Theological approach to Aeschylus’ tragedy “Agamemnon”

In this article we analyze excerpts from Aeschylus‘ tragedy “Agamemnon” in an original way.

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1) Ancient Greek: (v. 55-56) ύπατος δ’ αίων ή τις Απόλλων ή Πάν ή Ζεύς (…) (v. 58-59) υστερόποινον πέμπει παραβάσιν Ερινύν.

English: but some god realizes, or some Apollo or Pan or Zeus (…) and later/then sends Erinya so as the infringement is punished

Analysis: It is evident here that while various names of ‘gods’ are used, there is an ‘agnosticism’ about who exactly defines the punishments of the offenses. But:

2) Ancient Greek: (v. 147-153) Ζεύς, όστις ποτ’ εστίν, ει τόδ’ αυτώ φίλον κεκλημένω, τούτο νιν προσεννέπω. ουκ έχω προσεικάσαι πάντ’ επισταθμώμενος πλήν Διός, ει το μάταν από φροντίδος άχθος χρή βαλείν ετητύμως.

English: Zeus, whoever he is, if he likes with this name to be called, so I call him, too. Weighing everything in my mind (with my nous), I find no one except for Zeus/Deus so that I can loosen the vain weight that tightens my soul.

Analysis: So it is clearly stated here that the Divine Principle and the one who determines everything, the one who is the only one who can relieve man of his (mental/soul) burdens/weights, is exclusively Zeus/Deus. But here Aeschylus, in a masterful way, testifies that the name which mortals have given the High God is ‘relative’. This is clearly stated in the phrase ‘Zeus, whoever he is‘. We thus discern a disguised Monotheism, which contains ‘agnosticism’ about the name of the Being. By convention, in the same way we have shown that the Orphics did in a previous article, they called it ‘Zena’ or ‘Zeus’.

3) Ancient Greek: (v. 159-163) Ζήνα δε τις προφρόνως επινίκια κλάζων τεύξεται φρενών το πάν, τόν φρονείν βροτούς οδώσαντα, τόν πάθει μάθος θέντα κυρίως έχειν.

English: When you praise Zeus from your heart for your victories, you have achieved the greatest wisdom. He (Zeus) paved the way of Prudence for the mortals and imposed on them a solid/unshakable law: to learn through suffering (to learn through misfortunes).

Analysis: Zeus’ hymnology-doxology-praise is the greatest wisdom. The path of Zeus is the path of wisdom / prudence. And in order to bring the mortals who deviate from this path to reason/their senses, Zeus set the law of ‘learning through suffering/misfortunes’. People’s difficulties can therefore be said to constitute ‘pedagogy from above’. Which also implies that Zeus wants for all people to walk the path of wisdom, otherwise why would he allow the various difficulties so that Men ‘learn’? Moreover, since the ‘path of wisdom/prudence’ is identified with Zeus, we conclude that Zeus does not wish any man to live ‘away from him’ or ‘without him’. Another relevant conclusion is that a godless road constitutes a road without wisdom/prudence; hence, another direct conclusion emerging is that ‘atheism’, for Aeschylus, is a condemnable state, a state of insanity/madness, just like it was earlier described by Homer.

4) Ancient Greek: (v. 441-453) κελαιναί δ’ Ερινύες χρόνω τυχηρόν όντ’ άνευ δίκας παλιντυχεί τριβά βίου τιθείσ’ αμαυρόν, εν δ’ αίστοις τελέθοντος ούτις αλκά. το δ’ υπερκόπως κλύειν εύ βαρύ. βάλλεται γαρ όσσοις Διόθεν κεραυνός. κρίνω δ’ άφθονον όλβον. μήτ’ είην πτολιπόρθης μήτ’ ούν αυτός αλούς υπ’ άλλων βίον κατίδοιμι.

English: There comes a time, in a reverse turn of fortune, when the black Erinyes ravage he who has been living happily outside the Rightfulness/Justice. And whoever falls into such a destruction shall find no salvation. It is heavy to have/enjoy great but conceited/uppish glory. Zeus’ thunder strikes you in the face/in the eyes. I want the happiness which does not bring envy; neither I want to make incursions upon cities, neither I want to live my life a man enslaved to other men.

Analysis: Here Aeschylus identifies the idea of Justice with Zeus. Zeus is the one who watches everything and ascribes Justice to everyone according to their deeds. There is a deep belief that whoever lives ‘outside Rightfulness/Justice’ and whoever enjoys ‘conceited/uppish glory’ will eventually be punished from above. So the ‘unjust’ and ‘proud’, Aeschylus testifies, will receive their punishment from Zeus (indirectly – Erinyes – or directly – thunder). And this punishment may be ‘right on the head’ and violent (‘thunder strikes you in the face’). Clearly, he links the perpetuation of envy, of war, of morbid competition for material things and for power among humans to ‘happiness gained through injustice and with pride’. Aeschylus has identified the ‘core of evil’ in human societies: lust for power; pride; to be acquisitive/greedy. Injustice is inextricably linked to each of these passions and their relatives.

5) Ancient Greek: (v. 517) χαίω, τεθνάναι δ’ ουκέτ’ αντερώ θεοίς

English: I am glad to die if the gods want it

Analysis: In light of the ‘Divine Will’, even the fact of death acquires another dimension for Aeschylus. ‘Divine Will’ is a joy for man, even when, apparently, it concerns something sad, such as death. Our guess is that to write a passage like this requires a whole strong theology to support it. Summarizing:

a) there is/exists the ‘Divine’ (‘the gods’ here) – as we have shown above, essentially only Zeus is/exists; the Actual/Real Being

b) there is/exists the ‘Divine Will’

c) there is/exists the ‘human will’

d) when Man accepts the ‘Divine Will’, he walks in ‘God’s way’, the ‘Divine road’, and is wise/prudent

e) when Man does not accept the ‘Divine Will’ and goes his own ways, even against God/the Divine, he is not wise/prudent

f) happiness in earthly life is achieved when Man consciously chooses to accept the ‘Divine Will’ in all aspects of his life, even in the most unpleasant

6) Ancient Greek: (v. 896-904) θεούς τοι τοίσδε τιμαλφείν χρεών. εν ποικίλοις δε θνητόν όντα κάλλεσιν βαίνειν εμοί μεν ουδαμώς άνευ φόβου. λέγω κατ’ άνδρα, μή θεόν, σέβειν εμέ. χωρίς ποδοψήστρων τε και των ποικίλων κληδών αυτεί. και το μη κακώς φρονείν θεού μέγιστον δώρον. ολβίσαι δε χρη βίον τελευτήσαντ’ εν ευεστοί φίλη. ει πάντα δ’ ως πράσσοιμ’ άν, ευθαρσής εγώ.

English: We should only honor the gods with these. Being mortal, I am afraid to walk on such rich ornaments. I am telling you: honor me ‘as a man’ and not ‘as a god’. Good reputation rolls in from all around, with a lot of noise, without rich carpets and ornaments. ‘Νot-thinking-badly’ is the greatest gift from god. Count somebody as ‘happy’ when his life ends in happiness. I have boldness, if I always do/behave like this.

Analysis: Great honors – material ones, too – should only be attributed to the Divine. It is not good for people to be honored in ways that only the Divine deserves. Clearly, here we see a condemnation of greed and showing off; a condemnation of the irrational and imprudent Pride of Man who is ‘self-deified’. The truly good fame -i.e., our truly good deeds- does not need showing off and ‘artificial support’, writes Aeschylus. ‘Not-thinking-badly’ is characterized as ‘the greatest gift from god‘. Therefore, for Aeschylus, Wisdom/Prudence constitutes ‘gift from god’ and is not a ‘conquest’ of Man. As we saw earlier, the ‘God’s way’/the ‘Divine road’ is the way/road of Wisdom/Prudence. Hence, if Man walks on the ‘God’s way’/the ‘Divine road’ there comes a point in time -when and if God blesses it- when he stops ‘thinking badly’; otherwise this can not happen. Putting effort in this procedure, Man becomes ‘fearless’/’bold’ and also ends his life in happiness. The latter can have both a secular and a spiritual interpretation, implying the eternal, Eternity.

7) Ancient Greek: (v. 947-948) Ζεύ Ζεύ τέλειε, τας εμάς ευχάς τέλει. μέλοι δε τοι σοι τώνπερ άν μέλλης τελείν

English: Zeus Zeus you who bring an end to things/make things happen; fulfill our wishes. Bring all that you wish to an end/let the things you care for happen.

Analysis: Zeus, according to Aeschylus, is the one who regulates the outcome of things, the end of them. People’s various wishes, their various demands, are adressed to him with the expectation of fulfillment, only though if they can be incorporated into his great Will for the ultimate outcome of things.

Research-Selection-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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