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Agamemnon 2.0


By

Charles L. Mee


Based on the play by Aeschylus

Darkness.


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.

HERODOTUS

When I was a boy,

all this was open field.


HESIOD

There's some comfort

in the memory of it.
THUCYDIDES

If it's true.


HERODOTUS

I was here.

I know it to be true.
THUCYDIDES

What one remembers

and what is true

are so seldom the same.


HERODOTUS

These days,

even now,

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

shall be


like ghosts at cock crow.
[Homer steps forward out of the darkness,

the light catching his glasses.


HOMER

One time

long ago

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

an earthquake

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

exactly

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,

their treasures,

books, poems,

each room given things of singular beauty

or distinctive ugliness,

to make them vivid

unforgettable

memories disfigured,

faces splashed with paint

or stained with blood

each moment suspended

in this geometry of memory, thought

and feeling.
HERODOTUS

Ten years ago,

the sons of Atreus

Agamemnon and Menelaus

left this spot

for Aulis

where they sailed for Troy

in search of Helen,

stolen from her husband Menelaus

and taken home to Troy by Paris.


HESIOD

Like any slave


THUCYDIDES

or piece of property.


HESIOD

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....


HERODOTUS

One thousand ships

An army of determined men

Set forth to bring her back


HOMER

like fiends of hell


HERODOTUS

and to destroy the Trojans

for the wrong

they had done

sheltering Paris

even as he assaulted

all trust

that is the only true shelter

of men and women in the world.
THUCYDIDES

And yet, these fiends of hell

had miscalculated the winds

and could not get their ships to sail


HOMER

They found the body of a pregnant hare


HESIOD [trembling]

and the prophet Calchas interpreted

this portent for Agamemnon,

saying


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


THUCYDIDES

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.
[He trembles,

so unsteady for a moment now

that he must kneel on the ground.
HERODOTUS

Caught in this dilemma

between private love

and public duty


HESIOD

A father's love

and his lust for power--

this meeting place

of tender heart

and a love of domination:

Murdered her.
HOMER

An iron bridal feast.


HERODOTUS

And so brought a curse down

on himself and on his army

even as they sailed to victory.


THUCYDIDES

The power of a public man is measured

by how much blood and treasure

he has the authority to waste.


HESIOD

I saw them sail.


THUCYDIDES

Not fit to sail with them

but fit to stay at home and gossip
HESIOD

To tell their story

over and over again

until we understand it.


HERODOTUS

Ten years they've fought


HOMER

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.
[silence]
HESIOD

One time


I found myself alone

in midafternoon

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.


Sometimes

when I am by myself

I carry on a dialogue

with the past,

listening carefully

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

silent souls

so they might feed on our compassion

and I might learn the source

of our present woes.


[Clytemnestra enters.

She is pale white, as the moon,

white as a Butoh dancer,

a complexion without blood,

and with radiant blood red lips.

THUCYDIDES

The queen.


HERODOTUS

Clytemnestra.


CLYTEMNESTRA

I dreamed last night

a torch was lit

on Mt. Ida--

and Hephaestus, god of fire,

hurled the light

to Lemnos

and from there to Athos,

the fire flew from torch to torch

mountaintop to mountaintop

island to island

across the sea

like new stars

or suns


to Makistos

Asopus


Cithaeron

Aulis
[silence]


and from Aulis

home


to me.
I love the clouds

any 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?
THUCYDIDES

What could it mean?


CLYTEMNESTRA

And then


after the fire came home

I dreamed

we spread the bones out in the sunlight

these bones were meant

for questions of life and death

They say:

if someone's flesh still clings to their bones

then they had done many bad things

but these were clean bones

pure white

we brought them into the house in the afternoon

and walked with them through room after room

going backwards through the seasons

many years

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.
HESIOD

Today the Greeks hold Troy.


THUCYDIDES

What?
HESIOD

Troy has fallen.

Greece has won.

Our soldiers now

are coming home.


THUCYDIDES

How do you know this?


HESIOD

I don't.

The queen does.
HERODOTUS

There have been rumors...


THUCYDIDES

It could mean anything.

This is a lot to know

from the images of a fevered mind.


CLYTEMNESTRA

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

unreconciled.

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.

Destroy it.

Forever.


I don't understand it.
So, all that remains

is the journey home.


All that remains

is the welcoming of the conquerors.


Sometimes,

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

something that

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

watch out!

your hand comes up as though to say--

something--

and then, of course,

you feel foolish

when you were only trying to help.

Or then again

one time

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

so clumsily

and I felt,

however wrong it was to feel it,

how devastating it is

to hear a poem rattled off

without any proper feeling.

These words

you sometimes hear

a mother or a father to a child

I love you, dear--

just


rattled off

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.

[Clytemnestra leaves.

HERODOTUS

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.


HESIOD

[he fights against his trembling from time to time]

To see a river in a dream is a bad sign

ordinarily.

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

forebodes mischief.

To swallow a bunch of grapes indicates rain.

Withered trees:

the uselessness of labor.


HOMER

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 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
HESIOD

a navelled fig with wrinkled skin


HERODOTUS

a walnut just out of its green rind


HESIOD

a quince covered with fresh dew


HOMER

hour glasses


HERODOTUS

combs of horn

buttons

silk stockings of the colors of the orient



shoes of Spanish leather

rolls of parchment

a bundle of tobacco
HESIOD

an orange gathered from the tree that grew over Zebulon's Tomb


HERODOTUS

a sitar


birds nests from China
HESIOD

prisms
HERODOTUS

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;
HESIOD

the skin of a snake bred from the spinal marrow of a man;


HOMER

jasmine


narcissus
HERODOTUS

scarlet ribbons

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--

enamelled

an amber-headed cane

a tailor's bill

lessons for the flute

an almanac for the year 1700
HESIOD

petrified moss

petrified wood

Brazil pebbles

Egyptian bloodstones

hummingbirds

pieces of white spar
HOMER

a piece of the stone of the oracle of Apollo


THUCYDIDES

Bucharest salami

a Turkish powder horn

a pistol
HESIOD

a giant's head
HERODOTUS

a music box


HOMER

a quill pen


HERODOTUS

a red umbrella


HOMER

some faded thing

handkerchiefs made of lawn

of cambric

of Irish linen

of Chinese silk


HESIOD

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.
MESSENGER

Are you veterans?


HESIOD

Of the war?


MESSENGER

Of the war in Troy.


HESIOD

No.
HOMER

Not of that war.
THUCYDIDES

You've returned from Troy?


MESSENGER

My ship was the first to land.

There are some others with me.

Not many.

Some other boats went down.

There was a storm.


THUCYDIDES

And King Agamemnon?


MESSENGER

He's on his way.


HERODOTUS

And Menelaus?


MESSENGER

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 course

of those who had fallen

not all were dead,

some were clawing at their clothes

or shrieking

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.
THUCYDIDES

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.


MESSENGER

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,

smoldering woodpiles,

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

we ruined;

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.


THUCYDIDES

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

and yet


from lack of judgment

drowning in a sea of ignorance,

he yearns for love, for women, and for power.
MESSENGER

In the aftermath,

one feels the chill in the countryside,

the low-lying white mist,

shards of farmhouses in the haze,

shattered stones,

no grass,

no ruins,

empty streets,

and silence

no living thing

no bird, no animal broke the silence

no dogs,

no children,

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.
HERODOTUS

No one knew what was happening

or why--

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
THUCYDIDES

It's all very complicated.

All a matter of the complicity of "all parties"

a result of ancient feuds

difficult to pin the blame.
MESSENGER

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,

to red,

to purple,

to green,

to black,

to slick.
So

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:
[he recites]
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


HERODOTUS

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.


MESSENGER

I don't know anything about that.


HERODOTUS

The last grizzly bear has died, they say.


MESSENGER

I don't know anything about that.


HERODOTUS

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.


MESSENGER

That's not true.


HERODOTUS

I've heard that someone saw a peacock and a white swan killed for no good reason at all.


MESSENGER

There are always rumors.

By definition none of them are true.
THUCYDIDES

We are told there are witnesses

to some of these things.
MESSENGER

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--

coming home,

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--

now


there will be no release,

just the waiting.

Sensation is dead.

Time rolls on--but it has lost

whatever it had

that was brilliant.


[He leaves.
HERODOTUS

Now at last

the long war is over

and the most pervasive feeling

of those who fought

is anxiety about the peace.


THUCYDIDES

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.
HOMER

These wars:

declared by old men

who send their young to die


HESIOD

Clutching a weapon

from the depths of sleep

comes easily--

it's in our blood,

the same gesture with which

Ice Age man took hold of his ax of stone.
HERODOTUS

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;

a paintbox

and beside it

a glass

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;

building blocks

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,

ancestral lists,

great events.


[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.

Agamemnon enters.

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.

THUCYDIDES

Agamemnon.


HESIOD

Like a ghost.


HERODOTUS

How does one address

a vision such as this?

With pity or with praise?


HESIOD

Why not say right out:

ten years ago

when you left for Troy

we thought you were wrong.

Misguided.

Wrong.
THUCYDIDES

Those times are past.


HERODOTUS

Agamemnon.

Welcome home.
AGAMEMNON

Thank you.

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.


HESIOD

We were told

that even innocent children

were killed in this war--

young girls even
AGAMEMNON

That's not true.

Not to my knowledge.

This is not something our men would have done.


HERODOTUS

We were told the men took pleasure

breaking into private homes

dragging women out into the streets and...


AGAMEMNON

That's not true.

Perhaps one or two.

War is a school of strenuous life.

War is a school of heroism.
THUCYDIDES

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
AGAMEMNON

These stories are not true.

I've heard such things myself.

The world is a bleeding wound

when it comes to that.
THUCYDIDES

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....


AGAMEMNON

These are fictions

made up by demented people

All these stories that you hear

What do you think is true?
After all,

The natural state of a man,

the ecstatic state, will find itself in the visions of things that appear suddenly:

cadavers, for example,

nudity, explosions, spilled blood, sunbursts, abscesses, thunder.

So much is undeniable.


Everything that exists

destroys itself

when it comes to that.

The sun in the sky

like an orgy of frozen light,

lost.


Consuming itself

and dying.

The stars

consuming themselves

in an agony of fire.

The joy of life that comes into the world

to give itself

and be annihilated.

Everything

living and dead

mortally wounded.

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

shapeless silhouettes

half eaten

getting up or moaning on the ground

then you might say

the head--

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

indifferently ejected

from one end of the body or the other

discharged,

wherever they meet the weakest resistance

as in war.
HERODOTUS

Everything that seemed impossible yesterday

has become entirely possible today.
AGAMEMNON

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

and anticipation

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.


HESIOD

Who will pay for this?


AGAMEMNON

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 after.

We are at each instant

only fragments deprived of meaning.

The totality of time alone

makes up and completes a human life.


HOMER

This is how men are.


AGAMEMNON

I can imagine the earth projected in space

as it is

in reality

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


In war

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.
These girls

who look to you

as they might look to their fathers

innocent


begging

eyes wide with trust

and love
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.
HERODOTUS

When men go to war

they invade their own homes first.
HESIOD

They murder first what's best in them.


HERODOTUS

A man can be completely immobilized by grief.


AGAMEMNON

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

like cattle

they drove them forward

to a ramp

where they were

where the soldiers

lashed out at them

with knives

and axes


forcing them to
keep crawling

until they could crawl no more

their torsos

their arms and legs hacked off

their headless torsos

left to fall

into the abyss below
HESIOD

After this

everything is possible.
AGAMEMNON

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

and family.

The love of children.

The fruits and labors of peacetime

of building

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

of music

and sweet sleep.

A world restored.

[Clytemnestra enters

with blood red tapestries in her arms.
Agamemnon,

my lord and husband.


AGAMEMNON

Clytemnestra.


[silence. rigidity.
CLYTEMNESTRA

There was a rumor

that you had come back with another woman.

But I see that it's not true.


AGAMEMNON

No.
CLYTEMNESTRA

Welcome home.
What shall I tell you all at once

of these ten years

that you've been gone
AGAMEMNON

And what shall I...


CLYTEMNESTRA

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
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.

My husband.

Come.


Come home with me.

Come to our bed,

lie with me

in my arms

forever.
But no. Wait.

Don't put your foot on the naked earth.

Come.

Have the honor that is due to you.



Walk into your home

on these tapestries.


I meant to write a poem

welcoming you home

something special

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.
AGAMEMNON

Clytemnestra,

my wife,

thank you--

for your compassion,

your understanding,

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.


CLYTEMNESTRA

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.

Come.


This one time.

For this moment like no other in your life.

Celebrate your coming home.
AGAMEMNON

Thank you, Clytemnestra,

but I would rather come through the door

with an easy mind.


[She will try anything: seduction, flirtation, playfulness, humor.
CLYTEMNESTRA

Indulge me just this once.


AGAMEMNON

Please.
CLYTEMNESTRA

If I would promise

to undress you very carefully

give you a bath

wash the dust of travel from your body

very slowly.
AGAMEMNON

Would you?


CLYTEMNESTRA

If I would promise

to wash your hair

let you put your head back in my hands

hold you there to rest
AGAMEMNON

You make it hard

for me to refuse.
CLYTEMNESTRA

Bathe your tired eyes

with my tongue.
AGAMEMNON

Well...
CLYTEMNESTRA

Put my tongue in your ear.
AGAMEMNON [smiling]

Really?
CLYTEMNESTRA

Or up your nostril.
AGAMEMNON [laughing]

You go too far!


CLYTEMNESTRA

If the Trojan king had won the war,

what do you think he would have done?
AGAMEMNON

He might have walked on silks such as these.


CLYTEMNESTRA

Will you be humbler than the man you've beaten?


AGAMEMNON

Yes, I might.

Why be so insistent?

Does it suit a woman to be so

aggressive?
CLYTEMNESTRA

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.

And you,

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.
AGAMEMNON

You have the persistence of a great soldier.


CLYTEMNESTRA

Yield to me.

You the victor;

give me my victory, too.


AGAMEMNON

Since you are so resolved.


[to Clytemnestra]
Here.

Help me.


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]

Here comes

my husband

King Agamemnon

home!

[Hesiod begins to tremble uncontrollably.



He collapses to the ground

thrashing

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.


HESIOD

A wretched ghost--

tears--

and tears--



the skin--

then


eats

first


the flesh

strong


and putrid

shoulders

buttocks

backflesh

tendons

guts


and eyes.

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

Late afternoon.


HERODOTUS

What's this?


CASSANDRA

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.

No more.


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.
THUCYDIDES

What nonsense.


CASSANDRA

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

Come!

And I looked,



and there before me

was a white horse

whose rider held a bow.
And I heard the second creature say

Come!


And another horse came out

fiery red

with a rider carrying a sword
And I heard the third creature say

Come!


And there before me was a black horse

and its rider was holding a pair of scales


And I heard the fourth creature say

Come!


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.


THUCYDIDES

What sort of person

would think civilized men and women

would give serious attention

to this sort of wild superstition?
HOMER

There is more truth in poetry

than in a mere rendering of the facts

of any matter.


THUCYDIDES

That's nothing but a recipe

for lunacy.
CASSANDRA

Now, look!

Now I see

children weeping

whispering in the house

vile plotting

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
[Cassandra screams:
She strikes!

He crashes down!

She has murdered him!

Agamemnon is dead!


Look:

you.


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,

brought down

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, then,

run to your own death

don't live

another moment

if all you know to do

is contribute to the pain.


[She bolts and runs at full speed to join Agamemnon.
A SCREAM
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.

Nighttime.


CLYTEMNESTRA

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,

I know


if any person does--

and yet


it remains, somehow, a complete mystery.
It's a nightmare really.
So now I've finished all I was called upon

to do.


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.


THUCYDIDES

And do you think

the gods have done with you?

Now you are a murderer.


CLYTEMNESTRA

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?

Unforgiveable.

Although I beg forgiveness.

I would cut his throat again.


THUCYDIDES

And be, yourself, a murderer.


CLYTEMNESTRA

What would you have had me do?

Appeal to the courts?

What court would conduct a fair trial?

He was a hero.
And anyway,

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

of justice.

That was your time to speak,

not now.
HERODOTUS

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.
CLYTEMNESTRA

Noble ideals.

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.


THUCYDIDES

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.
CLYTEMNESTRA

Protect me?

I need no protection now.

I have my children.

No one would touch me.

[Aegisthus enters.

He is a gigolo,

and a homicidal maniac.

He is naked and wears a sheet.

AEGISTHUS

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?

No. Never.
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.]


Come, Clytemnestra.

Come inside.

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.

Come.


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

Come

and come again.



Let me hold you

in my arms.

If men and women knew true love,

tenderness,

trust,

care,


they would know true peace forever.
[Clytemnestra turns and goes with him.

HESIOD


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,

are perishable--

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

into eternity.


Nothing human is forever;

everything perishes;

except the human heart

that has the capacity to remember

and the capacity to say:

never again

or

forever.
And so it is



that our own hearts

and nothing else

are the final arbiters

of what it is

to be human.

[Music.


A NOTE ON THE TEXT:
The text for this piece 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.


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