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by Aeschylus

Agamemnon Fate and Free Will Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.

Quote #7

(Chorus): "Were not one man's status in life
set by heaven, preventing
another's from greater advance,
my heart would have anticipated
my tongue in pouring this out;
but now it grumbles
in the darkness, with my spirit grieving and not hopeful
ever of winding all to its end
effectively; my mind is ablaze." (1025-1033)

This passage, like so many in Aeschylus's play, is a little tricky to understand. The basic idea is that they would say something to warn Agamemnon that Clytemnestra isn't all she appears to be, but their low social status prevents them. But they go a little bit further: they also say that people's social status is determined by the gods, or, as they put it "set by heaven." So, they make a question of social status into a question of free will. Do you think that the Chorus really believes that its social position is determined from above, or are they just using that as an excuse for not doing anything?

Quote #8

(Cassandra): "And it's all the same if nothing of mine persuades you, of course: the future will come; and you will soon be at my side to pity and call me too true a prophet."
(Chorus): "I understood Thyestes' feast upon his children's flesh, and shuddered, and fear possesses me now I have heard things that truly are no images; but when I listen to the rest, I stumble and run off track."
(Cassandra): "I say that you will look upon the death of Agamemnon."
(Chorus): "Still your tongue, you wretched woman! Say nothing inauspicious!" (1239-1247)

Cassandra's opening words could be interpreted as implying that we don't have any free will. If so, they could be rephrased like this: "I'm going to try to persuade you, but even if I don't persuade you, it won't matter, because whatever is fated to happen will happen anyway." But do they have to be interpreted that way? After all, even if you do believe in free will, it still makes perfect sense to say "the future will come," right? Just being able to predict what will happen doesn't necessarily mean we don't have freedom, does it? It looks like Cassandra's words are actually ambiguous; we'll need more information from elsewhere in the play to figure out whether she believes in free will or not. The Chorus's words at the end are also ambiguous; when they tell her not to say anything "inauspicious" (unlucky), that implies some belief in free will (because they want her to choose not to say anything unlucky); but things are unlucky if they inspire the gods to meddle in human affairs. If the gods meddle in human affairs, doesn't that place a limit on humans' freedom to choose? This short exchange looks like another Aeschylean brain teaser.

Quote #9

(Chorus): "And so to this man here the blessed gods granted the taking of Priam's city,
and he has come home with the gods' honour;
but now if he is to pay for the blood of those before,
and by his death to ordain vengeance
for the dead in other deaths,
who of mortal men, when he hears this,
would boast of birth to a destiny without harm?" (1335-1341)

The Chorus speaks these words just before they hear the death-cries of Agamemnon from inside the palace. But clearly they have taken some of the hint from Cassandra's prophecy. Here, the Chorus's basic idea is "what goes around comes around." The gods let Agamemnon capture Troy (Priam is the king of Troy), but now the time is come for him to pay the price for "other deaths." But which deaths are they talking about? It can't just be Iphigenia, or they would have said "death" not "deaths," right? So they must mean the deaths of the children of Thyestes, who were killed by Agamemnon's father, Atreus. But Agamemnon wasn't responsible for those deaths. What does the Chorus's statement here say about fate and free will? How do their words relate to one of Agamemnon's other main themes, that of "Justice and Judgment"?

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