Article Title

Klytaimestra Tyrannos: Fear and Tyranny in Aeschylus's Oresteia (with a Brief Comparison with Macbeth)


Anton Bierl


Leading to possible connections with tyrannical agency in Macbeth, the article explores how in the Oresteia Aeschylus develops a female ruler deeply imbued with fear. In the logic of tragedy, Clytemnestra represents the distorted anti-model in regard to gender-role and political behavior. In contrast to male just kingship, she establishes a tyrannical regime together with her lover Aegisthus after killing Agamemnon. Yet, haunted by fear from the very beginning of the Oresteia, she attempts to calm down all negative forces. First she orders sacrifices all over the city to placate the gods. In a brutal logic she devises the revenge on her returning husband. Acting as an Erinys herself, her desire to shed blood is greater than rational restraint. After the horrible deed, the chorus, changing voice and attitude, starts a collective protest against the new ruler. Although Clytemnestra claims that as long as “the fire upon [her] hearth is kindled by Aegisthus” (Agamemnon 1435), fear will stay away from her house, she soon wishes “to sign a treaty” (1568-70) with the Erinyes who now seek revenge on her. Thus, she restrains her lover from violence against the people of Argos, conscious of the Erinyes’ consequent revenge. But her attempts to drive fear away are in vain. The article investigates the gradual transformation of this fear into horrible nightmares, and in turn of these into a real threat in the Choephori, laying the ground for a discussion of how in the last part of the trilogy fear will invest the polis itself according to a new ideology of justice based upon dread conceived of as a positive value. A few final remarks will be devoted to a brief comparison with Macbeth, foregrounding how both Aeschylus and Shakespeare focus on the precarious state of the tyrant’s power and on the tyrant’s subconscious drives.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.