Greek Moon: Greek drama as astronomical allegory


Aeschylus' Oresteia


The story

The Oresteia trilogy, comprising Agamemnon, Choephoroe ('The libation bearers') and Eumenides ('The kindly ones'), was first produced in 458 BC. In Agamemnon, the city of Argos is eagerly awaiting the return of King Agamemnon after the conclusion of the Trojan war. Upon his return, Queen Clytemnestra leads him into the palace, where she murders him with an axe after trapping him with a net in his bath. Her lover Aegisthos appears to claim the throne. In Choephoroe, Agamemnon's and Clytemnestra's son Orestes returns from exile, and murders his mother and Aegisthos in retribution for their crime. In Eumenides, Orestes is pursued by the euphemistically named Eumenides, and then vanquishes them with the help of Apollo. The beneficial outcome of this for Athens bulks large in this last play.

A. W. Verrall's critique of Agamemnon

A. W. Verrall detailed a litany of problems with Agamemnon as drama. For him, the play contains 'grotesque and wilful violations of nature ... The story is not merely absurd in fact, but wilfully and as it were purposefully absurd ... these glaring and dangerous defects of construction are also useless and gratuitous.'

The solution is to be found on the plane of allegory, where every component tightly coheres, to produce a shining example of the Aquinian virtues of consonance, radiance and integrity. For example, Verrall takes issue with the fact that the herald appears, to announce the arrival of Agamemnon, almost concurrently with the beacon-signal which announces the fall of Troy. That is, the king would have had to have been transmitted almost instantaneously from Troy, perhaps in manner more suitable to the television series Star Trek. On top of this, the herald then goes into a long description of the trials of the ships on the voyage of return, the chief event of which was the loss of Menelaus' ship in a storm.

However, on the plane of allegory Aeschyus is describing events in the heavens. The herald is the aura of Regulus, Agamemnon is the body of the star, and the beacon is also Regulus itself - so that the beacon, the herald and Regulus will all have to appear within a short space of time. Aeschylus has gone into some detail about the fate of Menelaus, as Menelaus too has an astronomical correspondence: in Homer's system, he represents the zodiacal constellation of Scorpius, as Leigh has shown in Homer's Secret Iliad. In Agamemnon, his death in a storm may betoken the setting of Scorpius.


Textual analysis of the Oresteia

Textual analysis of Agamemnon

Textual analysis of Choephoroe

Textual analysis of Eumenides (to follow)

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