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
The legend in Homer.
In the interval between the Odyssey and the Lyric
Influence of Delphi.
The influence of the Delphic priesthood rose and spread with the power of the Dorians. It did so, not merely because that power was an apt instrument for its propagation, but also because in Hellas at large the time was favourable. The religion of Apollo, as his Pythian interpreters set it forth, was suited to an age which had begun to reflect, but which retained a vivid faith in the older mythology. Here we are concerned with only one aspect of the Apolline cult, that which relates to blood-guiltiness. The Homeric man who has killed another may either pay a fine to the kinsfolk, or go into exile25; but in Homer there is no idea that he can be purified by a ritual. In other words, there is the notion of a debt in this respect, but hardly of a sin; of quittance, but not of absolution. It was a somewhat later stage when men began more distinctly to recognise that in cases of homicide there are kinds and degrees of moral guilt which cannot be expressed in the terms of human debtor and creditor. Clearly a man ought to do what the gods command. But what if a god tells a man to do something which most men think wrong? If the man obeys, and if his conduct is to be judged aright, the tribunal, like the instigation, must be divine. Nor is this so only when the opinion offended is that of men. A god may command a mortal to do an act by which some other god, or supernatural being, will be incensed. Suppose, for instance, that a man receives a divine mandate to slay a guilty kinsman; if he obeys, nothing can save him from angering the Erinyes, who resent every injury to kinsfolk. For questions such as these the Pythian creed provided
Purification from bloodguilt.
Stesichorus, of Himera in Sicily, flourished towards the
The Oresteia of Stesichorus.
Its probable outline.
A red-figured Attic vase34, belonging to the first half of
Evidence from art.