Saturday, May 16, 2020

The manner of Apollonian Justice - a brief digression

The contrasts between Athena and Clytemnestra and between Apollo and Athena are significant in the Oresteia. Before continuing with the Eumenides' scene of Persuasion involving the Furies and Athena, a minor digression is necessary. I hope its relevance will become clear shortly.

The kommos of the Libation Bearers begins:

You mighty Fates, through the power of Zeus grant fulfilment in the way to which Justice now turns. “For a word of hate let a word of hate be said,” [310] Justice cries out as she exacts the debt, “and for a murderous stroke let a murderous stroke be paid.” “Let it be done to him as he does,” says the age-old wisdom.

The chorus here are the dmoiai, the women servants, war booty, who work in the house of Clytemnestra, but are entirely sympathetic to the plight and cause of Orestes and Electra.

The sonorous power of the kommos sung by the servant women is unmistakable -- they seem filled with the voices of chthonic powers. Indeed a recent study of the trilogy suggests that Aeschylus wants us to experience the frisson of an uncanny doubleness here -- the dancing women voicing these words anticipate the vocal and dancing energy of the Erinyes who only come into full view in the Eumenides.*

Enslaved in war

In all events it is abundantly evident where this "age-old wisdom" (neither sophia nor phronesis but τριγέρων μῦθος, "thrice aged tale") comes from in the Libation Bearers. Immediately preceding the kommos, Orestes has been telling Electra and the chorus what he had learned from Apollo. The chorus tries to silence him:

O children, O saviors of your father's hearth, speak not so loud, dear children, in case someone should overhear [265] and report all this to our masters merely for the sake of rumor (γλώσσης). May I some day see them dead in the ooze of flaming pitch!

He must not speak so loud, lest someone for the sake of talking (γλώσσης χάριν) spill the beans to Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.
Orestes, however, begins to repeat Apollo's words, which he says were "loudly spoken" -- κἀξορθιάζων:


οὔτοι προδώσει Λοξίου μεγασθενὴς
270χρησμὸς κελεύων τόνδε κίνδυνον περᾶν,
κἀξορθιάζων πολλὰ καὶ δυσχειμέρους
ἄτας ὑφ᾽ ἧπαρ θερμὸν ἐξαυδώμενος,
εἰ μὴ μέτειμι τοῦ πατρὸς τοὺς αἰτίους:
τρόπον τὸν αὐτὸν ἀνταποκτεῖναι λέγων,
275ἀποχρημάτοισι ζημίαις ταυρούμενον:
αὐτὸν δ᾽ ἔφασκε τῇ φίλῃ ψυχῇ τάδε
τείσειν μ᾽ ἔχοντα πολλὰ δυστερπῆ κακά.
τὰ μὲν γὰρ ἐκ γῆς δυσφρόνων μηνίματα
βροτοῖς πιφαύσκων εἶπετὰς δ᾽ αἰνῶν νόσους,
280σαρκῶν ἐπαμβατῆρας ἀγρίαις γνάθοις
λειχῆνας ἐξέσθοντας ἀρχαίαν φύσιν:
Surely he will not abandon me, the mighty oracle of Loxias, who urged me to brave this peril to the end [270] and loudly proclaims calamities that chill the warmth of my heart, if I do not take vengeance on my father's murderers. He said that, enraged by the loss of my possessions, I should kill them in requital just as they killed. And he declared that otherwise [275] I should pay the debt myself with my own life, after many grievous sufferings. For he spoke revealing to mortals the wrath of malignant powers from underneath the earth, and telling of plagues: leprous ulcers that mount with fierce fangs on the flesh . . . [goes on for a while]

According to Smyth, the oracle told him: I should kill them in requital just as they killed.

Alan H. Sommerstein has a most interesting rendering:
. . . it (the oracle) spoke openly of catastrophes that will bring dire chill into my hot heart if I do not pursue those guilty of my father's death "in the same manner" -- meaning, kill them in revenge.
Given that Aeschylus was not equipped with quotation marks, the Greek words, τρόπον τὸν αὐτὸν ἀνταποκτεῖναι λέγων, appear to allow both possibilities. 

It is at least plausible to think that Orestes is in fact repeating the very words shouted to him by the god: "in the same manner" goes to the core of the act of vengeance Apollo has assigned the son of Agamemnon. That his oracle used those very words might seem more significant after the next post here, which is nearly ready.

The main point is that the code articulated by Apollo is the very one which drives the Furies, and is identical to what the dmoiai are about to sing in the kommos. 

To compare with Smyth's version above, here are the opening lines of the kommos per Sommerstein:
Now you mighty Fates, by the will of Zeus 
let things end in the way
 in which Justice is now in pursuit!
"For hostile words let hostile words
 be paid" -- so Justice 
cries out aloud, demanding what she is owed --
"and for a bloody stroke let the payment be 
a bloody stroke." For him who does, suffering -- 
that is what the old, old saying states. (306-314)

Both Smyth and Sommerstein render as quotations the words of Dike in the song of these servant women (Lattimore does not). Fascinating to consider Bakola's thought that the palace of Agamemnon is now under the "care" of the Furies themselves.

*"Seeing the invisible: Interior Spaces and Uncanny Erinyes in Aeschylus' Oresteia" in Kampakoglou, A. and Novokhatko, A. (eds.) (2017) Gaze, Vision and Visuality in Greek Literature, Berlin, 163-186, by Emanuella Bakola. 
[Note: While this possibility does not make a difference to my point here about Apollo, Bakola's wonderful argument should be required reading for anyone planning a stage production of the Oresteia.]

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