Updated: June 20, 2013 6:29AM
Strange as the news sometimes seems, the dramas unfolding around us often replicate story lines old as the hills and just as familiar.
Everyone who once read Sophocles’ “Antigone” in a western civilization course could have predicted that the people of Massachusetts wouldn’t allow the burial of Tamerlan Tsarnaev within their borders. Something deep in the human psyche makes us want to cast traitors so far out of the human family that they can’t even sleep in the same dust where we will one day rest.
Those who remember Antigone might also have wagered that someone, probably a woman, would ultimately see to the outcast’s burial. True to form, just as Antigone followed a principle higher than mere justice when defying Creon’s burial ban, the tenets of her Methodist upbringing led Martha Mullen to arrange for Tsarnaev’s interment in a Virginia cemetery.
Such folks always pay a price.
The pastor who conducted a funeral for Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters, left Colorado soon thereafter to escape the community’s wrath. Antigone paid with her life, but not before she declared her faithfulness worth that awful price. Despite blistering criticism, Martha Mullen remains at peace, confident that God called her over the line that her actions clearly transgressed.
Even as this burial drama reached its dénouement, a sadly familiar version of another ancient and oft-repeated tale came to light in Cleveland. No one knows how many women have been captured and kept as some man’s personal slave or plaything. We can only count for certain the ones who have escaped. Think of Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, and now the three young women who spent the past decade as prisoners in a house surrounded by unsuspecting neighbors.
Our English word “rape” derives from a Latin verb that means “to seize or snatch away.” The practice of snatching unsuspecting women likely goes back as far as our cave-dwelling ancestors. Written accounts of such behavior appear as early as 3,000 BCE. The Bible reports how the Benjaminites, depleted by tribal warfare, replenished their population by systematically abducting virgins who traveled home from Shiloh after religious celebrations. Three centuries later, Rome’s founders forcibly acquired women for their new city by seizing females from among their Sabine neighbors.
Science fiction abounds with inter-galactic versions of such scenarios, and the same theme, on a smaller scale, runs through conventional works of 20th-century fiction as well. A generation ago, John Fowles’ “The Collector” and Irving Wallace’s “The Fan Club,” and more recently Chevy Stevens’ “Still Missing,” took readers inside the minds of both captors and captives in stories eerily similar to the real-life version exposed recently in Cleveland.
Common to all these stories, real or imagined, is the male fantasy, and perhaps also the instinct, to own a woman, not merely partner with her, and to treat women as beings or objects not so fully human as one’s masculine self. Hence the captors’ universal surprise that they can make a woman worship and obey them, but they cannot force the captives’ love.
Dehumanizing violence against women remains a global epidemic, and not merely in far-away, under-developed societies. Neither is every dehumanized prisoner chained in some pervert’s basement. The U.S. military struggles with these realities, as do a host of other organizations and institutions. Those of us with daughters have likely scared them sufficiently with pleas that they remain ever on alert. Those of us raising sons may have the most critical job, one part of which is hearing, and studying together, all these tragic stories. We’ll never exorcise a primitive instinct by pretending it doesn’t exist.