previous chapter
Democracy and Discipline in Aeschylus’s Oresteia
next chapter

5. Democracy and Discipline in Aeschylus’s Oresteia

Democratic ages are times of experiment, innovation andadventure.


The subject is constituted through the force of exclusion and abjection, one which produces a constitutive outside to the subject, an abjected outside which is, after all, “inside” the subject as its own founding repudiation.


The dispute between Habermas and Foucault sketched in chapter 1 leaves us with a choice between democratic politics and “normalizing” techniques, between the ideal of a rationally achieved consensus and the rejection of all democratic ideals as insidious strategies that aim to discipline selves and citizens. Democracy represents either our last, best hope of fulfilling the political promises of the Enlightenment or else is one more regulative ideal, a subtle strategy of disciplinary control that ironically extends the carceral archipelago.

Stated in terms as stark as these, critical theory and genealogy share little, if any, common ground on the terrain of democratic politics and theory. What to Habermas are merely the necessary preconditions for radical democratic will formation—the rational, autonomous, deliberative, consensus-oriented self—are for Foucault the prior effects of a power that produces the very subject it then controls. Only those selves that attain the critical threshold of rationality rightly take their places on the deliberative tribunal, yet the very requirements of rational deliberation serve to exclude, silence, or discipline those differential selves that democracy requires. Separated by this radical divergence between the need to maintain the prerequisites of democratic culture and practice and the determination to disrupt modern, democratic forms of normalization, these views construct mutually exclusive interpretations of contemporary democratic theory and politics. We are left with the unsatisfying dilemma of having to choose between a homogenizing democratic consensus and a perpetually agonistic politics of resistance. Is it possible, however, to envision a democratic sensibility that balances the quest to fulfill the democratic aspirations of critical theory with an attendant politics of resistance meant to disturb and otherwise unsettle the normalizing effects of a democratic order? Might we not yet articulate a “democratic politics of disturbance,”[1] a politics that resists the norms and forms of a democratically and consensually constituted self and order even as it provides a democratic identity and practice against which to struggle? Put another way, is it possible to sustain the tension between a democratic critical theory and a genealogy critical of democracy, between Habermas and Foucault, and so pursue the dream of a democratic politics while simultaneously avoiding the nightmare of disciplinary (en)closure?

I think it is, and this chapter considers the contribution Aeschylus’s Oresteia makes to a democratic politics of disturbance, a politics that (like the trilogy) sustains and celebrates democratic norms even as it resists and otherwise disrupts democratic normalization. But why choose the Oresteia, and in what ways does Aeschylus’s trilogy speak to the contemporary issues with which I am concerned?[2]

There are at least two reasons why Aeschylus’s Oresteia is particularly well suited to help us think through the contemporary tension between democracy and the discipline it potentially engenders. It is by now a commonplace to note that Greek tragedy emerged when the old myths were for the first time considered from the point of view of a citizen. As Jean-Pierre Vernant has pointed out, all tragedies shared this concern with the city by virtue of their ritual status within the context of a popular and democratic civic festival.[3] The Oresteia is unique, however, because it alone of all extant tragedies is preoccupied with the newly emerging democratic order itself.[4] In the context of a democratic celebration, the Oresteia celebrates democracy.

All tragedians also reworked and expanded the traditional myths that supplied their material, and Aeschylus was certainly no exception to this.[5] What I find especially significant about the Oresteia is the specific way in which Aeschylus revised the ancient, mythic materials so that Athenian democracy provided the trilogy’s content as well as its context. Athens’s own recent, ongoing democratic transformations are surely reflected in the fact that the playwright chose Argos over the traditional settings of Sparta or Mycenae, transferred the action to Athens, alluded to a recently concluded treaty with the Argives, and employed the Areopagus as his instrument for disrupting the ancient chain of vengeance and countervengeance.[6] Athena’s establishment of the law court, the acquittal of Orestes, the reconciliation of the Erinyes, their acceptance in Athens, and their transformation into the new cult of the Eumenides are also the inventions of the poet.[7] Finally, the pageant that concludes the play and trilogy recalls the democratic festival of the Great Panathenaia, which, as the name suggests, was a celebration that included all Athens and culminated in a procession to the Acropolis, where a sacrifice was offered to Athena. As Athena leads the procession of Eumenides and citizens from the theater to the Acropolis, the legendary aristocratic past fuses with the city’s contemporary democratic present.[8] The final play of the trilogy presents democratic Athens to itself.

The critics agree that the Oresteia, first performed in the spring of 458 b.c.—not more than three or four years after the momentous events that abolished the political power of the Areopagus in 462/461—is inextricably linked to contemporary Athenian politics. All cite the reforms, led by Ephialtes, that broke the traditional power of the Areopagus, the last aristocratic bulwark against a rising popular tide, the reorientation of foreign policy away from conservative Sparta and toward Argos, and the ostracism of Cimon, the respected leader of the conservative party, as influences on the trilogy. All power passed to the Assembly and the Council of 500—that is, to the demos of Athens—and the citizens effectively gained control over the constitution as a whole. To be sure, the great aristocratic families remained powers to be reckoned with, but birth alone no longer determined political position: every citizen was born a second time into an artificial order constituted and bounded by equality before the law (isonomia) embodied in a legal, constitutional order.[9] Although there is considerable controversy over the significance of allusions to contemporary political events, all are agreed that in the Oresteia, the playwright reflected on Athens’s newly emerging democracy.[10]

Viewed in retrospect, then, from the opening lines of Agamemnon to the final scenes of the Eumenides, the trilogy seems to lead in a significant sense toward a resolution in the democratic polis. The whole trilogy, but particularly the Eumenides, thus concerns itself primarily with “the city of Athens and its newly established civic order.”[11] When Athena establishes the law court and calls upon her “best citizens” to render judgment in the first homicide case, she alludes to that event when, for the first time in Greek history—in world history—the civic order as a whole was placed at the disposal of the demos. The events of 462/461 were so far-reaching that the Athenian civic order itself, its very constitution, had become a matter of popular controversy, hence a democratic political issue in its own right. In the Oresteia, we see that democratic civic order established: conflict between tribal custom and aristocratic privilege finds its resolution in the legally constituted order of the democratic polis embodied in court of law. Within the context of the Ephialtic reforms, the Oresteia for the first time articulated a series of reflections on the newly established democratic order at Athens.[12] I am concerned here to show how that order is thought out, embodied, reflected, and challenged in and by the drama.

The second reason I find the Oresteia particularly well suited for my purposes has to do with the way in which the trilogy represents the “other” in gendered terms and so introduces the marginalization of the feminine directly into a civic context.[13] In the Oresteia, for the first time, women struggle forcibly against the boundaries of the masculine public world,[14] and the outcome of that struggle, as we shall see, is by no means certain. In retelling the Homeric myth, Aeschylus did more than simply transfer the action from Argos to Athens and provide the contemporary city with a founding myth for its nascent democratic order. Aeschylus implicates gender in his retelling in such a way that one cannot avoid the questions the trilogy raises regarding the status and role of women in a democratic civic order.[15]

For his part, Homer virtually ignores Clytemnestra. Aegisthus seduces the queen, plans the trap, kills Agamemnon, takes control of the house, and is finally killed in turn by Orestes, who successfully reclaims his patrimony.[16] The Odyssey thus focuses on the male struggle for control of the household, and that struggle is settled within its narrow framework. The transgressions that set in motion the narrative of return and revenge find both their location and their resolution in the order of the oikos.[17] In the return and triumph of Orestes, as well as in that of Odysseus and Telemachus, the Odyssey unproblematically defines the proper and controlled order of the patriarchal household.[18]

Aeschylus, by contrast, focuses all his attention directly on Clytemnestra’s character, revenge, and plotting of reciprocal murder. His Clytemnestra moves to the center of the stage: she, not Aegisthus, sets the watchman, tricks Agamemnon, defeats him in combat, and takes control of house and city. Homer passes over Clytemnestra’s death in silence,[19] but she becomes the object of further revenge in the Choephoroi, her murder the central enacted confrontation in the central play of the trilogy. Moreover, the “feminine” Aegisthus contrasts sharply with the “masculine” Clytemnestra, thereby heightening our awareness of the dramatic reversal of sexual roles. The deaths of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra do not, however, return Orestes to his patrimony. Clytemnestra may be dead, but her Furies, the archaic goddesses of the underworld, prosecute her claim against Orestes, a claim that can only be redeemed in blood. Finally, in the trial of the Eumenides, the arguments proffered by both sides turn in a significant way on Clytemnestra’s biological relation to Orestes, while the paradoxical figure of Athena reopens the question of a woman’s civic role and status precisely at the moment of its intended resolution.

Throughout the trilogy, then, men and women are at odds: women aim directly at power and domination, while men aim to return them to their “normal” places. In the final confrontation, we are asked to choose between our obligation to blood ties and our obligation to the city. Homer’s heroes could hardly conceive of such a choice, much less confront it. The transgressions that motivate the archaic narrative of return and revenge find both their expression and their resolution in the patriarchal order of the household. Aeschylus clearly indicates, however, that the oikos of the noble genos is no longer adequate to contain and resolve the sexual conflict unleashed within the house of Atreus. This is in part because the household is not merely the site, but also the cause, of the conflict between men and women. Only the polis, with its more inclusive and more encompassing view, will prove adequate to the larger task of reconciliation Aeschylus sets himself. But can we say that Aeschylus finds even the expanded framework of the democratic polis sufficient to contain the conflicts generated in the trilogy? The conclusion of the Oresteia certainly leaves no doubt that the more impartial and inclusive legal and political institutions of Athens constitute an advance over the particularity of the household and clan, but as the persistent presence of the Furies, the unannounced departure of Apollo, and the displacement of the solution onto the divine agency of Athena all indicate, the conflict between genders is larger than the polis itself. That the citizen-jurors probably vote against Orestes (Athena breaks the tie in favor of the city) also suggests that perhaps the framework of the polis is itself neither adequate nor any too secure.

That Aeschylus departs in significant ways from the myth as it appears in Homer and the other traditional sources is agreed,[20] yet the nature and purpose of that departure remains contested. A lively controversy over this issue has sprung up recently among classical scholars,[21] a controversy that illuminates, if not anticipates, my own attempt to insert the ancient text into a contemporary theoretical debate. Not surprisingly, it turns on the way in which the Oresteia “integrates” women into the newly founded civic order.

The usual interpretation of the play celebrates the transition from chaos to order, darkness to light, perversion to “normalcy.”[22] This movement of progress occurs in the medium of a mythic structure that reconciles conflict with harmony, the chthonic with the Olympian divinities, female with male, old with new, clan-based blood vengeance with civic justice. John H. Finley, Jr., in an influential treatment as broad and inclusive as the Oresteia itself, argues that the trilogy traces the emergence of democracy, an order based on reason and consent, from its troubled beginnings in the archaic past to its triumph in the contemporary Athenian regime.[23] The rational and creative male principle of freely chosen compacts (represented by Apollo and the marriage bond) triumphs over what is female, inherited from the past, natural, and local. Aeschylus thus resolves the tension between place and creativity, scope and commitment, feminine and masculine values, earth-born and Olympian gods, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, through his faith in the moral cogency of reason, a reason that resolves conflicts, not through assertive will, but through a generous and inclusive understanding.[24] Finley concludes his reading of the Oresteia with the judgment that Aeschylus was a prophet of democracy and reason. His trilogy is more than merely a charter for the democratic polis: it is nothing less than a founding document of Western civilization.

Some feminist accounts of the Oresteia protest that while Aeschylus may depart from the traditional narrative, he does so only to install a new myth in place of the old, and one that is, from the point of view of women, not an appreciable advance over the original. Froma Zeitlin argues, for example, that a cosmogonic myth indeed structures the Oresteia’s narrative, that it creates a world, traces the evolution of civilization, and culminates in the triumph of the democratic polis, an institution endowed with “the creative power to coordinate human, natural and divine forces.”[25] The trial scene in the Eumenides certainly brings to an end the conflict between opposing interests and forces that has driven the action of the trilogy from the start. The solution, as we have seen, reconciles Olympian with chthonic deities on the divine level, Greek and barbarian on the cultural level, male and female on the social level. But Zeitlin does not see this solution as a true reconciliation in which opposing forces come to abide in a “just” state of respectful mutuality and reciprocity.[26] Rather, the “solution” of the Eumenides is achieved through the hierarchization of values: the subordination of the Erinyes to the Olympians, of barbarian to Greek, of female to male. Through the democratic rhetoric of equality, reason and consent legitimate the institutionalization of exclusionary polarities into systematized hierarchies, rather than creating a truly democratic order.[27] The Oresteia may well be a founding document of Western civilization, but what it founds is a tradition of misogynistic exclusion: “By integrating the issue into a coherent system of new values, by formulating it in new abstact terms, and by shifting to a new form of argumentation, it provides the decisive model for the future legitimation of this attitude in Western thought.”[28] In these terms, the Athenian culture and practice of democratic citizenship prove to be one more strategy for disciplining the “feminine other” and constructing a normal and normalizing order.

The Oresteia, on this reading, replaces a dynastic myth with a myth of wide-ranging origins in which the democratic city is founded on the defeat and subordination of women. For these critics, the Oresteia as origin myth creates a center, establishes a hierarchy of values based on difference, and legitimates an effective system of gender domination. While I find this criticism persuasive, and especially helpful for the argument I am going to develop, it shares one crucial element with the “progressivist” reading it rejects. Both uncritically accept a linear development in the narrative that culminates in a final resolution of the conflicts and oppositions that mark the trilogy. Both impute a well-defined telos to the structure of the Oresteia’s narrative: where the progressivist sees harmony and reconciliation, the feminist critic sees hierarchy and subordination. In these terms, the Oresteia either contributes to our understanding of the rational and consensual preconditions of democratic politics or else participates in the hierarchical and exclusionary order democracy purportedly rejects.

To break this interpretive impasse, I suggest adopting a reading of the Oresteia informed by the recent structuralist interpretations of Charles Segal.[29] Such an analysis suspects the too-easy identification of tragic “message” with mythologized narrative structure, whether that narrative culminates in reconciliation and inclusion or in hierarchy and subordination. This is so for two reasons. First, where a structural analysis treats the coded patterns of a myth as a microcosm of the social order and reads that order off the myth it analyzes, the “literary work imposes a secondary structure of language and meanings upon the given structures of the society.”[30] A structuralist interpretation applied to a literary work thus proceeds differently than when applied to a myth. By necessity, the playwright uses the accepted, normative codes that constitute the mental patterns of society, and one could analyze a tragedy solely in terms of those codes. At the same time, however, tragedy deliberately manipulates, distorts, or transforms the given linguistic, intellectual and political codes in the self-conscious structure created by its own internal, aesthetic coherence.[31] In tragedy, unlike in myth, the codes of narrative and society do not cohere. The Oresteia is particularly notable for such a deliberate destructuring of the familiar coded patterns of social order: the perversion of ritual sacrifice, the inversion of sexual roles, and the strained diction of failed communication all express the violence done to the ritual, familial, and linguistic codes.

Second, a structural analysis of tragedy places as much emphasis on a work’s synchronic structure of polarities as it does on its “syntagmatic” progression of a linearly developing plot. It is precisely this neglect of tragedy’s synchronic structure that allows the critics to overlook the radical destructuring and distortion of the familiar codes that mark tragedy. If Segal is right in observing a preoccupation with the “linear progression of the plot” to the neglect of the “synchronic structure of polarities which underlies the cultural values” that operate in the text, then a shift of focus toward the latter will disentangle tragic “message” from mythologized narrative structure and illuminate those decentering, distorting, and transformative moments in the text as present simultaneously with, and perhaps arresting, the forward progress of the narrative.

I appropriate this interpretive strategy to examine two related themes in the trilogy in a way that will undermine the secure sense of final narrative closure assumed by most readers of the Oresteia. In what follows, I am concerned broadly with the themes of language and sexuality, but specifically with the ways in which the Oresteia dramatizes the difficulty of establishing a secure civic discourse and a stable sexual order for a democratic Athens. Even though the linguistic and sexual transgressions that mark the trilogy find their resolutions in the trial scene and its aftermath in the Eumenides, I have reason to believe that the solution Aeschylus proposes (imposes?) is neither as stable nor as permanent as it appears. My argument turns on the crucial figure of Athena, that architect of the “solution” to the violence and chaos unleashed, at least in part, by Clytemnestra. For surely it is a mistake to interpret Athena’s decisive role without reference to Clytemnestra, not least because the disturbing transgressions of the linguistic, ritual, and sexual order that characterize the Agamemnon run right through the entire trilogy to its very end. If this is indeed the case, then even the tragic performance itself will not prove immune to the disturbing transgressions it purportedly ends.

The world of the trilogy is riven by violent trespasses against the linguistic and sexual order of the city, trespasses that seek to thwart any final accommodation between the hostile characters and forces. As the Oresteia moves closer, at least on the surface, to the generous reconciliation that culminates in the grand procession of the Eumenides, trespasses against a stable civic and sexual order multiply precipitously and implicate one another. It is not possible to discuss them all. Two examples that demonstrate the difficulties involved in establishing a secure civic discourse and a stable sexual order for the new democracy should prove adequate to make my point.

Throughout the trilogy, language is in flux. The Oresteia is replete with instances of deceit, manipulative persuasion, and miscommunication in the exchange of language. Yet the trilogy makes a coherent point about the ambiguities and ironies of language and so articulates the dangers, difficulties, and violations that attend the founding of an effectively functioning civic discourse. Clytemnestra’s manipulative use of persuasive language enables her to overthrow order and illustrates the way in which the trilogy dramatizes the radical instability of the very discourse it aims to establish.

The difficulties that hamper clear human communication are announced by the watchman’s last words at the very beginning of the trilogy (33ff.):

May it only happen. May my king come home, and I
take up within this hand the hand I love. The rest
I leave to silence; for an ox stands huge upon
my tongue. The house itself, could it take voice, might speak
aloud and plain. I speak to those who understand,
but if they fail, I have forgotten everything.
The watchman’s parting words are significant for more than their tone of foreboding,[32] for more than their warning about what has transpired in the king’s absence: the passage is remarkable for the way its juxtaposition of speech and silence, clarity and obscurity, prefigures the play’s preoccupation with the exchange of words on stage. Like Heraclitus’s description of the oracle, the watchman neither speaks out nor conceals, but gives a sign to be interpreted,[33] while the contrast between saphestat’ and lēthomai, clarity and obscurity, alerts us to a discrepancy between what is said and what is meant. The watchman is here offering us an interpretive principle: silence often speaks volumes, while what needs saying is often left unsaid, and what is said is not always what is meant.

We can use this principle to interpret the ambiguous speeches and their meanings in the play. Clytemnestra exploits it to create a discrepancy between what she says and what she means. She is adept at meaning both more and less than she says. Her purposeful deceit resides in her ability to dissociate what she means from what she says, and her chain of beacon fires demonstrates this skill. While the ingenious signal system serves severally to warn her of Agamemnon’s return, display her command of technological resources,[34] and disclose her masculine character (a woman of man-counseling heart), it also demonstrates Clytemnestra’s control over the process of communication.[35] Clytemnestra gives two proofs of Troy’s fall to the chorus, two speeches that, viewed in the context of communication and exchange, could not be more different. The first speech is a purely technical description of how the message traveled from Troy to Argos, proving Clytemnestra’s familiarity with geography,[36] while the content of the second speech is almost oracular in its images and prophetic truth. This juxtaposition of form and content, of message and meaning, amply reveals Clytemnestra’s ability to control the process of communication to her advantage. The beacon signal in itself means nothing, it only gains significance in the context of a prearranged system, a code. By explaining her coding system to the chorus, Clytemnestra establishes her skill and knowledge. It is only in the second speech that she reveals to the chorus the signal light’s meaning, where she gives a detailed, prophetic account of the destruction and violation at Troy. The separation of the two proofs in two separate speeches, and the separation of form from content, emphasizes the arbitrary connection between what is said and what is meant, the code and its content, that marks the verbal exchanges in the trilogy.[37]

The beacon speeches scene thus serves as both preface and prelude to Clytemnestra’s deception of the returning Agamemnon. If the queen “renowned for skill”[38] revealed the principle of her method in the first two speeches, she is now prepared to put that method into practice upon the return of the king. In defending her fidelity and deceiving Agamemnon, Clytemnestra will demonstrate her formidable power to manipulate language through rhetorical persuasion. In her first speech, addressed to the chorus, she reflects on the king’s homecoming:

But now how best to speed my preparation to
receive my honored lord come home again—what else
is light more sweet for woman to behold than this,
to spread the gates before her husband home from war
and saved by god’s hand? (600–604)
A conventional enough sentiment for a wife who anticipates the return of a husband after a ten-year absence. Yet we know the sinister intent behind the queen’s haste, that she longs for the sweetness of revenge, secretly glad that Agamemnon has been delivered by the hand of a god into her own hands.

The remainder of this speech is significant for at least two reasons. First, it continues to play out the ironic deception, intending the opposite of what is said, while at the same time it reveals a deeper and more complex layer in Clytemnestra’s manipulation of Agamemnon. When she wishes that her husband find her as faithful to the house as on the day he left, she is not lying. When she describes herself as a gunaika pistēn d’ en domois[39] (a woman faithful to the house) and a dōmatōnkuna (a watchdog of the house), she in fact professes fidelity to the house, not to Agamemnon.[40] Clytemnestra’s words ring true because there is some truth in them. But this speech is also significant because it sends a message, and we have seen how important the context of message sending and receiving is. “Take this message to the king” looks backward to the “coded message” (paraggeilantos) sent forth from Troy to Argos (and forward to another false message (hupangelos,Choephoroi 838) that will summon Aegisthus without his bodyguard). Clytemnestra’s skill lies in her ability to encode messages the chorus and Agamemnon do not understand, messages, however, that the spectator successfully decodes. From this vantage point, we are able to restore to language “the full function of communication that it has lost on the stage between the protagonists in the drama” and so experience in this process those zones of incommunicability that successful communication requires.

Clytemnestra’s second speech reasserts her fidelity to Agamemnon in even stronger terms, and once again expresses sentiments more complex than they at first appear. She recounts to the chorus the pangs of a wife left alone while her husband is gone to war: her anxiety at the outbreak of groundless rumors, her attempt to hang herself and her dreams of his death. Once again, Clytemnestra speaks duplicitously in order to further her plot and deceive Agamemnon, yet she ironically tells the truth. There is no reason to doubt that she has longed for his return, although if at first this longing fed on love, now it surely feeds on hatred: she longs for Agamemnon in order to kill him. Her speech is all the more deceptive because of this core element of truth in it.[41] The queen’s speech, so full of allusions to her past anguish, is also full of the vocabulary of rumor, false tales, and lying speeches. As she dwells on the long years of misinformation, false reports, and deceptive messages, we realize that Clytemnestra not only weaves a net of deception around Agamemnon, but that her false language describes itself in the account she constructs of her past experience. The queen’s speech refers to itself: it is a deceptive speech about deceptive speeches.[42]

All this prepares for Agamemnon’s entry into the house across the purple tapestries.

Now, my beloved one,
step from your chariot; yet let not your foot, my lord,
sacker of Ilium, touch the earth. My maidens there!
Why this delay? Your task has been appointed you,
to strew the ground before his feet with tapestries.
Let there spring up into the house he never hoped
to see, where justice leads him in, a crimson path.
In all things else, my heart’s unsleeping care shall act
with the gods’ aid to set aright what fate ordained. (905–11)
The image is that of a spider at the center of a web, who will entangle its hapless victim as Clytemnestra will entangle Agamemnon in the robes upon which he treads.[43] The spectators, although perhaps not the chorus, cannot mistake the menace in Clytemnestra's welcome. Yet Agamemnon is characteristically unconscious of her irony and must feel that as the conquering hero returning home, he well deserves the right to walk on the tapestries. Why, then, does he at first refuse to tread upon the crimson path? Certainly, his refusal heightens the tension in the scene, for once Agamemnon steps upon the tapestries, his fate is sealed. There is good dramatic sense here. But Agamemnon demurs for some very good reasons of his own: he fears being made effeminate; he recoils from such profligate wastage of the substance of his house, and he fears the envy of the gods. It is not his place as a mortal, Greek male to tread upon such wealth. Of course, no such scruples hindered him from sacrificing Iphigeneia, described as the delight of his house, nor did fear of the gods restrain him from trampling upon the altars at Troy. This scene surely recalls those earlier transgressions, yet Agamemnon is again characteristically blind to the meaning of his own deeds and impermeable to Clytemnestra's brilliant indirection and deception. The queen predictably exploits Agamemnon's one-sidedness to her advantage: he fears the gods where he ought to fear his wife. His refusal also prefaces a short, complex, and highly significant exchange that demonstrates the power of Clytemnestra's ability to manipulate language.

Clytemnestra draws Agamemnon out by simply asking him not to cross her will. He responds by saying that his will is his own, it will not be seduced (or corrupted).[44] Clytemnestra then begins a sequence of questions that intends precisely such a seduction. She succeeds by calling into question the context in which the significance of stepping on the tapestries is defined. If Agamemnon had vowed such an expensive offering to a god, would he trample on such luxury? He admits he would. If he were Priam, would he walk on the tapestry? Certainly, Priam would do so. Should he fear envy? Only if he rejects admiration as well. At this turn in the argument Agamemnon censures his wife for her desire for battle, a remark Clytemnestra turns to her advantage by flattering the king’s sense of his own power: “Yet for the mighty even to give way is grace.” Here, Clytemnestra inverts the reprimand by deflecting the imagery of battle away from herself and onto Agamemnon. Finally, Agamemnon asks if her victory is so important, and the queen appropriately concludes the exchange with pithou, “be persuaded” (or “obey”).

The triumph of Clytemnestra’s persuasive power in this scene resides as much in her ability to redefine the context, and so the meaning, of Agamemnon’s particular act, as in her exploitation of the ambiguity inherent in language. Under different circumstances or in another moral context, walking on rich carpets neither destroys wealth nor arouses the envy of men and gods. Clytemnestra again shows her ability, as she did with the beacon signals, to reencode meaning in a context chosen by her, and so achieve her persuasion. The queen’s use of language is disturbing, and poses significant problems for the inauguration of a civic discourse, because it transgresses established definitions and boundaries, and so undermines the stability of the social order. With Clytemnestra, as with Thucydides’ account of the stasis at Corcyra, words are liable to change their meanings.

But how is linguistic instability—the uncertainty involved in establishing a secure civic discourse—implicated in Clytemnestra’s transgression of the male-ordered city? What does the difficult foundation of a democratic civic discourse have to do with the transgression and subsequent “repression” of the feminine other? How are gender and political discourse linked in this play? The Eumenides and the figure of Athena supply a more specific answer to that question (to which I return at greater length at the end of this chapter), but it is Clytemnestra herself who initially implicates the disruption of gender roles with the insecurity of language through her artful deception of Agamemnon. Clytemnestra swaps private for public, feminine for masculine, and so gains power, by her cunning manipulation of language. She gains access to the throne of Argos through deceit. Because civic discourse is gendered male in the trilogy’s sexual code, Clytemnestra’s assault through language is also an assault on the masculine prerogative of power.

Clytemnestra’s trespasses against gender drive the action of the trilogy in an important sense, although the conflict and resultant suffering that follow cannot be reduced to the opposition between men and women. Other oppositions, most notably between generations (of gods and men) and between Greek and barbarian, overlay and overlap the sexual conflict, although the resolution of the trilogy cannot adequately be understood without reference to the contention and competition between men and women. So, for example, Orestes’ opposition to Clytemnestra and Apollo’s opposition to the Furies can be interpreted in generational terms:[45] Orestes returns to Argos to claim his patrimony as rightful heir of Agamemnon, while Apollo champions the enlightened views of a younger generation of gods. Yet Orestes also avenges the death of Agamemnon, a man and his father, by killing Clytemnestra, a woman and his mother. Apollo’s entire defense of Orestes rests on the proclaimed superiority of the man, and Athena, a younger goddess (who does show respect for the elder Furies), bases her own decision in favor of acquittal on the priority of the male. However one looks at it, Aeschylus arrays the forces in his trilogy so that a confrontation between men and women and their respective values cannot be avoided.

The conflict between men and women does not begin with Clytemnestra’s plot to murder Agamemnon and seize power in Argos, although that act (and the reciprocal act of revenge that follows it) is surely decisive for the way in which Aeschylus constructs the “problem” of the feminine other. Typically, the actions of Clytemnestra are overdetermined. First, there is the ancient curse on the house of Atreus: Thyestes seduced the wife of Atreus and then, having feasted on his own children in punishment, cursed the Atreidae. Aegisthus, the only surviving son of Thyestes, thus allies himself with Clytemnestra for reasons of his own private revenge. Then there is the abduction of Helen, a violation of guest friendship that sets in motion the disastrously costly Trojan War, the pursuit of which required Agamemnon’s slaughter of Iphigeneia, perverse sacrifice to Artemis’s anger at Zeus. Finally, there is Apollo’s failed seduction of Cassandra and the Trojan prophetess’s return to Argos with the conquering hero.

Here is a formidable list of reasons to explain Clytemnestra’s act: ancient curse, revenge, longing turned to anger, jealousy. For R. P. Winnington-Ingram, however, these are all secondary to the central feature of Clytemnestra’s anomalous personality: for Clytemnestra “hated Agamemnon not simply because he had killed her child, not because she loved Aegisthus, but out of a jealousy that was not jealousy of Chryseis or Cassandra, but of Agamemnon himself and his status as a man. For she herself is of manly temper, and the dominance of a man is abhorrent to her.”[46] The blow struck against Agamemnon, then, is not merely a blow of vengeance, but also “a blow struck for her personal liberty.”

The watchman and chorus (the latter somewhat grudgingly) recognize Clytemnestra’s formidable power. The former describes her as a woman with a man-counseling heart, and the ingenious signal light she devises and uses demonstrates her masculine control of resources to us and to the chorus. Both watchman and chorus praise her ability to speak like a man, and both mention her power (kratei, 10; kratos, 258). Finally, the word kratei marks the climax of her verbal dual with Agamemnon. Clytemnestra’s anomalous character thus accounts for her anomalous actions. It is no coincidence that the queen enters on the word nikē (victory).

For Clytemnestra must not only gain a victory over Agamemnon, she must also prove herself stronger. This she does on her chosen field of battle, the purple tapestries. I have already examined this scene in terms of verbal deceit. Here I only want to comment briefly on the reversal of sexual roles and on the pervasive images of war, battle, and combat. Clytemnestra has already proved herself to be unnaturally knowledgeable about things martial in her description of Troy’s defeat and the Greek plunder of the city (320–51). That account, however, is not wholly consistent with a role traditionally considered male. Michael Gagarin has noticed that while Clytemnestra plays a male role, she continues to represent a woman’s point of view and feminine values. After announcing the Greek victory (320) she dwells upon the fate of the conquered, who are now enslaved (326–29), before she proceeds to describe the rather limited joys of the victors (330–37) and warn them against despoiling the altars of the city. Gagarin concludes that this view of the situation “with its concern for and understanding of the plight of the defeated survivors and its very limited sense of joy at the victory, can properly be called female.”[47] Moreover, Clytemnestra’s account contrasts markedly with that of the herald, who mentions the suffering of the army before Troy only to emphasize an unrestrained joy at the victory and the destruction of the holy places. So while Clytemnestra is well versed in the councils of men, she maintains what is traditionally considered a feminine sensibility.[48]

This conjunction of opposites is no less present in the carpet scene, where Clytemnestra joins battle with Agamemnon. The exchange between queen and king is littered with words of war: machēs (940), battle or combat; to nikasthai (941), the victor or the conqueror; dēerios (942), fight, battle, or contest; katestrammai (956), to be subdued, compelled, or subjected by another.[49] Clytemnestra will subdue Agamemnon as the conqueror subdued Troy. Yet here, too, something more complex occurs, because Clytemnestra first chooses to do battle with cunning words, not sharp swords, as the weapon of choice. She defeats Agamemnon in verbal contest so that she may all the more surely defeat him physically. Although Clytemnestra has a penchant for battle, she employs means the Greeks traditionally associated with women. Not the least of these is her final appeal to Agamemnon’s masculine vanity, a danger of which the king is characteristically unaware.[50] The chorus will later complain of Agamemnon’s ignominious death at the hands of a woman—and in the bath, not on the battlefield—a tacit acknowledgement that Clytemnestra, a woman, is more intelligent, and so stronger, than Agamemnon, a man.

Agamemnon portrays Clytemnestra as unnatural: it is not “normal” for the woman to best the man, much less kill him; it is not “natural” for the woman to want power (kratos) or to rule, although this is surely what motivates the queen, nor is it natural that a mother reject her children as Clytemnestra has Electra and Orestes. Aeschylus portrays the anomalous nature of Clytemnestra with a cluster of dragon, snake, and monster images, images reinforced by the chorus’s allusion to the crimes of the Lemnian women.[51] But the perversion of the natural order is nowhere expressed in such terrifying terms as when Clytemnestra inverts the ritual language of fertility and death, life-giving rain and death-oozing blood. As she stands over the corpse of Agamemnon, she overturns not only the gendered order of the family and the city, but the order of the cosmos as well:

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 birth
time of the buds. (1388–92)
Clytemnestra has transgressed the natural order so that blood and death bring rain and life in this unparalleled travesty of ritual language.[52]

I do not want to neglect the fact that much of what the queen does, she does in reaction to what Agamemnon has done to her and as part of her role in playing out the family’s curse. Thus we must not forget that Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigeneia, was away at war for ten years, and then returned with Cassandra. Agamemnon surely insulted Clytemnestra in her status as a mother by killing Iphigeneia and in her status as a wife through his neglect of her and his infidelity.[53] I think a good case can be made in favor of Clytemnestra, although I am less interested in the extent of her “guilt” (as Vickers notes, she herself does not feel guilty) than in the effects her actions have on the linguistic and sexual order and on the way in which that order is (de)stabilized in the trilogy.

Significant for my analysis is that Clytemnestra gains power in Argos through her manipulative use of language, for her deliberate trespasses against the boundaries of both linguistic and sexual order. As Clytemnestra manipulates language to confound the male-ordered civic discourse, she joins those other transgressing women—Antigone, Medea, Agave—who pose a serious threat to the order of the patriarchal city. Clytemnestra challenges the hierarchies and rules of the public masculine world by leaving the interior space of the house for the exterior spaces of the city, by exchanging the powerlessness of a woman for the power of a man. Clytemnestra turns the linguistic and sexual order of the trilogy upside down.

My analysis of the previous scenes, like the trilogy itself, necessarily converges on the Eumenides and its promise of reconciliation. The final question I wish to consider concerns the extent to which the concluding play of the trilogy redeems this promise by solving the twin problems of establishing an effectively functioning civic discourse and integrating the feminine other into the democratic order of the polis. To do this, I shall comment on the trial itself, on the figure of Athena, and on Aeschylus’s use of theatricality. I turn to these final scenes—to the trial of Orestes, the establishment of the Areopagus, Athena’s persuasion of the Furies, the final procession—because how one reads the dynamics, outcome, and aftermath of the trial to a large degree determines how one understands the trilogy as a whole.

Critics have long noticed a double progression in the movement of the Oresteia, that action and imagery cohere.[54] The trilogy moves simultaneously toward the resolution of conflict and toward transparency in speech, twin aspects of the trilogy’s composition that complement and mutually reinforce each other. On the level of action, legal justice replaces blood vengeance, Orestes is acquitted, the Furies are reconciled and take up their new duties in conjunction with the Areopagus, Argos and Athens are allied, sacrificial ritual is restored, men and women return to their proper places. The natural order of the world is set right. At the level of imagery and linguistic texture, Ann Lebeck has powerfully described how the Oresteia moves from enigmatic utterance to clear statement, from riddle to solution. Through its use of imagery and in the texture of its poetry, the trilogy transforms darkness into light, the blood-stained robes of Agamemnon into the festival garments of the final pageant, the dense poetry and claustrophobic atmosphere of the earlier plays into the comparatively straightforward and clear statements of the Eumenides.[55]

Yet a disturbing countermovement that keeps alive and intact the tensions and oppositions of the earlier plays, disappointing our hopes for a permanent resolution to the conflicts of the Oresteia, lies underneath, or perhaps alongside, the triumphant celebration of the well-ordered polis that crowns the trilogy. A number of ambiguities persist in the final scenes of the Eumenides that challenge our expectations of harmony, fulfillment, and reconciliation. First, of course, is the trial itself. Orestes is acquitted, but as Athena points out, this hardly constitutes an unalloyed victory for him or defeat and dishonor for the Furies (795). The oracle has come to pass, but this does not mean that Orestes is free of all guilt. Its wording is significantly negative: Orestes was to suffer no harm for what he did (799). An absence of punishment does not necessarily imply an absence of responsibility. The vote is also tied, and this in itself attests to the uncertainty of the case. But depending on how one interprets the voting procedure (another ambiguity), “the vote of Athena” means either that the jury of twelve citizens split equally, and Athena’s was a casting vote in favor of Orestes, or else that the human jury numbered eleven, with Athena its twelfth, divine, member, who votes for Orestes and so achieves acquittal by a tie. The latter possibility means that a majority of the Athenian jurors voted against Orestes and Apollo and for Clytemnestra and the Furies.[56] Moreover, that Athena ultimately decides the case by either making or breaking a tie, and in so doing displaces the verdict from the human to the divine realm, indicates that human judgment and justice cannot decide the matter. It is Athena, not the legal process, that settles the conflict.

Although Athena ultimately decides the case based on grounds given by Apollo, there are a number of reasons why we ought to be skeptical of that god’s authority and so of the triumph of the values for which he stands—those of polis, Greek, reason, progress, and the male—over the values of oikos, barbarian, passion, tradition, and the female. First, Apollo’s dismissal of, and obvious contempt for, the Furies and their claims is counterproductive. For it is Athena, not Apollo, who actually fulfills the oracle. Moreover, Apollo is an essentially inconstant figure throughout the trilogy, and so his claim to partisan victory is suspect. Apollo sends the avenging Atreidae against Troy and a plague on the Greek avengers, destroys the Trojan Cassandra, and then sends Orestes to avenge her death and the death of Agamemnon.[57] Apollo is thus not always for the male, and on occasion he works with the Furies, rather than against them. Nor are the Furies always opposed to the younger gods or solely concerned with marriage: they have previously been linked with the will of Zeus, Orestes fears them if he neglects to avenge his father (Choephoroi 269–96), Cassandra associates the Furies with the curse on the house of Atreus, and the Argive army is sent to Troy as an avenging Fury. The scope of the Furies’ commitments is as wide as Apollo is ambiguous. Surely Aeschylus ends the trilogy in a way that partially vindicates Apollo by fulfilling his oracle. But through the ambiguous portrayal of the god, he also points to the tremendous human suffering along the way, suggesting the limits of such a vindication in a conclusion that is disturbing in that it both “resolves and leaves unresolved.”[58]

Finally, there is evidence external to the trilogy indicating that an Athenian audience would suspect an Apollo who had previously gone over to the Persians and who has close associations with the Dorian (i.e., pro-Spartan) aristocracies.[59] A god who could be wrong about politics, Winnington-Ingram reasons, “is not necessarily right about men and women.”[60] There is good reason, then, to be somewhat skeptical of Apollo’s authority and arguments in his defense of Orestes.

Despite the momentous outcome in favor of Orestes, the trial is not the climax of the play. Even though Orestes is acquitted, the play is far from over. Almost a third of it, some 300 lines, still remains. Athena must persuade the Furies that they are not dishonored, that Orestes’ acquittal does not mean their defeat, and that they should accept their new position as tutelary deities of the homicide court. Only when the Furies accede to Athena’s combination of blandishments, threats, and respectful persuasion, does the reader (or the audience) feel secure.

Yet this feeling of security and release proves in no way permanent or conclusive. Even though Orestes is acquitted and the Furies are incorporated into the new order as the Eumenides (Kindly Ones), disturbing images and memories from the earlier plays continue to mar the joyous finale and provide both context for, and threat to, the trilogy’s ultimate achievement. The whole citizenry of Athens participates in a pageant in which the luminous torchlight and the purple robes of the processional recall the sinister signal fires and the purple-stained carpet of Agamemnon as much as they joyously signify their transformation.

There is one other way in which the final scenes of the Oresteia recall both what has gone before and how precarious its accomplishments are. Later in this chapter I comment on the Furies’ hymn to justice and the way in which Athena manipulates the ambiguities in the language of dikē to establish the law court in the face of the goddesses’ opposition. I do not want to discuss that scene any more than necessary here, except to note that when Athena echoes the Furies’ sentiments in admonishing her citizens “never to cast fear utterly from the city,” she, too, reminds the reader (and audience) of the conflict, perversion, and pollution that have gone before. Despite the “happy ending,” as Brian Vickers remarks, “it is the violence and perversion that live on in the memory.” The play thus creates a “remarkably powerful image of those threats against human being which are a corollary of our fragile existence.” Vickers concludes, echoing Athena, that “reading the Oresteia makes one afraid for one’s life.”[61]

The founding of the democratic polis is a precarious achievement, however, not only because it rests on the outcome of an inconclusive trial, and because of the disturbing echoes in the Eumenides, but because the new order will not entirely do away with the conflict that arises when we find ourselves forced to choose between alternatives that equally claim our concern and commitment, like Agamemnon at Aulis and Orestes at Argos. Certainly, the collectivity of citizens, together with the newly instituted law court, will mitigate and mediate those tensions and oppositions that engender tragic experience, at least a little and for a while. But men and women will always be torn between conflicting commitments: to the oikos or the polis, to home, place, family, and friends on the one hand and to glory, honor, adventure, and immortal fame won at the expense of the former, on the other. Although fathers will not always be asked to choose between a daughter and their army, mothers and wives between a husband and a daughter, nor sons between a mother and a father, most of us will experience the difficulty of balancing career and family in a society that does not honor both equally. For nowhere does Aeschylus indicate that human beings can “structure their lives and commitments so that in the ordinary course of events they will be able to stay clear of serious conflict.”[62] Nowhere does the Oresteia indicate that wisdom comes without suffering or that there is goodness without fragility. Wisdom must continually be rewon, while the goodness of the city depends on the unceasing and tireless efforts of its citizens. The trilogy does not let us forget that faith placed in finite solutions to complex human dilemmas is faith misplaced. The newly founded civic order, Aeschylus suggests, with its impartial and more comprehensive political and legal institutions, is not the solution to the problem of dikē, but it is perhaps a solution.

If it is true that from the opening lines of the Agamemnon to the final scenes of the Eumenides, the trilogy leads toward a resolution in the democratic polis, then it is equally true that the lines of that resolution converge on the figure of Athena. They do so in two ways.

I have already suggested that the Oresteia seeks a solution to the cycle of blood vengeance in the stability of civic discourse. As in Plato’s Republic, the problem for Aeschylus lies in an ambiguous excess of meaning, a depth in signification that proliferates competing claims rather than reduces or resolves them. More often than not, characters use this ambiguity in language to set up barriers to communication rather than to establish it. The examples of linguistic transgression that occur throughout the trilogy thus challenge our ability to specify meaning in language, to control the power of speech, and so to rely on the stable categories that constitute the basis of the social order. In these terms, the foundation of the law court and the subsequent verdict in favor of acquittal aim to fix a meaning for dikē, to establish once and for all a secure civic discourse in which contending claims and competing interests might be adjudicated, if not reconciled. Yet, as we have seen, equal votes comprise that decision, an indication that the claims of each side weigh equally in the balance and that the newly formed legal institutions of the city cannot solve the problem of dikē. Aeschylus must displace the final decision to Athena’s divine agency, a displacement that is crucial for a proper understanding of the trilogy’s resolution. First, and most obviously, it is crucial because as a dramatic device, it heightens the tension in the scene. Moreover, such a displacement points once again to the failure of human communication and interpretation that persistently mars the trilogy. It is most important, however, because it places the burden of decision, hence of reconciliation, on Athena. For Athena is an interesting figure in Aeschylus’s articulation of the discursive and sexual economy of the trilogy.[63]

Athena is important for the way in which she establishes linguistic order, and so justice, in the Eumenides. In the stasimon sung to justice (490–565), the Furies appeal to a sense of dikē familiar from the earlier plays of the trilogy. Theirs is a justice that relies on fear, respect, and reverence for the inherited bonds of obligation—without fear of just retribution, parents would not feel themselves safe in the presence of their children. The result would be either anarchy or despotism. The Furies understand the social order to be coterminous with blood relations. They thus protect society by prosecuting crimes that violate the kinship structures of society, but in particular they are concerned with transgressions of the kind the matricide Orestes commits.[64] They understand justice to be identical with the reciprocal revenge of a dikēphoron (bringer of retribution).

Athena echoes the Furies’ sentiment virtually word for word when she establishes the law court that will finally render justice and terminate the cycle of vengeance (681–710). She, too, urges the jurors and the audience “not to cast fear utterly from the city,” nor to live in anarchy or despotism, but according to a middle way that is best. Yet Athena cannot mean what the Furies mean by justice, even though they use the same word. Why, then, do the Furies allow Athena to impanel a jury that will decide the case in other than their terms and so against them? Surely something more is happening here than merely the inclusion of the Furies in a wider understanding of justice.[65] Athena (or Aeschylus) plays upon the shifting and multivalent sense of justice at work in the trilogy. It is precisely this ambiguity in the meaning of dikē that enables Athena to establish the court against the better judgment of the Furies. Where the Furies demand dikē as reciprocal punishment, Athena offers dikē as law court, as legal judgment. She chastens the Furies with such shifting terms when she says “you wish to be called, not act, just” (430). That Athena and the Furies each appeal to dikē does not indicate, then, that they agree on its meaning.[66] In fact, given that the Furies violently oppose the decision for acquittal, we have to conclude that even in the end, they do not abandon their sense of dikē as reciprocal punishment. Athena establishes the law court and institutes a new legal order over the protests of the Furies by playing on the ambiguity of the term dikē itself. Athena here has recourse to the same strategy and tactics used by Clytemnestra.

Even though Athena founds the Areopagus and in so doing fixes a meaning for dikē, her work with respect to the Furies is far from over. Believing themselves dishonored by the younger generation of gods who favored Orestes’ acquittal, the Furies now rage against Athens, threatening to poison and blight the land and its inhabitants. Through a combination of patient persuasion and discrete manipulation, threats backed by Zeus’s thunderbolts and sincere promises, Athena charms the Furies into accepting the verdict and their new place as beneficent metoikoi of the city, as well as their transformed status as tutelary deities of the homicide court. Athena’s is thus a victory of persuasive rhetoric:

I admire the eyes
of Persuasion, who guided the speech of my mouth
toward these, when they were reluctant and wild.
Zeus, who guides men’s speech in councils, was too
strong; and my ambition
for good wins out in the whole issue. (970–75)
Just as the trilogy begins with Zeus Xenios (the god of guest friendship) and ends with Zeus Agoraios (the god of public meetings), it begins with the forceful persuasion of Clytemnestra and ends with the forceful persuasion of Athena.

The figure of Athena is also important to the resolution of the trilogy because she occupies an ambiguous space in Athens’s sexual economy. A female goddess, Athena votes for Orestes on sexual grounds, for she is, as she says, “always for the male, with all my heart and strongly on my father’s side” (737–38). Moreover, descended as she is solely from her father, Zeus, Athena has no mother and so has experienced none of the ties of commitment and continuity of place the Oresteia traditionally associates with the feminine. Here she seems to validate Apollo’s argument for the primacy of the male as the “true” parent. Yet she is also a warrior and a virgin, and so doubly rejects the role of a woman in a patriarchal society. A trilogy that begins with Clytemnestra’s usurpation of Agamemnon’s power and prerogative ends with Athena’s own transgression of the accepted boundaries of gender identification.

By now it should be clear that both in her ability to manipulate language and in her usurpation of what were traditionally considered male roles, Athena recalls Clytemnestra. But what are we to make of such a disturbing association? Does Athena allied with Clytemnestra undo all the work that Athena allied with Zeus has accomplished? The final play of the trilogy does conclude happily with the establishment of a civic discourse and the integration of the feminine other into the city’s social order. Yet the play performed before the city it celebrates has depicted with immense force the internal tensions and oppositions of that discourse, not only in the clash of sexual and social interests but also in its challenge to the very possibility of the formulation of a civic language and sexual order grounded in rational legal procedure. Already so full of transgressions and manipulations, the Oresteia ends neither with the final restoration of a natural or “normal” order nor with the unambiguous achievement of clear and transparent communication. A reconciliation between men and women is achieved, but it is achieved by a figure who embodies all the transgressions of gender definition that the trilogy has sought to resolve. A civic discourse based on rational legal principles is established, but by a figure who transgresses its norms, and by means that partake of the persuasive rhetoric of manipulation the trilogy has fought to mitigate.

I therefore do not wholly agree with Brian Vickers when he argues, in reference to Clytemnestra, that “the final stages of the Eumenides complete Aeschylus’ exorcism of her, a sustained concentration of moral disapproval rarely equalled in literature.”[67] If Clytemnestra is exorcised, then, as we have seen, she is also resurrected in the figure of Athena. The man-woman Clytemnestra, who kills her husband, finds her counterpart in the god-goddess Athena, who similarly crosses the boundaries of gender definition.[68] Nor do I agree with H. D. F. Kitto that the Eumenides solves the problem of dikē.[69] If the achievement of the law court is to fix a meaning for dikē and so institute the shared civic language necessary to the polis, then the integrity of that language is violated at the very moment it is established. The figure that closes the trilogy cannot but remind us of the figure who opens it. Athena’s association with Clytemnestra brings the Oresteia full circle, and so reopens all the negotiations the trilogy had hoped to settle.

There is one final way in which Athena recalls Clytemnestra and the uncertainty of Agamemnon, and so undermines the very order she, and by implication the Oresteia, strives to establish. Vernant has commented on the reflexive dimension of Aeschylus’s trilogy. In particular, he has pointed out the manner in which the trial scene of the Eumenides invites the citizen-spectators to think of themselves as jurors (a role with which they would be intimately familiar) and judge the actors, the actions on stage, and the overall performance itself. Having witnessed a judgment on stage, the Oresteia asks its audience to reflect on the nature of judgment by rendering a judgment about the activity of judging. On another level, however, the trilogy reflects on its own activity in a decidedly more ambivalent fashion. I have been arguing that the text turns back and in upon itself in a movement that resists closure and so the hierarchical organization of values—the creation of a center—that the narrative establishes. It does so, in part, through its use of theatricality, by which I mean how the playwright calls attention to the performance itself as a theatrical spectacle.[70] Aeschylus employs this technique with surprising results in the Oresteia, most notably in the planning and execution of Agamemnon’s murder. I have already discussed that sequence of scenes that culminate in the king’s fateful step upon the crimson tapestries and analyzed them in terms of gender reversal and the manipulation of language. That interpretation portrayed Clytemnestra as something of a strategos in her own right, one who confronts and defeats her enemy in battle. I want to examine that scene afresh, this time in terms of its theatricality, and link it up with Athena and the trial of Orestes, in order to consider its significance for the trilogy as a whole.

Likening Clytemnestra to a general positioning and directing her troops as if for battle is certainly a plausible reading of that fatal encounter. Far more powerful, in this context, however, is to understand Clytemnestra in the role of a director, producer, or even playwright. She has prepared an elaborate scene, beginning with the system of signal fires, written a welcoming script for Agamemnon, assembled her deadly props, and even shown impatience when her maids miss their cue and fail to spread the tapestries in a timely fashion. In this play within a play, Clytemnestra writes, directs, acts, and produces the murder of her husband, and she has been many years in the plotting.

I have also noted how, through her persuasive rhetoric and her ambiguous sexuality, the figure of Athena recalls Clytemnestra. Here I want to point to a similarity between Clytemnestra’s “staging” of Agamemnon’s murder and Athena’s “staging” of Orestes’ trial, a similarity that cuts across other aspects shared by these two figures. There are a number of ways in which the trial “staged” by Athena recalls the dramatic theater of Clytemnestra. First, a trial recalls the theater in its physical aspects, with a judge and jury seated on a raised platform or “stage,” with testifying witnesses entering and exiting on cue, and with an audience of citizens, all potential jurors, in attendance. Second, the progress of a trial is similar to a “plot” (in the sense of both drama and intrigue), where identity and character are exposed, the truth about past or present actions revealed, and where a verdict or judgment is rendered on the protagonist. In establishing the Areopagus, calling the witnesses, selecting the jury and rendering the final decision, Athena writes the script, directs the “action” and determines the outcome of Orestes’ trial much as a playwright or chorēgos would do a tragic performance. Athena’s staging of Orestes’ trial thus recalls Clytemnestra’s own elaborate staging in Agamemnon.

But surely this pushes a point too far. After all, Clytemnestra commits a murder, Athena merely judges one. While I do not want to deny this important difference, I do want to emphasize once again the method of persuasion that Athena employs and the ambiguous space she occupies, disturbing characteristics she shares with Clytemnestra that also make it possible for her to end the bloodshed. But what does this mean for the play as a whole? The trilogy equates Clytemnestra, plotting, deceit, and verbal manipulation with being the playwright/producer/actress of one’s own drama. Two points follow from this. First, we are forced to recall that theater itself relies on plots, plotting, illusion, deceit, and verbal ambiguity, in short, all of Clytemnestra’s devices.[71] This alone should cast some doubt on the ability of the tragedy to render clear and secure meanings. But when we associate those same elements with Athena, then the law court, the justice it brings, and the Oresteia itself (and perhaps tragedy?) all share the same radical insecurities in regard to the stability of linguistic and sexual categories that Clytemnestra’s theater so disturbingly conveys.

One reason the carpet scene is so powerful, and the trial of Orestes so awesome, is precisely because they, too, like a tragedy, are staged, and as such raise disturbing questions about the ability of the tragic performance itself to establish a reliable context for communication. If the theatricality of Clytemnestra and Athena so easily manipulates Agamemnon and the Furies, are not the spectators of the performance also susceptible to a similar manipulation by the playwright and his play? This further implies that as the Oresteia attempts to end the cycle of blood vengeance by fixing a clear and unambiguous meaning for dikē, it cannot escape or evade the ambiguities, uncertainties, and difficulties of speech dramatized by the play within the play. If I am right about Aeschylus’s self-referential use of theatricality, then the Oresteia not only interrogates the “success” of Athena’s founding, but also provides a powerful example of man’s drive to circumscribe the world in intellectual and rational terms and a similarly powerful example of the limitations of that attempt.[72]

There is no final closure here, no unalloyed triumph of men over women, polis over oikos, new over old, what is chosen over what is inherited, reason over passion. Rather, the end of the trilogy introduces a series of new transgressions that forces the narrative to turn back upon itself in a destructuring movement that questions the very foundations of its own accomplishment. Through the figure of Athena, we have learned that the boundaries that constitute language and society are always already transgressed.[73] This final scene of ambiguous reconciliation, orchestrated by such a paradoxical and ambivalent figure, should draw us up short and force us to reflect on the violence concealed by constructed teleologies and hierarchies that appear “natural.”

So much is true of the Oresteia itself: the trilogy also transgresses the “norms” of linguistic and sexual order in the very act, and in the very space, in which it establishes them. The Oresteia surely institutes and legitimates a democratically constituted hierarchy of values, establishes norms of inclusion and exclusion, and creates bonds of membership by drawing boundaries. But the trilogy also shows us how such boundaries are constituted, that they are ultimately political, and that such limits are transgressed the very moment they are established. The problem of dikē is not solved in the Eumenides, but the trilogy as a whole shows us that we cannot live without such (temporary) solutions. The Oresteia lays bare the construction of those solutions as enabling fictions, calling attention to their incomplete nature and revealing to the spectators how a normal and normalizing order constructs the feminine as abject other, as the very constitutive outside of its own possibility, even when such an order harbors the most democratic of intentions. The trilogy thus as much reminds the audience of the violent exclusions and subordinations that constitute the democratic city in which they live as it validates that city.

In anticipation of all these reasons, this chapter began with the suggestion that no Greek tragedy could better illuminate the current controversy over democratic hopes and disciplinary reversals than Aeschylus’s Oresteia. That suggestion framed a series of reflections on the dilemma—in contemporary theory—over the intentions and effects of a democratically achieved consensus. The present contest over the meaning of democracy vacillates between the quest to instantiate norms of consensus and the suspicion that such rationally achieved agreement is a regulative ideal, one more strategy that effectively masks the mechanism of power as it produces normalized and disciplined selves and citizens for the effective functioning of the order. That choice—between the regulative democratic ideal of critical theory and the endless genealogical subversion of democratic codes—was too narrowly construed and tended to resist any alternative path through the unstable terrain of contemporary democratic politics. Yet if we are to respect difference in our own increasingly heterogeneous and diverse society, and if we wish to preserve the preconditions of democratic governance as well, another route must be found. Aeschylus’s treatment of the “feminine” as the constitutive other has been particularly helpful for illuminating a politics of identity and difference and in charting the dangerous territory of a democratic politics. The Oresteia, on this telling, can be made to yield a democratic politics of disturbance that maintains a commitment to the ideals of democratic consensus even as it disrupts democracy’s normalizing effects. Such is Aeschylus’s contribution to the contemporary contest over the meaning of democracy.

The central burden of this chapter has been to demonstrate that the Oresteia both celebrates the triumph of a democratic civic discourse and exposes the legacy of violence, exclusion, and subordination directed at the “feminine other” that accompanies that triumph. In a double movement, the trilogy articulates a positive vision of democratic life that seeks to disrupt and disturb the forces of normalization such a vision entails. This reading of Aeschylus has indicated that such forces of disturbance persist right through to the trilogy’s very end (Athena as doubly ambiguous), enabling the Oresteia to help formulate a democratic sensibility that relentlessly politicizes the founding exclusions that constitute democratic practice (whether religious, cultural or sexual), while at the same time providing a democratic identity and order against which to struggle. That is one way in which the Oresteia negotiates the tension between a democratic critical theory and a genealogical critique of democracy.

The Oresteia achieves this, of course, not by dissolving that tension, but by deepening it. Democracy in the Oresteia requires the stable foundations of law grounded in rational legal procedure: justice as legal judgment replaces justice as reciprocal revenge. Yet as we have seen, genealogical critique uncovers a democratic reason embodied in the newly founded law court that is masculine in gender and founded squarely on women’s exclusion from, and subordination to, the male-ordered polis.[74] Moreover, that foundation is itself traversed by its own fault lines, irregularities that portend further seismic disturbances in the bedrock of democracy. As a figure who already transgresses the very discursive and sexual norms of the democratic polis she aims to establish, Athena herself embodies the “paradox of founding” that Habermas’s consensus theory of democracy seeks to evade.[75] Despite the celebratory and triumphant ending, the Oresteia constructs the meaning of the democratic founding, and so of democracy itself, as open to further contest, struggle, and renegotiation. Read this way, Aeschylus’s trilogy alerts us to the antidemocratic preconditions and practices of democratic rule and to the positive role played by a “democratic politics of disturbance,” a politics that, like the disturbing transgressions of Clytemnestra and Athena, “projects new challenges to old relations of identity and difference, disrupts the dogmatism of settled understandings and exposes violences and exclusions in fixed arrangements of democratic rule.”[76] Such a reading of the Oresteia indicates one way in which a democratic critical theory and a genealogical critique of democracy, if properly understood, might contribute to the formidable task of democratizing difference.

It might even be the case that what I have said about Athena and the Oresteia applies to tragedy as well. In the theater of Dionysus, the citizen-spectators come to learn that the categories of society are never as stable as they appear. During a civic ritual that celebrates the city and its democratic traditions, a play like Aeschylus’s Oresteia both participates in that celebration and radically disrupts the “normalized” order it constructs.

Let me end this chapter and preface the next with Zeitlin’s characterization of Dionysus, the god of tragedy, as a transgressor, a description that applies equally well to the figure of Athena: “This mixture…is one of the emblems of his paradoxical role as a disrupter of the normal social categories; in his own person he attests to the coincidentia oppositorum that challenges the hierarchies and rules of the public masculine world, reintroducing into it confusions, conflicts, tensions and ambiguities, insisting always on the more complex nature of life than masculine aspirations would allow.”[77]

As much may be said about Max Horkheimer’s and Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Notes

1. William Connolly, “Democracy and Territoriality,” Millenium: Journal of International Studies 20, 3 (1991): 477. [BACK]

2. I have used the Oxford Classical Text of the Oresteia, ed. Denys Page (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), and unless otherwise noted, I have used Richmond Lattimore’s translation, vol. 1 of The Complete Greek Tragedies, ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953). Commentaries on Aeschylus that I have used include Agamemnon, ed. J. D. Denniston and D. L. Page (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957); Oresteia, ed. George Thomson (1938; rev. ed. Amsterdam and Prague, 1966); and Eumenides, ed. Anthony J. Podlecki (Warminster, Eng.: Aris & Phillips, 1989). [BACK]

3. “Tragedy is, properly speaking, a moment,” Vernant writes. “For tragedy to appear in Greece, there must first be a distance established between the heroic past, between the religious thought proper to an earlier epoch and the juridical and political thought which is that of the city performing the tragedy” (Jean-Pierre Vernant, “Greek Tragedy: The Problems of Interpretation,” in Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato, The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man: The Structuralist Controversy [Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1970], p. 138). [BACK]

4. The Suppliants might be an exception, because it too concerns the use of persuasion (peithē), a theme that is certainly democratic, although it does not reflect on the democratic order itself. [BACK]

5. In fact, a number of recent interpretations of the Oresteia take the structure of its mythic narrative as the most important element determining its meaning. I say more about this below. [BACK]

6. These events in the play allude to the Ephialtic reforms of 462/461 B.C., when the power of the Areopagus was curtailed, the franchise was extended, and a treaty between Argos and Athens was concluded. For an attempt to sort out contemporary allusions and specific references, see Anthony J. Podlecki, The Political Background of Aeschylean Tragedy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966), ch. 5 and esp. pp. 80–100. In The Greek Discovery of Politics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1990), ch. 5, Christian Meier also sifts the evidence to assess the influence of contemporary events on the composition of the trilogy, but is more concerned with the political and historical context in which Aeschylus wrote, so as to demonstrate how the Eumenides for the first time took up the problem of democracy and the political. [BACK]

7. A. Lesky, Greek Tragic Poetry, trans. M. Dillon (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 90. For a slightly different view, see Oresteia, ed. Thomson), rev. ed., 1: 57. The mythical archetype was thus concerned with the destinies of great families, whereas Aeschylus places the city, the threat of civil war, and possible ways of meeting this conflict at the center of interest. [BACK]

8. On the significance of the Panathenaia, see George Thomson, Aeschylus and Athens (New York: International Publishers, 1950), pp. 295–97. The fact that once Orestes leaves the stage, no heroic persons remain further underscores the democratic focus of the play. [BACK]

9. For a slightly different interpretation, see Martin Ostwald, From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of Law: Law, Society and Politics in Fifth-Century Athens (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 28–42. While Ostwald does not deny that the reforms of 462/461 effectively “removed control over the magistrates from a once-powerful aristocratic body and handed it to agencies constituted by the people as a whole,” he does argue that much of this process had already begun with the reforms of Solon. Ephialtes, on this account, merely completed what Solon had initiated by abolishing the political power of the Areopagus entirely (p. 42). [BACK]

10. On the historical questions concerning the Oresteia and the emergence of Athenian democracy, see Leslie Ann Jones, “The Role of Ephialtes in the Rise of Athenian Democracy,” Classical Antiquity 6, 1 (Apr. 1987): 53–76; K. J. Dover, “The Political Aspect of Aeschylus’s Eumenides,Journal of Hellenic Studies 77, 1 (1957): 230–37; E. R. Dodds, “Morals and Politics in the Oresteia,Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 186, 6 (1960): 19–31; C. W. Macleod, “Politics and the Oresteia,Journal of Hellenic Studies 102 (1982): 124–44. [BACK]

11. Meier, Greek Discovery of Politics, p. 91. [BACK]

12. I do not want to construe an exact correspondence between the reforms of Ephialtes and the solution achieved in the Eumenides. The references to the Argive alliance and the curtailment of the powers of the Areopagus to matters of homicide can be construed as Aeschylus’s support of the radical democracy; likewise, the fact that Athena echoes the Furies’ counsel to incorporate fear (to deinon) in the new order, to avoid both anarchy and despotism, and to seek the mean can be understood as a protest against the democratic reforms. I find it more useful to interpret the trilogy as a reflection on both the gains and losses that attend the establishment of democracy. This dissolves the question about the politics of Aeschylus, first by focusing on the trilogy, second, by understanding it in a broader context: the reforms of Ephialtes might provide an occasion for reflection, but they do not necessarily determine the course or outcome of that reflection. [BACK]

13. I am aware, of course, that the conflict in the trilogy is not reducible to sexual difference. However, I agree with Froma Zeitlin, “The Dynamics of Misogyny: Myth and Mythmaking in the Oresteia,Arethusa 11, 1–2 (Spring/Fall 1978): 149–81, that the conflict between the older and younger gods, between Greek and barbarian, is presented in terms of an opposition between male and female. On misogyny in Greek myth and society, see P. E. Slater, The Glory of Hera: Greek Mythology and the Greek Family (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), and Sarah B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity (New York: Schocken Books, 1975). [BACK]

14. Although Aeschylus’s Persae does not explicitly challenge the masculine norms of public achievement and glory as does the Oresteia, it does describe the hardships suffered by women at home that attend the masculine pursuit of war. On this point, see Michael Gagarin, Aeschylean Drama (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), p. 91. [BACK]

15. Christian Meier, in his otherwise rather astute interpretation of the trilogy, misses the importance of gender altogether when, commenting upon the significance of the role “accorded to the fundamental division between man and woman, which is so starkly emphasized in certain passages in the first part of the Eumenides,” he states that “in view of the fact that the problem of man versus woman was not one that much exercised the Greeks, it is hardly likely to have constituted a central theme of the play.” The real theme of the Oresteia is, rather, “the conflict of the Eumenides and its resolution as an expression of political thought” (Greek Discovery of Politics, p. 98). [BACK]

16. Oresteia, trans. Lattimore, pp. 8–9. [BACK]

17. Simon Goldhill, Aeschylus: The Oresteia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 50. [BACK]

18. Homer tells the story of Orestes piecemeal and by way of positive example for Odysseus and Telemachus. The relevant passages are Odyssey 1.29–43; 1.298–300; 3.254–312; 4.514–37; 11.405–34. [BACK]

19. Homer Odyssey 3.304–10. [BACK]

20. For example, Stesichorus, Simonides, and Pindar. See Macleod, “Politics and the Oresteia. [BACK]

21. This debate is largely animated by feminist scholars who challenge the traditional interpretations of the trilogy. Their work centers on the themes of narrative and sexuality. See Zeitlin, “Dynamics of Misogyny”; Aya Betensky, “Aeschylus’ Oresteia: The Power of Clytemnestra,” Ramus 7, 1 (1978): 11–25; Nancy Rabinowitz, “From Force to Persuasion: Aeschylus’ Oresteia as Cosmogonic Myth,” Ramus 10, 2 (1981):159–91; and Simon Goldhill, Language, Sexuality, Narrative: The Oresteia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). [BACK]

22. See, e.g., Brian Vickers, “Nature versus perversion: The Oresteia,” in id., Towards Greek Tragedy: Drama, Myth, Society (1973; New York: Longman, 1979). [BACK]

23. John H. Finley, Jr., Pindar and Aeschylus (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966). In Aeschylus and Athens, Thomson argues similarly, as do H. D. F. Kitto, Form and Meaning in Greek Drama (London: Methuen, 1956), Dodds, “Morals and Politics in the Oresteia,” pp. 19–21, and Podlecki, Political Background of Aeschylean Tragedy, pp. 75–78, 80–82. Hugh Lloyd-Jones, The Justice of Zeus (1971; 2d ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), is an exception. [BACK]

24. Finley, Pindar and Aeschylus, p. 277. [BACK]

25. Zeitlin, “Dynamics of Misogyny,” p. 149. For other feminist accounts, see, e.g., Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971), and L. Bamberger, “The Myth of Matriarchy: Why Men Rule in Primitive Society,” in Women, Culture and Society, ed. Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, 263–80 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974). [BACK]

26. Cf. Kitto, Form and Meaning, who claims that the problem of dikē is solved. [BACK]

27. Zeitlin, “Dynamics of Misogyny,” does not, however, put it in precisely these terms. [BACK]

28. Ibid., p. 150. [BACK]

29. Charles Segal, “Greek Tragedy and Society: A Structuralist Perspective,” in id., Interpreting Greek Tragedy: Myth, Poetry, Text (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986). [BACK]

30. Ibid., p. 24. [BACK]

31. Ibid. [BACK]

32. Vickers, Towards Greek Tragedy, p. 379, notes that the use of the optative in these lines comes to have the reverse effect intended. [BACK]

33. Since the word the watchman uses, audō, means “to speak” or “to say” in connection with the utterance of an oracle, Aeschylus here places us immediately in the midst of the enigmatic and oracular, something in need of interpretation. [BACK]

34. Betensky, “Aeschylus’ Oresteia,” pp. 13–14. [BACK]

35. Simon Goldhill, Reading Greek Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 9. [BACK]

36. Ibid., p. 14. [BACK]

37. See ibid., p. 10. [BACK]

38. One way to etymologize Clytemnestra is as hē kluta mēdomenē, an etymology that points to her skill or cunning in plots and deception. See Etymologicum Magnum, ed. Thomas Gaisford (1848: Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1967), 521, 17–20. [BACK]

39. A slight modification in the pronunciation of this phrase yields gunaik’ apistein (a faithless wife), a pun that any actor, and no doubt the audience, would appreciate. [BACK]

40. I do not want to push this too far: she then continues to employ the watchdog metaphor in direct relation to Agamemnon, so that when she professes kindness to the king and fierceness to his enemies, we know she means the contrary. [BACK]

41. Betensky, “Aeschylus’ Oresteia,” pp. 15–17, elaborates this interpretation concerning the core of Clytemnestra’s past experience, which she now truthfully puts into speech, although to a devious end. [BACK]

42. Goldhill, Reading Greek Tragedy, p. 11. [BACK]

43. On the spider image and use of nets, see Rabinowitz, “From Force to Persuasion.” [BACK]

44. The word Agamemnon uses—diaphtherounta—can variously be translated as “corrupt,” “seduce,” “destroy,” or “bribe”; see H. G. Liddell, Robert Scott, H. S. Jones, and Roderick McKenzie, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), p. 418. Because of the sexual overtones of the exchange, I find “seduce” preferable, especially to Lattimore’s rather tepid “make soft.” [BACK]

45. As do the Furies themselves at Eumenides 778–79. [BACK]

46. R. P. Winnington-Ingram, Studies in Aeschylus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 105. [BACK]

47. Gagarin, Aeschylean Drama, p. 93. [BACK]

48. Two interesting points come to mind here: first, seeing the world from another’s point of view, as Clytemnestra does, is tragedy’s singular, although not unique, achievement. Second, Hannah Arendt defines political thinking as the ability to see the world from the point of view of somebody else; this she calls representative thinking (see Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil [New York: Viking Press, 1964; repr., Penguin Books, 1977], p. 49). But like Agamemnon, Clytemnestra loses that capacity and sees only one side of a complex issue. [BACK]

49. The list comes from J. Peter Euben, The Tragedy of Political Theory: The Road Not Taken (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 74. [BACK]

50. Winnington-Ingram, Studies in Aeschylus, p. 93. [BACK]

51. Rabinowitz, “From Force to Persuasion,” pp. 165–67. [BACK]

52. See Vickers on the details of ritual parody, Towards Greek Tragedy, pp. 398–99. [BACK]

53. Winnington-Ingram, Studies in Aeschylus, p. 111. [BACK]

54. Ann Lebeck, The Oresteia: A Study in Language and Structure (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), is the most complete, but see also Rabinowitz, “From Force to Persuasion” cited above. [BACK]

55. One other way in which Aeschylus achieves this transformation is to revise the myth of the Delphic oracle’s foundation in a way that anticipates the peaceful settlement that ends the trilogy. [BACK]

56. In Form and Meaning, pp. 65–6, Kitto makes an interesting and persuasive, although not conclusive, case for eleven jurors: he notices that between lines 711 and 733, Aeschylus has composed ten couplets and one triplet for a total of eleven verses. This would indicate eleven and not twelve jurors, a vote cast for each couplet, otherwise the playwright would have to send two voters to the urn at once, which makes no stage sense. The final triplet allows enough time for the eleventh juror to go to the urn and back to his seat, and then for Athena herself to approach the urn before beginning her speech. This makes onstage sense for Kitto, but it does not clarify the ambiguity in the language of the text, where, at 741, Athena says, in the optative, “victory is Orestes’ even if the votes divide equally” (Lattimore’s translation interpolates “other votes” to convey the sense that there are twelve jurors, but this is not what the text says), and again, at 752, where she says “equal is the number of ballots.” Both phrases could include Athena’s vote, so I am inclined to read the human vote as against Orestes. [BACK]

57. Deborah Roberts, Apollo and His Oracle in the Oresteia (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984), p. 70. [BACK]

58. Ibid., p. 72. [BACK]

59. Thomson, Aeschylus and Athens, p. 278. [BACK]

60. Winnington-Ingram, Studies in Aeschylus, p. 121. [BACK]

61. Towards Greek Tragedy, p. 425. [BACK]

62. Nussbaum, Fragility of Goodness, p. 51. [BACK]

63. The following discussion of Athena follows that of Goldhill, Reading Greek Tragedy, pp. 30–31. [BACK]

64. Aeschylus downplays the fact that if Orestes did not avenge the murder of his father, the Furies would pursue him for his negligence. [BACK]

65. This inclusionary thesis is the argument of H. D. F. Kitto, Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study (1961; 5th ed., London: Methuen, 1978): 94–5, Podlecki, Political Background of Aeschylean Tragedy, pp. 78–79, and Thomson, Aeschylus and Athens, p. 289. [BACK]

66. Though this is the conclusion of Lloyd-Jones, in Justice of Zeus, 2d ed., pp. 94–95. [BACK]

67. Brian Vickers, Towards Greek Tragedy, p. 423. [BACK]

68. On the importance of Clytemnestra for an understanding of Athena, see Winnington-Ingram, Studies in Aeschylus, 101–31. [BACK]

69. Kitto, Greek Tragedy (1961), p. 95. [BACK]

70. On theatricality, see Charles Segal, “Time, Theater, and Knowledge in the Tragedy of Oedipus,” in Edipo: Il teatro greco e la cultura europea, ed. Bruno Gentili and Roberto Pretagostini (Rome: Edizioni dell’Ateneo, 1986), p. 463ff., and Froma I. Zeitlin, “Playing the Other: Theater, Theatricality and the Feminine in Greek Drama,” in Nothing to Do with Dionysus? Athenian Drama in Its Social Context, ed. John A. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin, 63–95 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990). [BACK]

71. See Zeitlin, “Playing the Other,” pp. 81–83 on plots, deceit, and intrigue in Greek tragedy. [BACK]

72. Here I paraphrase Segal in “Time, Theater, and Knowledge,” p. 463. Although Segal is describing the theater of Sophocles, I think his description applies equally well to the Oresteia. [BACK]

73. This is part quotation and part paraphrase of Goldhill, Language, Sexuality, Narrative, p. 281. [BACK]

74. Thomson, Aeschylus and Athens, p. 288, goes so far as to say that “Aeschylus regarded the subordination of women (quite correctly) as an indispensable condition of democracy.” [BACK]

75. On the place of gender in Habermas’s work, see Nancy Fraser, “What’s Critical about Critical Theory? The Case of Habermas and Gender,” in Feminism as Critique, ed. Drucilla Cornell and Seyla Benhabib (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 31–56. [BACK]

76. Connolly, “Democracy and Territoriality,” p. 473. [BACK]

77. Zeitlin, “Playing the Other,” p. 66. [BACK]


previous chapter
Democracy and Discipline in Aeschylus’s Oresteia
next chapter