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--Study questions from last time, plus a few more:
The space in which Attic (Athenian) tragedies
were performed served as a reminder of certain polarities: inside
; 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.)
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?
- 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?
- 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?
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.
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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)
*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,
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).