follow her decisions, the queen decides to announce Timocles as king. The court reacts and two faccions are created.
Antiochus goes to the mountains with his guards and the two princesses, Rodogune and his cousin Eunice. From there he leads a battle against the army of his brother. In the beginning he is the winner, but soon Timocles’ army receives help from allies, and Antiochus’ army is being beaten. Then we learn that the father of Rodogune, king Phraates, has come with his army to the rescue of the husband of his daughter. Antiochus can not accept his help, because he knows that to accept it is to surrender his country to king Phrates, and therefore to betray Syria.
He then decides to go back to Antioch and offer his sword to Timocles, even after an eremite comes to tell him that Fate and doom were waiting for him if he goes back. Timocles expects his brother to give him Rodogune, certain that after this time together in the mountains Antiochus has grown weary of her. Antiochus publicly declares Rodogune as his wife, and Timocles’ jealousy has now no bounds. Phayllus convinces him that Antiochus has come back as part of a plot to dethrone him. Timocles gives Phayllus the freedom to do whatever is needed to rid him of Antiochus, but he wants it to be done under the accusation of a plot, and not to be an assassination. Antiochus, conscious of his fate, awaits the moment, and is ready. He is seized and killed. He dies as nobly as he has lived. Rodogune gives herself to death at his feet. Queen Cleopatra asks Timocles to deny being the instrumento of such a crime, but he insists that it was a necessity due to Antiochus’ plotting against him. At the end, realizing that he has lost Rodogune in spite of all he has done, Timocles gives the power to Nicanor, the commander of the army and member of the royal family.
Lead me from non-being to true being;
From the darkness to the Light;
From death to Immortality.
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Translation by Sri Aurobindo)