Clytemnestra's heart

Three bangs on the floor of the stage and the drama begins:

WATCHMAN: O gods! grant me release from this long weary watch.

This is Philip Vellacott's first line of Aeschylus' trilogy (1956, Penguin Classics), a translation which is one of the genuine high points of the wildly varying Penguin Classics list. He is the watchman on the roof at the palace of Argos. Alan Shapiro and Peter Burian's first line (2003, OUP) disembodies him slightly:

WATCHMAN: I beg the gods to deliver me at last

Vellacot's lines could be shouted or agonised; Shapiro and Burian have insulated their version, which allows them to run it through much less heroic punctuation. Robert Browning (attracted to Aeschylus' scored asyndeton?) turned everything around:

The gods I ask deliverance from these labours,
Watch of a year's length whereby, slumbering through it
On the Atreidai's roofs on elbow, -- dog-like --
I know of nightly star-groups the assemblage,
And those that bring to men winter and summer
Bright dynasts, as they pride them in the aether
-- Stars, when they wither, and the uprisings of them.

This is a Browning narrator, full of circumlocution of a kind which is ring-thing stamped from rock and poured and swirled: "Stars, when they wither, and the uprisings of them"!. "Dog-like" floats off in its own parenthesis. Shapiro and Burian add the detail "dog-like, snout to paws"; Lattimore downplays the dogs entirely into "elbowed against Atreidae's roof dogwise". Dog on the roof, dog in the stars. I've seen a production in which Canis Major was projected. Vellacott continues:

Release, O Gods! Twelve full months now, night after night
Dog-like I lie here, keeping guard from this high roof
On Atreus' palace. The nightly conference of stars,
Resplendent rulers, bringing heat and cold in turn,
Studding the sky with beauty - I know them all, and watch them
Setting and rising; but the one light I long to see
Is a new star, the promised sign, the beacon-flare
To speak from Troy and utter one word, 'Victory!' -
Great news for Clytemnestra, in whose woman's heart
A man's will nurses hope.
This is the first difficulty in the Greek: what is this reported heart which has a man in it? Shapiro and Burian -

And here I am still watching for the sign,
the torch-flame, flickering news from Troy,
the bright flare of her capture. These are my orders
straight from a woman's hope-stiffened heart that urges
like a man.
- go in pursuit of dramatic clarity, whereas Browning excells himself in a rush towards a compound -

And now on ward I wait the torch's token,
The glow of fire, shall bring from Troia message
And word of capture: so prevails audacious
The man's-way-planning hoping heart of woman.
- which is rather Chapmanesque. Is it that Agamemnon's victory and longing to return is expressed in Clytemnestra's heart (Vellacott), or is it that her heart is strong in its hope like a man's (Burian and Shapiro)? Browning gets it both "ways", as Vellacott "wills" it both ways, though it would, I imagine, take a pretty audacious performance to pull a "man's-way-planning hoping heart of woman" off on stage. Among other fairly interchangeably forgettable translations Peter Meineck (1998, Hackett) opts for the sort of loose everyday "poem speech" which no-one would actually say,

I take my orders from a woman, my mistress who waits for news,
oh she's a woman all right, a woman with a man's heart.
while Lattimore's appealingly high blankness speaks of "a lady's / male strength of heart in its high confidence ordains". Why do Vellacott and Browning elaborate? Is there also a sense in which the watchman, as Clytemnestra's man and her eyes, is also her heart? My heart is Agamemnon returning, it is watching on the roof, and it is vernacular and beating here. The androgyny which is Clytemnestra's first reported characteristic is the work of absence, the watchman implies, and of a new man. The Chorus will keep chanting this androgyny back:

Well said, lady. Like a wise man.
But first the eyes - the stars - speak, keeping their dogged watch.

Edmund Hardy

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