On Thursday night, I sat in a dark room in a concert hall opposite the Verizon Center. My evening was full not of Hoya basketball glory but of tragedy: I went to see [“PhÃ¨dre,”](https://www.shakespearetheatre.org/phedre.aspx) a play by the 17th-century French dramatist Jean Racine telling the ancient Greek story of Queen PhÃ¨dre and those around her. With Dame Helen Mirren in the title role, this was a spectacular performance. Melodrama falls short when attempting to describe this Peloponnesian tale.
The politics of the play involved both Greek city states and love. As far as states go, the war can be described simply: Sparta attacked Attica – the region of Greece of which Athens is the capital. Spartan forces invaded repeatedly across land from the region called Peloponnesus. Athens, then the richest and most powerful state, responded with a naval attack along the Peloponnesian coast.
A peace was signed, but fighting resumed and Athens sent an enormous army to attack Syracuse in Sicily. That force suffered a miserable fate, and ushered in the final chapter of the wars: Sparta, allied with Persia, undermined the Athenian empire by supporting rebels in Ionia and in the Aegean Sea. The final blow was dealt at Aegospotami, and the Athenian naval fleet was destroyed.
Racine’s play made obvious how love and lust interfered with and dramatically altered the course of all political events. PhÃ¨dre, in a soliloquy to her stepson Hippolytus, with whom she is madly in love, pleads for her own son’s political inheritance upon hearing of the death of the old King Theseus. A mother’s love for her child battles a stepmother’s lust for her stepson and a son’s grief over his lost father – all of which goes to show just how inextricable human emotional and intuitive actions are from the purportedly rational fields of history and politics.
In one exploration of what love is and how it meddles with the politics of the day, Georgetown senior Emilia Ferrara writes about the politics of a love affair involving not two, but three people. She has launched [the Georgetown love blog “Hearts on the Hilltop,”](https://hoyahilltophearts.blogspot.com/) in which seniors write essays imparting their romantic wisdom down to younger students. While not as dramatic as PhÃ¨dre’s tale, Ferrara’s essay details how even on our collegiate scale of personal, social and familial politics, we must sometimes reject love and lust after rational political calculus shows that the optimal result cannot be reached by the heart alone. Racine’s play forecasts doom for those who follow the heart instead of the prudent political motive.
This is not to say that this weekend’s proliferation of sexual encounters will have wide-ranging political consequences such as the merging of two powerful Greek houses, the claiming of Athens for one and under the other, and the death of royalty, but ignoring such events’ significance may prove hazardously dismissive. After all, love drove the most powerful man in the world, King Edward VIII, to hand over the British Empire to his brother in 1936 so he could marry the woman he loved.
Greek tragedy is infamous for documenting how personal desires can lead to the downfall of empires and houses. And this production of Racine’s drama, fittingly presented in the city center – blocks away from the Capitol and the White House – shows us just how this complicated and powerful emotion meddles with what we call a social science: international relations.
Ferrara concludes one essay on this hazardous material with the curious revelation that it may well all be explained by yet another science: neurobiology. “Apparently, temptation is nothing more than a product of dopamine. We usually know it as the `pleasure chemical’ in our brains, but that role has been questioned by several researchers. One argument is that dopamine is really responsible for anticipatory desire and motivation, or `wanting,’ as opposed to actually consummator pleasure, or `liking,'” she wrote.
It seems this complicated substance has wide-ranging effects. While the affairs of Greeks long gone and Georgetown weekends may seem insignificant, we see a common thread through online accounts of romance, a 17th-century play and even a king’s abdication of the throne: Love has a major impact on how we conduct our political affairs. It is worth noting as such when considering international relations theory: These decisions are not necessarily always rational and can have shocking results.
Udayan Tripathi is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at tripathithehoya.com. History Never Repeats Itself appears every other Monday at www.thehoya.com.