Libation Bearers Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.
(Orestes): "It shall be done; but it is not at all off the course we run to learn why she sent the libations, for what reason, too late with amends for a harm beyond healing. They were a cowardly grace to send to a dead man without senses." (514-518)
This is a striking self-contradiction on Orestes's part. In calling Agamemnon a "dead man without senses," doesn't he suggest that all of his earlier efforts to get into contact with his father's ghost were useless? Do you think Orestes is showing his true colors here? Or is he just trying to have things both ways – acting as if his mother can't contact Agamemnon, but he can?
(Aegisthus): "What of this news – am I to think of it as true and living fact? Or are these frightened tales from women, which spring up in the air but die away with no effect? What can you tell me of this, to get clear in my mind?"
(Chorus): "We did hear; but go inside and enquire from the strangers. There's nothing as strong in messengers as the enquiries one man makes for himself from another."
(Aegisthus): "I want to see the messenger and interrogate him well whether he was himself close by the dying Orestes, or if his account was learned from faint rumour. He won't deceive a mind that has good eyes." (844-854)
This looks pretty sexist, doesn't it? First Aegisthus says that women are unreliable, and then the Chorus women themselves agree with him, saying that there's "nothing as strong in messengers as the enquiries one man makes for himself from another." But do you think the Chorus really believes this? Or could they just be playing into Aegisthus's own stereotypical thinking in order to get him to go face Orestes alone? Let's not forget that, in this case, Orestes, a man, is the one playing a trick on the inhabitants of the castle. What does this say about Aegisthus's implicit claim to have "a mind that has good eyes"?
(Clytemnestra): "What's the matter? What's this shouting for help you've set up? Help for the house?"
(House-Slave): "The dead are killing the living, I tell you."
(Clytemnestra): "Ah me, alas, I understand the meaning from the riddle. Trickery will be our death, just as we killed by it." (885-888)
What does it say about Clytemnestra that she is immediately able to understand the meaning of the House-Slave's riddle? On the one hand, she definitely seems pretty quick on the uptake, in general. But, on the other hand, it could also mean that she has already had this possibility on her mind. (She, after all, was the one who had the dream about giving birth to the snake, which drew blood from her breast.) When two people already have a shared understanding of what's going on, communication can take very subtle forms, including, as in this case, riddles. In this case, of course, the shared understanding was coincidental: the slave couldn't have assumed that Clytemnestra knew what he was talking about, right? Why do you think the slave presented the message in this form?