Pulled in by the Force

Tory Glerum

“For those dreamers who considered that force, thanks to progress, would soon be a thing of the past, The Iliad could appear as an historical document; for others, whose powers of recognition are more acute and who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, The Iliad is the purest and loveliest of mirrors.”

If this quotation appears poignant in print, consider the emotional impact of these same words being verbalized in a highly dramatic monologue. Those who attended Lecturer in University Theater, Simona Giurgea’s performance of Force need not imagine such an experience; they heard this statement among many others of equal significance with their very own ears.

Originally found in Simon Weil’s essay entitled “The Iliad or The Poem of Force,” the aforementioned quotation is printed on the programs that were given out at the two performances of Force that took place on February 2 and February 9 in Brehmer Theater. Such a statement was probably chosen for both its poignancy and its embodiment of the essay. The essay seeks to articulate the idea of force as a major theme behind the characters and events of The Iliad.

The significance of the essay, however, was really brought to life Giurgea’s dual performances of Force. According to Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Georgia Frank, the first performance was extremely well attended. “We had to turn away dozens of people and every single inch was occupied,” she said. While the fact that the audience sat directly on the stage added to the problem of space, Frank did not want to change the set-up. “There was an intimacy to the performance,” she said. Therefore, a repeat performance was given the following week.

Another notable feature of the performance was the simplicity of the surroundings. The plain gray dress that Giurgea donned, a table with a pitcher of water and a copy of The Iliad constituted the set and props. This lack of visual distractions, in addition to the darkness of the theater, made the speaker stand out as the sole target for the eyes and, more importantly, ears of the audience.

The act began with Giurgea’s unannounced entrance through a door in front of the audience, and she spoke practically non-stop, with the exception of a few dramatic pauses, for approximately 45 minutes. Each word was spoken with passion; at some points her eyes filled with tears, while at others her face held the trace of a smile. When her monologue concluded, she slowly walked towards the door and turned around to face the audience for a few seconds in silence before leaving just as she had entered.

In her monologue, Giurgea discussed how force is really at the center of The Iliad and manifests itself in many situations within the story, citing battle scenes that invoked the idea that even the strongest of men are turned to things by force. One particularly poignant example that Giurgea noted was Hector being dragged behind a chariot by the victorious Achilles, which clearly showed his helplessness as a victim of force.

The content of the performance seemed to make an impact on many of its viewers. “I was moved by the essay in the way it speaks to The Iliad,” Frank said. “But [the performance] also opened up the poignancy of The Odyssey and changed the way I read it now.”

First-Year Shannon Young felt that the performance shed light on the harshness present in The Iliad. “Force turns men into things. The book has an aspect of glory, and the performance presented it in terms of people,” she said. “There is heroism and glory, but with it comes suffering and the not-so-good things about humanity.”

For Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of Philosophy and Religion Jerry Balmuth, the performance was relevant to Colgate’s curriculum. “I believe that Professor Giurgea’s performance of Simone Weil’s Force was exactly the kind of event a liberal arts university should be sponsoring and encouraging,” he said. “It is a work of art that itself exhibits how learning itself illuminates and lends reflection and understanding to ourselves and our contemporary world … In that context, [the performance] was a tour de force, an occasion to reflect on how intellect, passion and talent is what the liberal arts is about.”