Life As A Hedgepig

Evergreen (The Evergreen State College, where I am currently taking classes) is sort of an odd place. Walking onto campus is like walking into the Sixties, but with computers. Or something like that. The place gives the phrase "liberal arts" a whole new meaning. After being on campus for a while, you might be surprised that the buildings don't all lean a little to the left. Or a lot to the left. It can get to be disconcerting for the occasional Conservative Christian type who wanders in out of the cold; for a tree-hugger like me, it is simply exhilarating.

Anyway, Evergreen doesn't "do" grades. Students are evaluated--by their instructors, and worst of all, by themselves. Self-evaluations are hard. At least, I find them so. It is interesting to see what the instructors have to say, although most of mine have been pretty brief. I just got my latest evaluation, though, and I was both pleased and surprised by what she had to say. If asked to describe myself, "powerful personal presence" are not words that would have come to mind. I did think that I did a very good job as Clytemnestra--but I wasn't so sure that anyone else would think so. Anyway, here's what Marla had to say:

"Ceridwen has developed a deeper understanding of the philosophy and practice of criminal justice through her work in this program. She has also challenged herself to become more orally expressive. Ceridwen brought a wealth of experience to our justice studies this quarter that gave her insight into the challenges of balancing rulemaking, compassion, and punishment.

Ceridwen found it difficult to complete all her written work this quarter. The essays she did turn in were thoughtful and well-constructed. She is capable of doing excellent academic writing; I hope she will take advantage of the remainder of her college career to thoughtfully address her writing obstacles.

Early in the quarter, in her oral presentation on the philosophy of policing, Ceridwen did an excellent job of highlighting and communicating key issues from the text but seemed hesitant to connect closely with her listeners. At the end of the quarter, however, Ceridwen gave a powerful performance as Clytemnestra in our staged reading of Aeschylus' The Libation Bearers. She was an effective member of the creative ensemble and strongly contributed to the effectiveness of the presentation. Ceridwen has a powerful personal presence that deserves to be further developed along with her critical reasoning and writing skills."

... Link

Clytemnestra's Autobiography

My name is Clytemnestra. My mother was Leda--you've probably heard of her. Yes, she's that Leda, the one that was seduced by Zeus while he was in the shape of a swan. She must have had a heck of a sexual appetite, or maybe she was hoping to cover up that little episode, because she seduced her husband Tyndareus that same night. She was as fertile as she was lustful; she ended up with four children out of that one night's work. Of course, the whole Zeus incident came out in the end anyway, and people are so silly, some said she laid four eggs and that my siblings and I were hatched, rather than born!

As if that whole humiliation wasn't bad enough, I ended up with Helen--Helen the beautiful, the face-who-launched-a-thousand-ships Helen, for a half sister. Try competing with that, why don't you. Of course she was beautiful--Zeus was her father. I wasn't bad looking, but you only had to look to know which of us was the god's daughter, and which the daughter of the mortal. I don't think it bothered Castor so much as it did me; he and Pollux were inseparable anyway, even though Pollux had that immortal glow to him and Castor just looked like an ordinary prince.

Tyndareus was a King, King of Sparta, so I was a Princess at least. My father first married me to a man named Tantalus--not he of the torments, of whom the poets tell tales, but a descendant of that man. I will not bore you with the whole family tree--in truth, I am not sure I am entirely clear on it myself. But Tantalus was related both to Agamemnon (I'll get to him in a moment) and to Aegisthus, my dear, loyal companion. I bore Tantalus a child, but Agamemnon of Mycenae killed them both. And still my father, that fool, allowed Agamemnon to marry me, and married off Helen, my sister, to Menelaus, the brother of Agamemnon. And off I was carried to Mycenae, and when our father died, Menelaus ruled in Sparta.

Agamemnon was something of a Brute, but so many men are, aren't they? He was well enough looking, and he gave me pretty children, and he had riches and power (he shared his riches with me, but not his power, and that galled me). The palace was somewhat dreary, but with the bloody history of the place, that's no surprise. So we got on well enough, until Helen stirred up trouble again and we got dragged into it.

That Helen--a beautiful face, but not a brain in her head or a spine in her body, I swear. She makes getting abducted an absolute habit. Castor and Pollux dragged her back home after the first time. But when she let Paris seduce her (and I'd lay wagers that she went willingly enough, "abduction" story or not), it fell to her husband to go to fetch her back. If he'd had any sense, he'd have just let her go! But no, he has to go after her, and of course he asks his brother for help. And Agamemnon, warrior that he was, was quite willing to run off and kill Trojans for his brother's sake. And that was a dreary enough thought, but then things got ugly.

Agamemnon and I had had three children, Electra, Orestes, and my first born, my sweet flower, Iphigeneia. Orestes was the all-important heir, his father's favorite, and Electra always favored her father over me--or her dream of her father, she was so young when he left I would be surprised if she actually remembers him. But Iphigeneia was _my_ daughter. Just knocking on the door of womanhood when that damnable war broke out, she was lovely and loving, with quick fingers and a quicker mind, a daughter to be proud of. And when her father sent to me to bring her to the harbor at Aulis, where he was waiting to depart with his fleet, so that she might be married, I cursed the necessity, but we went. I figured that she would stay with me even after the wedding, since her bridegroom would be sailing off to war, and if we were lucky, the man might die in the war, so I need not lose my daughter at all.

But he lied to me, the thrice-cursed bastard. I brought her in fine robes, arrayed for a wedding, and he hoisted her on the altar and had her slaughtered like a lamb, to bring the winds to fill his sails. The Goddess demanded it, he said; Artemis required a virgin sacrifice. Was there no other virgin in Aulis? Why my sweet flower? Iphigeneia, my heart still grieves for you! And all to sail those ships to bring home that slut Helen. Why didn't they sacrifice her daughter, that simpering Hermione? Why did my daughter have to die? Well, I got justice for her in the end.

Agamemnon was gone for ten long years, and I nursed my hatred and resentment for every single day of them. Well…most of them, anyway. Eventually Aegisthus managed to distract me from my woes to some extent. Ten years is a long time to be without a man, and practically every man in the kingdom who wasn't an old man or a babe in arms was off to the war. Except Aegisthus. Aegisthus is a man of large appetites for many things, but fortunately enough for me, war is not one of them.So he and I satisfied each other's appetites--no need to go into that.

Aegisthus had his own bone to pick with Agamemnon; he longed for the throne as much as I did. I let him think that he would rule if Agamemnon died; I know just what kind of man Aegisthus is. Controlling him is no problem; a glimpse of flesh or a little caress at the right time, and his mind is completely distracted from the fact that it is really I who rules here!

But I get ahead of myself. When the beacons signalled that Troy had fallen, I made ready for Agamemnon's return. I welcomed him as the conquering hero; I was so good I almost convinced myself. I was almost ready to let him live. And then I saw that woman--that little bitch Cassandra! How dare he! Kill my daughter, abandon me for ten years to go off to war (and on behalf of Helen, of all people), and then bring home a concubine, and display her openly? Didn't even have the sense to have her hang to the back, but carried her in his own chariot! The man never did have an ounce of subtlety.

Well, I wasn't particularly subtle that day, either. I trapped him in the bath and cut him down like an animal, like he slaughtered my daughter, and his little Trojan whore with him. Now I rule here--with Aegisthus by my side, of course, but I am Queen. Everybody knows who really rules this kingdom, and has for the last eight years. There was a little grumbling at first, but we put the house in order, Aegisthus and I. And we are still satisfying one another's appetites, after all these years!

And even if I did not love it so, finally holding the power in my own hands, there is no-one else. Orestes I sent away for his own protection early on in the war, and he has never returned. Electra--well, she is not the ruling type. She mopes about the women's quarters wearing black, bemoaning her fate. I suppose if Menelaus was around, he might think he had a good claim to the throne, but he and Helen sailed away from Troy and haven't been heard from since. For all I know she got herself "abducted" again and Menelaus is still trying to catch up with her. Men are such fools sometimes. Menelaus is another like my Aegisthus, in this at least--easily led around by his shaft.

I don't know who will rule here when I am gone. Maybe Orestes lives and will return from his long exile. Maybe Electra will grow a backbone. I don't much care, really. Maybe the place will just fall to ruin. The whole family is cursed, anyway. Why my father ever let that man marry me, I will never know.

I have been having bad dreams lately--last night I dreamed I gave birth to a snake, of all things. Birthed it and suckled it at my breast. I think I will send Electra out with libations to her father's grave, just in case he is responsible. That will please her. She always did think the sun rose and set on him. I suppose I shouldn't have stinted on the ceremonies for the dead after I killed him.

I had better call those women to dress me and do my hair so I can get on with my day.

... Link

Annotation on "The Oresteia"

This is the first paper for my latest class, "Visions of Justice." The teacher's only comment was "Good Work!"
I found the Oresteia heavy going, especially on first reading. The parts I am reading on the second round are starting to make more sense; I especially am enjoying The Eumenides. The court set up by Athena is clearly recognizable as the predecessor to our own modern American court, both in form and spirit.

"My contestants,
summon your trusted witnesses and proofs,
your defenders under oath to help your cause.
And I will pick the finest men of Athens,
return and decide the issue fairly, truly--
bound to our oaths, our spirits bent on justice."

This sums up how our process still works in a nutshell. Our process is a little fancier, true, and the paperwork certainly takes longer! But the essentials are all here. Even this:

"Call for order, herald, marshal our good people…
And while this court of judgement fills, my city,
silence will be best."

This is certainly the equivalent of the officer of the court calling "Order in the Court" at the beginning of our legal proceedings.

"The trial begins! Yours is the first word--
the prosecution opens."

The prosecution also opens in our criminal trials, although the order of our trials differs a little from Orestes' trial, in that the Furies had offered their equivalent of an opening statement before Athena convened her jury. And they go straight to questioning the accused, rather than bringing witnesses to the crime. But Orestes is not disputing the facts, so prosecution witnesses are not necessary--and the Furies themselves are witnesses in this case.

That would not be allowed in a modern court of law; a prosecutor who was also a witness would have to recuse himself (or herself) from taking part in the proceedings as an officer of the court; on the other hand, Orestes is certainly facing his accusers!

Orestes is also not asked to swear an oath to tell the truth--but consider that Athena is running this court. Who would lie to a goddess? Oaths were apparently sometimes used in Greek legal proceedings, but in this case are not sufficient to determine Orestes' guilt or innocence. In fact, this is an important point in the development of the Athenian legal process that Aeschylus is telling us about :

" the evolution of oaths from their ritualistic power to exonerate the criminal to their power to sanctify the evidence, hence to ensure a valid trial."

And that is certainly the case with oaths in our legal system.

After the Furies are done questioning Orestes, he calls his witness (defendants acting as their own counsel has a longer history than I would have thought). And the defense witness, Apollo, does affirm the truth of his testimony:

I say, to you and your high court, Athena.
Seer that I am, I never lie."

The prosecution questions the defense witness:

"Zeus, you say,
gave that command to your oracle? He charged
Orestes here to avenge his father's death
and spurn his mother's rights?"

The evidence and arguments being done, the case is turned over to the jury:

"…You must rise,
each man must cast his lot and judge the case,
reverent to his oath. Now I have finished."

The final determination of this trial does diverge from our own; in this case, when the jury is deadlocked, Athena breaks the tie and declares Orestes to be acquitted. In our system, we get hung juries and mistrials; although when a case gets to the Supreme Court, it is decided by majority vote.

Though we have disobeyed one of Athena's injunctions:

"…Never pollute
our law with innovations."

as we have taken parts of our legal system from other times and places besides ancient Athens; still, I think Athena would recognize our system as the spiritual descendant of the one she originated.

And though Athena tamed the Furies, the families of victims still sometimes seem to call on them: "Gary Ridgway is an evil creature who I would condemn to many long years of anguish and despair."

... Link

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September 2021
Bookworm I spent most of
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