26. "Xena," season three: "Sacrifice"

Sacrifice

Season three of "Xena" ends its first season-long arc with a two-part cliffhanger (literally!) entitled "Sacrifice." The theme of sacrifice has been with these shows since the first film, "Hercules and the Lost Kingdom," and we'll see some of its images repeated here. We'll also see the egg-like rebirths from "Hercules and the Maze of the Minotaur," in service to another Dionysiac villain. The story of "Sacrifice" revolves around Hope returning to life by way of a ritual involving human sacrifice. As Xena and Gabrielle try to prevent it from occurring, we see glimpses of the rise of a new cult in Greece: the religion of Dahok, an evil god who will destroy society's weak, old, and infirm, and cleanse the world with destructive fire. Dahok's plan is really Ares' plan taken to its logical extreme, and with the Olympians on the run, Ares plans not to fight Dahok, but to form a strategic alliance. He bows before Dahok, and becomes Hope's consort. There's not much future for Ares in this relationship, but he'll get what he wants: a child by Hope. His progeny will be little more than monsters, of course: just like those harpies in "Bad Eggs and Beanstalks," but like the Furies offered a place in the home by Athena in "The Eumenidies," or like Echidne, a former matriarchal goddess and now considered "mother of all monsters", he'll survive in some form or another in this new order. His solution is one befitting a satyr's mentality, and he'll need rescuing by Xena here, just as he will in the sixth season's "You Are There."



Sacrifice

That Dahok represents the dark side of Dionysus, the "purity" of his darkness, you might say, is shown in the first scenes, when we see a young woman being sacrificed to a horned god--the bull is the sign of Dionysus, and we're reminded of a line from "The Bacchae," when the blind prophet Teiresias explains Dionysus's power:

"He has his share of Ares, too -
For soldiers, fully armed, drawn up in
Battle ranks, may fly in flight before
They've even touched their spears:
This too is madness put in men by Dionysus."


In other words, even the god of war is powerless before the god of wine, and this episode will show Ares going to extreme lengths to avoid becoming a victim of Dahok. When we learn the young sacrificial victim's name is Seraphin, and that she's a childhood friend of Gabrielle, we know we're back in "Black Orpheus" territory, with Eurydice telling her friend Serafina about being pursued. According to Paul Robert Coyle01, the basic elements of the "Sacrifice" episodes were laid out before he and Steve Sears began writing them, including Seraphin. The sacrificial victim that Renee O'Connor played in "Hercules and the Lost Kingdom," pursued by the figure of Death, is reenacted here, and the result is that her character will indeed be sacrificed, to all appearances at least.

The "Rift's" borrowing from "Ion" continues in these two episodes: The climactic scene takes place in the cave of the "Sister Peaks," which have not been identified. They don't exist in Greece under that name, but they do exist in "Ion" under another name: the "Twin Peaks." It's referred to in a scene in which Creusa, unaware that Ion is her son by blood, plans to kill him with a drop of Gorgon's blood. A messenger relates the story:

"As soon as Xuthus left the temple with his new son for the feast he was preparing, he went off to the mountain were they perform the torchlight dance of Bacchus, to offer a sacrifice of blood at the Twin Peaks, in place of the ritual he neglected when the boy was born."02


When Ion discovers this plot, still not knowing Creusa is his natural mother, he goes into a fury:

"What utter audacity--as venomous as the Gorgon poison she tried to kill me with! Seize her! Throw her from Parnassus, send her bounding down the cliff-ledges, let the crags comb out her dainty hair!"


These images are clearly brought into the "Sacrifice" episodes, rearranged to create a new story, but the logic that connects them is still intact.

Another key reference to "Ion" comes when Ares makes a deal with the Fates: if Hope dies, Xena's thread will be cut. This solution comes from "The Greek Myths," chapters 10 and 60, about the Fates, and the myth of the Danaids. Their measuring out of a life's thread was derived from an earlier goddess myth: "Originally she bound the wailing infant with a linen swaddling band on which his clan and family marks were embroidered and thus assigned him his destined place in society." Graves does not mention this in conjunction with Ion; instead, he says a priestess at Delphi tells Creusa who Ion is. It's Euripides who makes the connection of the Fates with Ion, using the myth that inspired Pandora's box by having the cradle's swaddling clothes reveal his identity as the child Creusa left to die. Since the clothes a child is given mark his place in society, they are his "fate," and that's demonstrated here when the weaving Fates are brought in to protect Hope, Ion's stand-in.



01AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL ROBERT COYLE, paragraph 43
02"The Bacchae and other plays," "Ion," by Euripides translated by Philip Vellacott, Penguin Classics; the Twin Peaks refers to Parnassus, overlooking the temple of Delphi, and sacred to Dionysus. If this popular translation was used, the writers may have substituted "Sister" for "Twin," to avoid comparison to the David Lynch series, and to reinforce the matriarchal pattern on the show.

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