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vegetation imagery in Aeschylus

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vegetation imagery in Aeschylus

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Sat Apr 20, 2013 8:29 pm

A.Ag 1389-1392
κἀκφυσιῶν ὀξεῖαν αἵματος σφαγὴν
βάλλει μ’ ἐρεμνῇ ψακάδι φοινίας δρόσου,
χαίρουσαν οὐδὲν ἧσσον ἢ διοσδότῳ
γάνει σπορητὸς κάλυκος ἐν λοχεύμασιν.

So there he lay and as he gasped, his blood
spouted and splashed me with black spry, a dew
of death, sweet to me as heaven's sweet rain drops
when the corn-land buds.
— Edith Hamilton (1937).

And when he sputters out his life in blood
he sprays me with black drops like dew
gladdening me no less than when the green
bud of the corn feel showers from
heaven!
— Ann Carson (2009)



Was listening to Masterpieces of ancient Greek literature. David J. Schenker, Lecture 14 Agamemnon and noted an absence when he discussed the imagery in Clytemnestra's speech lines 1390-92. Elizabeth Vandiver suggests that the language here connects vegetable fertility symbolism with human sexuality. There was nothing remotely like that in David J. Schenker's lecture.

Went off looking for third opinion and found John J. Peradotto[1] who cites E. Fraenkel:

Orestes is envisioned by Cassandra as a "mother-killing plant" (1]μητροκτόνον φίτυμα, 1281), while his mother Clytemnestra, in what is perhaps the most violent of these images,[4] compares her- self, spattered with the bloody " dew" of her murdered husband, to the crop that "rejoices" in the rain of Zeus (1390-2):

[4] E. Fraenkel, Aeschylus, Agamemnon: Commentary (Oxford, 1950), ad loc.: " The horror is unescapable when the sweet miracle of carefully tended sprouting and growth of crops becomes a symbol of inhuman gloating over murder. Nothing can bring out the fury of hate more strongly than the loving detail of κάλυκος ἐν λοχεύμασιν, in which, as in the words of Aphrodite in the Danaids, the birth of all created life is seen as a homogeneous process."


I am wondering if Elizabeth Vandiver is just doing a feminist thing here or if some others have argued that Clytemnestra is alluding to something pretty obscene at this point.

[1] Some Patterns of Nature Imagery in the Oresteia, John J. Peradotto
The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 85, No. 4, (Oct., 1964), pp. 378-393
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

postscript: Elizabeth Vandiver's lectures where aimed at a much more sophisticated audience than those of David J. Schenke who sounded like was talking to an elementary school group. I found Schenke almost impossible to listen to. Perhaps the difference in target audience was the reason for the difference in treatment of the topic under discussion here.
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Re: vegetation imagery in Aeschylus

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Apr 21, 2013 11:17 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
A.Ag 1389-1392
κἀκφυσιῶν ὀξεῖαν αἵματος σφαγὴν
βάλλει μ’ ἐρεμνῇ ψακάδι φοινίας δρόσου,
χαίρουσαν οὐδὲν ἧσσον ἢ διοσδότῳ
γάνει σπορητὸς κάλυκος ἐν λοχεύμασιν.

[...]

I am wondering if Elizabeth Vandiver is just doing a feminist thing here or if some others have argued that Clytemnestra is alluding to something pretty obscene at this point.

I'm not taking a definite view here but to me it seems that connecting vegetable fertility with human sexuality isn't very far-fetched here. R-T, on the other hand, doesn't seem to agree ("Personnally, we would hesitate about the further step of interpreting the image in terms of ejaculation (Moles 1979)"). At present, I'm in vacation in France and don't have access to other literature than R-T and the Loeb.

I think χαίρω could be used also specifically in the context of sexual pleasure/gratification. LSJ doesn't mention this sense, but one instance comes to my mind at once, a very obscene vase I saw in the Greek National Museum a couple of years ago. I was so intrigued by the sheer obscenity of it back then, I had to do some reasearch on the vase later on - learned a couple of Greek "four letter" words in the process... ;) I was now able to find something about the vase with Google again... Here. Ok, be warned that it really is pretty obscene...! Anyway, note the leftmost word written in boustrophedon ΧΑΙΡΕΙ "he's enjoying himself". I don't know how widely χαίρω is used in sexual contexts.

I'm not discussing the other words here, but yes, I think this obscene reading is possible here. I believe very widely in the world images of human sexuality are taken over to nature in fertility cults etc. - father Sky fertilizing mother Earth with his rain and so on. A little caution is in order though, because often people try to find "scandalous" readings where they shouldn't.
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Re: vegetation imagery in Aeschylus

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Apr 23, 2013 5:51 am

Paul Derouda wrote:yes, I think this obscene reading is possible here. .


Paul,

Looks like the evidence for Elizabeth Vandiver's take on this is impressive.

Thanks for posting.
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Re: vegetation imagery in Aeschylus

Postby Markos » Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:05 pm

Paul wrote: I think χαίρω could be used also specifically in the context of sexual pleasure/gratification. LSJ doesn't mention this sense, but one instance comes to my mind at once, a very obscene vase I saw in the Greek National Museum a couple of years ago. I was so intrigued by the sheer obscenity of it back then, I had to do some reasearch on the vase later on - learned a couple of Greek "four letter" words in the process... ;) I was now able to find something about the vase with Google again... Here. Ok, be warned that it really is pretty obscene...! Anyway, note the leftmost word written in boustrophedon ΧΑΙΡΕΙ "he's enjoying himself". I don't know how widely χαίρω is used in sexual contexts.


Hi, Paul,

I would expect χαίρω in this sense to be in the middle. cf. ἀποσπερμαίνομαι and MG αυνανίζομαι.

ἴθι πολλὰ χαίρων (and I don't mean that in a bad way. :lol: )
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Re: vegetation imagery in Aeschylus

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Apr 23, 2013 8:11 pm

Markos, I think you're making a good point about the middle voice but I'm not sure the active is impossible here. If we translate χαίρω here into English as a "middle" "enjoy oneself", it doesn't mean the middle has to be felt so strongly in the Greek. Actually, most meanings of active χαίρω are more or less "middle", i.e. the subject affected by the verb. The basic English sense of χαίρω is "rejoice" (no "middle" there), but in French you'd say "se réjouir", i.e. you'd use a reflexive verb. What I mean to say is that languages are not always completely regular or logical with the use reflexive/middle forms.
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Re: vegetation imagery in Aeschylus

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Apr 23, 2013 8:29 pm

One more word of caution about the vase in question: Beside meaningful words, some of the inscriptions are gibberish. I've read somewhere that in Attic vases, especially early on, when the rate of literacy was very low, you have quite a few that have nonsense inscriptions. Vases were prestige objects, especially ones with writing, but since few of the potters, or indeed of the clients, could read, some of the low-end vases were decorated with gibberish words. (Think about Chinese words used as "decoration" in the West)

Anyway, some of the words on this vase are gibberish ("Surprisingly, much of the writing, although finely lettered, is nonsense rather than real words."). What's surprising I guess is that otherwise the workmanship is good. But it shows that whoever wrote the words was very probably illiterate, or so close to illiterate that he didn't mind writing extra nonsense letters here and there on the vase to make it look nicer.
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Re: vegetation imagery in Aeschylus

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Apr 23, 2013 10:27 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:One more word of caution about the vase in question: Beside meaningful words, some of the inscriptions are gibberish. I've read somewhere that in Attic vases, especially early on, when the rate of literacy was very low, you have quite a few that have nonsense inscriptions. Vases were prestige objects, especially ones with writing, but since few of the potters, or indeed of the clients, could read, some of the low-end vases were decorated with gibberish words. (Think about Chinese words used as "decoration" in the West)

Anyway, some of the words on this vase are gibberish ("Surprisingly, much of the writing, although finely lettered, is nonsense rather than real words."). What's surprising I guess is that otherwise the workmanship is good. But it shows that whoever wrote the words was very probably illiterate, or so close to illiterate that he didn't mind writing extra nonsense letters here and there on the vase to make it look nicer.


Paul,

good point about gibberish. Reminds me of a thread on Text.Crit. forum a decade ago when I asked some pointed questions about Frank Moore Cross reading of the ostracon[1] from Qumran. I had picked up some past issues of BAR (Biblical Archeology Review) one include an article by Ada Yardeni who was doing a nice job of demonstrating why the Yahad reading was untenable. I looked at the high rez. images of the shard and concluded that Cross[2] was engaged in wishful thinking.

With regard to Greek vases, some of them I have tried to read had words adjacent to figures, like labels giving the names of the person or deity depicted. I have often wondered why the scholars who study such things can be so confident in identifying the referent of a particular image (without any text/label). Reading the books on ancient Greek pottery it seems like there is never any doubt about who is identified with an image. Perhaps the literature is intended for popular audiences. Certainty (in uncertain matters) sells books better than equivocation.


[1]Yahad Ostracon is a controversial ostracon (text-bearing potsherd) that was found at the ruins of Qumran in 1996

[2] I have benefited immensely by reading the some of the major works of F. M. Cross, principally Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel, Harvard University, 1973.
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Re: vegetation imagery in Aeschylus

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Wed Apr 24, 2013 6:52 pm

Paul,

The use of χαίρω again, twice on line 1394 makes this question more interesting since the agent of χαίρω on that line is a member of the chorus.

βάλλει μ' ἐρεμνῇ ψακάδι φοινίας δρόσου,
1391
χαίρουσαν οὐδὲν ἧσσον ἢ διοσδότῳ
γάνει σπορητὸς κάλυκος ἐν λοχεύμασιν.
ὡς ὧδ' ἐχόντων, πρέσβος Ἀργείων τόδε,
χαίροιτ' ἄν, εἰ χαίροιτ', ἐγὼ δ' ἐπεύχομαι.
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