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A combination of literary with artistic evidence leads,
then, to the hypothesis that the Oresteia of Stesichorus was planned somewhat as follows. Clytaemnestra slew her husband by striking him on the head with an axe. The nurse Laodameia saved the young Orestes, and entrusted him to his father's faithful herald Talthybius, who carried him away,—probably to Phocis1. After some years, Clytaemnestra has the alarming dream, and sends Electra (accompanied by the nurse) with gifts to Agamemnon's tomb. Orestes arrives there with Talthybius, and is recognised by his sister. He then enters the house, while Talthybius keeps watch near the doors2. Clytaemnestra, hearing the shriek of the dying Aegisthus, rushes to his aid with an axe; a cry from Electra warns Orestes of the peril; but Talthybius has already seized Clytaemnestra; who is presently slain by her son. The Erinyes then appear to Orestes, who defends himself with the bow and arrows given by Apollo3.

Influence of Stesichorus on the dramatists.
If this hypothesis be even approximately correct,—and I, at least, am persuaded that it is so,—the result is of considerable interest, not merely in relation to Stesichorus, but also in its bearing on the Attic dramatists. It would appear that Aeschylus followed the general outlines of Stesichorus pretty closely; while Sophocles, who did not do so, has retained at least one Stesichorean trait, the part of the old man. Aeschylus did not need him, since his Clytaemnestra herself sent Orestes to Strophius; on the other hand, he retains the part of the nurse, which for Sophocles was superfluous. But even if the hypothesis be rejected, there remains that fragment of the Stesichorean poem which describes Clytaemnestra's dream. This proves that Stesichorus conceived her in a manner which was much nearer to the Aeschylean than to the Homeric. And this change—whether first made by him or not—was connected with another of still larger scope. Stesichorus related in the Oresteia that Tyndareus had incurred the anger of Aphroditè, who doomed his daughters, Helen and Clytaemnestra, to evil careers4. Here is the tendency—wholly absent from the Iliad—to bring crimes into the house of Pelops. The Dorian conquerors of Peloponnesus envied the renown which the old local lore, worked up by Ionian art in the Iliad, had shed around their Achaean predecessors, the ancient masters of Mycenae and Sparta. Under Dorian influences, the story of the Pelopidae was interwoven with those dark threads which appear in Attic Tragedy, while brighter traits were given to the legends of Heracles and the Heracleidae.


1 The influence of Delphi on the poem of Stesichorus appears in the fact that Apollo provides Orestes with the means of defence against the Erinyes; and it is therefore not unlikely that the refuge of Orestes was with Strophius at Crisa. Whether Stesichorus brought in Pylades, there is nothing to show.

2 As the Paedagogus does in Sophocles ( El. 1331 f.).

3 There is no clue to the manner in which Stesichorus managed the sequel. He may have followed the local Peloponnesian legend, which assigned a refuge to Orestes at the Arcadian town of Orestheion ( Thuc. 5. 64) in Parrhasia, the primitive home of the Orestes-myth. Robert (Bild und Lied, p. 181, n. 30) finds a possible trace of this in Eur. Or. 1643 ff.

4 Frag. 35. It was from Hesiod that Stesichorus derived this story. It is probable that the “Κατάλογος” of Hesiod contained references to the crimes in the house of Pelops: see Robert, Bild u. Lied, p. 189.

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hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (3):
    • Euripides, Orestes, 1643
    • Sophocles, Electra, 1331
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.64
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