Classics and the Western Canon discussion

170 views
Discussion - Oresteia > Agamemnon

Comments Showing 1-50 of 367 (367 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8

message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Here we go! The first play of the Oresteia, Agamemnon.

The entire play is available for discussion immediately, so if you haven't finished the play be aware that there may be spoilers.


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments In addition to the major themes of the play, I'm going to be looking at some of the more subtle areas, ways in which Aeschylus manages the action, etc.

For example, I love the way he slips in right in the beginning, without being at all obvious about it, where and when we are. There were no theater programs and no scenery in the Greek theater, the audience just went in and faced a bare stage (technically, an bare orchestra), so the playwright had to fill them in on all the details.

Here, the watchman gives us several vital stage-setting pieces of information.

1. He's on the roof of the palace of Atreus. So we know what the Skene building represents.

2. It's night. With an open air stage, no lighting, it's not instantly obvious to the audience, as it would be in a modern theater with dim blue lighting showing nighttime, what time of day it is.

3. He's watching for news from Troy. That places us in the right decade (the Trojan war lasted ten years) and near the end of it since he's been watching for a long time.

4. He's tired from years of watching. That, I think, sets a mood of a weary city which has been without its king for a long time, which probably means that things have been not quite up to snuff.

5. He sees the beacon! So now we can place the time exactly: it's right at the end of the Trojan war.

6. He's in Argos.

So in the first few lines, we know that we're in Argos, on the roof of the Palace of Agamemnon on the night after Troy fell. It's a neat way of conveying all this information about time and place within the flow of the watchman's speech.

Being in Argos, by the way, I think is significant, since the major strand of the legend of the House of Atreus (based on Homer, Apollonius, and others) was that Agamemnon was king of Mycenae and his brother Menelaus was king of Sparta. So Aeschylus is telling his audience that here, at least, he's working with a minor variant of the story, which I think would alert them to wonder where else he might have deviated from the mainstream of the legend. Already, then, I think their attention is piqued -- what's he going to do with this story we thought we knew so well?


message 3: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Excellent points all. I liked in particular your making me aware of how the weariness of the watchman DID make me feel the long ten years and made me start to feel the weariness of the whole place.

Aeschylus did pack a good deal into that first scene. I liked, too, how he foreshadowed towards the end of the scene, about line 35: “but the house itself, if it could find a voice, could tell the tale most truly; for I of my choice speak to those who know; but for those who do not know I forget.”

It really drew me in. What’s happened in the house? Why does the watchman feel constrained about talking about it? What’s going on?


Oh, lastly, I hadn’t known that Aeschylus changed the setting of Agamemnon’s kingdom. But yes, nice twist for the audience there who would have known. Like Everyman said, what else is going to be different? My footnotes say that “in Homer the Watchman waiting for Agamemnon’s return is a creature of Aegisthus. Aeschylus makes him a faithful servant of Agamemnon.”

So a familiar structure…but different. Like when I walk into my neighbor’s home which is the same structurally….but totally different in details….it’s a bit unnerving the first time one enters….Aeschylus’s Agamemnon might have been set up to similarly disorient the audience.


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Adelle wrote: "Aeschylus’s Agamemnon might have been set up to similarly disorient the audience. "

Nice point. Or if not exactly to disorient, perhaps to shake them up out of their complacency of "oh, I know this story" and tell them "but you don't know the story as I am going to tell it" Keep in mind that this is the opening not only of this play, but of the whole series of four plays, almost a whole day of theater going. As you say, I think he's shaking the audience up and moving them from sitting back comfortably up to the edge of their seats. Disorienting indeed.


message 5: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments I liked, too, as integral to the plot, about line 55:

"And on high Apollo, it may be, hears, or Pan, or Zeus...the cry... and sends the transgressors her who brings punishment, though late, the Erinys."

People on the whole want for there to be reasons behind what happens to them. And stuff happens to them all the time. So maybe it's because of Apollo, or Pan, or Zeus.... but at least there is a reason, albeit one we don't know.

And the line seems to suggest that people have a need for justice, even if it is justice delayed. There is some comfort in KNOWING that the guilty party will be punished.

What different views, though, from those generally held today.

Gladstone said, Justice delayed, is justice denied.

And it seems abhorent that one's children or grandchildren would have to bear the punishment of our crimes. Yes, it seems obvious that they bear the consequences of our decisions {we make poor financial decisions, they may suffer financially; and if we're screwed up psychologically, they suffer as a result of that...but to so blatently put the punishment on the next generation: Don't do the crime,unless you're willing for your descendents to do the time. Even such a slogan doesn't ring right in the nowaday.)


message 6: by Adam (new)

Adam | 22 comments Adelle wrote: "about line 35: “but the house itself, if it could find a voice, could tell the tale most truly; for I of my choice speak to those who know; but for those who do not know I forget.”

Interesting. My translation has this beginning at line 37 where it reads: This house itself, if walls had words,/ Would tell its story plainly. Well, I speak to those/ Who understand me; to the rest -- my door is shut.

This translator renders the Watchman's speech in fairly loosely metered alliteartive verse then switches to fairly strict iambic tetrameter for the chorus. I wonder if there is some difference in the verse forms in the original whish he is trying to convey in this way. It certainly marks the Watchman as less sophistacated to a modern reader of English.
The sense is till the same but the variation in the mode of expression is interesting. I wonder if the figure about the door is in the original.


message 7: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments "And it seems abhorent that one's children or grandchildren would have to bear the punishment of our crimes. Yes, it seems obvious that they bear the consequences of our decisions {we make poor financial decisions, they may suffer financially; and if we're screwed up psychologically, they suffer as a result of that...but to so blatently put the punishment on the next generation: Don't do the crime,unless you're willing for your descendents to do the time. Even such a slogan doesn't ring right in the nowaday.)"

Isn't there a similar concept in the Old Testament? I remember reading about such multi-generational curses in mythological stories from other cultures as well. This seems to be a common idea in ancient times.

What else is different in their conception of morality compared to ours?


message 8: by Silver (new)

Silver I think that the play is set up beautifully. While reading it, the language brings it so much to life, and it is so vivid that I can imagine in my mind what it would be like to watch it preformed upon stage. I also love how poetic the dialogue is.


message 9: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Everyman wrote: "In addition to the major themes of the play, I'm going to be looking at some of the more subtle areas, ways in which Aeschylus manages the action, etc.

For example, I love the way he slips in righ..."


Interesting. I don't know anything about how ancient Greek plays were staged, so it's a revelation.

"Being in Argos, by the way, I think is significant, since the major strand of the legend of the House of Atreus (based on Homer, Apollonius, and others) was that Agamemnon was king of Mycenae and his brother Menelaus was king of Sparta. So Aeschylus is telling his audience that here, at least, he's working with a minor variant of the story, which I think would alert them to wonder where else he might have deviated from the mainstream of the legend."

Why did Aeschylus choose to relocate the action to Argos specifically? Is there any other reason other than to send a message to the audience that his play was different from the previous versions of the legend?

This is my first foray into classical Greek literature, and I'm reading an online version with no footnotes, so please bear with my rather elementary questions. : )


message 10: by Grace Tjan (last edited Sep 14, 2010 09:42PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Patrice wrote: "I agree sandybanks and more than that, there's so much truth to it. Just or unjust, what we do today effects the generations that follow.

BTW, there's research in epigenetics that has discovered ..."


But is it fair that I might have to be punished for adultery or murder that was committed by my great grandfather? What happens if, say, Hitler was my great grandpa?


message 11: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Adam wrote: "The sense is till the same but the variation in the mode of expression is interesting. I wonder if the figure about the door is in the original. "

Literally this sentence reads, "I willingly speak to those who know and I escape the notice of those who don't know."

"Escape the notice of" is a common Greek verb that is difficult to translate in English, hence the shut door (which I think is a little better than "I forget".) But I think you're right about the sense being the same.


message 12: by Adam (new)

Adam | 22 comments Thomas wrote: Literally this sentence reads, "I willingly speak to those who know and I escape the notice of those who don't know."

"Escape the notice of" is a common Greek verb that is difficult to translate in English, hence the shut door (which I think is a little better than "I forget".) But I think you're right about the sense being the same."


Very interesting. Thank you. What, if you don't mind, is the verb in the Greek?


message 13: by Silver (new)

Silver Adelle wrote: "I liked, too, as integral to the plot, about line 55:

"And on high Apollo, it may be, hears, or Pan, or Zeus...the cry... and sends the transgressors her who brings punishment, though late, the..."


Yes, I agree, one of the things I quite enjoy about classical Greek myth, and many of the works of Greek literature is the way in which the people do seek some greater meaning behind everything which happens and everything, I also like the way in which actions of the gods whether to give aid or hindrance is often seen as being directly related to human action.

It is not just that the gods decide to randomly do something. They could not get to Troy because Artemis was creating winds to keep them, and her reason for doing so was because Agamemnon had angered her in some way and so he must now amend for what he had done.

I liked the strong role and importance the ideas of justice play out in the Ancient Greek mind set, and this notion that the choices we make will come back to us, that we will be held accountable for the things which we do.


message 14: by Adam (last edited Sep 14, 2010 10:48PM) (new)

Adam | 22 comments I think Zeus, Pan and Apollo make a very interesting trio of gods to toss into a speech about justice. Zeus is the king, judge, avenger of strangers, keeper of oaths; you'd want someone powerful and fair meting out justice. Apollo is associated with oracular prophecy, reason , haromony and order; knowledge of the future and hidden deeds and some logic might be nice in a judge. Sandwiched between is Pan, who is associated with lust and panic; this is most certainly NOT someone I'd want sitting as judge.

Another interesting bit, the Wikipedia article on Pan says that in another of Aescylus' plays he has two Pans, one the son of Zeus and the other the brother of Zeus.


message 15: by Silver (new)

Silver Adam wrote: "I think Zeus, Pan and Apollo make a very interesting trio of gods to toss into a speech about justice. Zeus is the king, judge, avenger of strangers, keeper of oaths; you'd want someone powerful a..."

Because Pan is the "party" god I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see his name brought up with Zeus and Apollo and to see Pan as being considered among one of the supreme powers. It is quite difficult to imagine Pan being placed in such a solemn position as one does not typically associate Pan with being all that seriousness .


message 16: by Grace Tjan (last edited Sep 14, 2010 11:31PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments " I worship mighty Zeus,
god of hospitality,
who made this happen.
For a long time now
he's aimed his bow at Paris,
making sure his arrow
would not fall short or fly
above the stars and miss."

Why does the play repeatedly mention Zeus' title as the "god of hospitality"? I'm sure that as the supreme god in the Greek pantheon he has many other titles, why focus on this particular aspect of his godhood?


message 17: by Silver (new)

Silver I found the mention of Zeus as the god of hospitality to be quite interesting as well. Perhaps in this instance the hospitality aspect is emphasized because it is the end of a war, and thus the anticipation of the waiting for the men to come home again. Or perhaps because at the root of this myth which led up to the following events began with a dinner party among the gods.


message 18: by Adam (last edited Sep 15, 2010 12:38AM) (new)

Adam | 22 comments I'm thinking that the Zeus - Pan - Apollo thing could be a statement along the lines of: You start out with this nice, well-governed world - chaos rips through and tears it all to shreds - but then, through reason, the world can be put right again. This is the general arc of the plays as a set.

Another thought I've just had: it is Zeus (which is first in my translation, but last in the translation quoted above) who is offended by Agamemnon's sacrifice of Iphigenia and Zeus on whom Clytemnestra calls for justice and so is the chief god of this play. In the last play, Apollo figures very large, playing the role of defense attorney and speaking many of the lines as well as inspiring much of the action as gods and man alike seek a return to justice and order. In the middle play chaos reigns and lust abounds as everyone sleeps with everyone and falls in lust with all the wrong partners. I don't recall Pan actually appearing or being invoked in the play (though I may have just forgotten), but it is his kind of world. Maybe Aeschylus is giving away his entire plot arc in this one little "throw away" list.

Of course, this nice little theory falls apart if the Greek doesn't have them in the order Zeus-Pan-Apollo as in my translation, but Apollo-Pan_Zeus as in Adelle's.


message 19: by Silver (new)

Silver Adam wrote: "I'm thinking that the Zeus - Pan - Apollo thing could be a statement along the lines of: You start out with this nice, well-governed world - chaos rips through and tears it all to shreds - but then..."

That is quite an interesting observation!


message 20: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Patrice wrote: "I'm wondering if the choice of Argos has something to do with Jason and the Argonauts? That's my only association with Argos but I suppose there must be others.

Also, Zeus as god of hospitality. ..."


I'm interested in the offenses that the ancient Greeks considered to be worthy of godly wrath. So far we have these:

- being a bad guest
- inappropriately providing the gods with human sacrifice (was there an appropriate way to do this?). Both Tantalus and Agamemnon were punished by the gods for this offense.
-incest (Zeus punished Thyestes not just because he cuckolded his brother, but because by doing so, he committed incest). I suppose that Clymnestra and Aegisthus's relationship was also considered incest.
- killing an animal that belongs to a god/goddess and being boastful (Artemis punishes Agamemnon because of this)

The interesting thing is that the gods didn't care about murder and cannibalism, as long as those crimes had nothing to do with them (Pelops and Atreus were cursed by their mortal victims, not by any of the gods).


message 21: by Rosemary (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments There must have been an appropriate way to perform human sacrifice, since Agamemmnon sacrificed Iphigenia and, well, he was murdered, but it didn't seem that he incurred THE WRATH OF THE GODS so to speak.


message 22: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments To continue on the line Everyman opened regarding Aeschylus managing the action. Thinking about the audience. Made me go back and re-read some background notes I had from a couple of years ago. Mostly from Duckworth Companion.

“The home audience would have been annually watching plays [for some years] and, not unlike regular football fans, many would doubtless be highly sophisticated spectators, quick to spot stylistic and technical innovations…..many effects of irony, suspense and surprise, which seem to us to be the very stuff of theatre, are Aeschylus’ own innovations, minted for this festival audience” (Barbara Goward, Duckworth).

Think about the symbolism in Agamemnon’s first scene. He has this truly awesome entrance. Probably beyond anything that’s been on the stage before. (Parallel, perhaps, to special effects in today’s films.) He enters being pulled in on his chariot, with his kingly share of the spoils of Troy coming with him. Including the beautiful woman, daughter of Priam, that now is his. He has vanquished Troy. He has restored honor to his home for the insult of Paris. He is an elevated king---literally and figuratively.

But look then how the scene ends. What a genius Aeschylus was! The contrast! Agamemnon exists the scene down on the ground. Barefoot. Having caved in to Cyltemnestra’s wish/demand. AND as he’s walking into the palace, his back to us, A WOMAN, a mere woman, is talking. Oh, how fleeting might be his human accomplishments.

There is the offstage cry. The first known example of an offstage voice … a theatrical technique to be attributed to Aeschylus. Goward writes that the original audience would probably have expected a messenger to appear after the cries. Instead, shockingly, it is Clytemnestra!

Everyman had written of the alterations that Aeschylus made to the traditional stories. “In the canonical versions,” writes Goward, “Iphagenia is saved when the goddess substitutes a deer … which raises the question whether Aeschylus then made a bold innovation in having Iphagenia actually sacrificed.” Another shock to the audience.

Apparently, in plays to that point, the opening had been a prolugue-speaker who would voice an outline of the history. Aeschylus creates suspense by working in almost the opposite way. I thought this engaged the audience.


It seems to me that Aeschylus is using what we would think of as flashbacks. Story goes along and along and then important background information is sprung.

The sense that events are moving faster and faster and are climaxing. I didn’t notice this, but Goward points out that the choral odes [which begin with the longest ode in surviving tragedy] get successively shorter as the pace accelerates, until between the exit of Cassandra and the murder of Agamemnon there is no space even for a vestigial ode, only a few chanted lines.” And I had to wonder what the musicians were playing at this point. I’m thinking that in today’s venue it would be maybe cellos: low, single notes…then faster….then faster….If you were in the audience, you would feel/know/fear that something, and probably something bad, is about to happen. You’re on the edge of your seat.


message 23: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Adam wrote: that his translation has some lines that rhyme. Wonderful! I know that the Greek plays didn't do rhymes, but my ear loves them.

I read somewhere that while the name Helen doesn't actually etymolically derive from "death/destruction," that it is very close to some root word that does.

So when Aeschylus writes of Helen...and the death of ships, death of men, death of cities, his Greek sounds fabulous: Helanan...helenas, helandros, heleptolis.


Maybe the translator of Adam's version was using alliteration with a nod toward such language as that.
That Helen line sounds so rich and marvelous to me.


message 24: by Andreea (last edited Sep 15, 2010 09:17AM) (new)

Andreea (andyyy) Adelle wrote: "And it seems abhorent that one's children or grandchildren would have to bear the punishment of our crimes. Yes, it seems obvious that they bear the consequences of our decisions {we make poor financial decisions, they may suffer financially; and if we're screwed up psychologically, they suffer as a result of that...but to so blatently put the punishment on the next generation: Don't do the crime,unless you're willing for your descendents to do the time. Even such a slogan doesn't ring right in the nowaday.) "
I was reading the introduction this morning and I realized that the Oresteia is relevant to us today especially because we still bear, maybe not so much the punishment, but the responsibility for the mistakes of our parents' and grandparents' generations. I think the Oresteia is a bit like a parable, it shouldn't be taken that literally - we don't go to jail for our parents' crimes, but all the major "world issues" (global warming, terrorism, fuel shortage, pollution, food crisis, etc etc) were caused by our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The last 100 years have been very very violent and bloody, arguably it's been the worst period in human history, maybe Aeschylus should make us rethink our attitude towards the past, make us acknowledge the fact that we do have a responsability to it.

Everyman wrote: "Being in Argos, by the way, I think is significant, since the major strand of the legend of the House of Atreus (based on Homer, Apollonius, and others) was that Agamemnon was king of Mycenae and his brother Menelaus was king of Sparta. So Aeschylus is telling his audience that here, at least, he's working with a minor variant of the story, which I think would alert them to wonder where else he might have deviated from the mainstream of the legend. Already, then, I think their attention is piqued -- what's he going to do with this story we thought we knew so well? "

I think I might be about to burst your bubble, the notes in the Fagles translation say:

"When Aeschylus refers to Argos he may mean the entire Argolid in the north-eastern Peloponnese (including the cities of Argos and Mycenae) or the city of Argos in particular. The first is the more frequent meaning of 'Argos' in the Homeric poems; the second is the usual meaning in classical Greek. The Homeric poems specifically locate the murder of Agamemnon in Mycenae. But this city had been destroyed by its rival, Argos, about four years before the Oresteia was produced; and soon after its destruction Argos had become an ally of Athens (as alluded to elsewhere in the trilogy). Probably then, Aeschylus deliberately used 'Argos' ambiguously so that modernists in his audience might take the scene of the tragedy to be the city of Argos and traditionalists could continue to place it in Mycenae, then, no doubt, as now, much the more awesome setting for the terble crimes of the House of Atreus."


message 25: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Adam wrote: "I think Zeus, Pan and Apollo make a very interesting trio of gods to toss into a speech about justice. Zeus is the king, judge, avenger of strangers, keeper of oaths; you'd want someone powerful a..."

You know, I initially thought along the same lines. That Zeus in some aspects (keeper of oaths, etc.) and Apollo (reason, harmony, order) would be "better" judges than Pan.


But I've come to believe that Pan is a necessary choice. Because humans aren't merely rational creatures. Maybe not even primarily rational creatures at the core. Our emotions are an integral part of what makes us human.

I think about Iphigenia. From what I've read, children belong to the father and the father can do whatever he wants with them. It's his right. In the 5th century the father could sell his children (which might make rational sense if he couldn't affort them or if he needed them money to support the already existing family) or he could expose the at birth (again, this would make rational expense if he couldn't affort them or perhaps if he suspected that he himself was not the father) or he could even sacrifice his children. It was his right. The rules would be followed and order would be preserved.


But think of the poor mother. Despite what the law holds, her emotions are in play. And that, I think, is where Pan would come in as a justice. Justice is not just straight up and down implementaion of the law. Pan would take people as people into account. He would look beyond the law and rights to what might be extenuating circumstances. The part that makes justice so very, very difficult to determine. Because there's a background story to both sides. Somehow, I think, people need to be included in the equation. Not rules and regulations alone.


message 26: by Adam (new)

Adam | 22 comments I find Clytemnestras speech begining at line 320 simply dripping with irony. Now I'm remembering why Clytemnestra is the character that stuck with me the most -- she has all the best lines.


message 27: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments S. Rosemary wrote: "There must have been an appropriate way to perform human sacrifice, since Agamemmnon sacrificed Iphigenia and, well, he was murdered, but it didn't seem that he incurred THE WRATH OF THE GODS so to..."

I wonder If Zeus would punish Artemis from sabotaging his orders, isn't he her boss? Maybe demote her by turning her into a mere nymph or something. ; )


message 28: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Andrea wrote… regarding parents, grandparents, etc.


Yes. We are living lives that have been shaped by what previous generations did or did not do. And although we’re not directly responsible for their actions, you’re right that we have the responsibility/the burden/the punishment of dealing with what is.

Two aspects of this---and I think it comes through in Agamemnon as well as in our own lives:

1) Our circumstances in life are not necessarily “fair.”

2) But in acknowledging that, in recognizing that we are living that hand that Fate has dealt us, we still have the responsibility of making choices. I love that Clytemnestra has fought. What a great Greek man she would have made.


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Listening to Thomas F.X. Noble's Teaching Company lectures on The Foundations of Western Civilization, I heard two things that may relate to discussions in the background thread.

Everyman pointed out that there are multiple time periods at play in Oresteia: Trojan War, Aeschylus' time, our time. However, It seems to be a bit more complicated still. Noble points out that while the names of the characters are accurate to the time of the Trojan War, their behavior reflects customs and issues of the beginning of the classical era.

This was when the first written versions of the Iliad appeared. In fact, he said, the real Trojan War was probably a "grotty little trade war" between the Myceneans and Trojans--not the epic, ten year battle fought over a beautiful woman.

The second point relates to the conversation about the anthropomorphic nature of the Greek gods. There were a number of comments about how difficult it is for modern sensibilities to grasp how the Greeks conceived them.

Noble shows how a parallel kind of conceptual thinking was being born in classical Greece. This was the understanding of geometry, which he says starts showing up in early ceramics. Even in other artistic depictions of people or scenes, the art is very stylized and "flat." Noble concludes that these are examples of the development of an ability to think abstractly and symbolically in ways other cultures hadn't.

To me this suggests that they simultaneously believed themselves to be play-things of the gods, but also explorers into the logic and "reality" of things unseen.


message 30: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Mmm. I know it’s a side story. When I think of Agamemnon at Aulis, I can’t help but think of Henry Fonda in the movie Failsafe. In brief, he’s the president; a US missile has mistakenly been fired and is on the way to blow up Moscow. How can US prove it was a mistake? Advisors (Calchus? Priest at Aulis) propose the US allows Russia to blow up NYC. ONLY way to avoid end-of-world nuclear war. Fonda knows that his wife and daughter are in NYC that morning. Fonda/Agamemnon must weigh his obligations to his family against his obligations to the country. Love how Aeschylus forces us to acknowledge that there are no easy answers. What is the right thing to do? How do we determine that?

OK. I'll tack back to



message 31: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Adelle wrote: "And on high Apollo, it may be, hears, or Pan, or Zeus...the cry... and sends the transgressors her who brings punishment, though late, the Erinys."

People on the whole want for there to be reasons behind what happens to them. ... And the line seems to suggest that people have a need for justice, even if it is justice delayed. "


Excellent point.

I had mentioned in the badkground thread that one source said that the main theme of the Agamemnon was the fall from on high of a mighty figure. I said I would offer a alternative.

You did it for me. I think a main theme of the Oresteia is justice. Although perhaps not justice as we think of it, since today justice (or the attempt thereat) is a product of an extensive government controlled legal system, and people taking the law into their own hands is strongly discouraged. I'm thinking more of justice in a broader sense; the sense of wrongs being avenged, of no bad deed going unpunished at some point, of those wronged seeking retribution, usually at their own hands.


message 32: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sandybanks wrote: "Why did Aeschylus choose to relocate the action to Argos specifically? Is there any other reason other than to send a message to the audience that his play was different from the previous versions of the legend?"

That's a great question, and I have no idea what the answer is.


message 33: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 15, 2010 09:02AM) (new)

Adam wrote: "I find Clytemnestras speech begining at line 320 simply dripping with irony. Now I'm remembering why Clytemnestra is the character that stuck with me the most -- she has all the best lines."

Yes. She stole the whole play for me. From the very beginning when she explains to a bunch of doubting old men how she's arranged for the signal fires to bring the news quickly to Argos, all the way through her blatantly phony flattering of Agamemnon to get him inside and vulnerable, to her unrepentant claim of justice served for the murder of Iphegenia.

For instance lines 1657 ff when she tells the Chorus:

"You're testing me, as if I were some silly woman.
But my heart is fearless. Let me tell you
what you already know—then you can praise
or criticize me as you like. I don t care.
This man is Agamemnon, my husband.
He's a corpse, the work of this right hand,
a work of justice. That's how matters stand.



message 34: by Everyman (last edited Sep 15, 2010 09:07AM) (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sandybanks wrote: "Why does the play repeatedly mention Zeus' title as the "god of hospitality"? I'm sure that as the supreme god in the Greek pantheon he has many other titles, why focus on this particular aspect of his godhood? "

Just a guess on my part, but because the whole story of the house of Atreus is a story of the violation of the guest-host relationship, from Tantalus feeding his children to the gods (about as nasty a violation of guest-host as one could imagine) on down through Atreus doing the same to his brother, then expelling his brother, and various other events from the family legend. And of course Clytemnestra's murder of her husband is in a way also a major violation of the guest-host relationship (also, of course, of the marital relationship, but that's not Zeus's domain).

Edit: And, as Patrice points out in a post I saw after I initially wrote this post, the whole Trojan war started because Paris violated the guest-host relationship by running off with his host's wife, which is what made Zeus so angry and caused him to order the Greeks to go to war. Another way in which the violation of guest-host is central to the woes of the House of Atreus.


message 35: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Adam wrote: "Very interesting. Thank you. What, if you don't mind, is the verb in the Greek?


It's a variant of λανθάνω. And I guess it's not so difficult to translate, it's just hard to make it not sound awkward in English.

Kate mentioned a site in the other thread that might be helpful with regard to translation -- the Perseus Project has two translations, along with the Greek text. Robert Browning's translation is horrible, and he knew it, but is very very literal. (Which is why it's so horrible.) But it's good to look at if you are trying to get to the literal aspects of the text.


message 36: by Silver (last edited Sep 15, 2010 09:14AM) (new)

Silver Sandybanks wrote: "S. Rosemary wrote: "There must have been an appropriate way to perform human sacrifice, since Agamemmnon sacrificed Iphigenia and, well, he was murdered, but it didn't seem that he incurred THE WRA..."

The gods do not typically actually punish each other, usually they take it out upon mankind when they are displeased with one another.

When Medusa was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena, instead of actually lashing out against Poseidon because he was a god, she punished Medusa for the offence against her.

When Apollo is chasing after some poor young woman, Artemis does not chastise her brother for his actions, but instead turns the women into trees.

And when Hades stole away Persephone, Demeter did not show her wrath upon the gods directly but instead she lashed out against mankind out of her anger until Zeus was forced to make a compromise with her.


In regards to Clytemnestra, I think she is totally awsome. One of my favorite moments of hers, was when she told off the chorus after they were questioning her faith in the news relating to the signal fires becasue she was just a woman easily given into emotions, and than the Hearld came to deliver the same news she had given.


message 37: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments S. Rosemary wrote: "There must have been an appropriate way to perform human sacrifice, since Agamemmnon sacrificed Iphigenia and, well, he was murdered, but it didn't seem that he incurred THE WRATH OF THE GODS so to..."

Actually, I believe that human sacrifice was very much not practiced by the Greeks. That's why this particular act is such a terrible thing (and why in many versions of the legend Iphigenia is rescued at the last moment and a goat substituted.

There are also echoes of cannibalism in this sacrifice (cannibalism once again in the history of the Atreidae) since normally portions of the sacrificial goat or other animal were provided to the gods and the remainder eaten. So though there is no evidence I know of that Iphigenia's body was eaten, that would have been the normal practice for a sacrifice.


message 38: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Adelle wrote: "Think about the symbolism in Agamemnon’s first scene. He has this truly awesome entrance. ... But look then how the scene ends. What a genius Aeschylus was! The contrast!..."

Great analysis. The red carpet is particularly noteworthy. Agamemnon doesn't want to appear too proud -- a victim of hubris, which is one of the fatal sins for a Greek -- but his wife talks him into it, much against his better judgment.


message 39: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Silver wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "S. Rosemary wrote: "There must have been an appropriate way to perform human sacrifice, since Agamemmnon sacrificed Iphigenia and, well, he was murdered, but it didn't seem that ..." that the gods don't punish each oterh

Ah, so the gods give preferential treatment to family, to self-interest. How very human of them.

Perhaps Aeschylus through his plays shows humans in a better light than the gods in that the Athenians' justice system at least is supposed to TRY to be fair, to not play favorites.


message 40: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Andreea wrote: "I think I might be about to burst your bubble, the notes in the Fagles translation say:
"


Well, if it's burst, so be it. But I worry a bit about the Fagles commentary, as much of it as I've read so far, for a variety of reasons I can't get into here. He seems to me, probably quite reasonably given his likely audience, to be presenting the mythological history based on Aeschylus's version, and not, as far as I've read, worrying his readers about the ambiguities.

Since the play was clearly set in the Homeric period, when Mycenae and Argos were separate cities, the use of Argos instead of Mycenae would certainly have been noted by and meaningful to the audience. Whether Fagle's speculation on the reasons is the correct reason or not we'll of course never know, but it's certainly one reasonable possibility, and demonstrates the complexities in the play and also the problem of understanding fully how an audience of a different time and culture and background would have understood certain references.

We can but do our best to see things from their perspective at the same time as we look at them from our own time and perspective and ask what wisdom they still contain that pertains to our lives today.


message 41: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Adam wrote: "I find Clytemnestras speech begining at line 320 simply dripping with irony. Now I'm remembering why Clytemnestra is the character that stuck with me the most -- she has all the best lines."

Much like Satan in Paradise Lost, eh?


message 42: by Silver (new)

Silver Adelle wrote: "Silver wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "S. Rosemary wrote: "There must have been an appropriate way to perform human sacrifice, since Agamemmnon sacrificed Iphigenia and, well, he was murdered, but it di..."

Yes the gods play favorites, when they are unhappy with each other usually someone else has to pay for it.

In regards to the scene with the red carpet, I found that to be quite an interesting moment. I particularly enjoyed watching the interaction between Clytemnestra and Agammenon after they have not seen each other in such a long time and he has been away on war, there is no real feeling of joy in their reunion here.

Also I found it interesting how throughout the play there is a lot of emphasis that is placed upon the idea of one not seeking more wealth than a man needs to live and to be happy, and this sort of don't live beyond your means message which is given, showing off the dangers in living in a way which might rise envy in other people and rather supporting the idea that people should just be content with what they have and live as well as they can without seeking too much power, or attention.


message 43: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sandybanks wrote: "I wonder If Zeus would punish Artemis from sabotaging his orders, isn't he her boss? Maybe demote her by turning her into a mere nymph or something. ; ) "

I know you had a smile in there, but it's a fair question on its merits. While Zeus was the head god, he wasn't really the boss in the same sense we think of it. For the most part, he either couldn't or didn't order the gods around (he couldn't even control his own wife!) The gods are constantly doing this sort of thing, being in conflict with each other, fighting on opposite sides of the Trojan war. There wasn't anything abnormal about Artemis temporarily stymieing the fleet from sailing. They had to go eventually, Zeus had decreed that, but lots could happen in the meantime. (After all, the war took ten years even though Zeus promised that the Greeks would win. Why didn't he just give them the victory on day 1? Well, that's really a question for our reading of the Iliad, isn't it?)

But really, there's nothing weird in Artemis getting her revenge in a way that delays Zeus's dictate.


message 44: by Adam (new)

Adam | 22 comments Everyman wrote: "Adam wrote: "I find Clytemnestras speech begining at line 320 simply dripping with irony. Now I'm remembering why Clytemnestra is the character that stuck with me the most -- she has all the best ..."

I wasn't in the group when you read PL, but just as a warning, you might not want to get me started on that on unless you want this thread totally hijacked. I took a class that focused on two works Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost. Slightly more than half a semester discussing PL and a research paper that the prof said I should have polished up for publication should give you some idea how much I could be induced to ramble about that work.

But yes, Satan is a great source of irony in PL, though of a differnet kind. Satan's lines are just so dumb, but he is clueless about how stupid the things he is saying really are. Clytemnestra's speech borders on the sarcastic but the other players can't know that until she has committed the deed later on. She knows what she's doing; we don't (or at least the characters don't).


message 45: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Everyman wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "I wonder If Zeus would punish Artemis from sabotaging his orders, isn't he her boss? Maybe demote her by turning her into a mere nymph or something. ; ) "

I know you had a smile..."


"The gods are constantly doing this sort of thing, being in conflict with each other, fighting on opposite sides of the Trojan war."

This reminds me of how the Hindu gods act against each other in the great war between the Pandavas and Kauravas in Mahabharata --- perhaps they behave in a similar way because both the Greek and Hindu gods are Aryan gods.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparis...

Their conception of godhood is totally different from the Judeo-Christian one.


message 46: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Everyman wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "Why does the play repeatedly mention Zeus' title as the "god of hospitality"? I'm sure that as the supreme god in the Greek pantheon he has many other titles, why focus on this p..."

We would probably view the offenses in the legend as separate crimes, i.e. murder, cannibalism, incest, adultery, etc., but for the ancient Greeks the breach of hospitality IS the 'cardinal sin' (a Christian concept, I know, but seems apt in this context).

I guess it just shows how different they are in this matter from us.


message 47: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Kate wrote: "Adam wrote: "I find Clytemnestras speech begining at line 320 simply dripping with irony. Now I'm remembering why Clytemnestra is the character that stuck with me the most -- she has all the best ..."

I agree. I feel that she is the most sympathetic character in Agamemnon (though she is an adulterer and spouse-killer). Isn't her action in taking vengeance for the murder of her daughter justified under the ancient Greek moral code? An eye for an eye and all that...

And I get irritated with the elders in the chorus doubting her judgment about the result of the war ad nauseam. Are they doing this because she is just a woman, even though she has been their queen (and I assume, their de facto leader) for a decade?


message 48: by Aranthe (last edited Sep 15, 2010 10:24AM) (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Regarding Pan, a rabbit trail that may or may not be relevant:

As I pondered his inclusion in the list, I did a little research to see if there was anything I might might be missing about his sphere(s) of influence. While I suspect that Adelle's theory is likely the main reason behind his inclusion, one source mentioned that he was also the god of theatrical criticism, which would accord with the sources that claim he is the son of Dionysus. If so, is it possible that this is a double-entendre, one meaning of which is self-referent: that is, that Aeschylus will use the vehicle of the trilogy to resolve the tension and restore justice?


message 49: by [deleted user] (new)

Sandybanks wrote: "We would probably view the offenses in the legend as separate crimes, i.e. murder, cannibalism, incest, adultery, etc."

They would also see them as linked together, or following from one another in a way that made sense. Sort of a whole bunch of interlaced cause and effect scenarios.

Tantalus kills and serves up his child for dinner, Pelops drowns Myrtilus after M tries to rape his wife, Thyestes cuckolds Atreus who serves up some more children, etc. Each step has a breach of hospitality, connected to/followed by a "justice as revenge" motive.


message 50: by Aranthe (last edited Sep 15, 2010 10:34AM) (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Everyman wrote: "Great analysis. The red carpet is particularly noteworthy. Agamemnon doesn't want to appear too proud -- a victim of hubris, which is one of the fatal sins for a Greek -- but his wife talks him into it, much against his better judgment."

I enjoyed the the play on "sea" in the speeches that accompanied this. The sea as the source of the dye in Agamemnon's, "And as I crush these garments stained from the rich sea, let no god's eyes of hatred strike me from afar." And the ironic counterpoint of the sea (of blood) in Clytemnestra's answer, "The sea is here, and who shall drain it's yield?" Which, of course, is exactly what she intends to do. The gods will not strike him from afar; she will strike him there, in his own house, and drain his blood as the yield of his own bloody act.


« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8
back to top