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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 #1

(Chorus): "Things are now as they are;
they will be fulfilled in what is fated;
neither burnt sacrifice nor libation
of offerings without fire
will soothe intense anger away." (67-71)

Well, of course "things are now as they are." Thanks, Chorus, way to blow our minds. Oh, wait, there's more here: sacrifices won't work. What's the connection between these ideas? The connection is the idea of Fate. Basically, when the Chorus says "things are now as they are," they mean that they are the way they were fated to be, and there is no way of changing that; no prayers to the gods will help. In this context, the Chorus is actually talking about the past; when they say "now," they mean, after the Greeks sailed off to fight the Trojans. Is what they say limited to that context, or does Aeschylus portray it as holding true at all times in the universe of his play?

Quote #2

(Chorus): "[Calchas] spoke,
interpreting the portent so: 'In time
our advance captures Priam's city,
and Fate before its walls will sack
its teeming herds of people, all of them there, in violence;
only let no jealousy from god
bring darkness on Troy's great bridle-bit
if that is stricken first, now it goes
on campaign! Pity makes holy Artemis
grudge her father's winged hounds
the wretched hare, unborn litter and all, their sacrifice;
she loathes the eagles' meal.'" (126-137)

Here, the Chorus repeats what Calchas, the Greek soothsayer, said after seeing two eagles ripping up a pregnant hare. He interpreted this as a sign from the gods that Agamemnon and Menelaus would successfully capture Troy. At the same time, however, Calchas is a bit uncertain about the future, and worried that the goddess Artemis will give them some trouble. He even wishes that the gods' jealousy won't harm them. If Calchas thinks that the expedition is driven along by Fate, what's the point of wishing that things will turn out OK? Can Fate be changed? To answer this question, you'll have to think about all the other descriptions of Fate in the play, and see what picture emerges from their sum total.

Quote #3

(Chorus): "[Agamemnon] spoke, declaring
'Fate will be heavy if I do not obey, heavy as well
if I hew my child, my house's own darling,
polluting her father's hands
with slaughter streaming from a maiden
at the altar: what is there without evil here?
How can I desert the fleet
and fail the alliance?
Why, this sacrifice to stop the wind,
a maiden's blood,
is their most passionate desire;
but Right forbids it. So may all be well!'" (205-217)

Here, it looks like Agamemnon faces a classic situation of "Damned if you do, damned if you don't." On the one hand, if he doesn't sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to secure good winds for the fleet, he will be letting everybody down. On the other hand, if he does sacrifice his daughter, then he will, you know…sacrifice his daughter. Agamemnon says that "Fate will be heavy" either way; is it fair to describe this as an issue of Fate? Does Agamemnon have a free choice in this matter?

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