The theme of "Wisdom and Knowledge" in Agamemnon mainly centers around the Chorus's claim that Zeus makes mortals "Suffer and learn" (177). This phrase could be interpreted to mean "learning happens through suffering" or even, more neutrally, "learning happens through experience." Do you think this is true? Think about it: say you're trying to communicate to your friend that his or her new girlfriend or boyfriend is a total jerk. If the Chorus is right, and learning only happens through suffering, your friend will probably tell you, "I don't believe you," or "It's not really so bad," or something like that. Then, a few months later, after suffering through enough of his or her significant other's jerkiness, your friend might come up to you and say, "You know what, you were right; I just didn't believe you at the time."
We've probably all had this experience. But the big question that Aeschylus's play is asking is whether learning always happens through experience, or just part of the time. How is this relevant to the other themes in the play? Think about it: if you think people only learn through suffering, then might want to punish them for crimes by doing the same thing back to them, right? In this way, this theme links up to the ideas of revenge and justice. Similarly, if you only learn what's going to happen by experiencing it, then prophecies about the future can't help you. In this way, this theme links up to the problem of fate and free will.
Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge
- It is clear that the theme of "suffer and learn," as the Chorus puts it in line 177, is central to this play. But what does "learn" mean in this context? Do we have to suffer to learn all things, or only some things? What does Aeschylus's play tell us about these matters?
- The god Apollo has cursed Cassandra so that she can prophesy but will not be believed. And yet, the Chorus tells her that they believe her prophecy. Does this contradict the idea of Apollo's curse, or does it fit in with it somehow? If it does fit in, how?
Chew on This
Aeschylus's play shows that humans can only learn through experience.