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Aeschylus, Oresteia (cont.)
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The Oresteia
--Study questions from last time, plus a few more:

  1. The space in which Attic (Athenian) tragedies were performed served as a reminder of certain polarities: inside vs. outside; left vs. right (also East vs. West); sky vs. earth; sacred vs. profane (the theater space itself, and the surrounding bulidings, were on sacred ground; the non-sacred ground beyond it would also have been visible). How does Aeschylus make symbolic and structural use of space in the Oresteia? (See also #2, #3.)
  2. It has been observed that the action in the Oresteia moves from East to West (left to right, on stage): Troy to Argos, Argos to Delphi, Delphi to Athens. What other changes--e.g., on the economic, religious, judicial and linguistic levels--take place as this trajectory is followed?
  3. Consider the transformation of the chorus through the three plays as a reflection of the major movement of the trilogy: (male) Argive elders (Ag.); female mourners who become Furies (LB); Furies who become Eumenides (Eum.). What issues do they raise?
  4. We discussed the way Aeschylus uses the skenai (screen at back of stage, separating "inside" space from "outside" space) to stand for a boundary between the oikos (domestic space) and polis (public space). How does this opposition get reconciled in the trilogy's concluding play, Eumenides?
  5. Keep thinking about the dynamic of "crime and punishment" we started discussing with respect to Herodotus.--NB: a favorite cliché of classics scholars is the dichotomy between "shame cultures" (the Greeks) and "guilt cultures" (us; that is, Christianity-based morality). We've seen from Herodotus that the mechanics of "justice" do not operate quite the same way in a 5th-century Athens worldview as in ours. Track the way justice and problem-solving are handled in the Oresteia.
  6. According to Lattimore's Introduction to our translation (pp 10-11), the Oresteia works on 4 main levels at once, in order of importance: (1) domestic tragedy, (2) tragedy of war, (3) political tragedy, (4) dynastic tragedy. Homer focused on #4, to the exclusion of 1, 2, 3; as you read the Oresteia, try to keep track of how the tragedy works on all these levels simultaneously.
  7. As some of you remarked in class, the theme of pathos (suffering) and mathos (what we learn from suffering) is central to the Oresteia (see esp. Agamemnon: 176-79, 250-54). Where and how do you see the expression of this theme?
  8. Similarly, duty is an inescapable theme in the trilogy. Compare Agamemnon's duty to sacrifice his daughter (Iphigenia), Clytaemestra's duty to avenge her daughter, Orestes's duty to avenge Agamemnon. Consider the themes of blood ties vs. state ties, free will vs. obligation, justice. What emotions does each bring to bear on the fulfilment of his/her duty? How do their attitudes affect ours?
  9. What kind of light do the plays shed on relationships between family members? Consider especially the reunion of Orestes and Electra at the opening of LB, and the mother/son confrontation at LB 875-97. What insights into human bonds do these scenes force upon us? In what context do Orestes and Electra meet, and why is this significant? What is the importance of the recognition scene? For what does it prepare us?
  10. Discuss the role of the following important elements in LB and Eum.:
    --Clytaemestra's dream* in LB
    --Clytaemestra's ghost in Eum.
    --The trial in Eum. Consider especially Athene's role and the significance of her vote.
    --the theogony (struggle between older and newer gods) in Eum.

*N.B.: The female viper, according to Greek belief, kills her mate and is in turn killed by her offspring. In the reign of the earlier, chthonian gods (the Furies), snakes were agents of vengeance; in the reign of the new gods, they are associated with Asclepius (a son of Apollo, the god of sickness and healing), and are considered curative and purifying. In addition, snakes were an important part of the Dionysiac cult; maenads were said to wear them in their hair (see vase-painting).


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