This course is a discussion seminar. Thus, the reading assignments for the course are relatively modest. Students are expected to spend a significant proportion of their class preparation time reviewing the assigned reading, thinking about it, checking out the material on the Web Sites for the assigned day, and pondering issues raised by the reading and the background material. The following illustrations and questions are designed to help you get started. Illustrations: Most of the illustrations present a slightly different version of the myth or story than the one that you will have encountered in the reading, and they are intended to help you think "beyond the text": What happened that we aren't told about? What are some of the questions left open by the reading? What kinds of things would you like to know that the text doesn't tell you? Study Questions: The questions, like the illustrations, are to help you get started. They raise a few of the issues that we will want to discuss in class, but are not intended to limit your thinking. Unlike the illustrations, the study questions are tied closely to the assigned texts. They are designed to help you think "inside the text" about issues that need analysis, explanation, or expansion; as you reflect on them, try to come up with ideas of your own about issues you would like to bring up in class for discussion.

April 10
Aeschylus, Agamemnon

This vase antedates Aeschylus' Oresteia: it shows Aegisthus striking down the helpless king, who is shrouded in a transparent robe, while Clytemnestra, wielding an axe, follows behind him. The female figure on the right with unbound hair is probably Agamemnon's daughter, Electra. Behind her, on the right side of the vase, Cassandra flees from the scene. The figure just barely visible on the left, behind Clytemnestra, is probably Chrysothemis. (To see an enlarged representation, click on the image.) How does this representation accord with the description of the murder of Agamemnon in the Oresteia (pages 160ff., lines 1391ff.)? What are the principal similarities and differences? The other side of the same vase is shown as the illustration for April 12. (From Boardman, Athenian Red Figure Vases of the Archaic Period [London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 1975], page, fig.274.1.)

  • Reread carefully the first choral ode of the Oresteia (pages 105-112; lines 43-258), consulting the notes on pp. 287ff. for an explanation of the references. What are the principal issues that justify the chorus's feelings of fear and apprehension? How do these affect the question of Agamemnon's reponsibility for his own death, if they do?
  • How does Clytemnestra react to the news of the victory at Troy (pages 125f., lines 580ff.)? How does she repond to the actual return of Agamemnon (pages 135ff., lines 842ff.)? Does anything in the play change between the two episodes? Is Clytemnestra different or the same in the two scenes?
  • How does Clytemnestra justify her murder of Agamemnon? Do you find her justifications convincing? Compare what Pindar says in Pythian 11 about her motivation(s).

April 12
Aeschylus, Libation Bearers

The other side of this vase is illustrated for April 10. On this side, Orestes strikes down Aegisthus, as Clytemnestra, wielding an axe, comes up behind him. Not shown here are the figures whose outstretched arms appear on either side of the representation: to the left is Cassandra, who is fleeeing from the scene of the other side of the vase; to the right is Electra, shown in the same pose as on the other side of the vase. Here, she must be attempting to come to Orestes' aid, perhaps warning him of Clytemnestra's approach. The sequence of figures on the vase as a whole is thus (starting far left from the April 10 view): Chrysothemis, Klytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Electra, Cassandra; Klytemnestra, Orestes, Aegisthus, Electra . (To see an enlarged representation, click on the image.) How does this representation differ from the murder of Aegisthus as it is presented in the Libation Bearers? Why do you think it is represented differently in the play? (From Boardman, Athenian Red Figure Vases of the Archaic Period [London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 1975], page, fig.274.2)

  • Review the Agamemnon, with questions 2 and 3 above in mind. Consider the ways in which Clytemnestra is portrayed in the Agamemnon: what specific passages either allude to her or describe her? What does she say about herself? How does the portrait of her that emerges in the Agamemnon compare with that in the Libation Bearers?
  • What view of Electra emerges in the first section of the play (up to line 311)? What specific passages serve to characterize her and how?
  • Study carefully the kommos or "chant" sung in line 312-465, and refer to the notes for information on its structure. How does it work to effect a change in Electra, if it does? What do you think is the point or importance of this section of the play?

April 24
Aeschylus, Eumenides

Many representations of Orestes at Delphi appear on South Italian vases of the fourth century and are influenced in their conception and execution by the reprentation of scenes on the tragic stage. (See the discussion of these in the background notes, under Furies.) Here are two vase paintings from the second half of the fifth century which are different. On the one above, Orestes, with his sword drawn, kneels on a pile of rocks. Apollo stands behind him, holding a laurel branch, and behind Apollo is a veiled woman holding a torch: she is usually identified as Artemis. On the right, a winged fury pursues Orestes. (To see a larger version, click on the image.) This representation does not correspond to any particular moment in the play. How do you read its message? (From Shapiro, Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece [London and New York: Routlege, 1994], fig. 102, p. 145)

On this vase, Orestes wears a cloak and traveling hat, and holds a sword and two spears. He is leaning on an altar of rough-hewn stones. To the right, Apollo holds up his right hand and extends a branch in his left. A winged fury with snakes in her hair approaches on the extreme right. (To see a larger version, click on the image.) Like the vase painting above, this representation does not correspond to any particular moment in the play. How do you read this image? (From Boardman, Athenian Red Figure Vases: The Classical Period [New York and London: Thames and Hudson, 1989], fig. 198.)

  • What is your view of the Furies when they first appear? How does Aeschylus structure your responses to them by having them first described by the Pythia, then represented through remarks by Apollo, then shown in conversation with Clytemnestra, then in conversation with Apollo, and then interacting with Orestes?
  • How does your view of the Furies change when Athena enters (lines 408ff.)? Why does she decide to conduct a trial to decide the issues in the play? Why do you think the last scene of the play (lines 793-926) is included? What does it add to the play?
  • What is your view of the trial scene? Are you more convinced by the arguments advanced by Apollo, by Athena, by the Furies? Whom do you think is right, and why?

Last Revised 6 April 2000