Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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in Western Literature

An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 458 BCE

Translation: Richmond Lattimore 1951

Death of Agamemnon


Much have I said before to serve necessity,

But I will take no shame now to unsay it all.

How else could I, arming hate against hateful men

Disguised in seeming tenderness, fence high the nets

Of ruin beyond overlapping? Thus to me

The conflict born of ancient bitterness is not

A thing new thought upon, but pondered deep in time.

I stand now where I struck him down. The thing is done.

Thus have I wrought, and I will not deny it now.

That he might not escape nor beat aside his death,

As fisherman cast their huge circling nets, I spread

Deadly abundance of rich robes, and caught him fast.

I struck him twice. In two great cries of agony

He buckled at the knees and fell. When he was down

I struck him the third blow, in thanks and reverence

to Zeus the lord of dead men underneath the ground.

Thus he went down, and the life struggled out of him;

and as he died he spattered me with the dark red

and violent driven rain of bitter savored blood

to make me glad, as gardens stand among the showers

of God in glory at the birthtime of the buds.


These being the facts, elders of Argos assembled here,

be glad, if it be your pleasure; but for me, I glory.

Were it religion to pour wine about the slain,

this man deserved, more than deserved, such sacrament.

He filled our cup with evil things unspeakable

and now himself come home had drunk it to the dregs.



We stand here stunned. How can you speak this way, with mouth

so arrogant, to vaunt above your fallen lord?


Your try me out as if I were a woman and vain;

but my heart is not fluttered as I speak before you.

You know it. You can praise or blame me as you wish;

          it is all one to me. That man is Agamemnon,

my husband; he is dead; the work of this right hand

that struck in strength of righteousness. And that is that.



Woman, what evil thing planted upon the earth

or dragged from the running salt sea could you have

tasted now

to wear such brutality and walk in the people’s hate?

You have to cast away, you have cut away. You shall

go homeless now,

crushed with men’s bitterness.



Now it is I you doom to be cast out from my city

with men’s hate heaped and curses roaring in my ears.

Yet look upon this dead man; you would not cross him once

when his ranged pastures swarmed with the deep fleece of flocks,

he slaughtered like a victim his own child, my pain

grown into love, to charm away the winds of Thrace.

Were you not bound to hunt him then clear of this soil

for the guilt stained upon him? Yet you hear what I

have done, and lo, you are a stern judge. But I say to you:

go on and threaten me, but know that I am ready,

if fairly you can beat me down with your hand,

for you to rule; but if the god grant otherwise,

          you shall be taught — to late, for sure — to keep your place.




Adrienne Nater, 2008

©© 2008 Adrienne Nater. All rights reserved.