Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Irresistible Athena meets Immovable Furies

Having so far suggested some reasons why Athena's scene with the Erinyes can be seen as the climactic peripeteia of the trilogy as a whole, let's take a closer look.  What exactly is it that Athena does to bring about a change -- whether in the nature of the Furies, or in their position within the greater oikos of the Cosmos? What are the implications of this turnaround for the future of the democratic polis?

A full fledged analysis of the scene's structure, rhetorical style, and theatrical features exceeds the limits of a blog post. I'll note a few moments that might clarify what Athena means by Persuasion by looking at how she models it in her approach to the Furies.

The goddess's main mode of persuasion doesn't depend on the skills of argument or rhetoric. With these ancient beings, what works for Athena isn't going to be the toolbox of tropes and tricks, nor the logic of the philosophers, nor the threats and menace of the autocratic bully, but something else. Something that we'll need to address after analyzing this peripeteia.

First, what is Athena's goal here? Apollo and she have created a framework that has restored Orestes to honor and his kingdom, as well as forging an alliance between Argos and Athens. Yet all remains tentative, suspended, so long as the daughters of Night refuse to accept the acquittal, the arguments, the court that handed it down, the civic power of the new judicial process, their own superfluousness with regard to this mother-killing man -- basically the negation of the sole reason they've ever known for their dark and lonely existence.

As Orestes takes his leave, they let Athena (and Apollo, who's already ducked out) have it:


ἰὼ θεοὶ νεώτεροιπαλαιοὺς νόμους
καθιππάσασθε κἀκ χερῶν εἵλεσθέ μου.
780ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἄτιμος  τάλαινα βαρύκοτος
ἐν γᾷ τᾷδεφεῦ,
ἰὸν ἰὸν ἀντιπενθῆ
μεθεῖσα καρδίαςσταλαγμὸν χθονὶ
ἄφορονἐκ δὲ τοῦ
785λειχὴν ἄφυλλοςἄτεκνος,
ἰὼ δίκαπέδον ἐπισύμενος
βροτοφθόρους κηλῖδας ἐν χώρᾳ βαλεῖ.
στενάζωτί ῥέξω;
γελῶμαι πολίταις.
790δύσοισθ᾽ ἅπαθον.
ἰὼ μεγάλα τοὶ κόραι δυστυχεῖς
Νυκτὸς ἀτιμοπενθεῖς.
Younger gods, you have ridden down the ancient laws and have taken them from my hands! And I—dishonored, unhappy, deeply angry— [780] on this land, alas, I will release venom from my heart, venom in return for my grief, drops that the land cannot endure. From it, a blight that destroys leaves, destroys children—a just return— [785] speeding over the plain, will cast infection on the land to ruin mortals. I groan aloud. What shall I do? I am mocked by the people. I have suffered unbearable treatment from the citizens. [790] Ah, cruel indeed are the wrongs of the daughters of Night, grieving and dishonored!

ἐμοὶ πίθεσθε μὴ βαρυστόνως φέρειν.
795οὐ γὰρ νενίκησθ᾽ἀλλ᾽ ἰσόψηφος δίκη
ἐξῆλθ᾽ ἀληθῶςοὐκ ἀτιμίᾳ σέθεν:
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ Διὸς γὰρ λαμπρὰ μαρτύρια παρῆν,
αὐτός θ᾽  χρήσας αὐτὸς ἦν  μαρτυρῶν,
ὡς ταῦτ᾽ Ὀρέστην δρῶντα μὴ βλάβας ἔχειν.
800ὑμεῖς δὲ μὴ θυμοῦσθε μηδὲ τῇδε γῇ
βαρὺν κότον σκήψητεμηδ᾽ ἀκαρπίαν
τεύξητ᾽ἀφεῖσαι †δαιμόνων σταλάγματα,
βρωτῆρας αἰχμὰς σπερμάτων ἀνημέρους.
ἐγὼ γὰρ ὑμῖν πανδίκως ὑπίσχομαι
805ἕδρας τε καὶ κευθμῶνας ἐνδίκου χθονὸς
λιπαροθρόνοισιν ἡμένας ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάραις
ἕξειν ὑπ᾽ ἀστῶν τῶνδε τιμαλφουμένας.
Be persuaded by me (ἐμοὶ πίθεσθε) not to bear it with heavy lament. For you have not been defeated; the trial resulted fairly in an equal vote, without disgrace to you; [795] but clear testimony from Zeus was present, and he himself who spoke the oracle himself gave witness that Orestes should not suffer harm for his deed. Do not be angry, do not hurl your heavy rage on this land, [800] or cause barrenness, letting loose drops whose savage spirit will devour the seed. For I promise you most sacredly that you will have a cavernous sanctuary in a righteous land (ἐνδίκου χθονὸς), [805] where you will sit on shining thrones at your hearths, worshiped with honor by my citizens here.

Athena's opening gambit is top notch. She first seeks to make them sensible that the court's judgment is not a disgrace; moreover the witness had the supreme ruler's authority. Instead of their shriveling up the land and the city, she can offer them an upgrade -- she gives her "all-Dike word" (πανδίκως ὑπίσχομαι) that they'll receive a spacious cavern with shining thrones and the honor of the citizens.

Such a reasonable offer - how could they not be mollified?
Younger gods, you have ridden down the ancient laws and have taken them from my hands! . . .
The Furies repeat verbatim exactly their words of just moments before. This is not a conversation or negotiation, but rather the reflex repetition of one who has no nuance, no seeming internal powers of attention, reflection and modulation. It's the negation of communication, of the very presence of Athena.

She tries again, more briefly:


οὐκ ἔστ᾽ ἄτιμοιμηδ᾽ ὑπερθύμως ἄγαν
825θεαὶ βροτῶν κτίσητε δύσκηλον χθόνα.
κἀγὼ πέποιθα Ζηνίκαὶ τί δεῖ λέγειν;
καὶ κλῇδας οἶδα δώματος μόνη θεῶν,
ἐν  κεραυνός ἐστιν ἐσφραγισμένος:
ἀλλ᾽ οὐδὲν αὐτοῦ δεῖσὺ δ᾽ εὐπιθὴς ἐμοὶ
830γλώσσης ματαίας μὴ 'κβάλῃς ἔπη χθονί,
καρπὸν φέροντα πάντα μὴ πράσσειν καλῶς
κοίμα κελαινοῦ κύματος πικρὸν μένος
ὡς σεμνότιμος καὶ ξυνοικήτωρ ἐμοί:
πολλῆς δὲ χώρας τῆσδ᾽ ἔτ᾽ ἀκροθίνια
835θύη πρὸ παίδων καὶ γαμηλίου τέλους
ἔχουσ᾽ ἐς αἰεὶ τόνδ᾽ ἐπαινέσεις λόγον.

You are not dishonored; so, although you are goddesses, do not, in excessive rage, blight past all cure a land of mortals. [825] I also rely on (πέποιθα) Zeus—what need is there to mention that?—and I alone of the gods know the keys to the house where his thunderbolt is sealed. But there is no need of that. So yield to my persuasion (εὐπιθὴς ἐμοὶ) and do not hurl the words of a reckless tongue against the land, [830] that all things bearing fruit will not prosper. Calm the black wave's bitter anger, since you will receive proud honors and will live with me. And when you have the first-fruits of this great land forever, offerings on behalf of children and of marriage rites, [835] you will praise my counsel.

ἐμὲ παθεῖν τάδεφεῦ,
ἐμὲ παλαιόφρονα κατά τε γᾶς οἰκεῖν,
φεῦἀτίετον μύσος.
840πνέω τοι μένος ἅπαντά τε κότον.
οἶ οἶ δᾶφεῦ.
τίς μ᾽ ὑποδύεταιτίς ὀδύνα πλευράς ;
θυμὸν ἄιεμᾶτερ
845Νύξἀπὸ γάρ με τι-
μᾶν δαναιᾶν θεῶν
δυσπάλαμοι παρ᾽ οὐδὲν ἦραν δόλοι.

One of the Erinyes 320 BC
For me to suffer this, alas! For me, with ancient wisdom (παλαιόφρονα), to live beneath the earth, alas, without honor, unclean! I am breathing fury and utter rage. [840] Oh, oh, the shame of it! What anguish steals into my breast! Hear my anger, mother Night; for the deceptions of the gods, hard to fight, have deprived me of my ancient honors, bringing me to nothing. [845]

Athena puts a bit more starch into her effort, alluding to the sensible provision of Zeus, who locks away his thunderbolts. She is intimating the fact of her access to ultimate power, but once again speaks of protecting, rather than harming the land. "Yield to me"  (εὐπιθὴς) is to "be persuaded" (πείθω). To be persuaded is to obey, and also to trust, to rely upon. Forms of πείθω are woven throughout.

The Furies respond by lamenting their lot, their loss of honor, shame, anguish and anger. All that they feel. They also assert their ancient wisdom, παλαιόφρονα. They're not to be toyed with.

Though some in the audience might have applauded had she done so (while others perhaps feared she would), Athena doesn't get out those keys and blast the Furies to Tartarus, Instead, she works with them.


ὀργὰς ξυνοίσω σοιγεραιτέρα γὰρ εἶ.
καὶ τῷ μὲν εἶ σὺ κάρτ᾽ ἐμοῦ σοφωτέρα:
850φρονεῖν δὲ κἀμοὶ Ζεὺς ἔδωκεν οὐ κακῶς.
ὑμεῖς δ᾽ ἐς ἀλλόφυλον ἐλθοῦσαι χθόνα
γῆς τῆσδ᾽ ἐρασθήσεσθεπρουννέπω τάδε.
οὑπιρρέων γὰρ τιμιώτερος χρόνος
ἔσται πολίταις τοῖσδεκαὶ σὺ τιμίαν
855ἕδραν ἔχουσα πρὸς δόμοις Ἐρεχθέως
τεύξῃ παρ᾽ ἀνδρῶν καὶ γυναικείων στόλων,
ὅσων παρ᾽ ἄλλων οὔποτ᾽ ἂν σχέθοις βροτῶν.
σὺ δ᾽ ἐν τόποισι τοῖς ἐμοῖσι μὴ βάλῃς
μήθ᾽ αἱματηρὰς θηγάναςσπλάγχνων βλάβας
860νέωνἀοίνοις ἐμμανεῖς θυμώμασιν,
μήτ᾽ἐξελοῦσ᾽ ὡς καρδίαν ἀλεκτόρων,
ἐν τοῖς ἐμοῖς ἀστοῖσιν ἱδρύσῃς Ἄρη
ἐμφύλιόν τε καὶ πρὸς ἀλλήλους θρασύν.
θυραῖος ἔστω πόλεμοςοὐ μόλις παρών,
865ἐν  τις ἔσται δεινὸς εὐκλείας ἔρως:
ἐνοικίου δ᾽ ὄρνιθος οὐ λέγω μάχην

I bear with your anger (ὀργὰς), for you are older, and in that respect you are surely wiser (σοφωτέρα) than I; yet Zeus has given me, too, no mean understanding (φρονεῖν). [850] But as for you, if you go to a foreign land, you will come to love this land—I forewarn you. For time, flowing on, will bring greater honor to these citizens. And you, having a seat of honor at the house of Erechtheus, [855] will obtain from hosts of men and women more than you could ever win from other mortals. So do not cast on my realm keen whetstones (incentives) to bloodshed, harmful to young hearts (σπλάγχνων), maddening them with a fury not of wine; [860] and do not, as if taking the heart out of fighting cocks, plant in my people the spirit of tribal war and boldness against each other. Let their war be with foreign enemies, and without stint for one in whom there will be a terrible passion for glory; [865] but I say there will be no battling of birds within the home. It is possible for you to choose such things from me: bestowing good, receiving good, well honored in this land that is most beloved to the gods.

When she says "I will endure your anger," Athena's word is ξυνοίσω. Smythe has "endure," Alan H. Sommerstein offers "I will be indulgent." But the word can convey something other than condescension with its root sense of "with + carry" -- it can mean gather together, bear with, but also to work with, or to agree, including to agree grammatically, as an adjective might agree with a noun in gender and number.
V. [select] Gramm., to be constructed withαἰτιατικῇ, etc., A.D.Synt.285.1, al.: also, agree in form with, “ςφωνῇ [τῇ] πρὸς τὰς δοτικάς” Id.Adv.209.28.
Athena seems to show no emotion; she's building on what they give her to work with. Then she manages something that I daresay would have tested Apollo beyond his powers:
. . . you are older, and in that respect you are surely wiser (σοφωτέρα) than I; yet Zeus has given me, too, no mean understanding (φρονεῖν).
Yes, she is talking with barking dogs who appear not to understand anything and can only repeat the same barking sounds. Yes, she is the highest form of φρονεῖν that exists, and here is granting these bloodslurping Furies pride of place as wiser than herself in their pride of time. And, she ignores their accusations of deceit.

Arresting, godlike restraint. By not (re)acting here, Athena opens a space. To creatures who only know to strike back, to chase and torment from pure, mission-sanctioned rage, this deference, this unexpected declining of the bait opens a path to fair speech -- in a manner other than sarcasm, mockery, denigration, tweetstorm, or worse.

That space opens the possibility for the Furies to see and be seen - both as the fearful Curses they are, and as the Good Things it is in their power to bring.

Ending with her figure of a bird-fight, the Goddess seems to bring the matter down to a folksy level -- nothing earth-shattering here, nothing we can't come to terms on.

To all of which, the Erinyes repeat their second lament:
For me to suffer this, alas! For me, with ancient wisdom . . .  
Aeschylus is here doing something that most playwrights wish to avoid. As a piece of stagecraft, having a character repeat a speech verbatim seems bold, even risky. Doing it twice could appear heavy handed. This is theater -- its action proceeds upon words, and here words hit a wall. It would be fascinating to find out how this effect was originally staged - did the Furies, while repeating the same words, use the same gestures? Or did they act differently, perform different motions, even as they emanate the same implacability?

Were audience members reaching for pomegranates to hurl at the dark ladies? The scene underscores an apparently insuperable obstacle to Athena's powers of Persuasion. We saw how shrill Clytemenstra and contemptuous Apollo, for all his knowledge, fell short -- is Wisdom as well unable to reach beyond its own frame?

Or is grappling with unreason precisely where wisdom can be seen in action?

This post has gone longer than intended. Pausing here.

No comments: