Sunday, May 17, 2020

"The whole fashion of your form"

Before the preceding digression, we were exploring the Eumenides' "Persuasion scene." Here comes another long post.

The Furies have repeated, i.e. quoted, their second statement, which ends,
for the deceptions of the gods, hard to fight, have deprived me of my ancient honors, bringing me to nothing. [880]
Athena responds:

οὔτοι καμοῦμαί σοι λέγουσα τἀγαθά,

I will never grow tired of telling you about these good things, so you will never be able to say that you, an ancient goddess, were cast out, dishonored and banished, from this land by me, a younger goddess, and by the mortal guardians of my city. But if you give holy reverence to Persuasion (Πειθοῦς), [885] the satisfaction and charm (μείλιγμα καὶ θελκτήριον) of my tongue, then you might remain. But if you are not willing (μὴ θέλεις) to stay, then surely it would be unjust (οὔ τἂν δικαίωςfor you to inflict on this city any wrath or rage or harm to the people. For it is possible (ἔξεστι) for you to have a share of the land (γαμόρῳ) justly (δικαίως), with full honors. [890]
Lady Athena, what place do you say I will have?
With this question about the ἕδραν - their promised seat or place, things begin to move in an entirely new direction. A couple of things to note:

Athena here frames the question in terms of speaking - I will never grow tired of telling you - you will never be able to say - if you give pure reverence to Persuasion, the satisfaction and charm (μείλιγμα καὶ θελκτήριονof my tongue . . .

For μείλιγμαI have modified Smyth's "sweetness" to "satisfaction" -- according to Liddell and Scott, the word suggests a kind of agreeableness, a giving satisfaction (whether through compensation or pleasure) with a secondary sense, curiously, involving tidbits that appease angry dogs. (Sommerstein: "the charm and enchantment of my tongue"; Lattimore: "the sweet beguilement of my voice")

μείλιγμα 1 μειλίσσω
I.anything that serves to sootheμειλίγματα θυμοῦ scraps to appease the hunger of dogs, Od.:—metaph., γλώσσης μείλιγμα pl. propitiations, atonements made to the dead, Lat. inferiaeid=Aesch.3.of a person, a fondling, darlingid=Aesch.II.a soothing songTheocr.

θελκτήριον often appears to involves speech -- words that charm:
θελκ-τήριος , ον,
A.enchanting,soothingμῦθοιλόγοιA.Eu.81E. Hipp.478ὄμματος θτόξευμα the eye's magic shaft, A.Supp.1004: c. gen., “φίλτρα θἔρωτος” E.Hipp.509μύθου μῦθος θ. speech that heals speech, A.Supp.447: in late Prose, θἀγωνίσματα, of poems, Agath. Praef.

In an excellent article* covering some of the same ground as this reading, Nicolas Rynearson notes that meiligma and thelkterion were associated with offerings used in hopes of softening or assuaging the anger of chthonic powers, adding that thelkterion includes the factor of charm. He suggests that the terms mark a new practice of propitiative offerings for the Athenians to use in their new relationship with the Furies. 

Athena will return to speak of Persuasion and her own absence of reaction at 970, but without speaking of offerings. She is speaking metalinguistically of Persuasion's keeping her eyes on her mouth and tongue:


             στέργω δ᾽ ὄμματα Πειθοῦς,
ὅτι μοι γλῶσσαν καὶ στόμ᾽ ἐπωπᾷ
πρὸς τάσδ᾽ ἀγρίως ἀπανηναμένας:

 I am grateful to Persuasion, [970] that her glance kept watch over my tongue and mouth, when I encountered their fierce refusal. 

And it is from the plane of speaking about speaking that Athena presents them with, on one hand, an option:
But if you are not willing (μὴ θέλεις) to stay
and on the other, an ultimatum, imposed by Dike:
then surely it would be unjust (οὔ τἂν δικαίωςfor you to inflict on this city any wrath or rage or harm to the people.

With their question, Lady Athena, what place do you say I will have? the Furies enter into a negotiation that entails the possibility of choice -- an exercise of will. If Clytemnestra scolded them for sleeping, Athena promises a place to rest.

Athena's action stands in even starker contrast to that of Apollo, who, bursting with moral repugnance castigates them as incorrigible monsters that he wishes to banish from his sight:

Let's listen to Loxias here:
Out, I order you! Go away from this house at once, leave my prophetic sanctuary . . . It is not right for you to approach this house; no, your place is where the punishments are beheading, gouging out of eyes, cutting of throats, and where young men's virility is ruined by destruction of seed; where there is mutilation and stoning, and where those who are impaled beneath their spine moan long and piteously. [190] Do you hear what sort of feast is your delight? You are detested by the gods for it. The whole fashion of your form sets it forth (πᾶς δ᾽ ὑφηγεῖται τρόπος μορφῆς). Creatures like you should live in the den of a blood-drinking lion, and not inflict pollution on all near you in this oracular shrine. [195] Be gone, you goats without a herdsman! No god loves such a flock.

Apollo condemns their gory modes of vengeance, and in particular the "feasting" or "festival" repugnant to the gods, and then connects his sense of who and what they are with their appearance:

Compare Smyth's rendering of these lines:
Do you hear what sort of feast (ἑορτῆςis your delight? You are detested by the gods for it. The whole fashion τρόπος of your form μορφῆς sets it forth (ὑφηγεῖται).
with Sommerstein:
Do you not hear what kind of festivity, detestable to the gods, you have a fondness for? The whole nature of your appearance indicates as much.
Both grapple with the relation of manner, fashion, or style, to appearance. How one comprehends the relation of these two things encompasses a great deal. For Apollo, this relation is straightforward -- there is only appearance, and the Furies' terrible faces properly express their nature.

But the speaker of oracles should know that in the study of signs, the relation of fashion to form opens significant questions about signification: about proper meaning and trope, logic and rhetoric, naming and figuration. How one understands the relation of form, μορφῆς, to fashion, τρόπος, the power of language to say one thing and mean something else -- the turn of trope -- introduces questions of interpretation that bear on the Eumenides' peripeteia of Persuasion.

Apollo, linked to light and form, is looking at the Furies and sees their whole being and destiny in how they appear. Curiously he asks the Furies if they "hear" about their own feasts -- as if their relation to their own actions is mediated by the speech of others.

In fact he's spot on: the Furies will soon make clear that such mediation is an inescapable part of their "nature." Apollo cannot know them firsthand, because the Fates have structured things such that the work of the Furies is unseen:


γιγνομέναισι λάχη τάδ᾽ ἐφ᾽ ἁμὶν ἐκράνθη:
350ἀθανάτων δ᾽ ἀπέχειν χέραςοὐδέ τις ἐστί
συνδαίτωρ μετάκοινος:
παλλεύκων δὲ πέπλων ἀπόμοιρος ἄκληρος ἐτύχθην

This office was ordained for us at birth; but the immortal gods must hold back their hands from us; there is not even anyone who feasts both with them and with us; [350] and I have neither lot nor portion of pure white ceremonial robes . . .

The bolded text is Sommerstein's translation. Not only do the gods not feast with the Furies, but Apollo has never feasted with anyone who has dined at their table.

This is the lot handed them by death-dealing Destiny, and they do it eagerly:


360σπεύδομεν αἵδ᾽ ἀφελεῖν τινὰ τάσδε μερίμνας,
θεῶν δ᾽ ἀτέλειαν ἐμαῖς μελέταις ἐπικραίνειν,
μηδ᾽ εἰς ἄγκρισιν ἐλθεῖν:
365Ζεὺς δ᾽ αἱμοσταγὲς ἀξιόμισον ἔθνος τόδε λέσχας
ἇς ἀπηξιώσατο.

We are eager to take these cares away from another, [360] and to establish for the gods exemption from my concerns, so that it will not come to trial (
ἄγκρισιν); for Zeus has considered us, a blood-dripping, hateful band, unworthy of his council. [365] 
           (Note: ἄγκρισιν seems to relate to general inquiry or even dispute, rather than a legal process.)

The daughters of Night have a job -- they alleviate the anxious mind by removing cares (μερίμναςthat the gods prefer not to deal with. They pursue, drain, and drive to Hades those who kill kin. Because they do this job they are unworthy to be seen by, let alone dine with, the gods. Their work is necessary -- functioning in a shrouded zone beneath daylight's intercourse and consciousness. Apollo finds them intolerable, yet in this light, neither their actions nor their "nature" is quite as plain as he thinks. And his tranquility owes itself in part to their exertions.

Roman copy of 4th c. BC
Greek Athena

Athena has a goal, a strategy of moving from a world beset by reactive ravening avengers to something far other. When the Furies are persuaded by her to live with the Athenian people, she has reached her goal:

                 . . .    πόλιν,
τὰν καὶ Ζεὺς  παγκρατὴς Ἄρης τε
φρούριον θεῶν νέμει,
920ῥυσίβωμον Ἑλλάνων ἄγαλμα δαιμόνων:
a city which she [Athena], with Zeus the omnipotent and Ares, holds as a fortress (φρούριονof the gods, the bright ornament that guards the altars of the gods of Hellas.   

Of course this lovely description is not spoken by Athena. Aeschylus surehandedly gives these words to the Erinyes.

By way of the fashioning of speech, Persuasion for Athena names the power of language to act in the world. To fashion from an existing thing something that retains the form, but bears new significance.

As we saw, Apollo would have Justice be the cliche, the very quotation of the crime it punishes“For a word of hate let a word of hate be said.”

Beyond presumptive finality of form and the mechanical stutter of repeated speech, Athena gives voice to a Dike, a Justice, whose comprehensive scope of past and future opens the present to beneficent changes and turns τρόπος:

μέγα κέρδος ὁρῶ τοῖσδε πολίταις
From these terrible faces [990] I see great profit for these citizens;
Athena invites the Erinyes, now Semnai Theai, to dwell beneath the Areopagus in Athens. And for the citizens to live there, they must adjust their ways of acting to the new fashion of the Furies. (Change in la parole ripples through la langue.)

τάσδε γὰρ εὔφρονας εὔφρονες αἰεὶ
always greatly honor with kindness the kindly ones.
The powers of Athens to guard (φρούριον) the altars of the gods resides in this active mutual regard between the "kindly ones" and her citizens (πολίταις) who, seeing those terrible faces, are minded to find the path of good speech.

Then can say, "Athens can be anywhere that acts like Athena"?

ἆρα φρονοῦσιν γλώσσης ἀγαθῆς
ὁδὸν εὑρίσκειν;
990 ἐκ τῶν φοβερῶν τῶνδε προσώπων
μέγα κέρδος ὁρῶ τοῖσδε πολίταις:
τάσδε γὰρ εὔφρονας εὔφρονες αἰεὶ           
μέγα τιμῶντες καὶ γῆν καὶ πόλιν
995 πρέψετε πάντως διάγοντες.     
Do they not then intend to find the path of good speech? From these terrible faces [990] I see great profit for these citizens; for, if you always greatly honor with kindness the kindly ones, you will surely be pre-eminent, keeping your land and city in the straight path of justice. [995]

*RYNEARSON, NICHOLAS. “Courting the Erinyes: Persuasion, Sacrifice, and Seduction in Aeschylus's ‘Eumenides.’” Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-2014), vol. 143, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1–22. JSTOR, Accessed 23 May 2020.

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