Agamemnon Memory and The Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.
(Herald): "Hail, my ancestral soil, land of Argos! Ten years' daylight now, and I have reached you, the one hope met after so many broken! I was never confident I should die here in the land of Argos and have my share of the funeral most dear to me. Now, my greetings to the land, and greetings to the sunlight, and to Zeus supreme over the land, and to you the Pythian lord, no longer I hope shooting arrows at us with your bow! You were implacable enough by the Scamander; but now be our savior and our healer, lord Apollo! I address too all the gods in their assembly, and my own protector Hermes, herald whom heralds dearly revere, and the heroes who sent us out – favour with your welcome back the army which has survived the war!" (503-517)
Agamemnon often portrays the return of the past as having negative consequences. For example, when Aegisthus returns to Argos, full of the memory of the crime of Atreus, he is there to commit murder. For the Herald, however, the return of the past – the sweet homeland he remembers – is positive. In fact, he says that he can die happy now that he has seen it again. Clearly, Aeschylus thought this was important, or he wouldn't have given the Herald such a long speech about his home. Why do you think Aeschylus wanted to play up this contrast?
(Herald): "The misery is past; it is past, so that the dead never even care about rising again, while for us remnants of the Argive army our gain prevails and the anguish does not outweigh it. Why should those who perished be counted up, and the living have pain from fortune's spit? Besides, I think it right [to say] a long goodbye to our misfortunes [a line missing] since it is natural for men passing swiftly over sea and land to boast to this day's sunlight [lines missing] 'After taking Troy long ago the Argive expedition nailed up these spoils for the gods throughout Greece in their temples, to mark an ancient glory.'" (567-579)
At the end of his speech, however, the Herald changes his tune. Now he is saying that some things are better left forgotten. What sorts of things? Memories of pain. Can you think of any way this might be connected to the theme of "Revenge"?
(Chorus to Agamemnon): "Yourself, at the time you were launching the campaign
to get Helen – I shall not conceal it from you –
you made a most unpleasing picture to me,
unwise too in guiding your mind's helm
[words missing] when you tried to recover
willing courage for dying men;
but now, from no mere surface feeling nor from insincere
loyalty [words missing]
'toil [at least one word missing] for those who have brought it to a good end.'" (799-806)
It's unfortunate that so much of the manuscript is missing at this point. All the same, we can still reconstruct the gist of what the Chorus is saying. In a nutshell, they are saying, to Agamemnon, "We used to think that you were a real goon when you first went off for Troy, but now we think you are alright; as the saying goes, all's well that ends well." Based on the evidence of the rest of the play, do you this Aeschylus thinks that, generally happy endings outweigh bad beginnings in our memories? Or is the memory of past pain likely to blot out present happiness? Once again, you might want to think about how these ideas are connected with the theme of Revenge.