Parrhesia, Ekmarturia and the Cassandra Dialogue in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon

Rick Benitez


Michel Foucault gave a series of lectures at the University of California, Berkeley, in1983, on the ethical and political implications of parrhesia, or “free speech”.3Foucaultbegan with a somewhat speculative analysis of the meaning of the word parrhesia,followed by an examination of that term in the plays of Euripides, including: PhoenecianWomen, Hippolytus, Bacchae, Electra, Ionand Orestes.4It was Foucault’s opinion thatEuripides problematised parrhesia, and that this problematisation, which I shall describein more detail presently, made it possible for Western liberals in the late twentiethcentury to understand better both what he called “the crisis of democratic institutions”and “the care of the self.”5In this paper I follow Foucault’s lead in showing how theproblematisation of a communicative act in an Ancient Greek tragedy can illuminate ourown current political and ethical circumstances, but instead of focussing on parrhesia,which is hardly even possible in the twenty-first century, I shall focus on the morecontemporay problem of ekmarturia, “bearing witness”, which is amply illustrated in thedialogue between Cassandra and the chorus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. I will begin bygiving a more detailed account of what Foucault says about parrhesia. Then I will outlinethe concept of ekmartura, and finally I will examine the Cassandra scene in theAgamemnonin the light of parrhesiaand ekmarturia.

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