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Quotes

Quote #4

(Chorus): "And what messenger could reach here with that speed?"
(Clytemnestra): "Hephaestus! He sent a bright gleam of fire out from Ida; and beacon sent on to beacon here from the messenger-fire in relays, Ida to Hermes' crag on Lemnos; and Zeus' steep on Athos was third in taking up the great torch from the island. Rising high in its strength to cross the ocean's back, the journeying flare in pleasure [at least two lines missing] the pine-torch, passing on the message of its brilliant golden gleam like a sun to the watch-point on Macistus. The man there made no delay at all nor failed his part as messenger by carelessly letting sleep overcome him, and from far away the beacon-light signals to the watchmen at Messapion that it has reached Euripus' currents. They lit their flare in response and passed the message forward, kindling fire in a heap of ancient heather. Strong and not yet dimmed the flare leapt above Asopus' plain like the shining moon to Cithaeron's crag, and woke a further relay in sending on the fire. The watch did not refuse the light sent from so far, the fire they burned was more than had been ordered. Over the Gorgopian lake the light dashed down; as it reached the Wander-Goat Mountain it urged no delay in the orders for the fire; they send it on, their ungrudging zeal making a great beard of flame blaze upward, to cross also the foreland which looks down on the Saronic narrows, onward as it flamed; then it dashed down, then it came to the steep of Arachnae, the watch-point neighbouring our city; and then it dashes down to the roof-top here, of the Atreidae – this light which is a true grandchild of the fire on Ida." (280-311)

This is Aeschylus's equivalent of those famous passages of "begats" in the Bible. True, Aeschylus uses a variety of imagery during the main body of the speech, but he makes Clytemnestra drive the point home at the end by calling the light that the Watchman saw at the beginning of the play "a true grandchild of the fire on Ida." (By "grandchild" Aeschylus obviously means something more like "descendent," since many "generations" have been involved.) As with the previous examples, Aeschylus describes sequences in time and sequences of cause-and-effect in terms different generations; this echoes his play's overarching theme of cycles of revenge handed down from generation to generation of a single family.

Quote #5

(Herald): "So, as to Menelaus, first and above all you may look forward to his return; in fact if a ray of sun finds him alive and flourishing through the devices of a Zeus who is not yet willing to destroy his family-line utterly, there is some hope he will come home again. Now you have heard that much, know that you have heard the truth." (674-680)

Even though the Herald does not know what has happened to Menelaus, the play's original Greek audience would have known from Homer's Odyssey that he was OK. Thus, this passage points to one of the more mysterious issues in the play: if Agamemnon is punished by the gods because of the crime of his father Atreus, why does Menelaus get off scot free? After all, you'd think that, as Agamemnon's brother, Menelaus would be just as guilty of a crime he really had nothing to do with, right? But here's another, more basic question: supposing Zeus really is saving Menelaus for the reasons the Chorus suggests; what is it about a family-unit that makes it especially sad if all of its members die? Why is it so culturally important for this unit to survive? In thinking about this, you can draw on your own culture, what you know about the culture of the ancient Greeks, and the other references to family in Aeschylus's play.

Quote #6

(Chorus): "Long spoken among men, there exists an old saying
that a man's prosperity grown
fully great has offspring, not dying
childless; his line's good fortune
bears shoots of insatiable woe.
I differ from others, alone in my thinking:
it is the impious deed
which later on begets
more deeds that resemble their own parentage;
for to houses upright and just
fine children are destined forever." (750-762)

Here, the Chorus speaks in metaphorical terms about impious deeds begetting impious deeds; this reference to lines of cause-and-effect (or perhaps action-and-response) in generational terms sounds a lot like the quotations we looked at earlier in this section. Here, however, their words should also be interpreted literally: they are saying that rotten people give birth to children who are also rotten. Based on your reading of Aeschylus's play, why do you think this might be? Is it coincidence? Is it genetic? Is it because rotten people pass on rotten values to their offspring? Or is there a more supernatural cause; say, if a father dishonors the spirit of Justice, then she will abandon his house, thus depriving his children of the divine power they need to act justly? This is a pretty important issue in the play, and definitely worth thinking about.

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