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Staging Transition: The Oresteia in Post-Apartheid South Africa

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Chapter Summary

Aeschylus’ Oresteia dramatizes the meaning and political deployment of justice, concluding with the transformation of justice as vengeance into the legal justice of Athens’s new democracy. In this essay, I examine two dramatic texts that draw on the Oresteia within another context of transitional justice: post-apartheid South Africa. In Mark Fleishman’s In the City of Paradise and Yael Farber’s Molora the distorted family relations within the house of Atreus come to represent the distorted relations within South Africa, a nation haunted by a similar cycle of vengeance. Drawing on Aeschylus, both playwrights dramatize the challenges that South Africa faced after the end of apartheid: how to get beyond vengeance, how to reconcile a nation torn apart by decades of injustice, and how to change from a system of apartheid to a non-racial democracy. They make explicit reference to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established in 1995 to forestall the bloodshed that everybody expected after apartheid officially ended and to facilitate the transition to a new, democratic South Africa. In this chapter, I consider this political transition from apartheid to post-apartheid South Africa in relation to the cultural exchange between antiquity and the present. This focus directs me to a number of interrelated topics, ranging from memory to justice, from truth to forgiveness, from storytelling to theater, from amnesty to reconciliation.



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