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3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

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3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu May 09, 2013 8:40 pm

A.Ag 1497-1504 Clytemnestra

1497
Κλυταιμήστρα
αὐχεῖς εἶναι τόδε τοὔργον ἐμόν;
μηδ’ ἐπιλεχθῇς
Ἀγαμεμνονίαν εἶναί μ’ ἄλοχον.
1500
φανταζόμενος δὲ γυναικὶ νεκροῦ
τοῦδ’ ὁ παλαιὸς δριμὺς ἀλάστωρ
Ἀτρέως χαλεποῦ θοινατῆρος
τόνδ’ ἀπέτεισεν,
τέλεον νεαροῖς ἐπιθύσας.


Clytaemestra
Do you affirm this deed is mine?
Do not imagine
that I am Agamemnon's spouse.
1500
A phantom resembling that corpse's wife,
the ancient bitter evil spirit
of Atreus, that grim banqueter,
has offered him in payment,
sacrificing a full-grown victim
in vengeance for those slain babes.
— H.W. Smyth


I don't totally understand what is going on here. Is Clytemnestra really attempting to distance herself from the deed she has just committed after recently proclaiming how pleasurable she found killing her husband? Clytemnestra's opening question: αὐχεῖς εἶναι τόδε τοὔργον ἐμόν; Do you affirm this deed is mine? draws attention to the fact that she is not explicitly referenced in the preceding Χορός, <δάμαρτος> being a conjectural emendation.

ὤμοι μοι κοίταν τάνδ’ ἀνελεύθερον
1495
δολίῳ μόρῳ δαμεὶς <δάμαρτος>
ἐκ χερὸς ἀμφιτόμῳ βελέμνῳ.

Ah me, to lie on this ignoble bed,
struck down in treacherous death
wrought by a weapon of double edge
wielded by [the] hand [of your own wife]!
— H.W. Smyth


Is the phantom l. 1500 φανταζόμενος perhaps co-referential (pointing to the same entity) with the δαίμων of 1468, 1477, 1482? The actions of humans are often depicted as being influenced by what a modernist might call invisible forces but apparently conceptualized by the Ancient Greeks as quasi-personal agents. I use the term quasi-personal because a modernist might quibble over the word personal since the δαίμων typically remains unnamed. The δαίμων was an agent of different order than strictly human agents but responsible for human actions.

The ultimate agent in this passage is Zeus who is a much higher power than a δαίμων.

1481
Χορός
ἦ μέγαν οἰκονόμον
δαίμονα καὶ βαρύμηνιν αἰνεῖς,
φεῦ φεῦ, κακὸν αἶνον ἀτη-
ρᾶς τύχας ἀκορέστου·
1485
ἰὴ ἰή, διαὶ Διὸς
παναιτίου πανεργέτα·
τί γὰρ βροτοῖς ἄνευ Διὸς τελεῖται;
τί τῶνδ’ οὐ θεόκραντόν ἐστιν;

1481
Chorus
Truly you speak of a mighty Fiend,
haunting the house, and heavy in his wrath
(alas, alas!)—an evil tale
of catastrophic fate insatiate;
1485
woe, woe, done by will of Zeus,
author of all, worker of all!
For what is brought to pass for mortal men save by will of Zeus?
What herein is not wrought of god?
— H.W. Smyth


I am not a philosopher so perhaps the word agent isn't really appropriate in reference to Zeus. Perhaps someone will expound on the implications of παναιτίου author of all πανεργέτα worker of all.

Elizabeth Vandiver in her excellent lecture series on Attic Tragedy discusses the different levels of agency and the role of Fate in the actions of Tragic Heroes. If my memory is reliable, Vandiver said the Attic Tragedians were not obsessed with the question of human free will. The fact that human actions were determined by divine agents and Fate didn't reduce the human responsibility for these actions. Listening to Vandiver discuss this reminded me of The Freedom of the Will[1] by Jonathan Edwards.


[1]full title
A Careful And Strict Inquiry
Into The Modern Prevailing Notions Of That
Freedom Of Will


Which Is Supposed To Be Essential To
Moral Agency, Virtue And Vice, Reward And Punishment, Praise And Blame
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby pster » Tue May 14, 2013 2:04 am

I think one can draw a rather sharp distinction between the gods in Homer and the gods in tragedy. The latter are not agents. They do not deliberate. Their decisions have been made not only off stage, but before and outside of the plays. The most we can say is that their influences are purposive and that these purposive influences take shape as various kinds of divine necessities with which the humans have to contend.

By contrast, the gods in Homer are very much in the poems. They are constantly scheming. They deliberate, decide, intend and act. Indeed, Homer takes such pleasure in describing their seemingly very human agency that Paul Mozan and Nietzsche claimed that Homer must have been very irreligious and that the Illiad was probably the least religious poem ever written.

I'd love to talk more about agency in tragedy, but I just don't have the time to review the issues right now. I have some acquaintance with some literature on the subject.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby Qimmik » Tue May 14, 2013 3:07 am

ἰὴ ἰή, διαὶ Διὸς
παναιτίου πανεργέτα·
τί γὰρ βροτοῖς ἄνευ Διὸς τελεῖται;
τί τῶνδ’ οὐ θεόκραντόν ἐστιν;


The last lines of Sophocles' Trachiniae spring to mind:

λείπου μηδὲ σύ, παρθέν᾽, ἀπ᾽ οἴκων,
μεγάλους μὲν ἰδοῦσα νέους θανάτους,
πολλὰ δὲ πήματα καὶ καινοπαθῆ,
κοὐδὲν τούτων ὅ τι μὴ Ζεύς.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue May 14, 2013 9:50 pm

pster wrote:I think one can draw a rather sharp distinction between the gods in Homer and the gods in tragedy. The latter are not agents. They do not deliberate. Their decisions have been made not only off stage, but before and outside of the plays. The most we can say is that their influences are purposive and that these purposive influences take shape as various kinds of divine necessities with which the humans have to contend.

By contrast, the gods in Homer are very much in the poems. They are constantly scheming. They deliberate, decide, intend and act. Indeed, Homer takes such pleasure in describing their seemingly very human agency that Paul Mozan and Nietzsche claimed that Homer must have been very irreligious and that the Illiad was probably the least religious poem ever written.


Not so concerned about agents who are active participants in the text, rather looking at Clytemnestra's response, what looks like a cop-out fixing blame somewhere else and wondering what she means by blaming a phantom for her murder of Agamemnon. Is she actually suggesting that a daemon or evil spirit came looking like her and performed the act? I don't think so but that leaves us the task of determining what is intended.

My question is about the worldview behind the text. Not the players in the story. The stories of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Orestes, Electra, are haunted by Fate, Ate, Daemons and the Furies (to name a just a few). These are haunted stories that sort of thing which is very much in vogue in contemporary popular literature and film.

Nietzsche is probably the culprit behind a lot modernist misreadings of ancient texts. What looks like disrespect for the gods does not make one irreligious in modern sense. You find a lot of making fun of the pagan deities, some of it very rough humor which the translators clean up, in the canonical Hebrew Prophets. That doesn't make the Prophets irreligious. Nietzsche is dead. I had a conversation 28 years ago with a young didn't quite finish her PhD in English lit who was working as tech writer. She wanted to do her dissertation on something related to shamanism. It didn't fly 30 years ago. But she was already there, where the culture was going to be and is now. She quoted Nietzsche but she wasn't buying it.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby pster » Tue May 14, 2013 10:40 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:The ultimate agent in this passage is Zeus who is a much higher power than a δαίμων.


This is what I was denying, this claim about the "passage".

Nietzsche was just window dressing. The difference between Homer and the tragedians is quite obvious.

Lastly, making fun of somebody else's gods is far different from one's own. Do the Hebrew prophets make fun of their God? lol.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue May 14, 2013 11:23 pm

pster wrote:
C. S. Bartholomew wrote:The ultimate agent in this passage is Zeus who is a much higher power than a δαίμων.


This is what I was denying, this claim about the "passage".

Are we quibbling over meaning of the word AGENT? Since Zeus isn't a visible active participant in the play he cannot be an agent? I wasn't making any bold or unusually claims, just a straightforward reading of the following lines. Perhaps H. W. Smyth is importing something into this text. The haunting of the text is something I picked up from elsewhere, like the haunting of Bishop Pike. It isn't a theological notion, anymore than the Twilight Novels are theological. It is a worldview in which there are other-things going on than the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system which is the underlying presupposition of secular modernism.

1481
Χορός
ἦ μέγαν οἰκονόμον
δαίμονα καὶ βαρύμηνιν αἰνεῖς,
φεῦ φεῦ, κακὸν αἶνον ἀτη-
ρᾶς τύχας ἀκορέστου·
1485
ἰὴ ἰή, διαὶ Διὸς
παναιτίου πανεργέτα·
τί γὰρ βροτοῖς ἄνευ Διὸς τελεῖται;
τί τῶνδ’ οὐ θεόκραντόν ἐστιν;

1481
Chorus
Truly you speak of a mighty Fiend,
haunting the house, and heavy in his wrath
(alas, alas!)—an evil tale
of catastrophic fate insatiate;
1485
woe, woe, done by will of Zeus,
author of all, worker of all!
For what is brought to pass for mortal men save by will of Zeus?
What herein is not wrought of god?
— H.W. Smyth
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue May 14, 2013 11:45 pm

pster wrote:Lastly, making fun of somebody else's gods is far different from one's own. Do the Hebrew prophets make fun of their God? lol.


The gods you make fun of are not your gods. So if Homer is indeed making fun of the Olympians then they are not his gods, right? No argument there. That doesn't put Homer in agreement with Nietzsche. I think whoever attempts to find an ancient pedigreed for secular modernism (are there such people?) they would be reading the ancient texts with a strange hermeneutic that would have been completely unrecognizable to the ancient authors. Strange hermeneutics abound. John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry has a liking for Sigmund Freud! One of high points of Elizabeth Vandiver's lectures on Attic Tragedy was her assessment of Sigmund Freud and the the story of Oedipus. Listen to it. It's priceless.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby Qimmik » Wed May 15, 2013 12:00 am

You might take a look at the end of the Trachiniae. The last speech of Hyllus, the end of which I quoted above, is similar to what the chorus says here in the Agamemnon.

Ironically, in the Iliad, Agamemnon repeatedly finds it convenient to blame Zeus for his personal failings.

If you're looking for a truly irreligious poem, you should read Ovid's Metamorphoses.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby Scribo » Wed May 15, 2013 10:15 am

"Nietzsche is probably the culprit behind a lot modernist misreadings of ancient texts"

This is one of the best quotes on this site, wow. It's so right, at least in the popular imagination. In the "war" between Willamowitz and Nietzsche, the former won, but you wouldn't know looking at general material. Even now, when people tell me they do Greek religion only about 1/4 means actual Greek religion and not "let's read Plato! and Euripides!". It would be look talking about Christianity via Milton.

Incidentally Homer's gods definitely seem to be a literary construct due to a) the distance from known Greek cult practices (which occasionally leak through) and b) similarity to Near Eastern epic traditions. But then this is turning into another thread for another section on tragic gods more generally.

But seriously, that quote is gold.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Wed May 15, 2013 8:53 pm

Qimmik wrote:You might take a look at the end of the Trachiniae. The last speech of Hyllus, the end of which I quoted above, is similar to what the chorus says here in the Agamemnon.



κοὐδὲν τούτων ὅ τι μὴ Ζεύς.
Nothing here is not Zeus.
— Margaret Rachel Kitzinger[1]

Sounds similar alright. The style of the rendering by Margaret Rachel Kitzinger reminds me of Ezra Pound & R.Fleming's treatment of Electra.

[1] A Companion to Sophocles edited by Kirk Ormand, page 121.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Wed May 15, 2013 9:21 pm

Scribo wrote:Incidentally Homer's gods definitely seem to be a literary construct due to a) the distance from known Greek cult practices (which occasionally leak through) and b) similarity to Near Eastern epic traditions. But then this is turning into another thread for another section on tragic gods more generally.


Seems to me as an outsider looking in, Homeric exegesis is a mine field full of intractable problems which is why I inserted the underlined if in my tentative suggestion. It is kind risky to try and identify intended humor or outright disrespect in reference to deities in a text embedded in ancient cultural scenario the profile of which is somewhat vaguely understood. One of the biggest dangers is come to them with set of assumptions about how one should refer to a deity based on western cultural traditions. Elizabeth Vandiver discusses this in her lectures on Attic Tragedy.

Traditional (old fashion) western assumptions about how a deity should be talked about don't fare well when you get into ANE literature of the late Bronze Age. The cosmic combat myths are source material for fantasy horror novels, reverence for gods is replaced by fear in light of their power, violence and general disregard for human welfare.


Assuming Homer's gods are a literary construct, the literary construct would reflect the cultural context(?). I mean Homer wouldn't completely break the mould and bring into the narrative gods who were totally contrary to the prevailing cultural assumptions(?). E. Vandiver thinks our ([post]modern readers) problem with understanding the ancient Greek deities is caused by the cultural framework we bring to the text.

concluding fanciful and somewhat irrelevant postscript:

The irony it seems to me is that some of the supposedly radical interpretive frameworks have to rely on the traditional frameworks to function. You cannot posit the radical reading without assuming the traditional one first. The tradition has to be there so that the radical can stand against it. And certain aspects of the traditional are actually imported into the radical unaltered.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby Scribo » Wed May 15, 2013 10:10 pm

I agree, its best (and easier) not to think in terms of humour/disrespect or even propriety, which is why we talk in near clinical terms.

Tim Whitmarsh recently gave a talk at the Classical Association entitled "why Monotheists can't write Greek Religion" or something, about this kind of cognitive dissonance. Its best to avoid judgement terms.

Assuming Homer's gods are a literary construct, the literary construct would reflect the cultural context(?). I mean Homer wouldn't completely break the mould and bring into the narrative gods who were totally contrary to the prevailing cultural assumptions(?). E. Vandiver thinks our ([post]modern readers) problem with understanding the ancient Greek deities is caused by the cultural framework we bring to the text.


Yes, all this is 100% valid and true. They may be a literary construct but obviously they're vested in the cultural contexts and we can only appreciate by looking at actual cult practices as well as comparative evidence. Unfortunately this is often seen as boring. I think its interesting to see how Homer diverges. Like I said, otherwise its like talking about Christianity through Milton.

So the family/council looking down is near Eastern as are the cosmogonic overtones we find, the epithets are often generalised too. However real practices often seep through: certain epithets are indicative, we have references to proper religious cult like the offering of the robes to Athena, divine locales and so on. All things found in inscriptions and non literary prose etc.

I absolutely detest the kind of...judgemental comments one used to find about Greek theodicy and what not. Its another culture, we ought to treat it with respect. That respect entails both understanding and empathy but also an appreciation of the, frankly VAST, gulf in mental processes.

Are Vandiver's lectures available online in video form incidentally? Believe it or not, one of the reasons I've always done the bare minimum with Tragedy is this kind of discourse, everything you've posted about these lectures sounds interesting and dead on.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby Scribo » Wed May 15, 2013 10:10 pm

I agree, its best (and easier) not to think in terms of humour/disrespect or even propriety, which is why we talk in near clinical terms.

Tim Whitmarsh recently gave a talk at the Classical Association entitled "why Monotheists can't write Greek Religion" or something, about this kind of cognitive dissonance. Its best to avoid judgement terms.

Assuming Homer's gods are a literary construct, the literary construct would reflect the cultural context(?). I mean Homer wouldn't completely break the mould and bring into the narrative gods who were totally contrary to the prevailing cultural assumptions(?). E. Vandiver thinks our ([post]modern readers) problem with understanding the ancient Greek deities is caused by the cultural framework we bring to the text.


Yes, all this is 100% valid and true. They may be a literary construct but obviously they're vested in the cultural contexts and we can only appreciate by looking at actual cult practices as well as comparative evidence. Unfortunately this is often seen as boring. I think its interesting to see how Homer diverges. Like I said, otherwise its like talking about Christianity through Milton.

So the family/council looking down is near Eastern as are the cosmogonic overtones we find, the epithets are often generalised too. However real practices often seep through: certain epithets are indicative, we have references to proper religious cult like the offering of the robes to Athena, divine locales and so on. All things found in inscriptions and non literary prose etc.

I absolutely detest the kind of...judgemental comments one used to find about Greek theodicy and what not. Its another culture, we ought to treat it with respect. That respect entails both understanding and empathy but also an appreciation of the, frankly VAST, gulf in mental processes.

Are Vandiver's lectures available online in video form incidentally? Believe it or not, one of the reasons I've always done the bare minimum with Tragedy is this kind of discourse, everything you've posted about these lectures sounds interesting and dead on.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu May 16, 2013 2:53 pm

Scribo wrote:

Are Vandiver's lectures available online in video form incidentally?


I found one sample lecture only available without charge. Many of Vandiver's lectures are available from The Great Courses for a fee.

http://archive.org/details/ClassicalMythologyvolume4


http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/prof ... spx?pid=33
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu May 16, 2013 9:47 pm

Scribo wrote:I agree, its best (and easier) not to think in terms of humour/disrespect or even propriety, which is why we talk in near clinical terms.

Tim Whitmarsh recently gave a talk at the Classical Association entitled "why Monotheists can't write Greek Religion" or something, about this kind of cognitive dissonance. Its best to avoid judgement terms.

Assuming Homer's gods are a literary construct, the literary construct would reflect the cultural context(?). I mean Homer wouldn't completely break the mould and bring into the narrative gods who were totally contrary to the prevailing cultural assumptions(?). E. Vandiver thinks our ([post]modern readers) problem with understanding the ancient Greek deities is caused by the cultural framework we bring to the text.


Yes, all this is 100% valid and true. They may be a literary construct but obviously they're vested in the cultural contexts and we can only appreciate by looking at actual cult practices as well as comparative evidence. Unfortunately this is often seen as boring. I think its interesting to see how Homer diverges. Like I said, otherwise its like talking about Christianity through Milton.



This notion of literary constructs perhaps provides an insight into C. S. Lewis' controversial[1] reshaping of the Olympian Pantheon in his Space Trilogy. His Mars, Venus and so forth are modern literary constructs which depart from the 5th Cent. Athenian treatment reflected in the Tragedians[2]. The C. S. Lewis Olympian Pantheon appears to be more concerned about the welfare of mortals than the deities in Aeschylus and Sophocles. I don't recall much in Lewis about Apollo, Athena or Artemis. Been a while since I read the Space Trilogy but it helps me get a handle on what people here are saying about Homer and the literary use of the Greek Gods.

[1] The controversy is mostly fueled by self-appointed heresy hounds which proliferate both in print and in cyberspace.

[2] Not assuming that the Tragedians were all on the same page in regard to the Olympian Pantheon but in contrast to C. S. Lewis they share certain features which might be used as a prototype. Lewis departs from this prototype.
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Re: 3 levels of Agency in Agamemnon's death

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed May 22, 2013 11:22 am

I haven't had time for Greek and Agamemnon for quite long now... There's a all that other stuff going on in life all the time ;) Intersting discussion, especially Homer's so called "impropriety" is a very intriguing subject. I don't know much about Nietzsche, I think I have really been spared of many of those modernist readings... I read the Space Trilogy very long ago though. I don't remember much about it and I was quite young, 12 or something. I certainly didn't think it had anything to do with Greek Tragedy back then...

Anyway, what I think about the original subject of the post: What Klytemestra means here I think is that Agamemnon really, really had it coming, that in killing Agamemnon she acted as an instrument of divine justice or order or something.
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