Monday, September 7, 2015
Emotional Manipulation: Well known in the Ancient World
In Aeschylus’ day no dramatic music score existed to help raise the emotions of the audience. No digitized special effects could add flavor and appeal, or agitate his audience, transforming them at gut level. The entire effect rested upon three things, the accounts of the story, hideous masks, and especially the third: the eerie chorus, which furnished the necessary foreboding, forewarning, and foreshadowing of the impending doom that awaited the household of Agamemnon. The choral lines were the special effects, which set the mood and tone of the ancient plays in the Oresteia. They give us a backdrop for a powerful emotional experience.
The choral lines throughout alluded to the several murders of Atreus’ household; first the murder of Thyestes’ children by Atreus, Agamemnon’s father; then, in order to have favorable winds for his journey to the Trojan war, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia; followed by the murder of the recently returned victorious Agamemnon by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus; and now Orestes, Agamemnon’s exiled son, who is about to murder his mother and Aegisthus. Clearly, the chorus is setting the mood for a never-ending evil and generational destruction. The audience feels agitated, anxious, and apprehensive.
In the following passage from the Libation Bearers, the chorus cuts through the nonsense and heralds the ominous cloud of impending doom upon Orestes. Notice the mood depicted by the descriptions of blood so thick, “caked and hard,” and “the fostering ground,” which stems from the constant familial desire to atone one man’s murder with another man’s murder; and how this infectious desire “boils within” each of their hearts; and finally how each successive murder brings on new evil or “new blood guilt,” with no cure in sight.
“Through too much glut of blood drunk by our fostering ground
the vengeful gore is caked and hard, will not drain through.
The deep-run ruin carries away
the man of guilt. Swarming infection boils within.
“For one who assaults the bride’s pure bed, there is no cure.
All the world’s waters running in a single drift
may try to wash blood from the hand
of the stained man; they only bring new blood guilt on.”
Each evil act is spurred on by a feeling of atoning for the evil of the previous and yet, with each murder, the evil runs thicker and deeper, never to be resolved, or so the drama leads the audience to believe. This persistent evil spell brought on by continual devious deeds sets the tone and, doubtless, causes a deep desire within the heart of the patron to think twice about his or her own decisions.
In this one example of the poetic chorus, we see how the stage is set for an emotional impact and psychological outcome. Thus, is the purpose of the chorus: to deliver the special effects and nuances that set the mood and tone of the Oresteia and cause the audience to participate in the story and feel the emotions of cause and effect.
 Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers, Edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore (University of Chicago Press, 2013), pg. 83-84, lines 71-74