Libation Bearers Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.
(Orestes): "Hermes of the Underworld, watching over paternal powers! I ask you, be my saviour and my ally; for my coming to this land is my return from exile." (Fragment 1; 1-3)
Even though this quotation doesn't say anything explicit about language or communication, it actually sets up this theme in a way that will become very important in the rest of the play. Among his other duties, Hermes is the messenger god; typically, he brings messages from one god to another, or from the gods down to mortals. At the same time, he is also the god of travelers; he helps mortals along their way, and also helps the souls of dead people make their way down to the Underworld. Later in the play, Orestes will go to great effort to communicate with the spirit of his father. Here, by calling upon the god in his role as "Hermes of the Underworld," Orestes reminds of his role as an intermediary between two worlds. Thus, this looks forward to when Orestes later tries to pass a message across this divide.
(Electra): "How am I to speak sensibly to my father, how am I to pray to him? Am I to say that I bring [these mourning-libations] to a dear husband from a dear wife, from my mother? I have no words for that, no words I should say as I pour this offering on my father's tomb." (88-90)
Electra's dysfunctional family puts her in an awkward position when it comes to saying prayers for her dead father. Because her mother, the one who sent her to make the offerings, is also the one who killed Agamemnon, Electra realizes that she can't offer prayers on her mother's behalf without being insincere, thus making a mockery of true communication.
(Electra): "Don't keep things hidden in your heart through fear of anyone […]. Please tell me, if you have anything better than this." […]
(Chorus): "When you make the libation, say good words for those of kind intention."
(Electra): "Which of those dear to me am I to name as that?"
(Chorus): "Yourself first, and anyone who hates Aegisthus."
(Electra): "Then I will make this prayer for me and you together."
(Chorus): "Since you already understand this for yourself, put your mind to it." (102, 105, 109-113)
Here we see that the women of the Chorus are masters of the art of subtle communication. First, they make a sneaky reference to "those of kind intention" which actually turns out to mean Electra and "anyone who hates Aegisthus." Electra turns out to be pretty clever as well, when she guesses correctly that the Chorus hates Aegisthus too, as she indicates when she says, "Then I will make this prayer for me and you together." But we still think that the Chorus is doing something even sneakier here. Notice that the Chorus doesn't say one word about anything bad happening to Clytemnestra. Could this be a clever strategy to avoid alienating Electra by trying to get her to pray for her mother's downfall?