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Lecture

Theme of revenge in Greek tragedy


Department
English
Course Code
ENGL 103W
Professor
Torsten Kehler

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English 103
Lecture 5
(Digression)
For the Greeks events didn't occur in isolation, they were all connected. The Gods and Goddesses of
the Greeks were very capricious and unpredictable. They have emotions, think of revenge, can hate,
and be angry. They are thwarted in their desires, and participate in all events of the day. However, the
Greek Gods and Goddesses can't affect everything.
Pathei Mathos: pathei means passions (things that happen to us, emotions, something we can
not control, that just happens to us); the expression means “we learn from what happens to us”.
It is through unbelievable suffering that we learn what to avoid, and learn the tragic truth that
life is miserable. Unavoidable suffering is at the core of Ancient Greek philosophy.
Cassandra articulates the Greek perception on suffering and predictability. No event happens in
isolation. All stories in the trilogy go back to prior events and have concequences. The present
is pregnant with the future. Many events 'B' will follow event 'A', because of revenge. No
vicious heinous act can go unpunished. We do not know what events will follow event 'A', we
only know that revenge will occur. That causes uncertainty. The trilogy starts with the war
being over, but also the crimes of the past, and shows the world filled with uncertainties, omens,
and parables. (Clytemnestra calls Aegisthus “toothless lion'').
Multiple causes for events. Agamemnon's death: because of death of Iphigenia and
because of Atreus's deception of his brother.
Greek society is reversal (One of the great themes of the play: things aren't what they seem).
Eg: Cassandra is central to the story. Clytemnestra is a stand-in king while her husband is gone.
She is not weak, the is powerful, even though she is a ''mere woman''. Aegisthus is gloating over
the death of Agamemnon, but he got a woman to do it.
In a society on martian ethos, you die with your boots on, at war, if you were going
to die at all. You don't die being killed by your wife.
Aegisthus did nothing during the war, but got a powerful woman to kill his enemy.
He does not even acknowledge that she did it after.
The chorus and Aegisthus start arguing from the first moment. He threatens to lock up and torture the
people who disobey him.
Ties into the great Greek fear: Tyranny.
Aegisthus in so filled with Hubris and arrogance, that he thinks that his murder will bring closure and
an end to the cycle of revenge. The chorus doesn't know what can happen, but it knows that something
will happen and the people will rise up against having him as leader.
After the first part of the trilogy, the Oresteia is about Orestes. He becomes the central character. What
will he do to his mother?
All Greek tragedy is about endless cycles of REVENGE.
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