Agamemnon Lies and Deceit Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.
(Chorus): "Many among mankind hold appearances
in greater honour than reality once they transgress justice.
Everyone is ready to lament the unsuccessful,
but no distress bites deeply to his heart at all,
while men with the appearance of sharing others' joy
from forcing their unsmiling faces
[at least one line missing].
A good judge of his flock however
cannot fail to notice the eyes of a man
which seem out of loyal intention
to be fawning in watery friendship. (788-798)
The overall point of this speech by the Chorus is to convince Agamemnon that they are truly glad to see him. Basically, they're saying that lots of people pretend to be happy to see others, but that a truly good leader (like Agamemnon) will be able to tell who is really loyal and who isn't. But if Agamemnon were really as great as the Chorus says, wouldn't he be able to see through Clytemnestra, his wife? Is the Chorus being deliberately ironic here, or did they just slip up? Also, what do you think about the first two lines we have quoted here, where they say that unjust people care more about appearances than reality. Why do you think this might be so? (Or why might the Chorus think so?)
(Clytemnestra): "Those are the reasons why our son Orestes is not standing with us here as he should, the security of our pledges to each other; and do not wonder at this. He is being brought up by the kindness of your war-ally Strophius the Phocian; he warned me of disaster on two counts, both the dangers under Ilion to yourself and the popular clamour amid anarchy which might overthrow deliberation, and how it is natural to kick a man more who is down. Such a plea in excuse, I assure you, carries no deception." (877-886)
Here, Clytemnestra claims that she has sent Orestes away to keep him free from anxiety about his father, and prevent him from seeing how upset Clytemnestra is in Agamemnon's absence. Are these her real reasons for sending him away? What is it about her final statement that her "plea […] carries no deception" that makes it seems so suspicious? If it does seem suspicious, why do we doubt Clytemnestra here, but believe the Chorus (assuming we do believe the Chorus) in the previous quotation? What gives?
(Cassandra): "The ships' commander and overturner of Troy will meet with underhanded destruction, through evil fortune; he does not know the kind of bite behind the hateful bitch's tongue when it brightly laid back its ears and licked. Such is the male's female murderer in her audacity. What loathsome monster should I be accurate in calling her – an amphisbaena, or a Scylla living in the rocks, destruction for sailors, a hellish mother raging and breathing war without truce on her dearest? How she cried in triumph, in her total audacity, just as at a battle's turn! Yet she appears to rejoice at the safe homecoming." (1227-1238)
These words by Cassandra emphasize the role that deception plays in Clytemnestra's coming murder of Agamemnon. In case you're wondering about the creatures Cassandra mentions, Scylla was a horrible six-headed sea monster who preyed on sailors in the Strait of Messina (between Italy and Sicily); you can read about her here. As for an amphisbaena, that's a special kind of dragon with an extra head on the end of its tail; you can see a medieval carving of an amphisbaena here. The amphisbaena is a particularly good image of duplicity since it has one head where a head is supposed to be, but another, secret head at the end of its tail, just like Clytemnestra shows one nature to Agamemnon, but has another, secret nature concealed within. You can compare Cassandra's description of Clytemnestra with how Lady Macbeth instructs her husband to behave in Shakespeare's Macbeth: "bear welcome in your eye, / Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under't" (I.5.64-66).