Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Quote of the Day: Aeschylus' "Agamemnon" 1560-66

I am about to teach Aeschylus' trilogy, the Oresteia, which is actually the only tragic trilogy proper that has survived from antiquity. The basic story is that Agamemnon, on his way to Troy, sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, in order to assuage the anger of Artemis, who, along with her brother Apollo, favored the Trojans. In response, when he returned home ten years later, his wife Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, murdered him. Yet, in response to that, Orestes, the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon avenged his father's death by killing his mother. In turn, the Furies, who punished those who killed a blood relative, sought to punish Orestes. In the end, Orestes lands in Athens as he runs from the Furies. There, Athena, in a new form of justice, decides the case by a judicial court. So, we move from archaic "eye for an eye" justice to new judicial systems represented by the emergent democratic city-state.

The Chorus, in the "Agememnon," the first of the three plays, responds to Agamemnon's death and trying to grasp the limits of the older form of justice by revenge:

Here is anger for anger. Between them
who shall judge lightly?
The spoiler is robbed; he killed, he has paid.
The truth stands ever beside God's throne
eternal: he who has wrought shall pay; that is law.
Then who shall tear the curse from their blood?
The seed is stiffened to ruin. (Aeschylus, Agamemnon

The chorus recognizes the legitimacy of the older justice of blood for blood, anger for anger, sword for sword. But asks a question: "Then who shall tear the curse from their blood?" When, indeed, does the cycle of revenge and counter-vengence ever stop in an ever devolving spiral of violence?

1 comment:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

No there is no stopping of human violence. It is the way that things are.'

In Christian circles it is no different because there is always "hell to pay" or "heaven to get" that determines how one earns heaven or relationships are reconciled, so hell won't have to be paid.

There is no unconditional acceptance or love in this life. You earn what you get, because one reaps what he sows. Grace is upon all, but we must be responsive to continue to be blessed by it. Acceptance or fitting in is always about performance, conformity, duty, and penance. And even grace, love and other sentimental sentiments are too "ideal" for the "real world" of Christian living...Love is for family, that is, if you are lucky.