by C H A R L E S L . M E E
Based on the play by Aeschylus
The earliest light of dawn.
A small campfire.
Silhouetted against the dawn light we see:
four men in long, floor-length gray coats—
Herodotus, a quadriplegic, in an old wooden wheel chair
Thucydides, a dwarf, or double amputee
Homer, blind, with round, wire-rimmed dark glasses
Hesiod, an epileptic; tremors run through his body from time to time for which he must sometimes pause to bring them under control.
A long silence.
When I was a boy,
all this was open field.
There's some comfort
in the memory of it.
If it's true.
I was here.
I know it to be true.
What one remembers
and what is true
are so seldom the same.
you can look out from here
and know which of these farms
is recorded in the Domesday Book,
and which of them came later.
HESIOD [smoothing over the tension]
Once, on this familiar spot of ground,
walked other men and women,
as actual as we are today,
thinking their own thoughts,
feeling their own passions
now gone as utterly as we ourselves
like ghosts at cock crow.
[Homer steps forward out of the darkness,
the light catching his glasses.]
not far from here
the poet Simonides
was gathered with his friends
for dinner at a palace in the hills
across this valley.
Simonides stepped outside onto the terrace
for a moment
for a breath of air,
and in that moment
shook the villa
and brought it to the ground.
All Simonides' friends were crushed to death,
their bodies mangled and torn apart,
not even their own families could recognize them.
But Simonides could picture in his mind's eye
just where each one of his friends had been sitting,
and as he recalled them one by one
their bodies could be
pulled out from the rubble and identified.
And from this moment
came the beginning
of mankind's desire to remember
how the world has been
at one moment or another.
And so Simonides
instructed his friends
how to build their own palaces of memory,
how to build each room
how to furnish these rooms
with the faces and figures of their friends,
events of their lives,
each room given things of singular beauty
or distinctive ugliness,
to make them vivid
faces splashed with paint
or stained with blood
each moment suspended
in this geometry of memory, thought
Ten years ago,
the sons of Atreus
Agamemnon and Menelaus
left this spot
where they sailed for Troy
in search of Helen,
stolen from her husband Menelaus
and taken home to Troy by Paris.
Like any slave
or piece of property.
It's a sort of love story—
or a thousand love stories
all knit up in one
this story of these men
and their love of entangling themselves with women
take this one,
leave the other at home,
throw this one away,
take another one instead,
rape this lot
or murder all of these....
One thousand ships
An army of determined men
Set forth to bring her back
like fiends of hell
and to destroy the Trojans
for the wrong
they had done
even as he assaulted
that is the only true shelter
of men and women in the world.
And yet, these fiends of hell
had miscalculated the winds
and could not get their ships to sail
They found the body of a pregnant hare
and the prophet Calchas interpreted
this portent for Agamemnon,
if you would lead the children of other men to war
to shed their blood
then you be the first
before any man's child is killed
kill one of your own
and then the ships may sail to Troy
And so he did.
HESIOD [in anguish]
And so he did.
Summoned his wife Clytemnestra to Aulis,
saying their daughter Iphigenia
was to be wed to Achilles.
Clytemnestra brought her daughter to the shore
and there Agamemnon murdered her.
so unsteady for a moment now
that he must kneel on the ground.]
Caught in this dilemma
between private love
and public duty
A father's love
and his lust for power—
this meeting place
of tender heart
and a love of domination:
An iron bridal feast.
And so brought a curse down
on himself and on his army
even as they sailed to victory.
The power of a public man is measured
by how much blood and treasure
he has the authority to waste.
I saw them sail.
Not fit to sail with them
but fit to stay at home and gossip
To tell their story
over and over again
until we understand it.
Ten years they've fought
till now the rains
wash away the battlefield
and skulls rise up
from the shallow graves
so that both sides cry out
for an end.
I found myself alone
in a deserted village.
I walked slowly through the streets
among the empty houses.
The village was overgrown with tall weeds
and yet its buildings were intact.
But when I crossed under a dry stone arch,
I stopped abruptly.
I felt the presence of someone
looking at me.
I turned around.
There was a woman
on top of a towerhouse,
out on an open terrace,
dressed in black,
and nailed down at the center
unable to move one way or another.
She was bent almost double
halfway between standing and sitting
rocking her body back and forth
ever so slightly
staring at the abandoned olive terraces
the sun glaring off a thousand rocks.
She had turned from that scene
to look toward me.
I greeted her,
and I could not tell
whether she nodded back at me
or only moved her head
with the rocking of her body
an eternal clock
sedentary and permanent
suffering the curse of those
caught in the eternal present
unable to awaken.
when I am by myself
I carry on a dialogue
with the past,
for the voices of those who have left us.
I touch the stones
with their inscriptions of past fates
inscriptions partially erased
yet still discernible.
I call up the shades
these silent bodies
so they might feed on our compassion
and I might learn the source
of our present woes.
She is pale white, as the moon,
white as a Butoh dancer,
a complexion without blood,
and with radiant blood red lips.]
I dreamed last night
a torch was lit
on Mt. Ida—
and Hephaestus, god of fire,
hurled the light
and from there to Athos,
the fire flew from torch to torch
mountaintop to mountaintop
island to island
across the sea
like new stars
and from Aulis
I love the clouds
white, purple, black clouds
rain clouds when they are driven by the wind
a thin wisp of cloud across a bright moon
the dark clouds of the early morning
as they turn gradually to white
What does this mean?
What could it mean?
after the fire came home
we spread the bones out in the sunlight
these bones were meant
for questions of life and death
if someone's flesh still clings to their bones
then they had done many bad things
but these were clean bones
we brought them into the house in the afternoon
and walked with them through room after room
going backwards through the seasons
until the house was still
and we put them next to the hearth
and there we heard them sing
These days, they say,
men and women are afraid
to sing the songs they know from childhood
for fear they will die from a longing for the past.
What does this mean?
[The men turn away from her, except Hesiod.]
Today the Greeks hold Troy.
Troy has fallen.
Greece has won.
Our soldiers now
are coming home.
How do you know this?
The dreamer does.
There have been rumors...
It could mean anything.
This is a lot to know
from the images of a fevered mind.
And this is the meaning then
of all the rest:
that men and women run through the streets
shouts both of happiness and of horror
joy and sorrow mingle equally
like vinegar and oil in one cup
These are Greeks and Trojans,
victors and their prey.
Falling upon one another
equal victims of their violence.
How can one person bring himself to kill another?
To take another human life.
Snuff it out.
This precious thing.
I don't understand it.
So, all that remains
is the journey home.
All that remains
is the welcoming of the conquerors.
the most disagreeable sights
come unbidden to one's mind:
a young woman, no more than thirteen years of age
with some pain in her chest
no one knows
no one can identify it
and yet it makes the girl lose all her appetite.
Or a woman with sleeves of unequal length,
it makes her look off balance somehow,
one expects her to tilt right over
fall to the ground
you want to reach out
or say to her
your hand comes up as though to say—
and then, of course,
you feel foolish
when you were only trying to help.
Or then again
I wrote down a poem I had heard
and left it on a table
so that one of the maids picked it up
and read it out loud
and I felt,
however wrong it was to feel it,
how devastating it is
to hear a poem rattled off
without any proper feeling.
you sometimes hear
a mother or a father to a child
I love you, dear—
so that you think
your heart could break
or you could choke with rage.
These times we live in
an eternal present
never an evening of peace.
One time I dreamed
that I had turned into the River Xanthus in Troy.
I bled for ten years,
and still I didn't die,
because the river is immortal.
[he fights against his trembling from time to time]
To see a river in a dream is a bad sign
Dead oxen even worse.
Or black mares will signify a famine.
A hare signifies an unlucky journey.
The sight of doves bespeaks involvement.
A mouse: propitious circumstances.
To hold a sparrow
struggling in your hand
To swallow a bunch of grapes indicates rain.
the uselessness of labor.
There are times you will see a black maidenhair fern
in shady places
or sometimes near the trunks of trees
on the banks of ditches
in wet ravines
on heaths or in the woods
in turf bogs
on the high rocks
in the clefts of rocks
on rotted wood
or in a meadow
each one of these has its own affect
whether in a dream
or in the waking world
You might see two boys playing with a bird
an old woman feeding a cat
a navelled fig with wrinkled skin
a walnut just out of its green rind
a quince covered with fresh dew
combs of horn
silk stockings of the colors of the orient
shoes of Spanish leather
rolls of parchment
a bundle of tobacco
an orange gathered from the tree that grew over Zebulon's Tomb
birds nests from China
the complete head and body of Father Crispin
buried long ago in the Vault of the Cordeliers at Toulouse;
a stone taken from a vulture's head;
a large ostrich egg on which is inscribed the famous battle of Alcazar
in which three kings lost their lives;
the skin of a snake bred from the spinal marrow of a man;
a toothpick case
an eyebrow brush
a pair of French scissors
a quart of orange flower water
four pounds of scented snuff
a tweezer case—
an amber-headed cane
a tailor's bill
lessons for the flute
an almanac for the year 1700
pieces of white spar
a piece of the stone of the oracle of Apollo
a Turkish powder horn
a giant's head
a music box
a quill pen
a red umbrella
some faded thing
handkerchiefs made of lawn
of Irish linen
of Chinese silk
and each one of these
may make you wonder
whether it signifies the past or the future
or is only meant to
fill you with a longing
for such moments of life
in the afternoon
and the wish
that they should go on forever.
[The Messenger enters.
He is filthy, in torn clothes.
One arm gone.
A foot wrapped in bandages.
Dragging a large burlap bag.]
Are you veterans?
Of the war?
Of the war in Troy.
Not of that war.
You've returned from Troy?
My ship was the first to land.
There are some others with me.
Some other boats went down.
There was a storm.
And King Agamemnon?
He's on his way.
I don't know.
Like I said:
some ships went down.
Of course, I was only a cog in the wheel
but I myself never mistreated a prisoner,
far less killed one.
They left their cattle in the stables
dinner on the tables
of those who had fallen
not all were dead,
some were clawing at their clothes
or crawling over the motionless bodies of those who were dead
some spurting blood
hands clutching at their torn flesh
arms moving puppetlike
We paused for a moment by the river of time,
as they say,
sucked the honey from the bone-marrow of some strangers
and smeared it across their faces
Stirred up some blood.
And on the day of judgment
my fellows and I who fought in this war
will collect our scattered bones
and submit them for roll-call,
and we will be told to advance—
and we'll do it!
Man is spirit, but what is spirit? Spirit is the self, but what is the
self? The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self, or it
is that in the relation that the relation relates itself to its own self;
the self is not the relation but consists in the fact that the relation
relates itself to its own self. Man is the synthesis of the infinite and
the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. So
regarded, man is not yet a self, but may become a self in relation to
another, as in war.
What a lie to say that fortune favors the bold.
Fortune favors the cretins and the madmen.
Fortune is on the side of the savages.
What would you know?
Thrown into an army in the field a man is weaned from whatever excess of
tenderness toward his precious person he may bring with him
These are visions I can see
at any time of night or day
eyes opened or eyes closed
Where there were houses
we left rubble,
ulcers festering on naked terrain.
We smashed our way into crowds
of men and women
raging and beating and hunting;
we drove them across the fields
like frightened horses;
we set fire to their houses;
we hurled their corpses into wells;
everything that came to hand
our hearts were emptied of human feelings;
we burned whatever we could.
There comes a time
you can't distinguish the images of day from night.
The body is nothing
but a product of semen and of blood
which then becomes a meal for death
a dwelling place for suffering
a tavern for disease.
A man may know all this
from lack of judgment
drowning in a sea of ignorance,
he yearns for love, for women, and for power.
In the aftermath,
one feels the chill in the countryside,
the low-lying white mist,
shards of farmhouses in the haze,
no living thing
no bird, no animal broke the silence
not one stone left standing on another,
rather a wilderness of stones,
even if one could trace it for a distance,
there would be a danger of getting lost,
because there is no sign of direction.
No one knew what was happening
those were the rumors we heard back home—
or who had a chance to survive and who didn't
where the safe places were
who was born under a lucky star
It's all very complicated.
All a matter of the complicity of "all parties"
a result of ancient feuds
difficult to pin the blame.
a light ash of gold
covering the fields
the victors covered in glory
dust to golden dust
this is precious dust
One had the impression
of having passed out of the modern world
back into a vanished civilization.
The color of the dead:
faces changed from white to yellow-grey,
I've brought these things home
[he opens a burlap bag,
brings out battered, dirt-encrusted gold cups
and/or rusted 19th century wagon wheels
a broken glass of indeterminate age
and other ruined precious or not-so-precious items
from various epochs]
And these words
[handing a scroll to one of the chorus
who unrolls it to read]
to be inscribed in some public place:
The Argive army conquered Troy
And brought home over land and sea
These hard-won spoils, the pride and joy
of ancient palaces, to be
Trophies of victory, and grace
the temples of the Hellene race
The rumor we heard was that there is no longer a menagerie in the royal
palace of Troy. That even those innocent animals were killed.
I don't know anything about that.
The last grizzly bear has died, they say.
I don't know anything about that.
They say that a few ponies are still wandering around in that no-man's
land. But that most of them were caught and butchered.
That's not true.
I've heard that someone saw a peacock and a white swan killed for no good
reason at all.
There are always rumors.
By definition none of them are true.
We are told there are witnesses
to some of these things.
Make of it what you will.
For my part,
I remember none of it.
And as for me, and for my friends, we're finished—
stripped of whatever it was we had.
Before, the quiet moments between battle
were not moments of peace
but periods of mounting tension
anticipating their release—
there will be no release,
just the waiting.
Sensation is dead.
Time rolls on—but it has lost
whatever it had
that was brilliant.
Now at last
the long war is over
and the most pervasive feeling
of those who fought
is anxiety about the peace.
They won't have long to wait.
There's no such thing as peace.
Peace is nothing but
an armistice in a war that never ends.
declared by old men
who send their young to die
Clutching a weapon
from the depths of sleep
it's in our blood,
the same gesture with which
Ice Age man took hold of his ax of stone.
There was a time
when you came indoors from the fields
you would expect to see
traces of human occupation everywhere;
fires still burning in the fireplaces
because someone meant to come right back;
a book lying face down on the window seat;
and beside it
full of cloudy water;
flowers in a cut glass vase;
an unfinished game of solitaire;
a piece of cross-stitching
with a needle and thread stuck in it;
or lead soldiers
in the middle of the library floor;
lights left burning in empty rooms.
This was the inner life,
not found in bare inscriptions,
[They pull an old victrola from the detritus around them
and play a section of Arvo Part's Te Deum.
As the music plays, they sit or stand silently and listen.]
His hands and face are deeply stained with blood.
His clothes are filthy and torn and stained with blood.
He has a large hawser over his shoulder, and with it, he drags behind him
packing boxes, steamer trunks, other things containing the spoils of war.
Many more spoils than the Messenger was entitled to.
The glaring hot sun of midday.
Like a ghost.
How does one address
a vision such as this?
With pity or with praise?
Why not say right out:
ten years ago
when you left for Troy
we thought you were wrong.
Those times are past.
I bring a conqueror's greeting
to my home.
We brought a just revenge to Troy.
For the Trojans' rape of Helen
we have made the city
pay a woman's price.
We have ground that city's bones
we have turned its walls to dust
And even now smoke still rises
to mark that great city's fall.
Come face to face
with what it is to be a man.
We were told
that even innocent children
were killed in this war—
young girls even
That's not true.
Not to my knowledge.
This is not something our men would have done.
We were told the men took pleasure
breaking into private homes
dragging women out into the streets and...
That's not true.
Perhaps one or two.
War is a school of strenuous life.
War is a school of heroism.
I was told of one man
who lifted a body that had fallen to the floor
placed her on the couch
she stretched out her arms to protect herself
These stories are not true.
I've heard such things myself.
The world is a bleeding wound
when it comes to that.
One conversation was quoted to me
between a soldier and a woman.
He said I'd like to hear your opinion as an artist.
About what, she asked.
About whether you have a perfect figure, he said.
The story is he had insisted
that she let her gown drop to the floor....
These are fictions
made up by demented people
All these stories that you hear
What do you think is true?
The natural state of a man,
the ecstatic state, will find itself in the visions of things that appear
cadavers, for example,
nudity, explosions, spilled blood, sunbursts, abscesses, thunder.
So much is undeniable.
Everything that exists
when it comes to that.
The sun in the sky
like an orgy of frozen light,
in an agony of fire.
The joy of life that comes into the world
to give itself
and be annihilated.
living and dead
Blood and open bodies.
A human being can be thought of as a tree trunk on fire
You can lay them down screaming
on their stomachs or their backs—
or you can spare the fire
and lay them out on the beach
nothing more than breathless lacerations
getting up or moaning on the ground
then you might say
the eyes, the ears, the brain
are the complications of the buccal orifice
the penis, the testicles
the female organs that correspond to these
are the complications of the anal orifice.
Thus one has the familiar violent thrusts
that come from the interior of the body
from one end of the body or the other
wherever they meet the weakest resistance
as in war.
Everything that seemed impossible yesterday
has become entirely possible today.
One group of soldiers
had caught a female ape
from the menagerie
tied up with ropes
struggling to break free
but trussed up like a chicken
legs folded back against her body
tied upside down to a stake
planted in the middle of a pit
howling and swallowing dirt
its anus screaming pink and pointing at the sky
like a flower
and all the men around the pit
stripped naked for the work and sweating with pleasure
armed with shovels
filling in the pit with dirt
burying the ape alive
its screams choked on the dirt
until all that remains
is the radiant flower of its anus
touched by gentle white fingers
its violent contractions
helpless as it strangles on the dirt
and all who stand around the pit and watch
are overcome by heat and stupor
their throats choked by sighs
and crying out
eyes moist with tears.
Who will pay for this?
I don't think a girl can avoid
thinking of her little rear end
when she sees
that anal baldness of the apes
on the other side of the bars of a cage
Take any war by itself
it makes no sense.
The meaning of any moment in history
cannot appear all at once.
Only in the succession of moments can it become clear.
One moment meaningful only in relation to the other moments before and
We are at each instant
only fragments deprived of meaning.
The totality of time alone
makes up and completes a human life.
This is how men are.
I can imagine the earth projected in space
as it is
like a woman screaming,
her head in flames.
The demons may be women—
as agents of destruction
or trapdoors into nothingness—
women as elements within the undirected streaming
of pleasure that will kill—
or they may be children
one might take a child by its feet
from its bed at night
carry it out to the courtyard
swing it round in an arc
and smash its head against a tree
Or take a girl from her mother's arms
and tear her in half
like a rag.
who look to you
as they might look to their fathers
eyes wide with trust
Ladies should never fall in love.
They become stars
no one can ever reach. To look taller
they cut their heads off and stand on them.
Some fall in love with foreign accents
and dark vowels.
You see them late at night
in taverns, talking with dangerous criminals
Late at night, their voices
are small animals
waiting to be fed.
It's a nightmare really.
When men go to war
they invade their own homes first.
They murder first what's best in them.
A man can be completely immobilized by grief.
One company of soldiers
rounded up two hundred women
took them to an empty slaughterhouse
made them strip naked
and get down on all fours
they drove them forward
to a ramp
where they were
where the soldiers
lashed out at them
forcing them to
until they could crawl no more
their arms and legs hacked off
their headless torsos
left to fall
into the abyss below
everything is possible.
But we have put all this
behind us now.
Now we look to the future.
To the just rewards of peace.
To the restoration of the civic order.
The comforts of a secure home
The love of children.
The fruits and labors of peacetime
of nurturing our children
of passing down to a new generation
the values we all cherish.
The mornings of shared expectation
long afternoons of idle play
of company in the evenings
the pleasures of the table
of polite conversation
delights of the mind
and sweet sleep.
A world restored.
with blood red tapestries in her arms.]
my lord and husband.
There was a rumor
that you had come back with another woman.
But I see that it's not true.
What shall I tell you all at once
of these ten years
that you've been gone
And what shall I...
Ten years alone
with each day
new rumors of your death
each traveller bearing news
worse than the last.
To see you now,
my eyes fill with tears
to know relief
from all my sorrow
is here within my reach at last
So many times
wavering between life and death
I've been overwhelmed with despair
our child is gone
not standing here with us on your day of victory.
Why do you start?
I mean Orestes.
Fearing unrest here at home
if you did not return
I sent him away
where he would be safe.
Of all the many things I find agreeable
sometimes I think none is so comforting
as when one has an upsetting dream
and wonders what it can mean.
In great anxiety
one consults an interpreter of dreams
and is told
that it has no special significance at all.
I've watched for you every night
my eyes still burn with watching for you
praying for your return
I wept by the bed I kept for you alone
In my dreams I saw this moment come
I never let it die.
Come home with me.
Come to our bed,
lie with me
in my arms
But no. Wait.
Don't put your foot on the naked earth.
Have the honor that is due to you.
Walk into your home
on these tapestries.
I meant to write a poem
welcoming you home
that others would remember
and copy down in their diaries.
Though this is something that has never happened to me
I can imagine how pleasing it must be.
But even so, without a poem,
walk into your home
on these tapestries.
for your compassion,
and your praise.
I am exhausted
and I would lie down.
But, thank you:
no red silks for me to walk on.
This is an honor due the gods,
not to me.
What man should set his foot
on such rich treasures—
woven by the hands of many women.
Such pride is frightening to me.
Honor me, please, as a man,
not a god.
The sea is teeming with such dyes as these,
you're no king of paupers,
there are scores more silks like these
within your house.
This one time.
For this moment like no other in your life.
Celebrate your coming home.
Thank you, Clytemnestra,
but I would rather come through the door
with an easy mind.
[She will try anything: seduction, flirtation, playfulness, humor.]
Indulge me just this once.
If I would promise
to undress you very carefully
give you a bath
wash the dust of travel from your body
If I would promise
to wash your hair
let you put your head back in my hands
hold you there to rest
You make it hard
for me to refuse.
Bathe your tired eyes
with my tongue.
Put my tongue in your ear.
Or up your nostril.
You go too far!
If the Trojan king had won the war,
what do you think he would have done?
He might have walked on silks such as these.
Will you be humbler than the man you've beaten?
Yes, I might.
Why be so insistent?
Does it suit a woman to be so
Does it suit a man to be so set against
even the littlest desire of his wife?
I think these red silks suit you.
Then, too, does it not suit greatness
to accept defeat with grace.
so accustomed to being victor in all things,
have had so little opportunity
to show this form of magnanimity
and accept this honor I would give you.
You have the persistence of a great soldier.
Yield to me.
You the victor;
give me my victory, too.
Since you are so resolved.
Untie my sandals.
If I am to walk across
this deep-sea treasure,
let me feel it on my skin.
[Clytemnestra takes off his sandals,
then rises and takes his hand,
and walks with him toward the house,
he on the silks, she just off the edge.]
CLYTEMNESTRA [calling out loudly, triumphantly]
[Hesiod begins to tremble uncontrollably.
He collapses to the ground
in an epileptic seizure.
The other chorus members rush to him to help.
He speaks in fits and bursts—
until the end,
when he subsides somewhat,
speaks more slowly,
and finally is relaxed, and exhausted,
in his final words.]
A wretched ghost—
He bares his teeth
and from the corpse upon his lap
calmly eats the remnant to the marrow of its bones.
[They turn to see Cassandra.]
[Cassandra emerges from the packing boxes
or from a steamer trunk.
She is bleeding from the eyes
wearing torn clothes.
What are you accustomed to seeing in this port?
Cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls?
fine linen, purple silk and scarlet cloth
every sort of citron wood
and articles of every kind made of ivory
cargoes of cinnamon and spice
incense, myrrh and frankincense
of wine and olive oil
cattle and sheep
horses and carriages
the bodies and souls of men
and of women.
The merchants of the earth
will weep and mourn over this city.
They will say:
the fruit you longed for is gone from you.
Your country has become the home for demons.
The merchants of the earth grew rich
from your excessive luxuries
and all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of your greed.
But you do not realize that you are wretched,
pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.
Here I am!
I stand at the door and knock!
I am Cassandra,
the daughter of the murdered King of Troy.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door
I will come in
and tell you what I see that is to come!
Every sea captain
and all who travel by ship
and all who earn their living from the sea
will stand far off
When they see the smoke of her burning
they will exclaim:
Was there ever a city like this great city?
They will throw dust on their heads and weep.
The music of harpists
flute players and trumpeters
will never be heard in you again
No workman of any trade
will ever be found in you again
The sound of a millstone
will never be heard in you again
The light of a lamp
will never shine in you again
The voice of bridgroom and bride
will never be heard in you again
Your merchants were the world's great men
By your magic spell
all the nations of the world were led astray.
On your shores
I saw four living creatures
covered with eyes, front and back
and I heard one of the creatures say
in a voice of thunder
And I looked,
and there before me
was a white horse
whose rider held a bow.
And I heard the second creature say
And another horse came out
with a rider carrying a sword
And I heard the third creature say
And there before me was a black horse
and its rider was holding a pair of scales
And I heard the fourth creature say
and I looked,
and there before me was a pale horse
with a rider named Death
And these four were each given power
over a fourth of the earth,
to kill by sword, famine, plague,
and by the wild beasts of the earth.
What sort of person
would think civilized men and women
would give serious attention
to this sort of wild superstition?
There is more truth in poetry
than in a mere rendering of the facts
of any matter.
That's nothing but a recipe
Now I see
whispering in the house
children butchered like lambs
by their own elders
Look what they carry in their hands:
their own flesh,
limb and rib and heart they hold;
children made to herd their own mothers and fathers
to the fires;
in a mass grave:
a boy, dressed in white,
his face pressed to his mother's shoulder;
a child screams,
and from its mouth comes a bloody foam;
infants taken from their mother's arms
and thrown head first, with awful force
onto the road;
a child swung round by a soldier
its head smashed against a wagon wheel;
bodies clinging so tightly together
they can't be separated
even after death;
a bucket pulled up from a well
half full of human eyes
bones ground to powder
and taken away in sacks
thirty sacks a day
the altar is prepared
a hunting net made ready
the treacherous water's poured, the bath is full
she holds him in a trap made like a gown
despairing hands reach out
He crashes down!
She has murdered him!
Agamemnon is dead!
See what comes here
to those who put their trust in earthly power
to those who take their happy state for granted
Here your country stands in ruin
this masterpiece of the gods,
with all her towering beauty
her massive walls
her men and women
secure in the comforts of their settled lives
the love of their children
smoke rises up from every corner
the country is looted even while it burns
Could this never happen to you?
Look on Troy,
look on the House of Atreus
and see on what uncertain ground
the pomp of empire stands.
run to your own death
if all you know to do
is contribute to the pain.
[She bolts and runs at full speed to join Agamemnon.]
The doors fly open,
and we see
Agamemnon's dead body in a silver tub,
and Cassandra's dead body across it.
Clytemnestra holds a bloody knife.
I said many things to my husband
I said I longed for him to return
I said my eyes burned with watching for him
I said I wept with joy to see him come home to me
Every word I said was true
And had I known you were bringing home
this woman for your bed
I'd have longed even more intently
for your homecoming.
I only wish
we had had a chance
to talk to one another
I wish you could have told me
like a human being
what brought you to murder
your own sweet child.
One day, her tears will catch up with you.
How could a person kill another human creature?
I think, of course,
if any person does—
it remains, somehow, a complete mystery.
It's a nightmare really.
So now I've finished all I was called upon
And I only pray to the gods
who persecute this House:
now forget the past.
It has no claim on us.
We're done with it.
Leave us alone.
Oppress some other home.
I ask nothing more.
And do you think
the gods have done with you?
Now you are a murderer.
An executioner for justice sake.
This man was a murderer,
sacrificing his own daughter
to his ambition and his cowardice.
Whose life was safe at home
with a man who would murder
his own defenseless daughter?
I apologize for nothing.
I beg no one for forgiveness.
Do you think I don't know it was wrong?
Although I beg forgiveness.
I would cut his throat again.
And be, yourself, a murderer.
What would you have had me do?
Appeal to the courts?
What court would conduct a fair trial?
He was a hero.
I don't know what could bring a person
to kill another human being!
How could this be explained?
What would have happened
but that I would have been put in chains
as a mad woman
and he would have gone free
to bring some new woman into my house.
I have two other children
Would they be safe?
Where were you
when this man destroyed every shred
That was your time to speak,
What was true then
is true today.
When the fabric of the civic order is torn,
no one is safe.
This is how it has been,
and ever will be.
I share them.
But they do not describe the world I live in
or protect me from the man
to whom I was married.
There's no law
that could explain
the life I've come to live
and the world in which I live it.
Don't expect you can appeal now
to some idea of justice
or some other notion of the good
to protect you from those who hate you.
I need no protection now.
I have my children.
No one would touch me.
He is a gigolo,
and a homicidal maniac.
He is naked and wears a sheet.]
What's all this bickering?
This is a day of deliverance,
a time for celebration,
a time you can believe at last
there is justice in the world.
The gods do see to that.
Agamemnon has paid the price at last
for what his father did to mine.
[Here follows history as vitriol,
history as vengefulness.
A nasty recital,
filled with rage and hatred.]
All of you know
this was the punishment that was his due.
His father Atreus
drove my father Thyestes
from this city.
And when my father returned
to make peace with Atreus,
Atreus gave a banquet in Thyestes' honor.
Only because I was an infant
left at home
was I myself absent from this feast.
And for dinner
Atreus served to Thyestes
the bodies, chopped and cooked
of my brothers,
Thyestes' own two sons.
Has ever a more unspeakable
crime been committed?
Was the House of Atreus—
and its heirs to this monster's crown—
to escape the consequences of this act?
Was such horror simply to be forgotten?
It was left to me
to avenge my father
against the House of Atreus.
To take back this city
from the heirs of Atreus.
Now I am satisfied at last,
I could die now
seeing Agamemnon finally brought to justice.
I could have killed him with hammering in his head
I could have killed him driving nails into his chest
I would have split him with an ax
right up his buttocks
I could have hung his torso from a meat hook
The swift cutting of his throat
was an act of euthanasia.
Think no more about it.
What's done is done.
Let's not wallow in the past.
Let's put all that behind us
and move on.
[And what follows is pornographic, not tender—
or tender, and also pornographic.]
I know how to
soothe your anguish,
make you forget.
I know how to hold you
my head on your breast
fingers twined in your hair
to kiss your breast
caress it with my tongue
I know how to slide my hand
down to your thigh
let my fingers wander up inside you
and with my hand thrust deep inside
to talk with you
that moment when
whatever it is I ask
you speak the truth to me
as you have always done
in these years past
when Agamemnon was away.
I know how you would be comforted
to feel the ache of longing
the satisfaction of love.
A hand slipped round your buttock
coming to you from behind
as though you were a girl again
making love for the first time
a thirteen year old
in her father's arms
Come with me then
and come again.
Let me hold you
in my arms.
If men and women knew true love,
they would know true peace forever.
[Clytemnestra turns and goes with him.]
All the things of the world
come into being by themselves
and so they are immortal.
Life itself is eternal.
But our individual lives have beginnings and ends.
And this individual life
is distinguished from all other things
by the rectilinear course of its movement,
which cuts through the cycle of biological life.
This is mortality:
to move along a line
in a universe where everything,
if it moves at all,
moves in cycles.
And all things that owe their existence to men,
all works, all deeds, all words,
unless men may endow these works and deeds
with some permanence
by making them forever memorable:
and then these things
may enter the world of everlastingness,
and mortal men and women
may find their place in the cosmos.
This is the riddle of time:
the human capacity to achieve remembrance
is the capacity to transform time
Nothing human is forever;
except the human heart
that has the capacity to remember
and the capacity to say:
And so it is
that our own hearts
and nothing else
are the final arbiters
of what it is
to be human.
The text for Agamemnon 2.0 was written under the direction of Brian Kulick and with the assistance of Greg Gunter as dramaturg. Composed the way Max Ernst made his Fatagaga pieces at the end of World War I, some of the texts were inspired by or taken from the work of Hesiod, Herodotus, Thucydides, Homer, Aeschylus, Artemidorus, The Book of Revelations, Philip Vellacott, Slavenka Drakulic, Zlatko Dizdarevic, Zbigneiw Herbert, Pierre Klossowski, Georges Bataille, Sei Shonagon, and Hannah Arendt.
Charles Mee's work has been made possible by the support of Richard B. Fisher and Jeanne Donovan Fisher.