June 15, 2009

"One sorrow for today, another for tomorrow"

The reunion of Orestes and Electra. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

"What human soul can pass through life
untouched by suffering to the end?
Oh, no, there's none.
One sorrow for today, another for tomorrow, comes."

Goat Rope's series on Greek tragedy continues. You'll also find links and comments about current events below. At this point, we're on The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus, the second part of the only surviving tragic trilogy. the theme of the trilogy is the emergence of democracy and the rule of law after a long series of violent events.

The first part of the trilogy, the Agamemnon, was discussed last week. In it, the title character who led Greek forces in the Trojan war is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus on his return. This is an act of vengeance for Agamemnon's sacrificing of his daughter Iphigenia ten years earlier at the command of Artemis to gain winds for the Trojan expedition. The couple then establish a tyranny in Argos.

The Libation Bearers is the next chapter in a long series of acts of violence. In it, Orestes, son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, returns in secret after years of exile. He has come with his friend Plyades at the command of the god Apollo, who has ordered him to kill Agamemnon's murderers or face terrible punishments himself.

He places a lock of his hair on the grave of Agamemnon then hides as a group of women approaches. They are led by his sister Electra, who was ordered by her mother to offer libations at the grave placate the spirit of Agamemnon. Clytemnestra has been suffering from bad dreams and an uneasy conscience since the murder.

Electra, who has suffered mistreatment at the hands of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, is reunited with Orestes at the graveside. Together they plot revenge, with the eager support of the chorus. He pretends to be a pilgrim coming with news of his own death and knocks at the door of the palace.

Orestes asks to see Aegisthus to bring the news and quickly kills him. The climax of the play is the confrontation of Orestes and Clytemnestra, who has dreamed of giving birth to a serpent who kills her. The serpent was Orestes.

As soon as the deed is done, Orestes is haunted and driven to madness by the Furies, dark underworld goddesses who punish blood guilt. As the play closes, there seems to be no end in sight for the curse upon this family. The last words of the chorus are:

Oh, when shall it finish, when shall it sate--
lie down to sleep--this fury bound hate?

KEEP IT UP. Voices are already calling for the Obama administration to cease recovery efforts. Paul Krugman thinks that would be a very bad idea.

THEN AND NOW. Here's an op-ed/book review by yours truly from yesterday's Sunday Gazette-Mail.

HEALTH CARE. Here's why we need a public option.

GREEN JOBS. Here's Ken Ward in Coal Tattoo discussing green jobs for the coalfields.


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