Bibliotherapy

Aeschylus & Juliette Tournand-The Eumenides-Athena’s Supreme Plea

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The Chorus of Furies in ‘Eumenides’, part of THE ORESTEIA by Aeschylus, directed by Peter Hall at the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre (NT), London in 1981.

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Today’s sharing from the blue House of HYGEIA is another excerpt from Juliette Tournand ground breaking study, ‘The girl from Sparta’, Le Passeur Editeur, 2021. A long due rehabilitation of Queen Clytemnestra. Chapter 16 and 17. Our translation from the original French.

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Part I- Juliette Tournand. The arcane of persuasion.

‘It is over for Oreste, but not for Aeschylus’ spectators who start to feel that this great play, is slowly coming closer to them and to their present worries.

In fact, if the Erinyes did not contest the twist of Athena’s vote, nor contest the benefit of the doubt, nor stand in the way of Oreste’s departure, the defeated vigilantes feel awfully stripped: ‘Ah! Younger gods, you have ridden down the ancient laws and have taken them from my hands!’

So, in order to be still holding upon something they promise to spit their venom on the Athenian land. ‘From it, a blight that destroys leaves, destroys children’. That destroy tree leaves and it is famine. Destroy children…and it is the Atreid’s evil.

Would Athena have done all these efforts so that Argos’ curse takes over Athens?

She engages, alone on stage with the furies suffocating with anger, the ultimate struggle of the ‘Oresteia’. Another struggle using speech.

Be persuaded by me not to bear it with heavy lament. For you have not been defeated; the trial resulted fairly in an equal vote, without disgrace to you; but clear testimony from Zeus was present, and he himself who spoke the oracle himself gave witness that Orestes should not suffer harm for his deed. Do not be angry, do not hurl your heavy rage on this land, or cause barrenness, letting loose drops whose savage spirit will devour the seed. For I promise you most sacredly that you will have a cavernous sanctuary in a righteous land, where you will sit on shining thrones at your hearths, worshipped with honor by my citizens here.

Dwelling, asylum, altar…this is hitting the jackpot for wandering goddesses! But Athena vainly knocked down these magnificent cards. Ouranos’s daughters resume their singing and it is the same, word for word.

I understand them. They authorized Athena to judge Oreste, not to command them. Defeated in the trial, they only have left their humiliation, their anger, their threats. And Athena wants them to relinquish them?  The votes were even, but Athena wants them to reconsider? They see the situation as they like, as it is what they have only left. And to have Apollo, this young thief and insulting god (the witness oracle, it’s him, of course), remind them that he was Zeus’ spokesperson; it is to understand that the whole Olympus has ganged against them to defeat them. Humiliation. Pain, anger, revenge wish, their singing does not weaken.

Athena is careful to not interfere but when it is her turn to speak, it is to further deny what they are feeling: ‘You are not dishonored’ and to judge their anger excessive and finally to lie on Zeus’ authority. And in front of these diminished goddesses, she waves her privilege: Her father gave her the key to the place where his thunder is locked up. Is it, even more, a threat?

Athena measures her clumsiness…The Erinyes living under earth are not afraid of thunder. She withdraws her threat; it will not be necessary. She commands: ‘So yield to my persuasion’; she begs:’ do not hurl the words of a reckless tongue against the land’; she orders: ‘Calm the black wave’s bitter anger’; she bids: ‘you will receive proud honors and will live with me’; she promises: ‘when you have the first-fruits of this great land forever, offerings on behalf of children and of marriage rites’; she prophecies: ‘you will praise my counsel’.

In vain. At the idea to live at Athena’s place, the goddesses feel the same disgust like Oreste has at the idea to see his mother growing old besides him.

For me to suffer this, alas! For me, with ancient wisdom, to live beneath the earth, alas, without honor, unclean!

How would they see themselves otherwise? Apollo, during the vote was reminding them that no god was thinking about them and that they lost a crystal-clear cause. The Athenians, the gods are despising them and all that Athena finds to say is that Zeus lets her play with thunder; that her counsel is good; even worse, that they would be grateful to her. This is pushing humiliation to its heights.

Why does Aeschylus put so much clumsiness in the words of his goddess of wisdom? Perhaps, as a pedagogue, he is showing wisdom at work.

Facing the Erinyes’ inflexibility, Athena does better than just being patient and courteous. She understands that she is ill-engaged. She ceases to do ’more of the same thing’ and produces a change that twenty centuries later the Palo-Alto School will call ‘systemic’: A change that ‘modifies the system’, the frontal opposition system in which Athena has caught herself in.

She ceases to tell the Erinyes what they should or should not do. (‘Listen to me: don’t cry.’), what they are not (‘You are not defeated, not humiliated.’), what they will do (‘You will praise my counsel.’). She understands that if she does not welcome what they say, she could only offer then a stay where they would be straight away despised. So, what are they saying?

I will endure your anger, for you are older, and in that respect, you are surely wiser than I’.

Athena adds that Zeus (him again!) gave her his share of discernment and she rushes to showcase it. Ceasing to pretend to know better about the Erinyes than the Erinyes themselves, she starts to give them information about Athens.

But as for you, if you go to a foreign land, you will come to love this land—I forewarn you. For time, flowing on, will bring greater honor to these citizens. And you, having a seat of honor at the house of Erechtheus, will obtain from hosts of men and women more than you could ever win from other mortals.’

She repeats her prayer: ‘So do not cast on my realm keen incentives to bloodshed’. She measures her demand: let aside the foreign wars that will satisfy the claims of fame, may the Erinyes not plant in the people the spirit of tribal war and boldness against each other.  She repeats once more her offer, clear contract of mutual benevolence: ‘It is possible for you to choose such things from me: bestowing good, receiving good, well honored in this land that is most beloved to the gods.’ She offers to the stateless goddesses a homeland and Athens’ citizenship.

Sure, the Einyes resume their singing, word to word again. But since the goddess has claimed to be lenient towards their anger, singing it is less about aggression but more about measuring that leniency and benefit from the space allowed by it. In granting the anger, in acknowledging their seniority and even their wisdom, Athena has initiated a very subtle revolution. And walks all along through it.

No, I will not grow tired of telling you about these good things, so you will never be able to say that you, an ancient goddess, were cast out, dishonored and banished, from this land by me, a younger goddess, and by the mortal guardians of my city. But if you give holy reverence to Persuasion, the sweetness and charm of my tongue, then you might remain. But if you are not willing to stay, then surely it would be unjust for you to inflict on this city any wrath or rage or harm to the people. For it is possible for you to have a share of the land justly, with full honors.’

Athena has just freed herself from Zeus, and without speaking on behalf of the Erinyes, is now advocating on behalf of their interests. Better, she offers them a choice. A choice of justice in which she lets them be judge: To be chased away, ignominiously, for having been unfair- existential dishonor for vigilantes-or accepting to be honored.

It’s brilliant!

It is so brilliant that the Erinyes come back to their senses. Clear, concise like during the trial, they get interested:

‘Lady Athena, what place do you say I will have?

‘One free from all pain and distress; accept it.’ No pain, for the Erinyes who are living on pain, it is a jump into the unknown. On the other hand, they know about honors; honors themselves have lost and Athena is promising to them these very honors.

– ‘Say that I have accepted it, what honor awaits me?’

– ‘That no house will flourish without you.’

Will you gain for me the possession of such power?

– ‘Yes, for we will set straight the fortunes of those who worship.

– ‘And will you give me a pledge for all time?’

– ‘Yes, for I have no need to say what I will not accomplish.

– ‘It seems you will win me by your spells; I am letting go my anger.’

– ‘Then stay in the land and you will gain other friends.’

Athena greats her victory with the same elegance than Clytemnestra when faced by the Argian chorus with praise.

The Erinyes are now stepping into a new world and the role of a chorus is to sing. So they ask Athena what wishes she asks them to sing upon the earth:

– ‘Blessings that aim at a victory not evil; blessings from the earth and from the waters of the sea and from the heavens: that the breathing gales of wind may approach the land in radiant sunshine, and that the fruit of the earth and offspring of grazing beasts, flourishing in overflow, may not fail my citizens in the course of time, and that the seed of mortals will be kept safe. May you make more prosperous the offspring of godly men; for I, like a gardener, cherish the race of these just men, free of sorrow. [Pointing to the audience.] Such blessings are yours to give. I, for my part, will not allow this city to be without honor among mortals, this city victorious in the glorious contests of deadly war.’

Hearing the goddess sending the Erinyes into a mission, so that Athens may win a spotless victory, you may have thought about Agamemnon’s victory soiled with crimes. Hearing her ask for the protection of the children, you think about Iphigenia. And hearing her entrusting to the goddesses the expulsion of the ungodly, you think about Clytemestra who blamed the Argian for not having done it. Athena here joins the queen of Argos. An ungodly person must not rule as a citizen, even less as a king, even lesser as an idol. Athena is for the father, but professor Mazon, I don’t think she is ‘for Agamemnon’. And by the way, Clytemnestra’s bitches are now content:

– ‘I will accept a home with Pallas, and I will not dishonor a city which she, with Zeus the omnipotent and Ares, holds as a fortress of the gods, the bright ornament that guards the altars of the gods of Hellas. I pray for the city, with favorable prophecy, that the bright gleam of the sun may cause blessings that give happiness to life to spring from the earth, in plenty.’

They accept, praise Zeus and the gods of Greece, wishing for Athens happiness. It’s done.

Then Aeschylus gives them a new name. Listen, how it is gentle: ‘The Eumenides’.

-The Eumenides?

-It means the ‘benevolent’. The ‘dreadful’ become ‘the benevolent’.

-Is it over?

-Yes, now it is over.

But Aeschylus gives us around a hundred more verses…I was expecting them all devoted to joy, but the goddess of Wisdom has decided otherwise.

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Part II. Juliette Tournand. The Benevolent. Whole Clytemnestra.

– ‘I act zealously for these citizens in this way, installing here among them divinities great and hard to please. For they have been appointed to arrange everything among mortals. Yet the one who has not found them grievous does not know where the blows of life come from. For the sins of his father drag him before them; destruction, in silence and hateful wrath, levels him to the dust, for all his loud boasting.’

Why a threat, here, at this moment? Sure, Aeschylus magnify the role of the Aeropagus and sure, in order to flourish in the city, goodwill needs to build some walls. But Athena already has said she does not want any ungodly or criminals.

She maintains the goddesses with their ancient honors. This is benevolence for Athens, warned not to be crime complaisant. This is benevolence for the goddesses that will practice alongside gratifying justice, the justice they know, punishment. And this is benevolence for the mother, last bulwark protecting peace, prosperity and the health of Argos, who at the same time brought to his doom a criminal who did not see it coming, bringing into silence his thunderous glory.

The vocation given by Athena to the Erinyes, who became the Eumenides, this is whole Clytemnestra.

Also, Clytemnestra, who protested the Erinyes’ slumber at the temple of Apollo, now rests in peace. The souls of the Tartarus ceased to scorn her. I imagine her taken away from these darkness and being welcomed in the radiant dwelling of the Elysian Fields by the souls of those who, like her, accomplished a feat in their lives.

Athena repeats herself, I think, because not more than Clytemnestra or the Erinyes, she denounces the father of her new ally, Oreste But she wants to be clear. To those who thinks ‘she is for the father’ means she is ‘for Agamemnon’ are mistaken. The Agamemnons, not only she does not want them, but she vows them to the anger of Clytemnestra’s bitches.

Thank you, Aeschylus. You all along backed the queen of Argos, and, hundred verses from the end, the goddess of Wisdom insists. Athena justifies Clytemnestra.

By pronouncing this warning, Athena leaves the good role to the Erinyes, now able to seize their new space, their new vocation, their new song. They, who knew only ailments, start to protect Athens from opposing winds that wither trees, from fires that devour tree-buds and from sicknesses that devastate crops. They wish to the Athenian land to feed good ewes that will give birth to two lambs when the season is ripe and this is their personal touch as goddesses of the dark caves, they ask the undergrounds to be generous in metals.

‘Do you hear, guards of my city, the things she will accomplish? For the lady Erinys is very powerful, both with the deathless gods and with those below the earth; and in their dealings with mankind, they accomplish matters visibly, perfectly; to some giving songs, to others a life made dim by tears.

Athena slips a new warning against crime.

Driving back disasters always, the Eumenides enlarge the scope of their promises: ‘I forbid deadly and untimely fate for men; grant to lovely maiden life with a husband, you that have the rightful power; you, divine Fates, our sisters by one mother, divinities who distribute justly, who have a share in every home, and whose righteous visitations press heavily at every season, most honored everywhere among the gods!

The Fates, sisters of the Erinyes, who spin the lives of mortals and break it. Here we think of an adorable virgin, Iphigenia. If, alike generous parents who prevent to other the drama their child endured, Clytemnestra’s bitches wish to the little Athenians to reach happy adulthood, then yes, their complainant has reached, comforted, the Elysian Fields.

Athena can finally rest and praise herself and hail the victory of her father Zeus, god of speech, without the Erinyes being offended. Clytemnestra’s counsel, who two thousand verses above engaged and won by the use of speech, now double their wishes. They warn the city against intestine quarrels, and even though having been goddesses of revenge, condemn revenge as it ruins a city-this is new. Finally, they invite the citizens to rejoice one for another-it is guarding them against jealousy- and protect themselves against ailments that would befall upon them.

Old Aeschylus with his bushy eyebrows places here in the mouth of his old goddesses a testament that the following Athenian history will prove the accuracy.

And the perspective he offers through the voice of his young Athena is there to guide the ambition that, already swells within the city: ‘I approve the words of your invocation, and will escort you by the light of gleaming torches to the places below and beneath the earth, with the attendant women who guard my image in duty bound. For the eye of the whole land of Theseus will come forth, a glorious troop of children, matrons and a band of old women. Dress them honorably in robes dyed scarlet, and let the torches’ light move on, so that this kindly company of visitors to our land may show itself afterwards in blessings that bring prosperity to men.

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The Eumenides 1885. Janet Case as Athena.

Part III-Aeschylus’s play: The EUMENIDES, Final part:

…/… CHORUS

[777] Younger gods, you have ridden down the ancient laws and have taken them from my hands!28 And I —dishonored, unhappy, deeply angry—on this land, alas, I will release venom from my heart, venom in return for my grief, drops that the land cannot endure. From it, a blight that destroys leaves, destroys children—a just return—speeding over the plain, will cast infection on the land to ruin mortals. I groan aloud. What shall I do? I am mocked by the people. What I have suffered is unbearable. Ah, cruel indeed are the wrongs of the daughters of Night, mourning over dishonor!

ATHENA

[794] Be persuaded by me not to bear it with heavy lament. For you have not been defeated; the trial resulted fairly in an equal vote, without disgrace to you; but clear testimony from Zeus was present, and he himself who spoke the oracle himself gave witness that Orestes should not suffer harm for his deed. Do not be angry, do not hurl your heavy rage on this land, or cause barrenness, letting loose drops whose savage spirit will devour the seed. For I promise you most sacredly that you will have a cavernous sanctuary in a righteous land, where you will sit on shining thrones at your hearths, worshipped with honor by my citizens here.

CHORUS

[808] Younger gods, you have ridden down the ancient laws and have taken them from my hands! And I —dishonored, unhappy, deeply angry—on this land, alas, I will release venom from my heart, venom in return for my grief, drops that the land cannot endure. From it a blight that destroys leaves, destroys children—a just return—speeding over the plain, will cast infection on the land to ruin mortals. I groan aloud. What shall I do? I am mocked by the people. What I have suffered is unbearable. Ah, cruel indeed are the wrongs of the daughters of Night, mourning over dishonor!

ATHENA

[824] You are not dishonored; so, although you are goddesses, do not, in excessive rage, blight past all cure a land of mortals. I also rely on Zeus—what need is there to mention that?—and I alone of the gods know the keys to the house where his thunderbolt is sealed. But there is no need of that. So yield to my persuasion and do not hurl the words of a reckless tongue against the land, that all things bearing fruit will not prosper. Calm the black wave’s bitter anger, since you will receive proud honors and will live with me. And when you have the first-fruits of this great land forever, offerings on behalf of children and of marriage rites, you will praise my counsel.

CHORUS

[837] For me to suffer this, alas! For me, with ancient wisdom, to live beneath the earth, alas, without honor, unclean! I am breathing fury and utter rage. Oh, oh, the shame of it! What anguish steals into my breast! Hear my anger, mother Night; for the deceptions of the gods, hard to fight, have deprived me of my ancient honors, bringing me to nothing.

ATHENA

[848] I will endure your anger, for you are older, and in that respect you are surely wiser than I; yet Zeus has given me, too, no mean understanding. But as for you, if you go to a foreign land, you will come to love this land—I forewarn you. For time, flowing on, will bring greater honor to these citizens. And you, having a seat of honor at the house of Erechtheus, will obtain from hosts of men and women more than you could ever win from other mortals. So do not cast on my realm keen incentives to bloodshed, harmful to young hearts, maddening them with a fury not of wine; and do not, as if taking the heart out of fighting cocks, plant in my people the spirit of tribal war and boldness against each other. Let their war be with foreign enemies, and without stint for one in whom there will be a terrible passion for glory; but I say there will be no battling of birds within the home.

[867] It is possible for you to choose such things from me: bestowing good, receiving good, well honored in this land that is most beloved to the gods.

CHORUS

[870] For me to suffer this, alas! For me, with ancient wisdom, to live beneath the earth, alas, without honor, unclean! I am breathing fury and utter rage. Oh, oh the shame of it! What anguish steals into my breast! Hear my anger, mother Night; for the deceptions of the gods, hard to fight, have deprived me of my ancient honors, bringing me to nothing.

ATHENA

[880] No, I will not grow tired of telling you about these good things, so you will never be able to say that you, an ancient goddess, were cast out, dishonored and banished, from this land by me, a younger goddess, and by the mortal guardians of my city. But if you give holy reverence to Persuasion, the sweetness and charm of my tongue, then you might remain. But if you are not willing to stay, then surely it would be unjust for you to inflict on this city any wrath or rage or harm to the people. For it is possible for you to have a share of the land justly, with full honors.

CHORUS

[892] Lady Athena, what place do you say I will have?

ATHENA

[893] One free from all pain and distress; accept it.

CHORUS

[894] Say that I have accepted it, what honor awaits me?

ATHENA

[895] That no house will flourish without you.

CHORUS

[896] Will you gain for me the possession of such power?

ATHENA

[897] Yes, for we will set straight the fortunes of those who worship.

CHORUS

[898] And will you give me a pledge for all time?

ATHENA

[899] Yes, for I have no need to say what I will not accomplish.

CHORUS

[900] It seems you will win me by your spells; I am letting go my anger.

ATHENA

[901] Then stay in the land and you will gain other friends.

CHORUS

[902] What blessings then do you advise me to invoke on this land?

ATHENA

[903] Blessings that aim at a victory not evil; blessings from the earth and from the waters of the sea and from the heavens: that the breathing gales of wind may approach the land in radiant sunshine, and that the fruit of the earth and offspring of grazing beasts, flourishing in overflow, may not fail my citizens in the course of time, and that the seed of mortals will be kept safe. May you make more prosperous the offspring of godly men; for I, like a gardener, cherish the race of these just men, free of sorrow.

[913] [Pointing to the audience.] Such blessings are yours to give. I, for my part, will not allow this city to be without honor among mortals, this city victorious in the glorious contests of deadly war.

CHORUS

[916] I will accept a home with Pallas, and I will not dishonor a city which she, with Zeus the omnipotent and Ares, holds as a fortress of the gods, the bright ornament that guards the altars of the gods of Hellas. I pray for the city, with favorable prophecy, that the bright gleam of the sun may cause blessings that give happiness to life to spring from the earth, in plenty.

ATHENA

[927] I act zealously for these citizens in this way, installing here among them divinities great and hard to please. For they have been appointed to arrange everything among mortals. Yet the one who has not found them grievous does not know where the blows of life come from. For the sins of his fathers drag him before them; destruction, in silence and hateful wrath, levels him to the dust, for all his loud boasting.

CHORUS

[938] May no hurtful wind blow to harm the trees—I declare my favor—and may no burning heat, stealing the buds from plants, pass the border of its proper place; may no deadly plague draw near to kill the fruit; may the earth nurture the thriving flocks with twin offspring at the appointed time; and may the rich produce of the earth always pay the gods’ gift of lucky gain.29

ATHENA

[949] Do you hear, guards of my city, the things she will accomplish? For the lady Erinys is very powerful, both with the deathless gods and with those below the earth; and in their dealings with mankind, they accomplish matters visibly, perfectly; to some giving songs, to others a life made dim by tears.

CHORUS

[956] I forbid deadly and untimely fate for men; grant to lovely maidens life with a husband, you that have the rightful power; you, divine Fates, our sisters by one mother, divinities who distribute justly, who have a share in every home, and whose righteous visitations press heavily at every season, most honored everywhere among the gods!

ATHENA

[968] I am glad that they are zealously accomplishing these things for my land; and I am grateful to Persuasion, that her glance kept watch over my tongue and mouth, when I encountered their fierce refusal. But Zeus of the assembly has prevailed.30 Our rivalry in doing good is victorious forever.

CHORUS

[976] I pray that discord, greedy for evil, may never clamor in this city, and may the dust not drink the black blood of its people and through passion cause ruinous murder for vengeance to the destruction of the state.31 But may they return joy for joy in a spirit of common love, and may they hate with one mind; for this is the cure of many an evil in the world.

ATHENA

[988] Do they not then intend to find the path of good speech? From these terrible faces I see great profit for these citizens; for, if you always greatly honor with kindness the kindly ones, you will surely be pre-eminent, keeping your land and city in the straight path of justice.

CHORUS

[996] Farewell, farewell, in the wealth allotted to you by fate. Farewell, people of the city, seated near to Zeus, the beloved of the beloved maiden, learning at last the way of wisdom. The Father stands in awe of you, since you are under Pallas’ wings.

ATHENA

[1003] Farewell to you also; but I must lead the way to show you your dwellings by the sacred light of these, your escorts.32 Go, and, speeding beneath the earth with these solemn sacrifices, hold back what is ruinous to the land, but send what is profitable for the city to win her victory. You who hold the city, children of Cranaus,33 lead on their way these new dwellers here. May there be good will in the citizens in return for good done to them!

CHORUS

[1014] Farewell, farewell, again, I repeat, all you in the city, both gods and mortals, living in Pallas’ city; if you duly revere my residence among you, you will not blame the chances of life.

ATHENA

[1021] I approve the words of your invocation, and will escort you by the light of gleaming torches to the places below and beneath the earth, with the attendant women who guard my image in duty bound. [For the eye of the whole land of Theseus will come forth, a glorious troop of children, matrons and a band of old women. Dress them honorably in robes dyed scarlet, and let the torches’ light move on, so that this kindly company of visitors to our land may show itself afterwards in blessings that bring prosperity to men.

CHORUS OF THE PROCESSIONAL ESCORT

[1032] Go on your way to your home, children of Night: mighty, lovers of honor, children, yet aged, under kindly escort—you who dwell in the land, refrain from inauspicious speech! Under the primeval caverns of the earth, gaining the high honor of worship and sacrifice—all you people, refrain from inauspicious speech! Gracious and favorable to the land, [come here, venerable goddesses, with flame-fed torch, rejoicing as you go—cry aloud now in echo to our song! Peace endures for all time between Pallas’ citizens and these new dwellers here. Zeus who sees all and Fate have come down to lend aid—cry aloud now in echo to our song!

[Exeunt omnes.]

THE END

Sources: Extract from Aeschylus’s ‘The Eumenides’: https://www.theoi.com/Text/AeschylusEumenides.html 🌿 Juliette Tournand’s book: https://www.le-passeur-editeur.com/les-livres/essais/la-fille-de-sparte
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