We have already seen how the lyric Oresteia of Stesichorus is related to certain works of Greek art. It may be interesting, in conclusion, to observe how far the dramatic versions of the story can be traced in that province. As might have been expected, the Aeschylean trilogy has been the most influential. Thus the Choephori has helped to inspire a vase-painting1 in which Electra, Orestes and Pylades, with some other figures, are seen at the grave of Agamemnon,—the god Hermes (whom Orestes invokes at the beginning of that play) being also present. The passage of the Eumenides which alludes to the purification of Orestes by the blood of swine (“καθαρμοὶ χοιροκτόνοι”, v. 283) is illustrated by another vase2; Apollo, at Delphi, is holding a slain sucking-pig over the head of Orestes, while the ghost of Clytaemnestra seeks to arouse the slumbering Furies. In a third vase-picture3, also indebted to the Eumenides (187—223), we see the Furies now awake, and about to resume their chase of Orestes; Apollo, at his side, sternly reproves them; while the benign figure of Athena, to whom Orestes looks up, typifies his approaching acquittal at Athens. Lastly, the crisis in the trial on the hill of Ares, when the goddess places her pebble in the urn, is depicted on a vase4 of the later Roman age. The Electra of Sophocles has suggested the subject represented on an Apulian vase5; Orestes, wearing a chlamys, and carrying a spear in his left hand, shows a funeral urn to Electra; Pylades, also with chlamys and spear, follows him. The moment is that at which the two youths, disguised as Phocian messengers from Strophius, arrive before the gates of the palace, and inform Electra of their errand (1113 f.):— “φέροντες αὐτοῦ σμικρὰ λείψαν᾽ ἐν βραχεῖ τεύχει θανόντος, ὡς ὁρᾷς, κομίζομεν”. A marble group6, now in the Museum at Naples, represents a youth standing at the right side of a maiden whose outstretched right arm encircles his neck, the hand resting on his right shoulder. This work, remarkable for a grave and chastened beauty, is suggestive of an elder sister with her brother; and, according to a probable interpretation7, the persons are Electra and Orestes. We are reminded of the sequel to the recognition in the play of Sophocles, where the sister says, “ἔχω δε χερσίν”; and Orestes answers, “ὡς τὰ λοίπ᾽ ἔχοις ἀεί” (v. 1226); though the moment imagined by the sculptor is one when the first transport of joy has subsided into a calmer happiness. It remains to notice a slight but significant testimony to Sophoclean influence on the treatment of this subject in the art of the Imperial age. Lucian describes a picture in which Orestes and Pylades are slaying Aegisthus, while Clytaemnestra, already slain, is seen on a couch8. He commends the skill which fixes attention on the doom of a wicked man, but leaves in the background the vengeance taken on a mother by a son9. Now, among the extant literary sources for the story, the Electra of Sophocles is the only one in which the death of Clytaemnestra precedes that of Aegisthus10; and the effect for which Lucian gives credit to the painter is the same which is obtained, in a subtler form, by the dramatic perspective of the poet.
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1 The vase is from Lower Italy, and is now at Naples: Rochette, Mon. inédit. pl. 34. It is reproduced in Baumeister's Denkmäler, p. 1111, with Overbeck's interpretation of it.
2 From Apulia, published in Mon. Inst. IV. 48: Baumeister, Denkm. p. 1117.
3 Millin, Peintures de Vases, II. 68: Baumeister, Denkm. p. 1118.
4 Found at Kertsch: Baumeister, Denkm. p. 1119, where Stephani's explanation of it is given.
5 Reproduced by Prof. Michaelis A. at the head of the Preface to his revision of Otto Jahn's Sophoclis Electra (3rd ed., p. iii, Bonn, 1892). He refers (p. vii) to the publications and interpretations of the vase by Laborde (Vases Lamberg I, pl. 8), J. de Witte and C. Lenormant (Élite céramogr. II. pl. 79), and Overbeck (Bildwerke pl. 29, 61).
6 Reproduced in Baumeister's Denkm. p. 1192; and by Michaelis in Jahn's Electra, p. 31.
7 This view is accepted by Prof. Michaelis (op. cit. p. vii). According to others, the persons are Merope and her son Cresphontes (from the Cresphontes of Euripides); or Deianeira exhorting her son Hyllus to go in search of Heracles ( Soph. Tr. 82 ff.); or Penelope and Telemachus. The group is the work of Stephanus, a pupil of Menelaüs, himself the pupil of Pasiteles, a sculptor and versatile artist of Lower Italy, who lived in the earlier half of the first century B.C. See Dr C. Waldstein's article on Pasiteles in Baumeister's Denkmäler, p. 1190.
10 With regard to the authority followed by the painter, Lucian remarks, “τὸ ἀρχέτυπον ὁ γραφεὺς παρ᾽ Εὐριπίδου ἢ Σοφοκλέους δοκεῖ μοι λαβεῖν”, forgetting that no situation even distantly similar occurs in the play of the younger dramatist. Indeed, so far as I can discover, the Euripidean Electra is nowhere traceable in ancient art, to which it offered no specially suitable material. It will be observed that the picture described above does not agree in detail with the closing scene in the play of Sophocles; it is the order of the retributive acts, and the prominence given to them respectively, which unmistakably shows his influence.
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