Friday, April 05, 2019

The death of King Agamemnon

πολλῶν πάροιθεν καιρίως εἰρημένων 
τἀναντί᾽ εἰπεῖν οὐκ ἐπαισχυνθήσομαι.  

Much have I said before to serve my need 

and I shall feel no shame to contradict it now.  1372-73

These are the opening words spoken by Clytemnestra as the palace doors open, and the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra move forward so the entire arena of spectators in the theater can see what's happened.

Works spoken καιρίως -- "to serve my need" in Smyth's translation -- are the specialty of the rhetorician -- words twisted to the service of one particular moment and willed intent, then discarded as mere words.

ὡς μήτε φεύγειν μήτ᾽ ἀμύνεσθαι μόρον
ἄπειρον ἀμφίβληστρονὥσπερ ἰχθύων
περιστιχίζωπλοῦτον εἵματος κακόν

That he should not flee nor keep off the end, 

an endless net around as to fish
I threw round, fatal wealth garment.

Here I twisted Smyth's translation to track more faithfully Aeschylus's highly packed lines. Most translators "unpack" the sense to a more familiar order. Here's how Smyth actually put it:

Round him, as if to catch a haul of fish, I cast an impassable net—fatal wealth of robe—so that he should neither escape nor ward off doom

There's no claim here that mine is better. The more of Smyth I see, the more I appreciate his tenacity.

I've created a play on words that is not in the original - where mine says:

    . . . nor keep off the end, 
an endless net . . .

I wish it were there, because the word that I render as endless is apeiron, i.e., ἄπειρον -- the word used by the philosopher Anaximander to invoke the unbounded. The Infinite.*

A few lines earlier, Clytemnestra spoke of
the contest of an ancient feud, pondered by me of old,
οὐκ ἀφρόντιστος πάλαι νείκης παλαιᾶς ἦλθε  1377-78
Twice she uses πάλαι -- "ancient" -- the quarrel is ancient, as is, more literally, her "not unmindfulness" of it.

Clytemnestra weaves her much pondered words around the dead Agamemnon and his prophetess-slave. They are rich, dark, unbounded, like the deed she takes credit for. Indeed, she's so plain in her desire for all to know "I did this" that the contrast with her earlier veil of lies and misdirections can be unsettling. After what we just learned, how can we trust anything she says, including her proud "confession"?

I don't want to get into an endless debate about "did she or didn't she?" --- the point here is that by negating everything she's said up to now, and then coming straight out with unequivocal statements, Clytemnestra jolts us into an awareness, a distrust of predication that lingers even as she claims to speak the truth. This is fitting, that with the king lying dead before our eyes, the truth from now on comes wrapped in a rich, infinite garment from which there is no escape for fish or king.

No wonder the chorus wonders:
We are shocked at your tongue, how bold-mouthed you are,  
θαυμάζομέν σου γλῶσσανὡς θρασύστομος
If Cassandra is doomed to speak truth that will not be taken as true (as Simon Goldhill astutely notes), Clytemnestra's marvelous mouth, after ending the prophetess's speaking, cannot be disbelieved. In speaking, she undoes the possibility of speaking truth.

*ἄπειρος (B), ον, (πεῖραρπέρας)
A.boundless, infinite, “σκότος” Pi.Fr. 130.8; “τὸν ὑψοῦ τόνδ᾽ αἰθέρα” E.Fr.941ἤπειρον εἰς . ib.998; of number, countless,πλῆθος” Hdt.1.204; “ἀριθμὸς πλήθει” Pl.Prm.144a; “τὸπλῆθος” Id.R.525a, al.; “εἰς τὴν ἀδικίαν αὐξάνεινId.Lg.910b; “χρόνος .” OGI383.113 (i B.C.): Comp. “-ότερος Mete.17.15τὸ . the Infinite, as a first principle, Arist.Ph.203a3, etc.; esp. in the system of Anaximander, D.L.2.1, etc.; but τὰ ἄπειρα individuals, opp. τὰεἴδη, Arist.Top.109b14, cf. Metaph.999a27, al.; ἄπειρος, opp. πεπερασμένος, Ph.202b31εἰς ἰέναιπροϊέναιἥκειν, etc., APo.81b33Ph.209a25EN1113a2, etc.; [“γῆ] ἐπ᾽ ἄπειρονἐρριζωμένη” Str.1.1.20; also, indefinite, “ὕλη” Stoic.2.86.
2. in Trag., freq.of garments, etc., in which one is entangled past escape, i.e. without outlet,ἀμφίβληστρον” A.Ag.1382; “χιτών” S.Fr.526; “ὕφασμα” E.Or.25.
3. endless, i.e. circular, δακτύλιος a simple hoop-ring, = ἄλιθος (Poll. 7.179), Arist.Ph.207a2; cf. ἀπείρων (B) 1.3. Adv. -ρωςθρυφθῆναι into an infinite number of fragments, Id.Pr.899b16.