Two points. First, Eliot was not a Christian when he wrote Sweeney
Agonistes. He was, however, when he made the comment about expiation.
However, I am not sure expiation (which is different from atonement after
all, and absolution) is a private matter; it certainly is not in the
I'm not sure where Eliot ever says 'a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do'.
Sweeney says, 'Any man has to, wants to, needs to'. Of course, some men do
have to: Orestes, to begin with.
I think the struggle between crime and motive is, as it will always be, the
----- Original Message -----
From: "Nancy Gish" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, September 28, 2002 6:43 PM
Subject: Re: Sweeney Agonistes and the Furies: Reply to Peter
> Dear Jennifer,
> This is wonderful context, and I agree with all you say except that it is
> precisely this notion that expiation is a private matter between oneself
> a god that I do not accept. I think as a Christian Eliot might have also
> seen expiation as involving the contrition that requires reparation and a
> choice never to repeat. Agamemnon stays dead of course.
> I am only distinguishing between the texts, on which I think you are
> absolutely right, and my earlier view on Eliot as a person, which is
> separate from the value of the poetry OR the visions of right and just in
> I think where we may disagree is in admiring Eliot's comment that a man's
> gotta do what a man's gotta do. Eliot, at least, did not have to do what
> did, or at least not in the self-preserving ways he did it--in my view.
> that does not change the way I love the poems.
> Date sent: Sat, 28 Sep 2002 18:08:32 +0100
> Send reply to: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum."
<[log in to unmask]>
> From: Jennifer Formichelli <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Sweeney Agonistes and the Furies: Reply to Peter
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Peter writes: "Then of course there are the figures of the Erinyes that
> are alluded to even in Sweeney Ag. and that appear in one form or another
> in the other plays. "
> Firstly, the only other play in which the Erinyes, or the Furies (who in
> Grecian tragedies punish those who commit familial murder) appear is The
> Family Reunion, in which play Orestes' words upon seeing them for the
> first time are alluded to by Harry. Eliot discusses this scene in 'Poetry
> and Drama' (1951), OPP.
> Secondly, the Furies are not *in* SA. The only place they appear is in the
> epigraph, and there to Orestes' eyes only; after committing matricide in
> revenge for the murder of his father Agamemnon (under the order of Apollo)
> he sees them , and only he sees them then, for the first time. He does,
> however, know they are coming. (It is an irony that the Furies cannot
> themselves pursue Clytemnestra, Orestes' mother, for the murder,
> because she is not related by blood to Agamemnon). Orestes is guilty and
> goes to Apollo's shrine to purify himself of the killing; but then, the
> is more complex. Had he not committed the crime, he would have been
> hounded by the Furies of his father's curse, the punishment for a son who
> does not revenge his father. So they come from both sides. Moreover, had
> he taken this course, he would not have received the aid of Apollo which
> ultimately saved his House and helped to end the tradition of revenge
> killings in the polis (in Eumenides).
> Eliot wrote in 1936, in one of his most profound parenthesis: '(Yet
> Aeschylus, at least, knew that it might be a man's duty to commit a crime,
> and accomplish his expiation for it.)' I think it is not helpful to look
> at Eliot's situations unless we situate them. There is much more to
> Orestes than guilt; Eliot prefaces Sweeney A with his whole situation
> (including the Trojan War which his father carries with him).
> Yours, Jennifer