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 and
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 the
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 he
did, or at least not in the self-preserving ways he did it--in my view. And
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 matter
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).