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Between Stesichorus and Aeschylus, the only poet who illustrates the story of Orestes is Pindar. In the eleventh Pythian ode (478 B.C.), he describes a victory in the Pythian games as won ‘in the rich corn-lands of Pylades, host of Laconian Orestes; whom, when his sire was murdered, the nurse Arsinoè rescued from the violent hands of Clytaemnestra and from her deadly guile.’ That ‘pitiless woman’ slew Aga memnon and Cassandra. What, asks Pindar, was her motive? Was it ‘the slaying of Iphigeneia at the Euripus’? Or was it an adulterous passion? ‘Meanwhile, Orestes, a young child, became the guest of the aged Strophius, who dwelt at the foot of Parnassus. But in time, with the help of Ares, he slew his mother, and laid Aegisthus in blood1.’

Three points in this sketch are noteworthy. (1) Pindar makes Orestes ‘a Laconian’; following the tradition, adopted also by Stesichorus and Simonides2, that Amyclae in Lacedaemon was the place where Agamemnon was slain3. (2) The house of Strophius, ‘at the foot of Parnassus,’ is the refuge of Orestes; and Pylades is his friend. Probably the Nostoi (circ. 750 B.C.), in which Pylades figured, gave this account; but Pindar is the earliest extant source of it4. (3) Clytaem nestra, not Aegisthus, is in the foreground; and the speculation as to her motive reminds us that the myth had now grown into a shape which was ready for dramatic handling. Twenty years after this ode was written, Aeschylus produced his Oresteia.


1 Pyth. 11. 15—37.

2 Schol. on Eur. Or. 46.

3 Pyth. 11. 31 “θάνεν μὲν αὐτὸς ἤρως Ἀτρεΐδας” | “ἵκων χρόνῳ κλυταῖς ἐν Ἀμύκλαις”. Pausanias (3. 19. 5) saw at Amyclae memorials of Agamemnon, Clytaemnestra and Cassandra. The dominant influence of Sparta on the early development of the Dorian Choral Lyric may possibly help to explain how, in the lyric age, the local tradition of Lacedaemon could prevail over the Homeric version on a point of such importance. It is certainly a curious illustration of Dorian influence in modifying the Achaean legends of the Peloponnesus—though, in this case, the influence was not permanent, as it was in blackening the family history of the Pelopidae.

4 In his brilliant and suggestive Introduction to the Choephori, Mr Verrall holds (p. xix, note 1) that Pindar gives no countenance to the legend followed by Euripides, that Pylades was the son of Strophius. Pindar, he thinks, suggests no connection between them. “The home of Pylades in the ‘rich fields’ of Cirrha is distinguished clearly from that of Strophius on ‘the foot (spur) of Parnassus,’ that is to say at Crisa.” Is this so? Pindar first designates the Pythian festival by the words “ἀγῶνι... Κίρρας” (Pyth. 11. 12), and presently adds that the victory of which he sings was won “ἐν ἀφνεαῖς ἀρούραισι Πυλάδα” (ib. 15). In Pyth. 10. 15 f. the Pythian festival is similarly designated as “βαθυλείμων ὑπὸ Κίρρας ἀγὼν” | “πέτραν”: where “Κίρρας...πέτραν” is clearly equivalent to the “Κρισαῖον λόφον” of Pyth. 5. 35, and the “Κρισαίαις ἐνὶ πτυχαῖς” of Pyth. 6. 18. It is the spur of Parnassus under which Crisa was situated: there was no such “πέτρα” or “λόφος” near the site of Cirrha on the gulf. And, by adding “βαθυλείμων”, Pindar interprets this large sense of “Κίρρας”. In his time the town of Cirrha no longer existed (see n. on Soph. El. 180). The plain in which the Pythian games were held extended from the site of Cirrha on the south to that of Crisa (the seat of Strophius) on the north. It was called ‘Cirrhaean’ as well as ‘Crisaean.’ Hence the festival could be called ‘the contest of Cirrha,’ and its scene could also be identified with ‘the cornlands of Pylades.’ Was Euripides (in I. T. 917 f.) the first poet, as Mr Verrall suggests, who made Strophius a brother-in-law, and Pylades a nephew, of Agamemnon? It seems hardly probable. Anaxibia, daughter of Pleisthenes by Aëropè, and sister of Agamemnon, was mentioned by Hesiod (Tzetzes, Exeg. in Iliad., p. 68, 20); and as her only mythological function was to be the wife of Strophius and the mother of Pylades, it may be supposed that Hesiod knew those relationships. As we have seen, the association of Pylades with Orestes dates at least from the Nostoi (circ. 750 B.C.).

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hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Euripides, Orestes, 46
    • Sophocles, Electra, 180
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