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Dossier : Émotions

The Language of Hatred in Aeschylus and Sophocles

Seth Schein


Eschyle et Sophocle donnent à leurs personnages une façon d’exprimer leur haine qui s’accorde avec les propres thèmes et valeurs de leurs pièces. Eschyle utilise le langage de la haine pour mettre en scène les relations à l’intérieur de la famille, où l’amour et la haine, l’amitié et l’hostilité, la solidarité et la division se trouvent inextricablement liés, voire confondus. Sophocle, pour sa part, n’a que peu d’intérêt pour les relations pathologiques en tant que telles, mais s’intéresse plutôt aux personnages qui y sont engagés et qui développent une forme de haine à l’intensité anormale, composante primordiale de leur héroïsme distinctif.

Aeschylus and Sophocles make their characters express and perform hatred in accordance to the distinctive themes and values of their plays. On the one hand, Aeschylus uses the language of hatred primarily to represent intra-familial relationships, in which love and hate, friendship and enmity, solidarity and divisiveness are inextricably combined and confused. Sophocles, on the other hand, is less concerned with such dysfunctional relationships in their own right than with the individual characters who participate in them, who hate with a more than human intensity and whose hatred is a prime component of their distinctive heroism.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Gordon S. Haight, George Eliot: A Biography, Oxford, 1968, p. 464.

1When Sir Richard Jebb asked George Eliot, the most tragic of novelists, what she learned from reading Sophocles, she responded, «The delineation of the great primitive emotions»1. These emotions were, of course, staples not only of Sophoclean tragedy but of Attic tragedy generally, and the emotional effect of the dramas was, famously, at the heart of Plato’s critique of tragedy in Book 3 of the Republic and Aristotle’s judgment of its utility in the Poetics. The present essay explores how both Aeschylus and Sophocles «delineat [ed]» one of «the great primitive emotions» to which Eliot referred: hatred. These two poet-playwrights repeatedly describe and represent hatred, each in his own way and in accordance with his dramatic purposes; each makes his characters express and perform hatred differently. Aeschylus, especially in the Oresteia, uses the language of hatred primarily to confuse intra-familial relationships of solidarity, which turn out to involve both love and hate, friendship and enmity. Sophocles, on the other hand, is less concerned with relationships than with the individuals themselves who participate in them and experience these intense emotions. Close attention to the distinctive language and dynamics of hatred (and related emotions) in particular plays can help to locate the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles in their broader literary, linguistic, institutional, and ethical contexts and throw new light on their central interpretive problems.

2Students of Aeschylean and Sophoclean tragedy have paid surprisingly little attention to hatred, considering how widespread and significant the emotion is in the plays. This interpretive lacuna stems partly from a general tendency among most classical scholars until the mid-twentieth century to neglect the importance of irrational phenomena in classical Greek literature, culture and thought. More, specifically, however, Aristotle’s relative neglect of hatred in both the Nicomachean Ethics and the Rhetoric and his focus instead on anger, set a pattern for modern interpreters of Attic tragedy. This is paradoxical because Aristotle’s writings themselves convey traditional Greek conceptions of hatred, which in effect he systematizes and condenses. Even though Aristotle was writing later than Aeschylus and Sophocles, the little he does say about hatred sums up longstanding normative ideas, institutions, and values on which — and against which — the poets build in their dramas.

  • 2 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics II. 5.1105b22-24.
  • 3 Ibid., IV.6.1126b25-27.

3In Nicomachean Ethics2, Aristotle lists hatred (misos) as a pathos in the soul, along with desire, anger, fear, courage, envy, joy, friendship, longing, jealousy and pity. Elsewhere in the NE, however, he barely mentions hatred except in passing. For example, after his long discussion of anger in Book IV, he identifies the mean between being obsequious (areskos) and being surly or quarrelsome (duskolos or duseris) as something like friendship. But, he continues, «The man (of this disposition) does not respond to everything as he should, by loving or hating» (οὐ γὰρ τῷ φιλεῖν ἢ ἐχθαίρειν ἀποδέχεται ἕϰαστα ὡς δεῖ); instead he «behave[s] similarly toward those he knows and those he does not know and toward acquaintances and outsiders…, although it is not appropriate to show regard in the same way for acquaintances and outsiders…» (ὁμοίως γὰρ πρὸς ἀγνῶτας ϰαὶ γνωρίμους ϰαὶ συνήθεις ϰαὶ ἀσυνήθεις αὐτὸ ποιήσει… οὐ γὰρ ὁμοίως προσήϰει συνήθων ϰαὶ ὀθνείων φροντίζειν…)3. Beyond these two passages, the Ethics makes no significant mention of hatred.

  • 4 Id., II.4.1382.a2-15; II.5.1105b22-24.
  • 5 Id., II.4.1382a.16-19.

4Ιn Book II of the Rhetoric4 Aristotle describes hatred (echthra) as one possible result of anger and proceeds to distinguish the two: anger, he argues, is always aimed at an individual, while hatred can also be aimed at a group or class (genos); anger arises from a perceived injury to oneself, while hatred arises without such an injury, in accordance with the character of the individual or group doing the hating; the angry man aims to produce a feeling of pain (lupê), while the hateful man intends harm (kakou); and anger is curable (iaton) over time, while hatred is incurable (aniaton). Thus hatred, in this passage, is merely a foil for anger, which is Aristotle’s real concern, and his distinctions between the two emotions are predictably instrumental, in accordance with the aims of the Rhetoric: a good speaker will make those he attacks angry or hateful, as may be opportune, and also can stir his audience to anger against his opponent5.

  • 6 Cf. Seth L. Schein, «Η φιλία στην Ιλιάδα ϰαι στην Οδύσσεια», in Ιλιάδα ϰαι Οδύσσεια: Μύθος ϰαι Ιστο(...)
  • 7 Cf. Seth L. Schein, «ΦΙΛΙΑ in Euripides’ Alcestis», Mètis III, 1988, p. 186-188.

5Aristotle occasionally uses the verb μισέω and the noun μῖσος for the emotion we call hatred (and μῖσος can also denote the object of hatred), but more often he employs ἐχθαίρω, ἔχθρα, and the adjective ἐχθρός when discussing hatred and those who hate. In contrast to the emotional μισέω and its cognates, ἐχθαίρω and related words are fundamentally social terms. They derive etymologically from the linguistic root [ἐϰ] and signify «being outside» and «those who are outside (or in opposition to)» a closed group of kindred, friends, or associates bound by the reciprocal obligations and loyalty that characterize relations denoted by φιλέω, φιλότης/φιλία, and φίλος. In the formulaic language of traditional oral epic, φιλέω and its cognates are closely associated with other words expressing reciprocity and social cohesion, especially αἰδώς, αἰδεῖσθαι, and αἰδοῖος6. Throughout the archaic and classical periods, treaties between city-states also were couched in the language of φιλότης and usually involved promises to have the same friends and enemies7. By contrast, ἐχθαίρω, ἔχθρα, and ἐχθρός were terms that conveyed externality, enmity, and alienation — a reciprocal obligation to damage or harm the hated person or community.

  • 8 Gérard Rigo, Eschyle, Opera et fragmenta omnia: index verborum, listes de fréquence, Liège, 1999, p (...)
  • 9 Gérard Rigo, Sophocle, Opera et fragmenta omnia: index verborum, listes de fréquence, Liège, 1996, (...)
  • 10 Pierre Chantraine, DELG, p. 1265-1266, s.v. στυγέω

6Like Aristotle, Aeschylus and Sophocles most often express hatred by ἐχθαίρω and related words and use μισέω and its cognates relatively infrequently. The seven plays of Aeschylus, including Prometheus Bound, have 66 occurrences of words from the root [ἐχθ-], including 49 of ἐχθρός used adjectivally or substantively, but there are only seven instances of words based on the root [μισ-]8. The seven plays of Sophocles have 83 instances of ἐχθαίρω, including 67 of ἐχθρός, but only 19 examples of μισέω and its cognates9. In addition, both poets regularly use words from a third linguistic family, consisting of στυγέω, the noun στύγος, and the adjectives στυγερός and στυγνός. These words are cognate with Στύξ, the glacially cold river in the underworld, and signify, at least originally, a physical repulsion or shrinking away from something that is literally frigid or metaphorically chilling. Because of this physicality, στυγέω and its cognates are more powerful than the words in the other two linguistic families10.

  • 11 Jaqueline de Romilly, La crainte et l’angoisse dans le théâtre d’Eschyle, Paris, 1958.
  • 12 Aeschylus, Eumenides 644.
  • 13 Ibid., 366-367.

7The particularly intense repulsion denoted by στυγέω, which can characterize both humans and gods, is related to the fear and anxiety that Jacqueline de Romilly documented as a major emotional component of Aeschylean tragedy11. Yet στυγέω and its cognates occur nearly as frequently and are as dramatically important in Sophocles (31 examples) as in Aeschylus (38 examples). Moreover, what is really important about these words (and the other words designating hatred) can be seen not in the number of times they occur, but in their uneven distribution as they vary in frequency from play to play and, within plays, from scene to scene. In Aeschylus, for example, 19 of the 49 occurrences of ἐχθρός and related words are found in just two dramas, Agamemnon and Libation Bearers, with another 11 occurrences in Seven against Thebes and 9 in Prometheus Bound. By contrast, there are only 3 occurrences in Eumenides, 3 in Suppliants, and 4 in Persians. This correlates with the thematic importance in Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Seven against Thebes, and Prometheus Bound of corrupted or perverted relations of kinship, friendship, and political alliance. Similarly, 17 of the 38 instances of στυγέω and related words occur in the Oresteia, including 10 out of 11 instances of the noun στύγος, 6 of which are found in Libation Bearers. Clearly this vivid and viscerally powerful word, which never occurs in Sophocles, is central to the dramatic world of Aeschylus’trilogy, where it denotes the disturbingly similar hatred of Clytemnestra for Agamemnon and of Orestes for Clytemnestra, which in both cases leads to murder. The relatively infrequent language of hatred in Eumenides is correlative to the physical presence of the Furies as Chorus, in a play where hatred is embodied and visible more than it is expressed verbally. Nevertheless, Apollo strikingly addresses the Chorus as «all-hated beasts, repellent objects of loathing by the gods» (ὦ παντομισῆ ϰνώδαλα, στύγη θεῶν.12), and the Furies claim that «Zeus considered (their) tribe unworthy of associating with him, because they drip with blood and are worthy of hatred» (Ζεὺς δ’αἱμοσταγὲς ἀξιόμισον ἔθνος τόδε λέσχας/ἇς ἀπηξιώσατο13).

  • 14 In Sophocle’s Philoctetes 166 I accept Brunck’s σμυγερὸν σμυγερῶς, implied by the scholiast’s ἐπιπό (...)

8The uneven distribution of the language of hatred in Sophocles is even more striking than in Aeschylus: of the 78 examples of ἐχθαίρω/ἔχθρα/ἐχθρός language in the seven plays, 26 occur in Ajax and 20 in Electra, the two dramas dealing from beginning to end with hatred grounded in betrayed social and familial relations. There are 13 examples in Philoctetes and 10 in Antigone, with only 9 in the other three plays combined. Similarly, 8 of the 19 Sophoclean instances of μισέω, μῖσος, and μίσημα occur in Ajax, 7 in Electra and only 4 in the other five plays combined. Finally, 10 of the 27 occurrences of στυγέω, στυγερός, and στυγνός are found in Philoctetes, a play whose hero viscerally detests those who abandoned him; another 5 are in Electra and 4 in Ajax, with just 10 examples in the other four plays14.

9The interpretive importance of the language of hatred is especially clear in the Oresteia, where confusion in relationships of φιλία and ἔχθρα is a defining feature of the trilogy, especially in Agamemnon and Libation Bearers. Thus, in Libation Bearers 234 Orestes tells Electra, «I know that our nearest and dearest are hateful to the two of us» (τοὺς φιλτάτους γὰρ οἶδα νῷν ὄντας πιϰρούς), where, as often in Attic tragedy, πιϰρούς is a figurative equivalent to ἐχθρούς. In Libation Bearers 173 the Chorus agree with Electra that no one but she could have cut off the lock of hair left at Agamemnon’s tomb, «for those who ought to mourn with a lock of hair are (your) enemies» (ἐχθροὶ γὰρ οἷς προσῆϰε πενθῆσαι τριχί). At 905-907, Orestes tells Clytemnestra that he will kill her beside Aegisthus,

for when he was alive you considered him a better man than (my) father.
Sleep with this man when you are dead, since this is the man
whom you make a philos, while you hate (him) whom you
ought to have made a philos

  • 15 Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 905-907.

ϰαὶ ζῶντα γάρ νιν ϰρεῖσσον’ἡγήσω πατρός.
τούτῳ θανοῦσα ξυγϰάθευδ’, ἐπεὶ φιλεῖς
τὸν ἄνδρα τοῦτον, ὃν δὲ χρῆν φιλεῖν στυγεῖς15.

  • 16 Ibid., 906-907.

10In these rhetorically striking lines the forceful opposition between ζῶντα and θανoῦσα, the asyndeton in 906, the enjambment in 907-908, and the deictic emphasis in τούτωι… τοῦτον16, are followed by the climactic juxtaposition φιλεῖν στυγεῖς at the end of 907, which expresses oxymoronically and aptly the confusion in this family and this play between relations of friendship and enmity, love and hate.

11Perhaps the strongest image of this confusion comes at 532-534, after the Chorus have told Orestes of Clytemnestra’s dream that she nursed a viper at her breast:

Or. And how was her udder not wounded by the (thing of) hate?
Ch. (It was) and as a result (the viper) drew in a clot of blood in the milk.
Or. This vision might not prove vain and futile.

Ορ. ϰαὶ πῶς ἄτρωτον οὖθαρ ἦν ὑπὸ στύγους ;
Χο. ὥστ’ἐν γάλαϰτι θρόμβον αἵματος σπάσαι.
Ορ. οὔτοι μάταιον ἂν τόδ’ὄψανον πέλοι.

12In Clytemnestra’s dream the maternal activity of nursing is corrupted by the aggression of the viper infant, previously described as νεογενὲς δάϰος, «a biting beast» that is simultaneously «newborn», «new to the family» and «of a (dangerously) novel kind». What ought to be the most intimate relation of nurturing φιλία is thus imaged as one of utmost hatred.

13At 991-994, Orestes justifies his murder of Clytemnestra to the Chorus:

[She] planned this (deed of) hate against the husband
by whom she carried the weight of children beneath her zônê,
for a while loving, but now, as she makes clear, a hateful thing of evil.
What do you think?

ἥτις δ’ἐπ’ἀνδρὶ τοῦτ’ἐμήσατο στύγος,
ἐξ οὗ τέϰνων ἤνεγϰ’ὑπὸ ζώνην βάρος,
φίλον τέως, νῦν δ’ἐχθρόν, ὡς φαίνει, ϰαϰόν.
τί σοι δοϰεῖ;

14These lines recall Electra’s invocation of Clytemnestra at 430-433 as

all-daring mother, you (who) in a hostile funeral
without the citizens dared
without dirges
to bury a king, an unlamented husband

πάντολμε μᾶτερ, δαΐαις ἐν ἐϰφοραῖς
ἄνευ πολιτᾶν ἄναϰτ’,
ἄνευ δὲ πενθημάτων
ἔτλας ἀνοίμωϰτον ἄνδρα θάψαι.

15They also recall the second antistrophe of the choral ode at the very center of the play and the trilogy, the ode in which the storied crimes of females against their male relatives are made parallel to the crimes in the house of Atreus. Φίλοι become ἐχθροί in all three of the Chorus’examples: mother against son (Althaea), daughter against father (Scylla), and wife against husband (the Lemnian women). At 613-615 they sing of Scylla:

There was another storied female to hate, a murderous
girl who for the sake of enemies
destroyed a man, her nearest and dearest

ἄλλαν δ’ἦν τιν’ ἐν λόγοις στυγεῖν φοινίαν
ϰόραν, ἅτ’ ἐχθρῶν ὕπερ
φῶτ’ ἀπώλεσεν φίλον.

16Here again, both the opposition between ἐχθρῶν and φίλον and the powerful word στυγεῖν speak to the twisted family relationships and gender role reversals so prevalent in the play and the trilogy. The word στυγεῖν both recalls the passage already quoted, in which the viper at the breast is called a στύγος, and anticipates Orestes’self-justifying description of his mother in 1028 as πατροϰτόνον μίασμα ϰαὶ θεῶν στύγος, «a father-slaying pollution and the gods’(object of) hate». At 635-637, in the third antistrophe of the same ode, «the race of Lemnian women» is said to have:

died off dishonored by mortals
through a pollution which the gods hate;
since no one respects what the gods’ loathe

θεοστυγήτῳ ἄγαι
βροτοῖς ἀτιμωθὲν οἴχεται γένος.
σέβει γὰρ οὔτις τὸ δυσφιλὲς θεοῖς.

17Although τὸ δυσφιλὲς θεοῖς is weaker than στύγος θεῶν, the words denoting the gods’object of hatred in 1028, the sentiment is the same.

  • 17 Ibid., 386-393.

18The Chorus in Libation Bearers are themselves characterized by a hatred almost as strong as that associated with Clytemnestra. In the fifth strophe of the great kommos17, they wish:

to sing a mighty female
cry of joyful triumph over the man
pounded down and the woman
perishing; for why in any case
should I hide what flies about in my phrên?
Before my heart’ s prow
my passion blows like a piercing wind,
my grudging hatred

φυμνῆσαι γένοιτό μοι πυϰά-
εντ’ ὀλολυγμὸν ἀνδρὸς
θεινομένου, γυναιϰός τ’
ὀλλυμένας τί γὰρ ϰεύ-
θω φρενὸς οἷον ἔμπας
ποτᾶται; πάροιθεν δὲ πρῴρας
δριμὺς ἄηται ϰραδίας
θυμός, ἔγϰοτον στύγος.

  • 18 Ibid., 1058.
  • 19 Aeschylus, Eumenides 308.

19The Chorus eventually fulfil their wish at 942-945, but their triumph, like that of Orestes, is short-lived. The «grudging hounds of the mother», soon to constitute a different Chorus, pursue the man with blood on his hands from the house he claimed to have purified. «Dripping the blood of dislike from their eyes» (ϰἀξ ὀμμάτων στάζουσι αἷμα δυσφιλές18), they harry the victim whom they will shortly attempt to bind by «showing forth» their own «muse of hatred» (μοῦσαν στυγερὰν ἀποφαίνεσθαι19).

  • 20 Supra, p. 73.

20In the Oresteia, Aeschylus draws on the language of hatred to portray the twisted, intra-familial relationships of love and hate, friendship and enmity, which are at the heart of the trilogy. Sophocles, however, is more concerned with the hared as a pathway into the minds of individual characters. In Ajax and Electra, where the language of hatred occurs with particular force and frequency20, the heroes hate with a transgressive intensity that makes them distinctively monstrous and repellent; the same is true of Philoctetes and Oedipus (in Oedipus at Colonus), to say nothing of Heracles in Trachiniae. Yet Heracles, we know, became an Olympian god, and Ajax, Oedipus, and Philoctetes (and perhaps Electra too, if we only had the evidence) were worshipped after their deaths in hero cults at the sites of their graves. The extraordinary actions and sufferings of these heroes during their lives as dramatized in the plays, especially their capacity for hatred, took to the extreme limit, and thus defined, what human beings are capable of. It was precisely this extremeness that led to their worship in posthumous cults, where each hero’s extraordinary power was socially harnessed through chthonic ritual aimed at assuring his or her beneficent intervention on behalf of the local community.

  • 21 Cf. Albert Henrichs, «The Tomb of Aias and the Prospect of Hero Cult in Sophocles’Aias», Classical (...)

21Sometimes the protagonist of a Sophoclean tragedy expresses his or her hatred in direct action. Ajax, for example, just prior to the play, has attempted to kill the sons of Atreus and to torture Odysseus, only to be maddened and prevented from doing so by Athena. He is thus dislocated from his normal self from the very beginning of the dramatic action, and, in the Prologue, Athena shows him to Odysseus, in order to demonstrate through him the feebleness of human knowledge and power. Yet in the course of the play Ajax, for all his delusion and suffering, retrieves his dislocated self and, in a sense, triumphs over Athena by refusing to compromise his own most basic values. His suicide successfully reasserts his distinctive identity and integrity, grounded in his hatred of his enemies, and leads to his social reintegration as a cult-hero, despite his failure to kill these enemies, the limits that Athena forces him to acknowledge, and the prospect of unbearable social belittlement. The burial of Ajax, brought about by Teucer with the help of Odysseus, and the virtual consecration of his tomb and establishment of his future cult, ratify his personal and social identity and significance — especially for an Athenian audience used to thinking of him as one of their own tribal heroes21.

  • 22 Sophocles, Antigone 523.
  • 23 Deianeira’s suicide in Trachiniae reaffirms her identity as the wife-vicitm of Herakles, but her ac (...)
  • 24 Sophocles, Electra 379-384; 389.
  • 25 Ibid, 967-972.

22Among the leading figures of the other extant plays, only Antigone goes as far as Ajax, though she does so out of frustrated φιλία rather than frustrated hatred: οὔτοι συνέχθειν ἀλλὰ συμφιλεῖν ἔφυν («I was not born to share in (my brothers’) hatred but to share in (their) love. »22). No other Sophoclean hero, apart from Ajax, kills himself or herself specifically in order to reclaim or set a seal on his identity, though Oedipus’self-blinding is a step in that direction, as is Heracles’resolve to be burned alive on Mt. Oita at the end of Trachiniae23. Electra, who throughout the play expresses hatred for her mother and Aegisthus and loyalty to her father and brother, is ready and eager to make such a gesture. She welcomes Chysothemis’news that she is to be exiled and that she will have to continue her laments for her father in a sunless cave, far from the palace24. When she believes that Orestes is dead, she is prepared to kill Aegisthus with her own hands, whatever the risk. The lines in which she calls on Chrysothemis to join her in this action are rich in the language of an epic heroism like that of Ajax. Electra tells her sister that if she (Chrysothemis) joins in killing Aegisthus, she will demonstrate εὐσέβεια toward their father and brother, prove herself in the eyes of all to be free and admirable, and gain glory and praise from both citizens and strangers25. In 977-985 Electra illustrates the kind of praise she has in mind:

«Friends, see these two sisters, who together saved
their paternal house; who once, when their hated
enemies were firmly planted, without sparing their own
lives stood forth against them with bloody slaughter.
These two merit love, these two all should revere;
these two, in festivals and the popular assembly,
all should honor for their manly bravery.»
Thus will every mortal speak of us, so that we two,
living and dead, will have a glory that does not fail.

«ἴδεσθε τώδε τὼ ϰασιγνήτω, φίλοι,
ὣ τὸν πατρῷον οἶϰον ἐξεσωσάτην,
ὣ τοῖσιν ἐχθροῖς εὖ βεβηϰόσιν ποτὲ
ψυχῆς ἀφειδήσαντε προὐστήτην φόνου.
τούτω φιλεῖν χρή, τώδε χρὴ πάντας σέβειν·
τώδ’ἔν θ’ἑορταῖς ἔν τε πανδήμῳ πόλει
τιμᾶν ἅπαντας οὕνεϰ’ ἀνδρείας χρεών.»
τοιαῦτά τοι νὼ πᾶς τις ἐξερεῖ βροτῶν,
ζώσαιν θανούσαιν θ’ ὥστε μὴ ’ϰλιπεῖν ϰλέος.

  • 26 Cf. Diane Juffras, «Sophocles’ Electra 973-985 and Tyrannicide», Transactions of the American Philo (...)

23The repeated and insistent dual forms probably would have associated Electra and Chrysothemis, in the minds of an Athenian audience, with actual Athenian cult-heroes, the tyrant-slayers Harmodios and Aristogeiton, whose murder of the tyrant Hipparchos was celebrated in popular song as a foundational event in the creation of Athenian democracy26. Sophocles uses the language of hatred and love to magnify the future reputation of the two sisters, if they should kill Aegisthus in their own re-foundational act of vengeance and freedom for their οἶϰος.

  • 27 Sophocles, Electra 1514.
  • 28 Sophocles, Electra 112-116.

24Every viewer and reader of the play must ask whether the cost to Electra in human terms is worth the glory in which she anticipatorily revels. By the end of the play, she is so twisted by hatred that when she hears her mother cry out as Orestes is killing her, Electra exhorts him, in one of the most grisly moments in Attic tragedy: «Strike, if you have the strength, a second blow» (παῖσον εἰ σθένεις, διπλῆν27). Electra has herself become the hateful Fury from whom she savagely demanded just vengeance on her father’s murderers28. Her identity is so bound up with hatred and the desire for vengeance that it is hard to imagine her resuming any kind of normal human existence, once her desires have been fulfilled. Orestes, of course, had not been plotting against her, but his successful intrigue against Aegisthus and Clytemnestra in effect victimizes Electra too, robbing his sister of the reason for her distinctive, hate-based heroic identity, and leaving nothing in its place, nothing to live for.

  • 29 Sophocles, Philoctetes 226, 1321.
  • 30 Ibid., 275, 315-316, 1035-1036.

25The same is true of Philoctetes, who actually has been the target of intrigue. Both he and Neoptolemus recognize that he has been made, and has made himself, savage29, because of the necessities of life on Lemnos and through his fierce hatred of Odysseus and the sons of Atreus who marooned him there. Philoctetes can vent this hatred only by cursing his enemies and wishing that they endure sufferings like his own — if, that is, the gods really care about justice30. In the end, were he to remain on Lemnos or go home with Neoptolemus, his intransigent refusal to compromise with his hated enemies would necessarily involve his remaining in pain, without a share of heroic glory, if not for the intervention of Heracles ex machina. When Philoctetes finally decides to accept the salvation Herakles offers, to leave the island, be healed, and help sack Troy, the play invites the audience or reader to consider whether the loss of his distinctive integrity and identity, which was utterly bound up with his physical pain and hatred of his enemies, is too high a price to pay for this «salvation». What will his continued existence mean without the pain and isolation that gave rise to his integrity and identity?

  • 31 Ibid., 621-622.

26In Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles’dramatic exploitation of hatred in the representation of heroism reaches full fruition. In this final play, Oedipus is graced with the opportunity to maintain his hatred of his enemies even beyond his full human lifetime, when, as he tells Theseus, «My cold/corpse will drink their hot blood»31. He not only pays back his enemies and his native city with hateful curses, but he himself has the power to make these curses effective on his own terms, without compromise. Of all Sophocles’heroes, only Oedipus in Oedipus at Colonus can maintain his integrity and identity without having to choose between remaining true to himself or giving way to the community he hates. He has a new human community, Athens, in which to be at home through the very act of harming their common enemy, Thebes. Even more important, he has a new divine community, through his burial in the grove of the Furies. In effect Oedipus becomes a Fury himself, with the moral authority and power to deploy his hatred in an act of justice against his enemies.

27The dramatic representation of hatred by Aeschylus and Sophocles is basic to the distinctive themes and values of their plays. The special power of Aeschylean tragedy springs in large part from the inseparability, in his plays, of hatred from more positive institutions and sentiments of familial, social, and political solidarity. Sophocles, on the other hand, while representing similarly twisted and dysfunctional familial, social, and political relationships, uses these as a matrix and a context in which to elucidate the heroism of individual characters who hate with a more-than-human intensity. The dramatic exploitation by Aeschylus and Sophocles of the language of hatred and their differing representations of this emotion are at the core of the power, the ethical complexity, and the continuing interpretive challenges of their plays.


1 Gordon S. Haight, George Eliot: A Biography, Oxford, 1968, p. 464.

2 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics II. 5.1105b22-24.

3 Ibid., IV.6.1126b25-27.

4 Id., II.4.1382.a2-15; II.5.1105b22-24.

5 Id., II.4.1382a.16-19.

6 Cf. Seth L. Schein, «Η φιλία στην Ιλιάδα ϰαι στην Οδύσσεια», in Ιλιάδα ϰαι Οδύσσεια: Μύθος ϰαι Ιστορία. Από τα Πραϰτιϰά του Δ’Συνεδρίου για την Οδύσσεια (9-15 Σεπτεμβρίου 1984, Ιθάϰη, 1986, p. 131-132, drawing on Gustav Glotz, La solidarité de la famille dans le droit criminel en Grèce, Paris, 1904 (repr. New York, 1973), p. 138-139; Émile Benveniste, Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes, I, Paris, 1969, p. 338-353, esp. 340-41; Pierre Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque: histoire des mots, Paris, 1968-80, p. 391 s.v. ἔχθος, ἐχθρός etc. ; p. 1204, s.v. φίλος.

7 Cf. Seth L. Schein, «ΦΙΛΙΑ in Euripides’ Alcestis», Mètis III, 1988, p. 186-188.

8 Gérard Rigo, Eschyle, Opera et fragmenta omnia: index verborum, listes de fréquence, Liège, 1999, p. 180, 274.

9 Gérard Rigo, Sophocle, Opera et fragmenta omnia: index verborum, listes de fréquence, Liège, 1996, p. 222-223, 330.

10 Pierre Chantraine, DELG, p. 1265-1266, s.v. στυγέω

11 Jaqueline de Romilly, La crainte et l’angoisse dans le théâtre d’Eschyle, Paris, 1958.

12 Aeschylus, Eumenides 644.

13 Ibid., 366-367.

14 In Sophocle’s Philoctetes 166 I accept Brunck’s σμυγερὸν σμυγερῶς, implied by the scholiast’s ἐπιπόνως, instead of στυγερὸν στυγερῶς, the reading of the MSS.

15 Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 905-907.

16 Ibid., 906-907.

17 Ibid., 386-393.

18 Ibid., 1058.

19 Aeschylus, Eumenides 308.

20 Supra, p. 73.

21 Cf. Albert Henrichs, «The Tomb of Aias and the Prospect of Hero Cult in Sophocles’Aias», Classical Antiquity 12, 1993, p. 165-180, esp. p. 170; Peter Burian, «Supplication and Hero Cult in Sophocles’Ajax », Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 13, 1972, p. 151-156.

22 Sophocles, Antigone 523.

23 Deianeira’s suicide in Trachiniae reaffirms her identity as the wife-vicitm of Herakles, but her action and suffering, though transgressive, are not grounded in a transgressive «heroic temper» like the actions and sufferings of Ajax, Antigone, and Herakles. Cf. Bernard M.W. Knox, The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1964.

24 Sophocles, Electra 379-384; 389.

25 Ibid, 967-972.

26 Cf. Diane Juffras, «Sophocles’ Electra 973-985 and Tyrannicide», Transactions of the American Philological Association 121, 1991, p. 99-108.

27 Sophocles, Electra 1514.

28 Sophocles, Electra 112-116.

29 Sophocles, Philoctetes 226, 1321.

30 Ibid., 275, 315-316, 1035-1036.

31 Ibid., 621-622.


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