Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quotes from ancient theatrical plays: Aeschylus "Agamemnon"

Agamemnon was the leader of the Greeks in the Trojan expedition. In the Homeric epics his feud with Achilles made the latter withdraw from fighting the Trojans.

I omit many other important quotes cause sometimes translation from one language to another makes some parts lose their initial meaning. Theatrical translation doesn't have to do always with meaning but also with other aspects of theatrical discourse like verses and the musicianship of the lines.

Agamemnon begins with a Watchman on duty on the roof of the palace at Argos, waiting for a signal announcing the fall of Troy to the Greek armies. A beacon flashes, and he joyfully runs to tell the news to Queen Clytemnestra. When he is gone, the Chorus, made up of the old men of Argos, enters and tells the story of how the Trojan Prince Paris stole Helen, the wife of the Greek king Menelaus, leading to ten years of war between Greece and Troy. Then the Chorus recalls how Clytemnestra's husband Agamemnon (Menelaus' brother) sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to the god Artemis to obtain a favorable wind for the Greek fleet.

The Queen appears, and the Chorus asks her why she has ordered sacrifices of thanksgiving. She tells them that a system of beacons has brought word that Troy fell the previous night. The Chorus give thanks to the gods, but wonder if her news is true; a Herald appears and confirms the tidings, describing the army's sufferings at Troy and giving thanks for a safe homecoming. Clytemnestra sends him back to Agamemnon, to tell her husband to come swiftly, but before he departs, the Chorus asks him for news of Menelaus. The Herald replies that a terrible storm seized the Greek fleet on the way home, leaving Menelaus and many others missing.

The Chorus sings of the terrible destructive power of Helen's beauty. Agamemnon enters, riding in his chariot with Cassandra, a Trojan Princess whom he has taken as his slave and concubine. Clytemnestra welcomes him, professing her love, and orders a carpet of purple robes spread in front of him as he enters the palace. Agamemnon acts coldly toward her, and says that to walk on the carpet would be an act of hubris, or dangerous pride; she badgers him into walking on the robes, however, and he enters the palace.

The Chorus expresses a sense of foreboding, and Clytemnestra comes outside to order Cassandra inside. The Trojan Princess is silent, and the Queen leaves her in frustration. Then Cassandra begins to speak, uttering incoherent prophecies about a curse on the house of Agamemnon. She tells the Chorus that they will see their king dead, says that she will die as well, and then predicts that an avenger will come. After these bold predictions, she seems resigned to her fate, and enters the house. The Chorus' fears grow, and they hear Agamemnon cry out in pain from inside. As they debate what to do, the doors open, and Clytemnestra appears, standing over the corpses of her husband and Cassandra. She declares that she has killed him to avenge Iphigenia, and then is joined by her lover Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin, whose brothers were cooked and served to Aegisthus' father by Agamemnon's father. They take over the government, and the Chorus declares that Clytemnestra's son Orestes will return from exile to avenge his father.

lines 160-166

God, whoever he may be,—if by this name it pleases him to be invoked, by this name I call to him—as I weigh all things in the balance, I have nothing to compare [165] save “God,” if in truth I must cast aside this vain burden from my heart.

line  249

Justice inclines her scales so that wisdom comes at the price of suffering

line 456-7

Dangerous is a people's voice charged with wrath—it acts as a curse of publicly ratified doom.

lines 461-473

In the end the black Spirits of Vengeance bring to obscurity that one who has prospered in unrighteousness and [465] wear down his fortunes by reverse. Once a man is among the unseen, there is no more help for him. Glory in excess is fraught with peril; [470] the lofty peak is struck by Zeus' thunderbolt. I choose prosperity unassailed by envy. May I not be a sacker of cities, and may I not myself be despoiled and live to see my own life in another's power!

lines 551-554

Yes, all's well, well ended. Yet, of what occurred in the long years, one might well say that part fell out happily, and part in turn amiss. But who, unless he is a god, is free from suffering all his days? [555] For were I to recount our hardships and our wretched quarters, the scanty space and the sorry berths——what did we not have to complain of . . 

lines 788-798

Many of mortal men put appearance before truth and thereby transgress the right. [790] Every one is ready to heave a sigh over the unfortunate, but no sting of true sorrow reaches the heart; and in seeming sympathy they join in others' joy, forcing their faces into smiles.
Clytaemnystra with her lover ready to kill her husbant Agamemnon

lines 832-837

For few there are among men in whom it is inborn to admire without envy a friend's good fortune. For the venom of malevolence settles upon the heart and [835] doubles the burden of him who suffers from that plague: he is himself weighed down by his own calamity, and groans to see another's prosperity. 

line 885

it is natural  for men to trample all the more upon the fallen

lines 1327-1329

Alas for human fortune! When prosperous, a mere shadow can overturn it; if misfortune strikes, the dash of a wet sponge blots out the drawing.

line 1369

We should be sure of the facts before we indulge our wrath. For surmise differs from assurance

More Quotes:
Iketidae by Aeschylus

sources: for the translated lines for the summary of the play

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Awesome collection of Aeschylus . Thanks for sharing this Quotes.

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