Agamemnon Wisdom and Knowledge Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.
(Chorus): "But you must tell me, Herald: I wish to know of Menelaus – whether he has actually returned home with you, brought safely back; he is a power dear to this land."
(Herald): "Impossible I should report what is false as good, for friends to harvest for the long future!"
(Chorus): "Then I wish you may give excellent news and be telling the truth! Their separation is not easy to conceal."
(Herald): "The man has disappeared from the Achaean fleet, himself together with his ship. I tell no falsehoods."
(Chorus): "Was it after he had set sail in clear view of Ilion, or did a storm snatch him from the fleet, heavy on all alike?"
(Herald): "You hit the mark like a top archer, and describe long suffering concisely."
(Chorus): "Was there word of him rumoured by other sailors, as alive or dead?"
(Herald): "No one knows enough to repeat clear news, except the Sun which nurtures life on earth." (615-633)
Here we see the limits of human knowledge: the Herald cannot accurately communicate what he has not personally experienced. He knows Menelaus has disappeared, but he can't say anything further. According to him, there is only one perspective that allows for experience, and hence knowledge, of everything: that of the Sun.
(Chorus, to Cassandra): "It's you [Clytemnestra]'s speaking to! She's pausing, but what she says is clear. Since you've been caught in the fatal net, please obey her if you're going to obey; but perhaps you'll disobey."
(Clytemnestra): "Unless she's like a swallow and owns an unintelligible barbarian tongue, I am trying to persuade her by speaking words within her comprehension." […]
(Chorus): "The stranger seems to need a clear interpreter; her manner is like a wild animal's just captured."
(Clytemnestra): "She's mad, and obeying wrong thoughts, like one who comes here from a city just captured and does not know how to endure the bridle before foaming out her temper in blood. I tell you, I am not going to throw more words away and have them scorned." (1048-1052, 1062-1068)
It's hard to think of a more basic communicative issue than that of language. Here, when Clytemnestra is unable to make Cassandra obey her and come into the house, she assumes it must be because Cassandra doesn't speak Greek. The interesting thing here is that, in Homer, the main source for all information about the Trojan War, the Greeks and the Trojans appear to speak the same language. Why do you think Aeschylus would have made a point of portraying the Trojans as speaking a different language here? As it turns out, of course, Cassandra does understand Greek. But this still doesn't explain her hesitation before going into the house. In fact, as we are about to learn, she has had a vision revealing the horrible past of the house and Atreus's crime. Does this count as learning through suffering? Or is it something entirely different?
(Cassandra): "Oh, the wedding, the wedding of our Paris
destroying his dearest!
Oh, Scamander, ancestral waters!
Then, I was reared and had my growing
along your verges, wretch that I am;
but now, it seems, I shall soon be singing my prophecies
along the banks of Acheron and by Cocytus' stream."
(Chorus): "What words are these you utter, and which are all too clear?
An infant child would understand on hearing.
I am stricken; your bloody fate bites deep
as your song whimpers and cries at fortune's harsh pain;
and it shatters me to listen." (1156-1166)
Here we see Cassandra prophesying her own death. The same question we asked about the previous quotation is relevant here. Is prophecy a form of learning through suffering, or something entirely different? Also, it is noteworthy that the Chorus appears to have no problem understanding her words. Does this prove that learning CAN happen through communication, and not just through experience? But have the Chorus members really learned anything? It isn't like they actually do anything to save her and Agamemnon? What counts as learning anyway?