June 18, 2009

Worship the Mean

"The Remorse of Orestes" by William Adolphe Bougereau, by way of wikipedia.

Welcome to Goat Rope's series on Greek tragedy. You'll also find links and comments about current events if you scroll down. Right now we're finishing up Aeschylus with the last play of the only surviving trilogy, The Eumenides.

"Neither anarchy nor tyranny, my people.
Worship the Mean, I urge you..."--spoken by Athena

This play brings to a close the terrible saga of the house of Atreus, which has been plagued with violence, excess and outrage for five generations. For more on the back story or the preceding plays, please click on earlier posts.

Brief recap: in The Agamemnon, first play in the series, the title character who led the Greeks to Troy returns home and is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. For Clytemnestra, this was in revenge for his sacrificing of their daughter Iphigenia ten years earlier at the command of Artemis to gain fair winds for Troy. For Aegisthus, it's about avenging an outrage Agamemnon's father perpetrated on his side of the family.

In the second play, The Libation Bearers, Agamemnon's son Orestes returns from exile and kills Aegisthus and his mother to avenge his father at the command of Apollo and then is struck mad and haunted by the avenging Furies, dark underworld goddesses who punish those who kill blood relations.

In The Eumenides, Orestes seeks sanctuary at the shrine of Apollo at Delphi, who puts the Furies to sleep. He is told to go to the city of Athena and seek mercy at her shrine. Once there, the goddess determines to end the cycle once and for all by appointing a jury of 12 citizens of the city to hear the case and judge between Orestes and the Furies. When the jury reaches a tie, she casts the deciding vote and acquits Orestes, who is free to return to Argos.

The Furies are outraged and threaten to strike Athens with plague but are placated by being given a special place of honor in the city. Their name is changed to "the kindly ones," which is the English translation of the title.

The great theme is the triumph of democracy and the rule of law over generations of bloodshed and violence. The trilogy has been called The Divine Comedy of ancient Greece. Like Dante's classic, it is a journey through hell and purgatory not to an unworldly paradise but rather to a state of human justice.

As Robert Fagles and W.B. Stanford put it, "The Oresteia is our rite of passage from savagery to civilization."

GAME ON for health care reform.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, hundreds of state legislators have sent a message to Congress in support of a public option in any reform package.

ANOTHER GOOD FIGHT in the pipeline is the TRADE Act, which will be introduced in Congress any day now. It would revamp our approach to trade deals and make sure they include more protections for workers, the environment and consumers.

CLIMATE CHANGE, right here right now.

NUTS! are what this newly discovered dinosaur ate.


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