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Reticence and Phobos in Aeschylus's Agamemnon.

[phrase omitted]

(Come and see the dreadful signs of our blessed tyrants.) (1)

                                          Euripides, Electro 709-11.


The soliloquy delivered by the Watchman at the outset of Agamemnon (1-39) offers the first significant instance in this play of what has been called its "special focus on language" and of the "role of language itself in the process of the communication on stage." (2) Expressions belonging to the semantic field of fear are very frequent not only in this prologue, but also, and even more so, in the words of the Chorus, who besides singing alone in the orchestra, unheard by the other characters offstage, also dialogue with some of them onstage through their leader. Those expressions range from an indefinite "concern" ([phrase omitted]), to "fear" ([phrase omitted]), "terror" ([phrase omitted], the verb [phrase omitted]), "horror" ([phrase omitted]; LSJ: "gloom," but also "hatred" and "abomination"), and also include the effect of "fleeing away" caused by fear, as in the case of the verb [phrase omitted]. (3) It should be noticed that this fearful condition is often presented as being objectless, and this has a precise dramatic consequence. Mentioning one's psychological condition but not its cause and keeping the object of one's dread ([phrase omitted]) unsaid, as the Chorus do in the third stasimon (975-1034), emphasize the oppressive climate weighing heavily on the action since the prologue. It should also be noticed that in this play fear is first and foremost induced by tyrannical power in the citizens of Argos, who resort to a variety of discursive strategies of indirection in order to avoid speaking openly, which culminates in the Chorus's highly self-censoring third stasimon. Interestingly, their reticence and/or covert allusiveness not only questions forms of communication typical of parliamentary monarchy--a type of government Aeschylus had already presented in his Suppliant Women five years before the Oresteia--but also the communicative processes onstage. It is as if the old playwright wished to offer a radical rethinking of what could and could not be said and shown in a theatre. On the one hand, reticence, combined with an apt use of metaphorical and euphemistic language, intensifies the audiences expectation of actions they already know about from the myth, but also know that will not be shown onstage because conventionally forbidden. Thus, reticence prefigures their horror, while possibly enhancing it. On the other hand, as will be seen, stagecraft and a strategic use of the language of fear collaborate in questioning the linearity and irreversibility of the temporal dimension intrinsic in the construction and solution of the tragic plot.

Traditionally, murder is not staged in Attic drama, (4) and violent deaths are the stock subject of the messengers' reports. (5) Consequently, Agamemnon accurately avoids the contamination ([phrase omitted]) deriving from the murder carried out coram populo. (6) And yet, Aeschylus lets it sneak into the "vision" Cassandra experiences onstage and shares with the Chorus and the audience "as in a mirror." (7) In a tragedy which originates in the chain of fire relays announcing the fall of Troy, extensively described by Clytemnestra at 281-316, the same Cassandra becomes herself a "messenger," offering a dramatic variation on the reliability of signs and narratives. Like a trustworthy envoy, she unveils the truth, reporting the exact sequence of the actions leading to the accomplishment of Agamemnon's murder; but, differently from traditional messengers and from the chain of fires organized by Clytemnestra, she anticipates the deed. Cassandra objectifies the action verbally, and yet, unlike typical messengers' speeches, her report coincides with a vision that she experiences onstage as a "live event," but slightly ahead of the time of its actual occurrence. In the illusory simultaneity of that vision, she enables the Chorus and the audience to enter the palace, and penetrate inside, down to the bathroom where the murder will take place. This temporal dimension, diffracted into the narrative anticipation of the act (1100-29) and its actual occurrence (1331-45), will finally re-coalesce into one in Agamemnon's cry, when he receives the first blow (1343) and "validates" acoustically, from the invisible inside of the palace, what Cassandra has just "seen" outside it at 1126-29. By staging the homicide "indirectly," Aeschylus tries to visualize the unstageable in an attempt to transcend or question staging taboos, including the representation of the king's assassination.

A last consideration on miasma before proceeding: Cassandra's vision contains details of Agamemnon's end which will be confirmed by Clytemnestra, a veritable messenger of her own crime at 1380-87. However, Cassandra's prophecy does not contain details of her own death. Therefore, it can be argued that reticence in Agamemnon not only leads up to the central scene of her vision, but is also grounded in its object (the king's murder) and in its dramatic aim: the theatricalization of the uxoricide/regicide the moment it is denied. In other words, the reason why the taboo on acting the killing of the king onstage is bypassed is not only, nor primarily, the violent act per se--Cassandra does not "see" her own end--but its nature and the double miasma it causes: Agamemnon is tied to his murderer by mutual conjugal fidelity ([phrase omitted]; see 606-7, where Clytemnestra defines herself as "a wife... as true / as on the day [her husband] left her" [[phrase omitted]]), and at the same time is the king, father of future kings. In her final indictment of Aegisthus, the Chorus leader will ask him:
[phrase omitted]

(1643-46; But why, why then, you coward, could you not have slain
your man yourself? Why must it be his wife who killed [with you],
to curse [lit. "pollute"] the country and the gods within the ground?)

Agamemnon's wife is herself miasma, and the double pollution (affecting the gods and the country alike) is connected with Agamemnon's double status of husband and dynast: as noticed by Eduard Fraenkel, line 1645 "provides a transition to the retribution at the hands of Orestes," Agamemnon's son and legitimate heir of his kingship. (8) This doubleness belongs to the ideological horizon of both Aeschylus and his audience. Not coincidentally, in Choephori (1028) and Eumenides (600-02), Orestes will use words similar to those pronounced here by the Chorus: he calls his mother miasma because murderer of his father the king ([phrase omitted] [phrase omitted]; Ch. 1028; my fathers murder stained her, and the gods' disgust), whose power (1; [phrase omitted]) he craves; he also associates her with Aegisthus as the (lit.) "two agents of miasma" (944; [phrase omitted]); and finally, in Eumenides, he acknowledges that Clytemenstra is herself affected by a dual miasma ([phrase omitted] 600-2; Yes. She was polluted twice over with disgrace.... She murdered her husband, and thereby my father too.)

Building on these premises, in the following pages I will explore the phenomenology of fear in Agamemnon: fear induced by power, as experienced by the Watchman and the Chorus, or felt by those who hold power (I will examine the various hints of fear embedded in Clytemnestra's own words), or due to the unsayability of actions which can be neither shown nor even named until they are accomplished. I will also deal with the ways in which different degrees of fear are expressed in different contexts (soliloquy or dialogic interaction) and in different communicative forms (speech, chant, or song). On the one hand, I will try to show how the Chorus's reticence and self-censorship are not only expressions of their fear of Clytemnestra, but also suggest political disengagement as opposed to their final political outspokenness: the Chorus abstain from political intervention until Agamemnon is killed, suggesting a peculiar political view on Argos, on the divine, and on the role of the demos. On the other hand, I will argue that the fear Clytemnestra avows to having experienced in the past depends primarily on the state of unsafety she was plunged into by Agamemnon's expedition to Troy, pushing her to find in Aegisthus "the shield of [her] defiance, no weak thing" (1437; [phrase omitted]).

The Watchman

At the play's outset, the Watchman waits for a "rumor" "out of Troy" (9; [phrase omitted]), that is, the "outcry of its capture" (10; [phrase omitted]). Differently from the Odyssey, (9) Agamemnon does not cast him at the service of Aegisthus, but of Clytemnestra. This change of master evinces a change of perspective about the revenge plot, suggesting that the snare that has been prepared for the king does not ensue from the dynastic conflict between Atreus, Agamemnon's father, and his brother Thyestes, Aegisthus's father, but from one between Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. This difference is meant to refocus the attention on Clytemnestra's agency compared to her role in the Odyssey. Probably this refocusing was already a feature of Stesichorus's poem Oresteia (first half of the sixth century), where Clytemnestra was "an example of how a criminal conscience which had been bold enough before the deed is subsequently overcome by fear." (10) In any case, in this context the Watchman's reticence not only enhances dramatic suspense, indirectly conveying the enormity of the alluded crime, but also lays emphasis upon a particular interpretation of the myth, suggesting from the start a radical revision of gender roles. Another innovation in respect to the tragic tradition (11) consists in the nature of the report. It is not conveyed by a messenger ([phrase omitted]) bringing news from an offstage site, but by a domestic sentinel ([phrase omitted]) who has been waiting for a visual signal, variously called "beacon" (8; [phrase omitted]), "a blaze of fire" (9; [phrase omitted]), and a (lit.) "torch bringing [a] message" (30; [phrase omitted]). It is a token (8; [phrase omitted]) that can be fully understood only if its code is entirely known; it is like a tessera hospitalis which needs its other half to make sense. As noticed by Simon Goldhill, "the beacon is a symbol for a communication which itself... no longer shows (the visible mode)... , but works through another medium, that of language." (12) Depending on the knowledge of the code, this symbolon conveys different messages. It is no surprise that the signal is left unstaged, (13) since the audience are unaware of its code and therefore unable to understand it. The Watchman, instead, has been trained in its language, and can glean that the fire signifies victory and conquest of Troy. However, he is unable to grasp the full implications of the protocol of communication drawn by Clytemnestra, (14) although he appears to be more knowledgeable than expected. The implicit message, he seems to understand, is that it is high time for the Queen to set up the snare for Agamemnon. As in Odyssey (4.524-25), the role of the Watchman has been predisposed by a deceitful master, and the audience expect some treachery to be at work. We do not know to what extent the Watchman is aware of this, but his reticence has telling implications, which the audience's intertextual memory share, glimpsing what the prologue superficially leaves unsaid.

But before the meaning of the fire signal is unveiled, the spectators are offered yet another detail: although the Watchman says that it signifies the War's successful conclusion (9-10), he also mentions his own troubled wakefulness due to "fear in sleep's place stand[ing] forever at [his] head" (14; [phrase omitted]). (15) The language of [phrase omitted], crops up in the play for the first time, acquiring a peculiar meaning that will become once again relevant in Clytemnestra's own use of that same word at the end of the play. For now, it should be remarked that phobos refers to a specific fear of some threat for one's own immediate safety or well-being; (16) indication of its object or cause is therefore what one normally expects to hear. Nevertheless, the Watchman leaves unspecified what he fears, although he clearly says that it is fear that keeps him awake and makes him weep on "the pity [lit., disgrace] of this house / no longer, as once, administered in the grand way" (18-19; [phrase omitted]). That he imputes bad domestic rule to the Queen is implicit in his previous mention of a female master endowed with "male strength of heart in its high confidence" (11; [phrase omitted]), a qualification suggesting inversion of gender roles and, consequently, perversion of power. Thus, it is not coincidental that the Watchman neither calls Clytemnestra by her name nor bestows upon her the title of Queen; in his words, she is only a "lady" or "Agamemnon's [wife]" (11, 26; [phrase omitted]), who, thanks to her power (kratos), has organized the chain of beacons and has ordered him to keep close watch. Although he does not speak openly, his bitter remark on her bad rule in Argos does not bode well in terms of a happy reunion. On the other hand, he also says that the signal will set up "processionals and dance and songs / of multitudes in Argos for this day of thanks" (23-24; [phrase omitted]). The news will "raise the rumor of gladness welcoming this beacon," causing "Agamemnon's [wife]... [to] rise up from her bed of state with speed" (26-8; [phrase omitted]). However, he does not tell why Clytemnestra should be happy. Nor does "the house"--a "partner" in his own reticence--unveil more; "could it take voice," the Watchman remarks, it "might speak aloud and plain" (37-38; [phrase omitted]). The house is a maimed, dumb fellow creature and he himself is a gambler in a risky dice game that he cannot control:
[phrase omitted]

(31-33; I also, I, will make my choral prelude, since
my [masters'] dice cast aright are counted as my own,
and mine the tripled sixes of this torchlit throw.) (17)

Metaphoricity and reticence here combine to gesture to the unsayable and prepare the ground for the Watchman's revelation of his own communicative strategy. Something prevents him from speaking openly to everybody; albeit faithful to his king, he says, he can only "speak to those who understand," and therefore he is ready to forget everything when in the company of those who do not (36-39; [phrase omitted]). Nonetheless, he does not say who these understanding people are, nor will he in the future, because the Watchman, like one of those "servant[s] or functionar[ies], who [do] not reappear in the play after the prologue," (18) will neither be seen nor heard again. Exempted from having a role in the following action, his soliloquy in the liminal locus of the prologue is instrumental dramatically. On the threshold of the action the Watchman may allude to something which he cannot and does not want to voice without further commitment, for fear of his own safety; although deprived of its cause or object, the word [phrase omitted], is unequivocal as to the feeling of danger it conveys. Being alone onstage, the Watchman can be safely allusive, although allusiveness in solitude is an odd sign and a very effective suspense-inducing tactic which Aeschylus handles skillfully. No other character in the follow-up of the action will be heard speak in solitude, except for the Chorus of the Elders of Argos, who will also be alone during their songs around the altar (stasima). The Chorus will soon take his place as "those who know and understand," although his language of fear will be lost. Endowed with a political function which the Watchman does not have, they will adopt other significantly different discursive strategies, recasting fear as a more radically political issue.

The Chorus

Soon after entering the orchestra, the Chorus of the old citizens start chanting, first about the ten-year expedition against Troy (40-82), then by nervously interrogating Clytemnestra, who is still offstage and will appear on the threshold of the palace only at 258. The stage vacant, their words fall on the deaf ears of the palace, a dumb and impenetrable icon of royal power and destiny. Technically, therefore, this is a soliloquy, like the Watchman's. It is interesting to notice that, differently from him, who had disparagingly deprived the Queen of her title, the Elders show reverence toward her even in her absence, implying sincerity. They address her as "([phrase omitted]" (84; Queen), thus acknowledging her legitimate rule as the wife of the absent king and as the one who can disclose to them the reason why sacrifices are being prepared on the altars. Despite the festive atmosphere, they avow their being gripped by a "perplexity" (99; [phrase omitted]) (19) that "grows now into darkness of thought" (100; [phrase omitted]). At the same time, they also admit to feeling an indefinite "hope" ([phrase omitted], means an ambivalent expectation) that "beats back the pitiless pondering / of sorrow that eats [their] heart" (102-3; [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted]). (20) These contrasting feelings suggest a condition of suspension and uneasiness which translates into discursive obscurity, contradiction, and semantic indeterminacy. Such stylistic features will be typical, in different degrees, of the Chorus's language throughout the play until the exhibition of Agamemnon's lifeless body. But what is particularly of interest here is their use of the word "perplexity" ([phrase omitted]), which provides the first example in this play of the subtle nuances the language of fear acquires, connoting their words as both prophetic and subtly political. The Chorus are still alone in the orchestra and their generic but expressive reference to the "darkness of thought" and the "pondering" ensuing from "sorrow" gestures to an indefinite uneasiness different from that of the sentinel. Its meaning will become clearer only at the end of the parodos (251-57); yet, their mention of Agamemnon early in their song already provides a sort of indictment, if oblique, that hints at what might troubling them. They recall his responsibility for the expedition against Troy and his sacrifice of Iphigenia (104-249), and it is him they evidently have in mind when they say that Dike will arrive and those who will experience Dike's arrival will suffer punishment (250-51). Thus, the Chorus already seem to inscribe the yet unspoken-of fate of Agamemnon within a necessary design which they cannot oppose. They expect a future of sorrows, and as if to check grief before the time comes to experience it, they invoke forgetfulness trying to repress untimely pain and fear:
[phrase omitted]

(251-57;... and the future
you shall know when it has come; before then, forget it [lit., let it
be greeted in advance]. (21)
It is grief too soon given [lit., but that is equal to be lamented in
All will come clear in the next dawn's sunlight.
Let good fortune follow these things as
the one who is here desires,
our Apian land's single-hearted protector [lit., sole-guardian fence])

The Chorus's lines are both allusive and puzzling. The first explanation they solicit is to whom the Chorus refer by this fence or bulwark on whose will ([phrase omitted]) they rely. The second one is about the meaning of the word [[phrase omitted], whether it should be understood as "single-hearted protector," as translated by Lattimore, or instead as "sole-guardian fence" (LSJ; lit., "watching alone"). (22) We have to assume that the only plausible defender of Argos (the Apian land) is Clytemnestra, who is "near" both because of "her relation with the throne," (23) and because she is indeed within the palace which the Elders are addressing with the deictic [phrase omitted]. (24) The Chorus enigmatically hint at expectations of joy, but also of sufferance. This suggests that, like the Watchman, they too know more than they actually say. Yet, compared to the Watchman, they sound more contradictory, at least superficially. They know that the future will be full of grief and that only the following day will disclose how; and yet, whatever may happen they hope that it will bring good fortune. Flouting clarity, they sway between assertive, hypothetical, and optative stances, finally paying homage to Clytemnestra as both the one on whom future events will depend and as the protector (fence) of their land. The "contradiction" that Denniston and Page rightly saw in the Elders' words, (25) which at the same time reveal their hostility to the Queen and "express the wish 'that all may turn out as Clytemnestra desires'," rather suggests political embarrassment. Not coincidentally, right at this point (258), as if urged by their inauspicious words, the Queen will finally appear at the door of the house. The Elders cannot remain silent, but must show obligingness, as they know that she is in power. She occupies the throne left "void" by her husband, and their condition of subjects must be acknowledged publicly. At the same time, the Chorus leaders allusion to the throne relocates Agamemnon at the center of the scene, if only symbolically through mention of his absence:
[phrase omitted]

(258-60; I have come in reverence, (26) Clytaemestra, of your power.
For when the man is gone and the throne void, his right
falls to the prince's lady, and honor must be given.)

There follows the first "act" (epeisodion), when the Chorus leader can finally ask Clytemnestra elucidations about the sacrifices mentioned in the parodos. Contributing to the general climate of suspicion and disquiet, her answer will not dispel the Chorus's anxiety. They will repeat the word merimna--already used at 99 in their first song--in order to describe their troubled state of mind after their stichomythic dialogue with the Queen (264-80) and her long replies (281-316, 320-50); by this word, they once again point to uncertainty, not to a fear they neatly discern or can clearly express. Their preoccupation is not individual, nor circumscribed to the risk of speaking with the wrong people, as in the Watchman's case, but more general. Because they are the representatives of the city, their concerns are about the fate of Argos, which can hardly be prefigured. Revealingly, their anxiety will be defined as nykterephes, that is, covered by night, murky, gloomy, once again suggesting sightlessness and invisibility in accordance with their own obscure language and obscure knowledge: "[phrase omitted]," (459-60; There lurks for me in the hooded night / terror of what may be told me.)

When soon afterward the Chorus meet the Herald bringing news about the King (538-50), the dialogue provides a brilliant example of how their reticence and allusiveness may serve different purposes. This episode lets us not only perceive the citizens of Argos as separate from those who come from abroad and do not "understand," but also appreciate the Chorus's ability to adopt different discursive strategies with different interlocutors. This time they wish to cross-check their own perception of the Queen's duplicity against the foreigner's response to her. That is why their dialogue (546-50) is all but conventional, being based on insinuations and sudden changes of topic. When the Chorus leader mentions his (lit.) "gloomy soul" (546; [phrase omitted]), the Herald is prompted to inquire about the cause of his "black thoughts" (547), but, significantly, the Chorus leader's answer is evasive, shifting the attention to his own long-held silence ([phrase omitted], 548) meant to prevent (lit.) "damage" (548; [phrase omitted]). This reply is loaded with ominous implications which the Herald grasps, further asking whether there was someone the Chorus leader feared when the King was away (lit., forced the Chorus to beat a retreat; 549; [phrase omitted]). The Chorus leader does not say it openly, but lets the Herald's own words speak for him ([phrase omitted] 550; So much that as you said now, even death were grace), reinforcing the feeling of a "fear in peace" that echoes the Herald's own opening words on death as an escape from the horrors of war ([phrase omitted] 539; no longer ask the gods for death). The one showing a wish for death in war and the other a fear of death in peace, the two speakers occupy symmetrical positions of opposite sign. Revealing their radically different stances, in the follow-up of the exchange the Herald no longer shows interest in the Chorus's ambiguous words, and moves on to report the happy result of the Trojan expedition. After all, he is alien to what is happening in Argos and is clearly a foil to the Chorus leader, contrasting his own language of joy for the victory with his riddling language afflicted by gloomy premonitions.

Their different discursive attitudes will be further foregrounded when the Chorus leader comments on the Queen's response to the Herald as soon as she goes back into the royal palace (615-80). It may be recalled that in the words she pronounces before leaving (587-614), Clytemnestra expresses her joy for the news of the victory and announces that on his return Agamemnon will find a faithful wife. Then she exits leaving both the Herald and the Elders onstage. The dialogue between the Chorus leader and the Herald begins with two dense and highly evocative lines in which the Chorus leader hints at the Queen's ambiguous words. As Fraenkel remarked in his commentary, "The words of the coryphaeus are veiled, as is always the case when anyone conceals, under cover of an apparently loyal utterance, some dangerous thought which still he does not wish to leave completely unsaid:" (27)
[phrase omitted]

(615-16; Chorus leader: Thus has she spoken, for you, who want to
appropriate words thanks to clear interpreters.) (28)

By half-saying that the Queen's speech is appropriate to the circumstances, the coryphaeus implies that she is manipulating the truth. The word "appropriate" ([phrase omitted]) here does not allude only to the Queen's oratory ability: as again noticed by Fraenkel, the Chorus leader "cannot say outright:... you would get at the meaning underlying her smooth words, you must have them translated to you by interpreters, people who understand the language of the things that have been going on here in this house....' This he cannot say, but instead he gives the essential warning... in the more innocuous form of the subordinate expression [phrase omitted]." (29) The Queen's self-presentation as the faithful wife the Herald expects to meet is in fact part of a refined rhetorical performance based upon double-talk. Her emphasis on her own meritorious system of beacons is part of this strategy; she wishes to give a proof of her own anxiety about her husbands arrival (implying love, when it is hatred, 600-4), and to this end she also mentions her own chastity, confirming the gender role of good wife and ruler of the house culturally and politically assigned to her (604-14). Consistently, she passes under silence her own anger about Agamemnon's faithlessness, which she will demonstrate awareness of when she mentions his affairs with Chryseis and other women at Troy (1437); Cassandra's arrival will only be the tangible proof. The Chorus leader does not further comment on this, but in the two lines mentioned above (615-16) he alludes to the correct understanding of those who interpret her words clearly, tacitly including himself before soon dismissing this thought as if fearing excessive confidence with the Herald, and moving on to ask news about Menelaus (617). Quite surprisingly, that topic is suddenly dropped and the Herald recounts the hardships of the voyage back from Troy.

When the third stasimon (975-1034) begins, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra have both entered the royal palace (at 972 and 974, respectively). The Chorus, for the last time singing alone in the orchestra, no longer use "[phrase omitted]" but "[phrase omitted]" (976; dread), a word which, albeit normally employed in the plural ([phrase omitted]) and with qualifiers, here occurs in the singular and with the cataphoric deictic marker "[phrase omitted]" (975; this) arousing expectation of a subsequent epexegetical clause or some form of explanation. Yet no further detail follows except for the Elders' description of their own mental condition, which they assimilate to an experience of (lit.) "dreams without clear meaning" (980-81; [phrase omitted]). Thus, while the singular suggests dread of something specific, its indeterminate use confirms a still undefined ominous uneasiness reinforcing the feeling of impending doom:
[phrase omitted]

(975-82; Chorus [singing]: Why must this persistent [dread] (30)
beat its wings so ceaselessly
and so close against my mantic heart?
Why this strain unwanted, unrepaid, thus prophetic?
Nor can valor of good hope
seated near the chambered depth
of the spirit cast it out
as dreams of dark fancy.)

In their song they gradually become more circumstantial as to what they feel is about to happen. A few lines later, at 990-91, they allude to a funeral lament they are singing due to the arousal of the Erinys, implying shedding of kindred blood. The Erinyes, "avengers of perjury, homicide, unfilial conduct" and "upholders of the natural and moral order" (LSJ), traditionally punish familial crimes and have nothing to do with either violence in war (bloodshed of friends and enemies alike), or with political coercion. Both cases might regard Agamemnon, as he has been responsible for the Trojan expedition and will re-establish domestic rule (846-50) in ways that, besides negotiations with the assembly, might involve calculated, "judicious," violence. (31) Not even in the parodos have the Chorus invoked the Erinyes with regard to the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Those deities will be mentioned only at 1431-33, when Clytemnestra will significantly justify her crime on account of Themis (LSJ; "law... as established by custom"), Dike (Justice) Ate (Wrath) and Erinyes, all connected with the killing of Iphigenia. Therefore, their mention here tacitly implies another crime for which Agamemnon will be killed and, in turn, Clytemnestra will suffer: the bloodshed which Cassandra will "smell" in the house at 1096, that is, Atreus's murder of Thyestes's sons. The palace itself, and its dark inside, increasingly look like the ominous locus of intraspecific crimes to which yet another bloody deed inscribed within the story of the Atreidae will soon be added.

At this point it is clear that the Chorus are scared by the prospect of a political overthrow of rule, prefiguring tyranny, and it is also clear that they will not interfere. The reason behind their seemingly inexplicable disengagement is finally disclosed at the end of this stasimon. Although they have claimed mantic talents and stated that their song is (lit.) "unbidden and unhired" (979; [phrase omitted]) as well as "self-taught" (991; [phrase omitted]), suggesting freedom from patrons and their power, in the third stasimon they acknowledge dependence on something superior even to kings, a transcendental design which includes them too. The higher decree which has established an "appointed lot" (moira; [phrase omitted] recurs twice at 1026) for everybody is what holds them from speaking out and revealing what is destined to remain unsaid before it is done: (32)
[phrase omitted]

(1025-34; [If the established
destiny did not hold my lot
from getting more from the gods,] (33)
my heart now would have outrun speech
to break forth the water of its grief.
But this is so; I murmur deep in darkness
sore at heart; my hope is gone now
ever again to unwind some crucial good
from the flames about my heart.)

By appealing to the divine will as that transcendental order which cannot be disobeyed, they justify their decision not to take a political stand. Like the Watchman before them, they gesture to the "unspeakable" in solitude; but unlike him, they do so both with "those who understand" and with "those who do not," like the Herald, and finally justify political non-commitment on the basis of "necessity," at least until the "work" (1346) is done and discussion of justice is brought back to the level of human confrontation.

Cassandra, or the Vain Unveiling

Agamemnon and Clytemnestra enter the palace at 972 and 974, respectively. As Oliver Taplin remarks, "it is often said that at this point [i.e. 975-1034, when the Chorus sing the third stasimon recalled above] the audience expects to hear the death cries [of Agamemnon]." (34) In the later tragic production, "when a victim has been lured inside, then the cries almost invariably follow either during the ensuing song or at the end of it." (35) Also, in the Choephori Orestes kills Clytemnestra immediately after they have gone inside, at 930. (36) This is not the case with Agamemnon, where Clytemnestra re-enters the stage at 1035 and addresses her imperious speech to a silent Cassandra, before she finally exits at 1068. The assassination of Agamemnon will take place later, at 1343-45, soon after Cassandra enters the palace (1330). At that point, the cries that will be heard from the inside of the house will not arouse the Chorus's sympathy, as in Sophocles's Electra 1404-21 and in Euripides's Electra 1165-71 (in both scenes the Chorus's desperate cry is contemporaneous with Clytemnestra's murder), but only their political concern (1346-71). Nor will the assassination be reported by a messenger coming from the house (exangelos) as a witness to the offstage events. Although we must assume, with Taplin, that "we cannot say that the conventional sequence was already established," (37) it can be safely argued that Aeschylus's solution of delaying the homicide and anticipating it in Cassandra's impressive visualization of a scene accurately removed from the audience's sight is profoundly innovative, so much so that it did not find epigones. In this tragedy the concealed offstage space is indirectly disclosed to the audience's sight by way of a visionary projection, which is at the same time present and absent. It is dislocated verbally to Cassandra's dramatized narrative and is neither witnessed, nor believed by the Elders in the orchestra, who duplicate the audience as "blind spectators" to the scene but, differently from them, are willingly detached from it.

It should be noticed, though, that the form of the melodramatic dialogue between Cassandra and the Elders (1072-177) has a subtle dramatic and communicative function, showing the Chorus's being torn between participation and detachment. At first it emphasizes Cassandra's ecstatic rapture, but then gradually signals the Elders' own involvement in that visionary scene she perceives in the palace, despite their persistent refusal to accept it. (38)

It has been much debated whether the narratization of Cassandra's vision was meant to be accompanied by gesture and movement. Doubtless she is initially close to the simulacrum of Apollo Aguiates, whom she invokes at 1081 and 1086. Aguiates ([phrase omitted]) means "guardian of the street ([phrase omitted])," and Apollo Aguiates is represented as a pointed pillar, set up as an effigy or altar in front of the street-door of the house. (39) Therefore the epithet suggests the crucial role of the god in disclosing the palaces inside to Cassandra: he will lead her into the royal palace even before she steps over its threshold. But it is the dramatic handling of time that is relevant to the performance of the two scenes of the murder, the one visionarily anticipated outside, and the other one materially committed inside at a slightly later time, so that the two are a little out of sync. This temporal gap underscores the split dimension of this dual scene which multiplies verbally and aurally the action of murder so carefully prepared for. Cassandra accurately uses markers which locate in time the same action that she presuffers in the here and now of her utterance, indicating cataphorically both her own position on the stage of her vision and her role as seer and narrator of what happens inside ([phrase omitted]; "here is," that is "here I see"): here are the witnesses Cassandra is given by Apollo, here are "the small children wail[ing] for their own death," here is the "new and huge / stroke of atrocity," here is "this thing" that Clytemnestra is now accomplishing, here is the net by which she will capture Agamemnon. (40) Her dramatic narrative reduces the gap between the two temporalities, bringing the murder onstage before it occurs inside, and providing a testing ground for the agency of the Elders, who are torn between "necessity" and dread in deciding what to do.

All this takes place by degrees, in both space and time. First Cassandra focuses upon the palace and asks herself--or better, Apollo--where she is (1085-87). Then she sees--beastly "scents" as a "hound," in the Chorus's words (1093-94)--the past murders of blood relatives (Thyestes's sons by Atreus's hand) perpetrated in the palace (1095-97). She also perceives that someone is "plotting" a "new and huge / stroke of atrocity... within the house" (1100-2; [phrase omitted]), although she cannot see its author or executor yet. (41) With an effect of suspense, the agent (that is, the subject of the repeated [phrase omitted]) is revealed as the vision unfolds, and only at the end will this turn out to be Clytemnestra: "[phrase omitted] (1107-9; So [a] cruel [woman] then, that you can do this thing? / The husband of your own bed /to bathe bright with water). The murderer unveiled, there is still time for the crime to be stopped, but the Elders do not intervene. Cassandra's vision proceeds, guiding her, and the audience, into the palace. Now the action begins to draw toward a rapid conclusion, which she perceives as imminent (1109-11). Fraenkel has convincingly argued that, regarding "the arrangement, and consequently... the very spirit, of this scene," in "Cassandra's visions the doings of Clytemnestra are revealed in successive stages, and... each stage is kept strictly separate from the next:" (42) Clytemnestra attending Agamemnon in the bath (1108-9), Clytemnestra's hands upon her husband's body (1110-11), the net (1115) and the mantle that will imprison him (1126), and finally Clytemnestra's stroke and Agamemnon's death (1128). The Chorus resist her; for the time being, "necessity" wants it so. The vision over (1128), the audience know what will soon occur. They will not be surprised at Cassandra's later comment on her own destiny, which she understands to be the same as Agamemnon's by logical inference, not because of a vision, this time. When at 1343 the Chorus, again alone in front of the door of the palace, hear Agamemnon's cries, the temporal gap will be filled in, the scene will become one and entire, and the door will soon open. Their later attack against Clytemnestra and Aegisthus after the publicly disclosed murder will finally see them active. Now the political context is clear and this legitimates them to denounce the deed as a prelude to tyranny against the city:
[phrase omitted]

(1354-55; Anyone can see it, by these first steps they have taken,
they purpose to be tyrants here upon our city)

But before then, the assassination of Cassandra too must be consummated.

The Door Opens

At 1372, while the Chorus are still in front of the palace and uncertain about how to act, Clytemnestra appears onstage next to the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Not called upon to produce a self-defense, she invites the Chorus to behold them, final testimonies of the concealed and unspoken of crime so far presented only through Cassandra's vision, and she audaciously avows no shame for lying to her husband (1372-73). In the course of her apology, she relates the final stage of the homicide, confirming Cassandra's details of the net and the luxurious garment she has used to impede her husband's movements (1382-83). She narrates the action with vindictive relish, describing the two strokes dealt upon him and his cries heard by the Chorus and the audience at 1343 and 1345; then she adds the detail of a third stroke with which she cruelly raged upon the dead body (1384-86)--this one unknown to the audience. This is the first time that the veil is lifted, but significantly what we see are the bodies only, and what we hear is a narrative conducted from the murderer's point of view, while the action remains dislocated to an invisible elsewhere.

Not having interfered with Dike and moira, the Chorus may finally speak up, and in their subsequent melodramatic exchange with the Queen (1407-1576) they eventually take a position, accusing her of temerity and outspokenness. In this passage Clytemnestra justifies her action on the basis of a strong interpretation of justice as both "[phrase omitted]," i.e. "customary law," and "[phrase omitted]," i.e. "right" but also "punishment" for Iphigenia's sacrifice. The same argument will be used by Aegisthus at 1577ff. with regard to the slaughter of his stepbrothers. In either case, Justice concerns intrafamily torts. The Chorus, instead, offer a broader perspective, shifting the attention to metahistorical and political issues: metahistorical, because by mentioning Helen's responsibility of many deaths, including Agamemnon's (1454-62), they downplay the King's own and, in so doing, gain the Queen's disapproval (1464-67); political, because they talk publicly of the lot of the "house," that is, of the race and the realm overturned by Discord (1461; Eris: [phrase omitted]) sent by Zeus. They will again claim to feel anxious about the house at 1533, where they will significantly use the word [phrase omitted], a verb cognate of [phrase omitted] which, as in the third stasimon, suggests an indefinite anxiety for future disgraces. Interestingly, they do not show concern about the Queen, but about the ruling house and, therefore, the polis.

In this regard, the Chorus's resistance to calling the murder by its name ([phrase omitted]) becomes significant when set against the moment they finally dismiss reticence and the homicide becomes the focus of their public talk. This is a complex passage betraying a continuous shift of perspectives. They first call it (lit.) an "event" ([phrase omitted]), (lit.) "dripping blood" ([phrase omitted]), "driv[ing] the fury within [Clytemnestra's] brain" (1427; ([phrase omitted]). Significantly, they do not foreground so much the act as the Queens own role and state of mind. As Fraenkel noted about 1427, " [a]lthough the Elders in these stanzas use very utspoken language, they refer to Clytemnestra's deed by the euphemistic [phrase omitted]." (43) In turn, she replies that she feels safe since she relies upon Aegisthus at her side to dispel future fears (1434-37). The Chorus will employ the term "murder" only at 1505-6, when, in response to the Queen's question--"Can you claim I have done this (1497; [phrase omitted]; lit., this deed)?"--they will reply: "[phrase omitted];" (1505-6; What man shall testify / your hands are clean [lit., that you are not-culpable] of this murder?). The Chorus are clearly accusing her of the homicide by pronouncing for the first time the word phonos (murder), a word which instead recurred repeatedly in Cassandra's vision (1117, 1263, 1309). At this point they have already given up reticence and euphemism and visualize the execution of the murder without sparing details: first the instruments (the spider's web that caught him, 1492, 1516, and the double-edged weapon, 1496, 1520), then the place (the bath, 1539-40). Nonetheless, as if still uncertain about what position to take, they use different words for the murder. First, at 1409, they call it a "sacrifice" ([phrase omitted] ), (44) suggesting a ritualistic interpretation that will be confirmed in the following line by the use of verbs normally denoting the sacrifice of animals. (45) Even Clytemnestra's avowal "[phrase omitted]" at 1433 (lit., I slew this man for them [Wrath and Fury]) confirms it, suggesting that it is the ritual accomplishment of her vengeful intent. But then the Chorus focus on the way Agamemnon died, and define the event as "indecent" and "shameful," while also accusing Clytemnestra of both having "struck [him] prone" and of treason (1489-95, 1513-20). This change of perspective prepares their use of the word "homicide" (1506; [phrase omitted]) to accuse her of a crime which no longer appears to be contained within the context of a sacrificial rite.

It may be argued that too much self-confidence and lack of "([phrase omitted]" (1434) will cost Clytemnestra her own life, and that that fearlessness is in fact the other side of her deep fear--in Coephori she will soon begin worrying openly about her own safety. (46) However, not only is preoccupation entirely reasonable in such a predicament, but also, and especially, she proves to be able to handle it artfully:

* in order to prevent the consequences of her uxoricide she declares to be ready to give up the greater part of her patrimony (1574) so as to conclude a political transaction;

* from 1654 to the end she supports Aegisthus, urging him and the Chorus, the "dearest, dearest of all men," to avoid further violence (1654; [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted]; thus, she demonstrates her ability to compromise and negotiate, donning the garment of female peacemaker.

Both examples suggest that, with pragmatic and political insightfulness, Clytemnestra succeeds in remaining in full command of the situation, having in mind a precise political solution to dispel fears and cancel out vengeful stances.

Thus, at this point her denial of "[phrase omitted]" strongly contrasts with, and is highlighted by, the Chorus's fear of the "blood rain" that will "beat" on the house (1533-34; see above). Not looking into the future with an ill-foreboding mind, because with Aegisthus next to her she cherishes hopes of happiness in times to come (1434-37), she briskly retorts that this is none of the Chorus's business, and moves on to her own reasons for Agamemnon's death--his sacrifice of Iphigenia and adultery with Cassandra (1551-59). Thus, Clytemnestra confirms her "male" character which in the past had preserved her when she was enduring a "sad life" without Agamemnon and received news of his death (858-76). Even then, she had been lucid enough to sense the dynastic risks connected to a "revolution [promoted by] the clamorous people" (883; [phrase omitted]), and had acted consequently, entrusting the little Orestes to Strophius, father to Pilades (880-81). The need to cope with life without a man at her side had taught her how to neutralize threats and prevent bad luck.

This makes her much more political and subtly manipulative than her present partner, as he shows on his entrance at 1577. His first words are a self-defense (1577-611) beginning with his welcome to the day when the Justice violated by Atreus has finally been restored. He takes credit for the plot (1604), and, accused by the Chorus leader of lacking the courage to carry it out (1634-35), he provides a pragmatic explanation: "I was suspect, that had hated him so long" (1637; [phrase omitted]), so Clytemnestra did it. Thus, he "offers a further version of events in terms of bloody retribution for bloody crime." (47) This new version of the story is in contrast with what the Watchman had said in the prologue, denoting Aegisthus's wish to regain a manly role. Not surprisingly, Aegisthus's exchange with the Chorus leader is very harsh and points to a sense of disorder affecting even gender roles ("You, woman," [phrase omitted], is how the Chorus leader addresses him at 1625).

The final lines are an exchange between the new ruling couple and the Chorus leader in fast recitative, not followed by chanted anapaests, as in Choephori, or by sung stanzas, as at the end of Eumenides. This makes Agamemnon's ending look as if it were intentionally left suspended, in need of a formal accomplishment; as observed by Roger D. Dawe, "curious things happen at the end of Agamemnon." (48) First, from his entrance at 1577 until 1653 Aegisthus never addresses Clytemnestra nor uses deictic markers to indicate her, not even at 1636 where he evidently refers to her: "[phrase omitted]," (No, clearly the deception was the woman's part). Then, Aegisthus always speaks in the first person singular (except for the plural [phrase omitted] at 1653, probably majestic and immediately preceding the Queens intervention), also when dealing with issues which require diplomacy, such as his intention to use Agamemnon's patrimony to rule the polis (1638-39). After her chanted anapaests (1562-76), Clytemnestra keeps silent until 1654, when she invokes Aegisthus and the Elders; yet, she is not like Jocasta, who during the stichomythic exchange between the Corinthian Messenger and Oedipus in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex (988-1055) remains dumbfounded, "in a silence dominated by increasing horror." (49) Jocasta's silence is eloquent; that of Clytemnestra is incongruous. Differently from Jocasta in Oedipus Rex 1056-72, she will never refer to the previous dialogue between the two male characters. This is not the place to linger on Dawe's hypothesis about the inauthenticity of Ag. 1630-73. Instead, we should notice Clytemnestra's new, and in this context, dramaturgically prepared demonstration of political cleverness. Her display of fearlessness contrasts with her previous deep anxiety which had just pushed her to promise to "take some small / measure of [her] riches" in order to "swe[ep] from these halls / the murder, the sin, and the fury" (1574-76; [phrase omitted]). She is as clear-minded and resolute as Aegisthus is nervous and pretentious, showing how strongly she still holds the reins.

Staging the Taboo

Cassandra's vision and Clytemnestras memory frame the absent scene of murder in the liminal space between the inside and the outside in front of the palace, a threshold which Cassandra slowly approaches and then crosses twice: first in her vision and then, physically, the moment she enters the palace (1330), as she had been urged to by Clytemnestra (1035-68), but had not yet done. It is also the space where Clytemnestra eventually appears and exhibits the bodies after the homicide. At that point Clytemnestra calls the murder a work (ergon) carried out by her own hand. That "work" can now be looked upon by the Chorus and the audience alike. Her use of the word ergon after the Chorus at 1346 has a significantly different function: it is not dictated by reticence but by her wish to neutralize the taboo on the king's murder by dislocating meaning to the level of the ordinary language of "craftsmanship":
[phrase omitted]

(1404-6; Cl.:... That man is Agamemnon,
my husband; he is dead; the work of this right hand
that struck in strength of righteousness. And that is that.)

And yet, this neutralization also retains something of the unspeakability of the taboo, at least as far as its semantic indeterminacy is concerned, although what prevails is Clytemnestras matter-of-fact attitude.

Clytemnestras appearance onstage, erect over Agamemnon's and Cassandra's bodies as proofs of the "work done," her denial of fear (1434), and the Chorus's finally reproachful attitude toward her become significant precisely in relation to Cassandra's precognition and the way if unfolds narratively. As we have seen, Cassandra does not offer an instantaneous view of Agamemnon's homicide, but unveils it progressively in space and time. The inside of the house is shown neither through stagecraft and machines (such as ekkyklema, the wheeled platform that rolled out through a skene) nor through the account of an exangelos, but remains hidden from the audience as well as of the Chorus in the orchestra, in full respect of the convention that forbade the diffusion of miasma following the exhibition of a bloody deed. And yet, that convention is also challenged by Cassandra's dramatized vision showing the events as present to her mind, in temporal succession and in their spatial location, with an "insistent use of the demonstrative pronoun/adjective endowed with deictic function, so that everything is located in space and occurs in front of her eyes." (50) The Chorus respond to this suffered and sympathetic narration with a resistant counter-discourse, contrasting with their own "prophetic" sensibility they had reticently shown in the third stasimon. They acknowledge her not only as a "seer" ([phrase omitted]) but also as a prophetis, that is, "interpreter" of the knowledge which only the gods have. As Fraenkel has pointed out, prophetes "does not primarily denote one who 'prophesises', i.e. foretells future events. The word, akin to [phrase omitted] (edicere) and the like... means literally 'pronouncer'" (497). At this point, however, they are focused upon a different issue: while not contesting her mantic and prophetic reliability, they object to its usability. The Chorus leader wants to know neither the future nor its prophetic interpretation, showing a political frame of mind attuned to the Chorus's intentional disengagement:
[phrase omitted]

(1098-99; Chorus leader. We had been told before of this prophetic fame
of yours: we want no prophets in this place at all.)

In the name of his fellow citizens and choreutai too, (51) he also refuses to live again the past crimes which Argos has witnessed. There comes a time, though, when the Chorus can no longer deny the "work," and that is when they hear Agamemnon's cries and, the vision over, temporality is recomposed, while space is once again divided into an outside and an inside. Their first reaction is a brief and worried, but hardly sympathetic, recitative piece pronounced by the Chorus leader, soon followed by a sort of deliberative dialogue between the members of the Chorus on how to prevent the escalation of tyranny:
[phrase omitted]

(1346-55; Chorus leader: How the king cried out aloud to us! I believe
the thing is done.
Come, let us put our heads together, try to find some safe way out.
Act now. This is the perilous and instant time.
Anyone can see it, by these first steps they have taken,
they purpose to be tyrants here upon our city.)

In spite of basically sharing Electra's and Orestes's design of revenge, in both Sophocles (52) and Euripides (53) the Chorus respond emotionally to the bloody work. The "bloodlettings" ([phrase omitted]; cf. Ch. 931-32) and the "twofold / downfall" causing "sorrow" will be mentioned, with reference to the murder of the two usurpers, by the Chorus of Servants in Choephori precisely while Clytemnestra is being killed (930; [phrase omitted]). In Agamemnon, instead, the Chorus simply record the accomplishment of the "work" (1346; ergon), using this word before Clytemnestra does at 1406, in order to neutralize euphemistically, through a generic action word, the pathetic import of Cassandra's vision at 1072-128, and, retrospectively, of their own allusion to the "lyreless dirge of the Erinys" (991; translation by E. Fraenkel) in the third stasimon. This neutralization is in fact key to understanding their sudden change of attitude toward the murder, which they initially covered through reticence and then refused to "see" by resisting Cassandra. Now that "work" is what they expected that should happen; it is an event loaded with a taboo, but it is also what remains of that event after the taboo has been lifted by the performance of the forbidden action, something that has become an accomplished fact. The linguistic and imaginative contrast with Cassandra who prefigures, and presuffers, its various stages, challenging the convention of the offstage action dictated by miasma, could not be stronger. The Chorus refrain from all challenge both before Cassandra's vision in the third stasimon, and after it, when they deny its utility, thus at one level preserving the taboo quality of the "invisible scene." The reticent censors of the adulterous couple before the uxoricide and the coup d'etat, the Chorus, however, exert an impossible censorship upon Cassandra's vision; impossible because at another level that scene is shared by the audience. Thus, we are presented with, on the one hand, Cassandra's challenge of the miasma convention, and, on the other, the Chorus's containment function upon her, and finally with Clytemnestra's verification of Cassandra's vision, exhibition of the bodies, and disclaimer of fear and of the interdiction on the king's murder. In this context, the Chorus's progressive discursive transformation from reticence to euphemism to their final open attack against the "tyrants" and accusation of Clytemnestra mark the various phases of a radical interrogation of the origin itself of that taboo in the city's moral principle they embody in the face of a possibly different moral order: the one put forward by the tyrants in the name of Dike (Justice) regarding intrafamily torts (1432, 1577).

Evidently, this is a very delicate question which Aeschylus staged through an elaborate dramatic and discursive mechanism suggesting several levels of interaction between interdiction and transgression. Leaving a scene unseen means complying with that interdiction; showing it vicariously, by dramatizing it in a "preventive vision," is not only a way to challenge the taboo on staging the cause of miasma; it also, and especially, affects the mechanics of interdiction which the Watchman and the Chorus--in a word, the Argive demos--display in the prologue and from their entrance in the orchestra until the killing of the king (1346), respectively. It affects that mechanics by changing reticence into self-censoring. Overtly forced into a role (moira) assigned to them by a superhuman power, the Elders of Argos at 1025-29 label "excess" ([phrase omitted]) even their temptation to reveal their oppressive dread. Consistently, they silence Cassandra's visionary report, at the same time silencing their own uneasiness. The accomplishment of the "work" at 1343 will qualify them for the "outrun speech" that they had previously denied. Yet they will not give vent to their own grief, but will exert their intrinsically political function as interpreters of the moral order and of the Law forbidding the killing of legitimate kings. Therefore, Cassandra's vision corresponds to the culminating moment in the Chorus's linguistic progress from reticence, to euphemism, finally to their open contestation of the nascent tyranny in the name of the polis. Supporters of political and juridical legitimacy, rather than loyal to their king, they offer the demos seated in the koilon an opportunity to scrutinize themselves. The final confrontation between two different conceptions of Justice and the truncated ending of the play are the outcome of a radical questioning which could not be concluded there. (54)


University of Verona


(1) At 711, I provisionally follow the text of the manuscripts; the translation is mine. I would like to thank Silvia Bigliazzi for her many precious suggestions and for discussing with me the stagecraft implications of Cassandra's prophetical "vision."

(2) Simon Goldhill, Reading Greek Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 3. As regards Greek lexicon, I will repeatedly refer to Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry Stuart Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), henceforth abbreviated as LSJ. Unless otherwise noted, the Greek text of Aeschylus's Oresteia is based on Aeschylus, Aeschyli septem quae supersunt tragoediae, ed. Denys Page (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972) and all translations are from Richmond Lattimore, trans., Greek Tragedies, ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, 3rd ed., ed. Mark Griffith and Glenn W. Most (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013), vol. 2: Aeschylus II. My variants are indicated within square brackets and/or preceded by (lit.).

(3) Significantly, Jacqueline de Romilly titles "De l'inquietude a l'epouvante" the Avant-propos in her La crainte et l'angoisse dans le theatre d'Eschyle (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2011), 9-10; in the course of her study, she extensively deals with the different nuances of the vocabulary of fear.

(4) Robert Parker, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 13-16, 316-17; Dorothea Zeppezauer, Buhnenmord und Botenbericht. Zur Darstellung des Schrecklichen in der griechischen Tragodie (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), 6-13.

(3) Suffice it to refer to Goldhill, Reading Greek Tragedy, 3: "The extreme physical violence and destructiveness of the ancient myths are usually described by such devices as messenger speeches rather than depicted in explicit staging;" see also Guido Avezzu, "'It is not a small thing to defeat a king': The Servant/Messenger's Tale in Euripides' Electra," Skene 2, no. 2 (2016): 63-86; Zeppezauer, Buhnenmord und Botenbericht, 57-80 on Aeschylus's Agamemnon.

(6) The obvious reference is to Horace, Arspoetica 185: "ne pueros coram populo Medea trucidet;" D.R. Shackleton Bailey, ed., Q. Horati Flacci Opera (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2001).

(7) The Sophistic school of the fifth and fourth centuries BC resorts to this simile [phrase omitted] to signify the translation of a communicative code into another: Alcidamas, a disciple of Gorgias's, uses it to denote the "written speeches" that in some way record those orally delivered in court; Alcidamas, De sophistis 32: Guido Avezzu, ed., Alcidamante: Orazioni e frammenti (Roma: L'Erma di Bretschneider, 1982), 20-21.

(8) Eduard Fraenkel, ed., Aeschylus: Agamemnon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), 778-79n1645.

(9) Where Aegisthus orders the guard to watch out for a sign from the sea (Od. 4.524-27), a task that he carries out for a whole year, as in Agamemnon 1-2.

(10) See Malcolm Davies and Patrick J. Finglass, eds., Stesichorus: The Poems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), frs. 171-81b and p. 490. Yet, in spite of the "prominence of women" in the poem, and of the "powerful... justification" Iphigenia's sacrifice "constituted... for Clytemnestra's wrath against her husband," the fragments of Stesichorus's Oresteia do not provide indisputable elements that anticipate Aeschylus's plot as regards the ideation of the snare. As a matter of fact, Pindar's Pythian 11, probably written in 474 (sixteen years before Aeschylus's Oresteia), seems to put on a par Iphigenia's sacrifice and Aegisthus's seduction of Clytemnestra (in the latter following Odyssey), as both causes of the uxoricide; see Pindar: Pythian Eleven, ed. Patrick J. Finglass (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 11-19, 94, 98.

(11) Testified to, for example, by Aeschylus's previous plays: Persians (performed in 472) 249ff., Seven against Thebes (467) 39ff., Suppliant Women (463) 872ff.

(12) Simon Goldhill, Language, Sexuality, Narrative: The Oresteia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 9.

(13) Oliver Taplin, The Stagecraft of Aeschylus: The Dramatic Use of Exits and Entrances in Greek Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 277n2. See also Eric Nicholson, "Who Watches the Watchmen, Especially When They're on Edge? Liminal Spectatorship in Agamemnon and Macbeth" in this same issue of Comparative Drama.

(14) Oddone Longo, "Il messaggio nel fuoco. Approcci semiologici all'Agamennone di Eschilo (vv. 280-316)," Bollettino dell'Istituto di Filologia Greca 3 (1976): 121-38.

(15) It is unlikely that he is only worried about missing the fire signal, as hypothesized by Romilly, La crainte el langoisse, 13n4; 10-11 (his allusion to Clytemnestra as contravening gender conventions), 18-19 (singing is said to be his "medicine against sleep," 16, but his song is a lament for the royal house), and 36-39 ("[t]he rest I leave to silence," etc.) clearly hint at a deeper concern.

(16) Like the one Cassandra shows to be feeling at 1306, and like the expectancy of fear (1434; [phrase omitted]) Clytemnestra avows to having felt while Agamemnon was alive; see Romilly, La crainte et langoisse, 17, 16, 42.

(17) At 32, I prefer to translate "[phrase omitted]" as "masters" instead of Lattimore's "lord's": here the plural does not allude to Agamemnon only, as the Herald will do at 549 by "[phrase omitted]" (lit., "when the kings were away," clearly hinting at his king), but either to Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, or to Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. As noticed by Arthur Platt, The Agamemnon of Aeschylus (London: G. Richards, 1911), cited by Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 10n, "[t]his phrase is designedly ambiguous; the Watchman means the success of Agamemnon, but the words may also mean the success of the plot of Clytemnestra." As in Od. 4.527, he was rewarded by his master with two talents of gold, here he expects from Clytemnestra a ready reward (this is what he means by "[my] tripled sixes" in the dice-cast).

(18) Like the Pythian Priestess in Eumenides; see Martin L. West, Studies in Aeschylus (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1990), 7.

(19) "[phrase omitted]" (LS): both "care, thought, solicitude" and their object) recurs here and at 460. While Lattimore here translates it as "perplexity" and at 460 as "terror," Fraenkel, Aeschylus, more consistently renders the two occurrences as "anxiety" and "anxious thought," respectively.

(20) The text of 103 is uncertain, and therefore the translation is approximate.

(21) At 251-52, I follow Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 142-43: here "[phrase omitted]" is closely connected with "[phrase omitted]" (LSJ; "grieve beforehand") and does not mean "far be it from me!" as suggested by LSJ. This is another instance of the Elders' deliberate obscurity: "Aeschylus uses [a long ago crystallyzed formula of greeting] in order to bring out how the Chorus even from a harmless and as it were neutral use of it are plunged back again at once into their sombre expectations." Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 142-43.

(22) Similar uovo- composita never mean "doing only one thing," as assumed by the "single-hearted" reading, but "single in doing or in being;" see "[phrase omitted]" (LSJ; "single in one's opinion") at 757; "[phrase omitted]" (Lattimore; I hold my own / mind).

(23) Walter G. Headlam, trans., Agamemnon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), 190; see also Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 144-45.

(24) The ancient commentators, followed by some modern ones--John D. Denniston and Denys Page, eds., Agamemnon, by Aeschylus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 93--understood the Chorus to refer to themselves; but since the spatial meaning of [phrase omitted] (here) can hardly be applicable to them, they interpreted it as meaning "of the same community," i.e., Peloponnesian, or Argive. Yet [phrase omitted] is even more crucial: it is highly unlikely that the Chorus claim their power to achieve prosperity, as they would wish to, since they can only wait for a "future / [they] shall know |only] when it has come." Lattimore, Greek Tragedies, 251-52.

(25) Denniston and Page, Agamemnon, 93.

(26) On Agamemnon's arrival, the Elders will address him (785; "How shall 1 hail you?") with the same verb ([phrase omitted]) signifying "worship" and "honor," but also "credit," as at 274. By the akin verb [phrase omitted] Agamemnon at 833 will simply mean "respect" between humans. Therefore, although the question remains debatable, I am not inclined to consider [phrase omitted] here as an expression of subjection to a tyrant or to an oriental sovereign, following Anton Bierl, "Klytaimestra Tyrannos: Fear and Tyranny in Aeschylus's Oresteia (with a Brief Comparison with Macbeth)" in "The Tyrant's Fear: Part I," ed. Silvia Bigliazzi, special issue, Comparative Drama 51, no. 4 (2017): 528-63 (533-34). See also John Conington, ed., The Choephoroe of Aeschylus (London: Parker & Son, 1857), 58, and Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 145.

(27) Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 308.

(28) My translation. Here is Lattimore's translation: "Thus has she spoken to you, and well you understand, / words that impress interpreters whose thought is clear." For the Greek text (also for the comma after [phrase omitted]), here I follow Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 307-10, and Martin L. West, ed., Aeschylus: Tragoediae (Stutgart: Teubner, 1990), and read [phrase omitted] not as meaning "specious" (LSJ, IA.3) but "seemly" (LSJ, IA. 1), giving this adjective an ambiguity "which the audience was at liberty to understand" (Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 309). On these two lines see also Pierre Judet de La Combe, L'Agamemnon d'Eschyle. Commentaire des dialogues (Lille: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2001), 243; Eschyle, Agamemnon, traduit et commente par Pierre Judet de La Combe (Paris: Bayard, 2004), 53; and Stefan Srebrny, Wort und Gedanke bei Aischylos (Wroclaw: Ossolineum, 1964), 54.

(29) Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 309, where he properly quotes the Watchman's last words (37-39).

(30) My translation within square brackets; Lattimore translates "fear."

(31) At 846-50, after mention of the assembly, Agamemnon does not hesitate to announce extreme measures: "[phrase omitted]" (We shall see what element / is strong, and plan that it shall keep its virtue still. / But that which must be healed--we shall use medicine, / or burn, or amputate, with kind intention [lit., reasonably; see Ch. 88), take / all means at hand that might beat down corruption's pain.)

(32) Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 463-66; Denniston and Page, Agamemnon, 159.

(33) Lattimore's translation of 1025-28 (Had the gods not so ordained / that fate should stand against fate / to check any man's excess) is, in my opinion, not sufficiently clear. I follow Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 463-64, and prefer to construe "[phrase omitted]" with "[phrase omitted]" (getting more from the gods), and not with "[phrase omitted]" (the lot established by the gods). As observed by Fraenkel, "the juxtaposition of uolpa [phrase omitted] makes use of different shades of meaning of the word." It is worthwhile remembering that Denniston and Page, Agamemnon, 159, whilst construing "[phrase omitted]" with "[phrase omitted]", translated "and had not, by divine decree, one appointed lot prevented another from getting more than its share."

(34) Taplin, The Stagecraft of Aeschylus, 316.

(35) Ibid., 317, where Taplin underlines that the sole exception is Aegisthus's murder at the end of Sophocles's Electra.

(36) Ibid., 356-57.

(37) Ibid., 317.

(38) More precisely, this amoibaion is initially based upon an inversion of roles: Cassandra's part is sung and the Chorus leader replies in recitative until 1118 (see Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 487-88); from that point onward, until 1155, the Chorus's answers are partly in recitative--when in the leader's voice--and partly sung; at the end of it (1156-77), both Cassandra and the Chorus sing, and this equal shift to the lyrical indicates an emotional investment indirectly making the Elders' position uncertain: politically disengaged to the point of denying the utility of the vision, as will soon be seen, but emotionally involved.

(39) A conical pillar (Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 491-92) and/or a statue or an altar of Apollo are placed in front of the palace of the Atreidae also in Sophocles's Electra 634-35; see Patrick J. Finglass, ed., Sophocles: Electra (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 287.

(40) At 1095, 1096, 1101-02, 1107, 1114-15, respectively. These passages are discussed by Sabina Mazzoldi, Cassandra, la vergine e l'indovina (Pisa--Roma: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 2001), 164-93.

(41) Lattimore's translation of 1100 ("what can she purpose now?") inappropriately anticipates Cassandra's vision of the Queen; see Fraenkel's remarks in Aeschylus, 498.

(42) Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 501.

(43) Ibid., 671. He significantly translates "[phrase omitted]" (1427) as "the blood-dripping thing that has come to pass" (my emphasis).

(44) Lattimore translates "such brutality," but [phrase omitted], means "burnt sacrifice" (LSI), where animals are slaughtered as offerings; see Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 663-65.

(45) "[phrase omitted]," (You have cast away, you have cut away), with no suggestion of a definite object, as Fraenkel again notes: Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 665. However, pace Fraenkel, it is clear that reference is to Agamemnon.

(46) The Chorus's allusion to Clytemnestra's nightmare (33-41) will mention an "[phrase omitted]" (34-35; a voice of fear deep in the house), while Electra will describe her mother as "[phrase omitted]" (524-25; shaken in the night / by floating terrors).

(47) Goldhill, Reading Greek Tragedy, 38.

(48) R. D. D., "Pseudo-Aeschylus: Agamemnon 1630-73; Eumenides 24-26," Lexis 22 (2004): 117-27(117).

(49) Oddone Longo, ed., Sofocle: Edipo Re (Venice: Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 2007), 259, translation mine. Reference to the Greek text is to Hugh Lloyd-Jones and Nigel G. Wilson, ed., Sophoclis fabulae (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).

(50) Mazzoldi, Cassandra, 187, translation mine.

(51) Fraenkel, Aeschylus, 498, underlines here the use of first person plural: "Elsewhere in this scene the Chorus speaks of itself almost throughout in the singular."

(52) Sophocles's Electra, 1407 ([phrase omitted]) and 1413 (to [phrase omitted]): "I heard a cry dreadful to hear, that made me shudder!"; "O city, O unhappy race." Hugh Lloyd-Jones, ed. and trans., Sophocles: Ajax, Electra, Oedipus Tyrannus (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994).

(53) Euripides's Electra, 1168: "[phrase omitted]" (I too cry for her as her children overpower her). Martin Cropp, ed., Euripides: Electra, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxbow, 2013).

(54) See Enrico Corti, "Dalla paura tragica alla Concordia politica nel teatro di Eschilo," Dioniso, n.s.,4(2014): 19-39.

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Author:Avezzu, Guido
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Date:Mar 22, 2018
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