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INTRODUCTION

in Homer.

$ 1. The story of Orestes the avenger was complete in every essential particular before it came to the earliest of those three Attic dramatists, each of whom has stamped it so strongly with the impress of his own mind. In the Iliad there is no hint that the house of Pelops lay

under a curse which entailed a series of crimes. The legend

The sceptre made by Hephaestus for Zeus, and

brought by Hermes to Pelops, is peacefully inherited by Atreus, Thyestes and Agamemnon. Yet the Iliad makes at least one contribution to the material which Aeschylus found ready to his hand. It is the figure of Agamemnon himself, with eyes and head like those of Zeus, in girth like Ares, in breast like Poseidon. This is the royal Agamemnon, ó Travtó euvos, who lives in the Aeschylean drama, and whose image reappears in later poetry. For the rest, the Iliad gives us just one far-off glimpse of the king's home beyond the Aegaean, where Orestes is a child in the fortress-palace at Mycenae, with three sisters, Chrysothemis, Laodice, and Iphianassa, children of that Clytaemnestra to whom, in the opinion of her lord at Troy, the damsel Chryseïs was 'in no wise inferior, in beauty or in stature, in wit or in skill.'

The Odyssey tells the story as follows. Agamemnon, before going to Troy, charged a certain minstrel (aoldós) to watch over Clytaemnestra at Mycenae. The precaution implies a sense of possible danger, but not necessarily distrust of Clytaemnestra. Presently a tempter came to the lonely wife in the person of her husband's first-cousin, Aegisthus, son of Thyestes, who, while his kinsmen were fighting at Troy, dwelt ‘at peace, in

the heart of Argos.' For some time Clytaemnestra 'refused the shameful deed; for she had a good understanding.' Meanwhile the gods themselves, by their messenger Hermes, warned Aegisthus against the course of crime upon which he was entering. But Hermes spoke in vain. Aegisthus removed the minstrel to a desert island, and there left him, a prey to dogs and birds. He then took the "willing' Clytaemnestra to his home; while he sought to propitiate the gods by burntofferings on their altars, and by hanging up in their temples 'many gifts of embroidery and gold.'

Agamemnon, after a stormy voyage from Troy, landed on the coast of Argolis at a point not far from the dwelling of Aegisthus; who, apprised by a watcher, came in his chariot, and invited the king to a banquet; after which he slew him, as a man slays an ox at the manger.'

In this narrative (given by Menelaus to Telemachus) Clytaemnestra is not even named; though Menelaus had previously spoken of her ‘guile'as aiding the crime. It is only in a part of the Odyssey which is of later origin than the “Telemachy' in books I–IV,—viz., the Nékvia in the eleventh book,—that Clytaemnestra appears as actively sharing in the horrors of the banquet, where she slays Cassandra with her own hand. And, even there, it is by the sword of Aegisthus alone that Agamemnon is slain.

The young Orestes fled, or was conveyed, to Athens. For seven years Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra reigned at Mycenae. In the eighth, Orestes returned, and slew Aegisthus. Clytaemnestra died at the same time, but how, we are not told; and Orestes 'made a funeral feast,' for both of them, “to the Argives.'

Two points distinguish this Homeric legend from later versions. First, Aegisthus is the principal criminal? Clytaem

1 The conception of the murder (no less than the execution) is always attributed to him in the Odyssey (3. 194 Algodos čuñoato: 4. 529 Αίγ. δολίην έφράσσατο τέχνην: ΙΙ. 409 Αίγ. τεύξας θάνατόν τε μόρον τε).

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