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Les hippodromes et les concours hippiques dans la grèce antique

 | 
Jean-Charles Moretti
, 
Panos Valavanis

Les épreuves hippiques et les chevaux

The stray charioteer:
Athletic connotations in the shaping of tragic Orestes

Nikos Manousakis

Résumé

In 5th century tragedy Agamemnon’s son Orestes is conceived as an athlete in various forms: a frenzied charioteer as well as a horse racer, a wrestler, and a runner. In the present paper I discuss how Sophocles and Euripides used, expanded and re-modelled Aeschylus’ athletic conception of Orestes.

Texte intégral

  • 1 For trace-horses used in games see further Vigneron 1968, pp. 117-121.
  • 2 See Iphigenia at Aulis 223.
  • 3 Fraenkel 1950, III, v.n. 1641.
  • 4 See Garvie 1986, v.n. 290.
  • 5 For the metaphor of wrestling in the Oresteia see further Poliakoff 1980.
  • 6 For the proverbial expression (τὰς ὁµοίας λαβὰς λαβεῖν) and the relevant argument that the text mig (...)
  • 7 See Garvie 1986, v.n. 794-796.
  • 8 See Garvie 1986, v.n. 866-868.
  • 9 In Euripides we find καθιππεύω once (Phoenissae 732), indicating the use of the actual cavalry to t (...)
  • 10 See the translation of the passage by Sommerstein 2008. See also Sommerstein 1989, v.n. 150.

1When king Agamemnon returns home in the first play of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, in his entering monologue he mentions in passing his only true ally in the war, a man who did not sail of his own will, Odysseus. He mentions him as a σειραφόρον (see v. 842), a trace-horse, an ancillary horse which, once harnessed, proved to be of real help.1 This rather infrequent word in tragedy (it never occurs in Sophocles, and is found once in Euripides’ 18 secure dramas)2 recurs in the final scene of the play (see v. 1640), when Aegisthus, bullying the elderly Chorus, declares that he will use Agamemnon’s wealth to rule the city and he will impose a heavy yoke upon any man who will not obey his power. He will not treat such a man like a trace-horse, giving him barley to eat, but will instead condemn him to starve (cf. vv. 1621-1622). In fact, “for trace-horses particularly spirited and strong animals where chosen, because in wheeling round the νύσσα [in chariot-racing], the outside horse on the right had to make the widest turn. Naturally they were particularly well fed”.3 But as we know there was someone who dared to defy Aegisthus’ sway, and lead him to his death: Agamemnon’s son, Orestes, the only male family member to remain faithful to the real king after his death –just like (σειραφόρος) Odysseus had done when they were in Troy. In the second play of the trilogy, the Choephori, Orestes, obeying the oracle of the Delphian Apollo, returns to avenge his father by killing his mother and her lover. When he was just a child he was sent away to Phocis to live in the house of Strophius, a friend of the family. Upon his return, before going to the palace to confront his mother, he meets with his sister, Electra, and after a rather brief scene of recognition they both engage in an extensive lament which covers the bulk of the drama. Orestes’ arrival comes exactly at the time when the women of the Chorus are praying for a champion, a man mighty with the spear, and the bow and the sword, to set the house free again (see vv. 160-163). Right before the lament, the homecoming hero describes to Electra and the Chorus the penalty that he will have to pay if he disobeys the oracle, sparing his mother’s life (see vv. 269-296). The Furies of his father will chase him, whipping and harrying him endlessly.4 The three parties in lament envisage what is to come as a real battle, asking persistently to be blessed with victory (see vv. 478, 489-90, cf. 729, 874, 890, 946f, 1017, 1052). Orestes sees himself specifically as a wrestler craving to take his enemies in the same grip that his father was taken in.5 He prays to Agamemnon to send him Justice as his ally, if he indeed wishes him to win the return match (see vv. 497-499: ἤτοι Δίκην ἴαλλε σύµµαχον φίλοις/ ἢ τὰς ὁµοίας ἀντίδος λαβὰς λαβεῖν,/ εἴπερ κρατηθείς γ᾽ ἀντινικῆσαι θέλεις).6 Afterwards, Electra disappears, and Orestes, with his devoted friend Pylades, pretend to be Phocian strangers, to gain entry to the house, telling the queen that they were commissioned to deliver the news of her son’s death. The hero presents himself to Clytemnestra as a yoked horse seeking rest –ὥσπερ δεῦρ᾽ ἀπεζύγην πόδας (see v. 676 with the note by Garvie 1986)– and the Chorus, just before the killing of Aegisthus, sees Orestes as a young, orphaned, racing horse, yoked to the chariot of misfortune, in need of help from the gods to finish his course (794-799): ἀνδρὸς φίλου πῶλον εὖ-/νιν (ορφανό) ζυγέντ᾽ ἐν ἅρµασιν πηµάτων. In this passage, as Garvie aptly notes,7 “Orestes is both the horse and the hoped for victor”. The Chorus also sees Orestes as a wrestler who has no replacement (τοιάνδε πάλην µόνος ὢν ἔφεδρος/ δισσοῖς µέλλει θεῖος Ὀρέστης/ ἅψειν), ready to now take on the winner of an earlier contest.8 This previous contest was evidently Agamemnon’s slaughter, in which Clytemnestra and her lover prevailed. Using the deception concerning his death to access the palace, Orestes manages to kill Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Soon after the queen’s killing, Orestes feels the presence of her Furies. Just before he begins losing his mind, Agamemnon’s son addresses the Chorus and describes his situation (see vv. 1021-1025). He feels like a charioteer driving off the track (ὥσπερ ξὺν ἵπποις ἡνιοστροφῶ δρόµου ἐξωτέρω). He is being conquered by his own mind, which is spinning out of control (φέρουσι γὰρ νικώµενον φρένες δύσαρκτοι), and Fear is in his heart, eager to sing and dance Wrath’s tune. The Chorus advises him not to be yoked to harmful speech as to his mouth, because his act was righteous: he is the liberator of Argos. In the last drama of the trilogy Clytemnestra’s Furies implicitly portray young Orestes as a runner at full stretch, whom they will hamper and destroy (see vv. 375-376: σφαλερὰ καὶ τανυδρόµοις/ κῶλα, δύσφορον ἄταν). In the Eumenides, Orestes is presented again, in passing, as a wrestler, this time fighting back the Furies with the assistance of Apollo and Athena (see vv. 589-590, cf. 597, 776). Furthermore, the hero’s cause, which Apollo defends, is, at various times (see vv. 150, 731, 779, 809), descried as trampling the rightful claim of the daughters of the Night. The verb καθιππάζοµαι –employed metaphorically to convey this idea, and literally meaning to ride down, overrun with a horse– is an Aeschylean hapax in the tragic corpus.9 Just before their first encounter with Apollo, the Furies describe themselves as ancient divinities ridden over by the son of Zeus, a youth who dares to show respect for a godless suppliant (see vv. 149-154).10 This equestrian image is elaborated in the next stanza (see vv. 155-161): ἐµοὶ δ᾽ ὄνειδος ἐξ ὀνειράτων µολὸν/ ἔτυψεν δίκαν διφρηλάτου/ µεσολαβεῖ κέντρῳ/ ὑπὸ φρένας, ὑπὸ λοβόν·/ πάρεστι µαστίκτορος δαΐου δαµίου/ βαρὺ τὸ περίβαρυ κρύος ἔχειν. The Furies, who a moment ago in their song were being trampled by horses, now express their anger and distress for being harnessed in a chariot, driven by Apollo for the sake of Orestes. Their dishonor feels like a tremendously painful sting, a horsewhip, with which Apollo, the διφρηλάτης, nettles them. Further, µεσολαβεῖ κέντρῳ, referring to the goad of the charioteer, as Podlecki 1992, v.n. 157, indicates quoting M. Poliakoff, might also be “an additional metaphor from wrestling since held in the middle suggests a wrestling hold in which a man grasps his opponent around the waist and lifts him off the ground to throw him for a fall.” To sum up, in Aeschylus’ poetic imagination Orestes emerged as a much awaited and skillful warrior, but also as a competing charioteer and a racehorse, a runner and a wrestler. These are the “seeds”, as we will see below, from which he “sprang up” as a tragic hero in Sophocles’ and Euripides’ matricide plays.

  • 11 See the testimonia in Radt 1985, pp. 57-58.
  • 12 Contra Biles 2006.
  • 13 See Arnott 1983, p. 16, cf. Chourmouziades 2009, p. 9.
  • 14 About the artistic family line that began with Aeschylus see Sutton 1987.
  • 15 For the imagery of Orestes as a warrior-athlete in art and literature see broadly Golden 1998, pp.  (...)
  • 16 Cf. v. 95.
  • 17 According to his sister, Orestes also has the hair of a young man raised in the palaestra, see vv.  (...)
  • 18 See Denniston 1939, v.n. 778 ; Roisman, Luschnig 2011, v.n. 778.
  • 19 See Roisman, Luschnig 2011, v.n. 825. Denniston 1939, v.n. 824-825, convincingly argues that ἱππίου (...)

2According to the anonymous biographer of Aeschylus, as well as other sources,11 the poet received a very special honour right after his death. The Athenians issued a decree declaring that whoever wished to compete in the dramatic festivals staging Aeschylus’ plays, would be granted a Chorus.12 Hence, there may have been a revival of the Oresteia during the 420s,13 possibly by the members of the poet’s family following in his footsteps.14 We are in no position to say which one of the Electra-plays by the younger tragedians is earlier, but it does not seem improbable that the first production of both plays was in a way triggered by a revival of the Aeschylean masterpiece. Following Finglass 2007a, pp. 1-2, we can assume that Sophocles’ play cannot be placed earlier than 430 BC, and Euripides’ play can be placed between 422 and 416 BC. In any case, even though it would be a quite interesting endeavor even to attempt to be more specific about which came first and which followed, we will not go down this thorny way of guesswork –at least not for now. We will mainly treat the two dramas as a kind of “reaction” to Oresteia –and more specifically to the image(ry) of its central hero as a warrior and athlete.15 Chourmouziades 2009, p. 24, asserts that a number of references in the play show clearly that the Euripidean Electra presupposes the Aeschylean trilogy –not the text of course, but the production– as a recent and vivid memory in the minds of the audience. Concerning the imagery under discussion, the connection seems a strong one. The young son of Agamemnon presents himself to his sister as her one and only ally (see vv. 581: σύµµαχός γέ συ µόνος).16 In his homecoming he is welcomed by the Chorus with a cry of joy for the victory he will eventually bring to the house, so that he enters into the city just like a triumphant athlete (see vv. 590-595: ἐµβατεῦσαι πόλιν). In v. 614 the hero declares to the old tutor that the killing of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus is the crown of victory he returned for. Later on, his hopes for winning become an intense prayer to Hera (see vv. 674-675: νίκην δὸς ἡµῖν, εἰ δίκαι᾽αἰτούµεθα). Electra puts a finer point on the stakes of this match, which she specifies as a wrestling one, when she states that if her brother does not prove victorious and he dies, that would also cause her own death (see vv. 686-687: εἰ παλαισθεὶς, cf. vv. 695-698).17 She further asks the women of the Chorus to inform her of the outcome of the game (see vv. 694-695: ὑµεῖς δέ µοι, γυναῖκες, εὖ πυρσεύετε κραυγὴν ἀγῶνος τοῦδε). In vv. 751-760, almost on the verge of hysteria, she infers from the delay of the messenger that Orestes has lost the fight (see v. 751: πῶς ἀγῶνος ἥκοµεν ;) and thus, she can only kill herself now (see v. 759: νικώµεσθα. ποῦ γὰρ ἄγγελοι ;). When the messenger eventually arrives, he greets the women with a word of success, informing them that Agamemnon’s son was victorious against his mother’s lover and his father’s slayer (see vv. 761-762). Aegisthus, totally unsuspecting of what was to come, was sitting in the fields, preparing a sacrifice to the Nymphs, plucking myrtle, a plant associated with both joy and grief, to weave as a garland to place in his head (see v. 778: δρέπων τερείνης µυρσίνης κάρᾳ πλόκους). But the myrtle will not serve as a victory crown for Aegisthus.18 Orestes will take his place. Agamemnon’s son and his friend Pylades introduce themselves to the usurper king as being Thessalians, bound for the Alpheus river to sacrifice to the Olympian Zeus. As Roisman, Luschnig 2011, v.n. 781, indicate, “for those travelling from Thessaly, Argos is on the way to Olympia. Although members of sacred embassies also went to sacrifice at Olympia, two young men travelling on their own would likely have been athletes, and the implication is thus that Orestes and Pylades are going to compete in the Olympic games”. And the two young men will indeed take part in a game, but in one of a very different nature: a game of slaughter. Aegisthus invites them to take part in the sacrifice he is preparing, and they accept. In vv. 815-818, he challenges Orestes to take care of the dead calf, since Thessalians were known to regard it as a fine accomplishment to butcher a bullock or break a horse (Ἐκ τῶν καλῶν κοµποῦσι τοῖσι Θεσσαλοῖς/ εἶναι τόδ᾽, ὅστις ταῦρον ἀρταµεῖ καλῶς/ ἵππους τ᾽ ὀχµάζει: λαβὲ σίδηρον, ὦ ξένε, δεῖξόν τε φήµην ἔτυµον ἀµφὶ Θεσσαλῶν). Orestes does not miss this chance. He takes the knife and butchers both the animal and Aegisthus. Euripides portrays Orestes as being particularly skillful in butchering the animal by using, once more, an athletic metaphor. In the messenger’s words the poet likens the speed with which Orestes runs with his knife through the dead animal with that of a runner or a competing horseman (see vv. 824-826: θᾶσσον δὲ βύρσαν ἐξέδειρεν ἢ δροµεὺς/ δισσοὺς διαύλους ἱππίους διήνυσε,/ κἀνεῖτο λαγόνας).19 The poetic fusion attained here is remarkable: just before killing his enemy, Orestes is proved to be an athlete-slayer of exceptional abilities. Moreover, the very fact that Aegisthus challenged the young man to show his abilities, adds a sense of competition to the scene. Clytemnestra’s lover dies in Orestes’s hands. The slayer tells the guards of the dead king who he really is, and immediately takes them on his side. They then garland his head (see v. 854: στέφουσι δ᾽ εὐθὺς σοῦ κασιγνήτου κάρα), sanctioning his victory. But the real sanction, the second garland for Orestes’ head, will come from Electra’s hands.

  • 20 For a contemporary victor and Orestes in Pindar’s Pythian XI, see Egan 1983 ; Golden 1998, p. 98 ; (...)
  • 21 For a thorough discussion of the epinician imagery and language in Euripides’ Electra, see Swift 20 (...)
  • 22 See Roisman, Luschnig 2011, v.n. 883-885.
  • 23 For the terms τέλος and τέρµα in this context see Myrick 1993, pp. 141-144.
  • 24 See also Euripides’ Orestes 36, Iphigenia in Tauris 82-84, cf. 971. For Orestes see further Myrick (...)
  • 25 See Finglass 2007a, v.n. 703-704, for the literary sources.

3The messenger leaves, and Electra, along with the women of the Chorus, all get ready to welcome the saviour, the heroic Orestes. “The victory that your brother has completed, the crown he has won, are greater than the ones given to the champions in the Olympic games”, the Chorus will chant to Electra (see vv. 862-864: νικᾷ στεφαναφορίαν †κρείσσω τοῖς† παρ᾽ Ἀλφειοῦ ῥεέθροισι τελέσσας κασίγνητος σέθεν), urging her to sing a song of triumph. She goes into the house to bring adornments for his hair (see v. 871: κόµης ἀγάλµατ᾽ ἐξενέγκωµαι, cf. v. 874), eager to garland the head of her victorious brother (see v. 872: στέψω τ᾽ ἀδελφοῦ κρᾶτα τοῦ νικηφόρου). The metre of the Chorus’ song (see vv. 859-865, 873-879) is dactyloepitrite, alternating dactylic and iambo-trochaic sequences familiar from Pindar’s and Bacchylides’ victory songs. Nevertheless, the praise here is reversed. The athletes in Euripides’ time were likened to mythical heroes. In this case, a mythical hero is likened to a contemporary (to the time of the drama) athlete.20 The offering of the final reward takes place in vv. 880-889. Electra garlands both Orestes and Plylades for their acclaimed achievement, the killing of Aegisthus and the vindication of Agamemnon.21 The two men are crowned victors in the prestigious game of six-plethron sprint (see v. 883: ἥκεις γὰρ οὐκ ἀχρεῖον ἔκπλεθρον δραµὼν/ ἀγῶν᾽ ἐς οἴκους).22 Electra will say that the true reward for her brother’s exertion is the death of his enemy, which, she will later add (see vv. 953-956), should serve as an example for every criminal, who, even if he has run his first steps well, will not be victorious over justice. Only the finish line, the end of life, will judge who has prevailed (γραµµῆς ἵκηται καὶ τέλος κάµψῃ βίου).23 From this point on, every thought and effort of Agamemnon’s children turns to the matricide, and every reference to triumph and victory (at some game) is suspended. Now the game is not only unsweet, it becomes bitter (see v. 986). Just like his Aeschylean counterpart in Choephori 1017, who finds no joy in his victorious actions (ἄζηλα νίκης τῆσδ᾽ ἔχων µιάσµατα), the Euripidean Orestes sees his oncoming “combat” with his mother, in sharp contrast to that with Aegisthus, as rather undesirable. Just as in Aeschylus (see Choephori 1021-1025), the chariot of the young hero’s life will also here be driven round and round by his mother’s Furies (see vv. 1252-1253: δειναὶ δὲ κῆρές σ᾽ αἱ κυνώπιδες θεαὶ/ τροχηλατήσουσ᾽ ἐµµανῆ πλανώµενον), as the Dioskouroi, Orestes’ uncles, foretell ex machina in the exodos.24 In a nutshell, Euripides “sketches” his Orestes as a champion par excellence, an athlete who could overshadow the glory of the Olympian Games. He is a master wrestler and runner, and, at the end of the day, a slayer. He is a fake Thessalian, renowned for his skills in horsemanship25 and in the use of the knife, who proves to be a very real one, at least as far as his butchering abilities are concerned. Finally, he is a frenzied charioteer, who now wanders pursued by the consequences of his final, his acridest victory –the killing of his mother.

  • 26 An exception is v. 84-85, concerning pouring libations to Agamemnon’s tomb: ταῦτα γὰρ φέρει νίκην τ (...)
  • 27 See March 2001, v.n. 26-27, 28.
  • 28 For the sources concerning the foundation of the Pythian Games see Finglass 2007b, p. 21ff.

4What in the plays by Aeschylus and Euripides was conceived in poetry, in Sophocles’ Electra becomes a (false) fact. In the Sophoclean play, Orestes is not metaphorically figured as an athlete, he is narrated to be an actual athlete, and an exquisite one. The poet employs scarcely any athletic imagery concerning Agamemnon’s son in the course of his drama.26 He instead forges a tale, a brief play-within-the-play, about Orestes’ glory as an athlete, who took part in the Pythian Games and lost his life in an intense chariot race. The elderly tutor –described by the young hero as a horse of breeding, who, despite being old, does not lose his spirit in a moment of danger, always finding the strength to drive his “rider” right (see vv. 25-28)27– presents himself to Clytemnestra to announce how her son has perished. The mendacious news is summarized by Orestes himself at the beginning of the play (see vv. 47-50: ἄγγελλε δ᾽ ὅρκον προστιθεὶς ὁθούνεκα τέθνηκ᾽ Ὀρέστης ἐξ ἀναγκαίας τύχης, ἄθλοισι Πυθικοῖσιν ἐκ τροχηλάτων δίφρων κυλισθείς: ὧδ᾽ ὁ µῦθος ἑστάτω), and is later fully elaborated by the tutor. The Pythian Games were founded in the early 6th century BC (591-586),28 and the ancient scholiasts speak of anachronism as regards their use in a play set in the mythic past. Nevertheless, as Easterling 1985, p. 7, rightly notes:

In the Hypothesis to Pindar’s Pythians there are two distinct versions of the history of the Games. One ascribes the foundation of the Games to Apollo and names the following heroic victors in the first athletic contests: Castor stade race, Polydeuces boxing, Calais long-distance race, Zetes race in armour, Peleus discus, Telamon wrestling, Heracles pancratium. The other gives part of an account which appears also in Strabo (9.3.10) and Pausanias (10.7.4-5), to the effect that the contest was originally confined to music, and the athletic competitions were instituted as late as 586 BC when the games were reorganised after the Sacred War.

  • 29 For the different accounts of the myth see Finglass 2007a, v.n. 504-515.

5The accusation of anachronism must have originated from a comment by Aristotle (Poetics 1460a31), recording ἐν Ἠλέκτρᾳ τοὺς τὰ Πύθια ἀπαγγέλοντας in a list of improbability instances (ἄλογον). Before the tutor’s arrival at the palace and the false announcement of Orestes’ killing in a recent chariot race, the Chorus of Mycenaean women presents in a flashback the many sufferings of the royal family, concluding that the root of all evil was another chariot race, the ancient race of Pelops (see vv. 504-515: ὦ Πέλοπος ἁ πρόσθεν/ πολύπονος ἱππεία,/ ὡς ἔµολες αἰανὴς/ τᾷδε γᾷ./ εὖτε γὰρ ὁ ποντισθεὶς/ Μυρτίλος ἐκοιµάθη,/ παγχρύσων δίφρων/ δυστάνοις αἰκίαις/ πρόρριζος ἐκριφθείς,/ οὔ τί πω/ ἔλειπεν ἐκ τοῦδ᾽ οἴκου/ πολύπονος αἰκία). In the play by Sophocles this key passage is devised to function as Orestes’ counterfeit link to the vicious past of the Atreidae, and a way for things to come full circle, without fatal consequences for this last descendant. The young hero is the last male of his bloodline and he is supposed to have died in almost the same way as the victim of his forefather. The deed that caused the Atreidae so much sorrow, Myrtilus being hurled from Pelops’ chariot is reproduced as a pretense for their final extinction –Orestes’ death (see vv. 764-765). Myrtilus was the charioteer of Oenomaus, the king of Pisa in Elis, on the northwest coast of the Peloponnese. Pelops, father of Atreus and founder of the dynasty, won his bride Hippodamia by defeating her father, Oenomaus, in a chariot race. However, he won by bribing Myrtilus with either a night with Hippodamia or half of his new kingdom,29 to cause an accident by loosening the lynchpins of Oenomaus’ chariot, or by replacing them with fake ones. Before his confrontation with Pelops, Oenomaus had defeated many suitors, and put them to death. Oenomaus was killed after all, but when Myrtilus claimed his reward Pelops forced him from his chariot into the sea and killed him.

  • 30 For an excellent analysis of the speech see Marshall C. W. 2006.
  • 31 See also Solez 2012 who focuses on the use of chariot-racing metaphors in Agamemnon and Iliad 22.
  • 32 See vv. 690-693 (especially the deleted 691). The translation is by H. Lloyd-Jones, Loeb, 1994.
  • 33 See Crowther 1994 as regards the historical basis of the tutor’s speech concerning Orestes’ acciden (...)
  • 34 See Finglass 2007a, v.n. 694-695.
  • 35 Cf. fr. 38 Radt from Aeschylus’ Glaucus of Potniae.

6The tutor narrates Orestes’ death in Electra 680-763.30 Two identifiable literary sources for the construction of this passage are the 23rd Iliadic rhapsody and epinician poetry in general, but its immediate model, as Finglass 2007a, v.n. 680-763, notes, is Aeschylus’ Choephori 674-690. In Homer chariot races function as a kind of “recreation” of the deeds of war: a fight of some kind –yet with specific, extra-war rules.31 In the Sophoclean play the news about Orestes’ vicious death, more as in a battlefield than in the games, strikes the unprepared Electra, creating the most intense moment in the whole drama. The connection with epinician poetry is a framing one, since this genre offers a typical structure to be adapted to the needs of another genre: tragedy (and more specifically a messenger’s speech). But there is a major difference between this Sophoclean piece and epinician poetry: while the epinicians are largely concerned with illustrious athletic victories, the tutor’s monologue is concerned with an utter athletic disaster, a totally reversed triumph. The tutor’s entrance seems at first to function as an immediate confirmation of Clytemnestra’s prayer to Apollo for her enemies to perish. According to the forged story, Orestes goes to take part in the Delphic games, τὸ κλεινὸν Ἑλλάδος πρόσχηµα, ἄθλων χάριν. And he is victorious at first (especially in running and wrestling?): “he carried off all the prizes in every contest that the judges proclaimed”.32 The crowd cries out his name: Orestes, son of Agamemnon. This would be the expected cry of the spectators in an athletic festival of the poet’s time, and, as Golden 1998, p. 99, observes, “this was a festival many in Sophocles’ audience would know well by autopsy or reputation”.33 But Sophocles who in all probability had been a spectator at the Pythian Games himself, adds a crucial detail here: the crowd in the tutor’s narrative addresses Orestes as the son of the man who gathered the famous armament of Greece. This nuance clearly associates the victory in the games with the victory in the battlefield: the great warrior’s son is now a great athlete.34 Thereafter, the narrative moves to the chariot-racing events. We hear of ten competitors –very few compared to the Pindarian standards– driving their own vehicles, and there is no hint that someone could have had another driver to run in his place, as was the custom in actual chariot-racing games. The poet describes the charioteers in detail, and Orestes is the central one, the fifth. His horses are Thessalian, and this, of course, brings to mind the Euripedian version of the story. In the younger poet’s play, in order to kill Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, Orestes pretends to be a Thessalian who is probably an athlete on his way to the Olympic Games. Sophocles’ Orestes, for the exact same reasons, becomes an “actual” athlete driving Thessalian mares in the Pythian Games. In finishing the sixth and beginning the seventh of the (historically) twelve rounds, two chariots crash into each other, and the hippodrome becomes a sea of wrecked vehicles and men (see vv. 729-730: πᾶν δ᾽ ἐπίµπλατο ναυαγίων Κρισαῖον ἱππικῶν πέδον).35 This vivid maritime imagery will recur in Aegisthus’ words, even though he did not get to listen to the tutor’s story first hand (see vv. 1443-1444: Ὀρέστην ἡµὶν ἀγγεῖλαι βίον λελοιπόθ᾽ ἱππικοῖσιν ἐν ναυαγίοις). In the race, the Athenian rider manages to withdraw his horses from the spot of the crash and keeps going. Orestes, who is last in line, also manages to avoid the danger. But at some point, due to some wrong handling of the reins, Orestes strikes the end of the pillar (στήλη: νύσσα is the Homeric term), and falls off his chariot. The young man dies horribly, ripped apart by his horses. The crowd cries out again, this time out of pity. But, in actual fact, Sophocles’ Orestes survives his fate. The chariot race proves to be an elaborate lie, and the young hero moves backwards: from death to life. He also reverses the fate of his family, which has been inescapably bleak ever since Pelops’ chariot race (see vv. 1497-1498: ἦ πᾶσ᾽ ἀνάγκη τήνδε τὴν στέγην ἰδεῖν τά τ᾽ ὄντα καὶ µέλλοντα Πελοπιδῶν κακά ;). The false messenger speech is set exactly in the middle of the play. Everything that has happened before (in dramatic time) and everything that is to come after, is closely tied to this specific piece. The speech takes away Clytemnestra’s despair and attaches the burden to Electra. Its reversal kills the former and “resurrects” the latter along with her brother.

7In conclusion, both Euripides and Sophocles have expanded and remodelled Aeschylus’ concept of Orestes as an athlete. Even if the three damatists were all following a pre-existing athletic tradition surrounding Agamemnon’s son, the first one to use it as stage material was Aeschylus, and its emergence in the plays by the younger tragedians seems to be tied to his athletic conception of this character in various ways. Aeschylus’ Orestes is a stray charioteer, a runner at full stretch, and a whipped racing horse in need of help. He is Agamemnon’s only trace-horse left. His father’s only hope for a well-balanced turn at the νύσσα of vengeance. He is also a wrestler who has to face two enemies at the same time, and restore the disturbed order in his house. Euripides’ tragic hero is a wrestler again, and a charioteer. But he is a runner too, and at the end of the day a champion in the game of slaughter. He is an athlete from Thessaly who might have been heading to the Olympic Games to take part in a chariot race. In Sophocles’ play, a lie takes him to the games after all –the Pythian, not the Olympic– where he is victorious for some time. as a stray charioteer in the Pythian Games he manages to defeat his opponents and erase a past shaped by another charioteer’s awful deeds. It is interesting to see how each of the tragedians used the “raw” material. Aeschylus introduced nuanced athletic imagery in shaping his Orestes as a warrior. Euripides, following in the same metaphorical path, endowed this warrior with an athletic triumph. Sophocles, on the other hand, chose to tell a story of Orestes as an actual athlete, who found his way into life through death. This major turn from the essentially poetic constructions of Aeschylus and Euripides to the realistic narrative in Sophocles makes one think that the Electra of the latter possibly came last. In other words, there is a transition in tragedy from Orestes as a warrior with athletic grandeur, to Orestes as an actual (false) great athlete, which can be indicative of the relative dating of Euripides’ and Sophocles’ plays. In any case, though, in 5th century tragedy Orestes was cast in the light of athletic triumph and fall, and we are fortunate enough to be able to witness this in fully extant plays by Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles.

Notes

1 For trace-horses used in games see further Vigneron 1968, pp. 117-121.

2 See Iphigenia at Aulis 223.

3 Fraenkel 1950, III, v.n. 1641.

4 See Garvie 1986, v.n. 290.

5 For the metaphor of wrestling in the Oresteia see further Poliakoff 1980.

6 For the proverbial expression (τὰς ὁµοίας λαβὰς λαβεῖν) and the relevant argument that the text might be suspect see Garvie 1986, v.n. 497-499.

7 See Garvie 1986, v.n. 794-796.

8 See Garvie 1986, v.n. 866-868.

9 In Euripides we find καθιππεύω once (Phoenissae 732), indicating the use of the actual cavalry to tread down the enemy.

10 See the translation of the passage by Sommerstein 2008. See also Sommerstein 1989, v.n. 150.

11 See the testimonia in Radt 1985, pp. 57-58.

12 Contra Biles 2006.

13 See Arnott 1983, p. 16, cf. Chourmouziades 2009, p. 9.

14 About the artistic family line that began with Aeschylus see Sutton 1987.

15 For the imagery of Orestes as a warrior-athlete in art and literature see broadly Golden 1998, pp. 95-103.

16 Cf. v. 95.

17 According to his sister, Orestes also has the hair of a young man raised in the palaestra, see vv. 527-579.

18 See Denniston 1939, v.n. 778 ; Roisman, Luschnig 2011, v.n. 778.

19 See Roisman, Luschnig 2011, v.n. 825. Denniston 1939, v.n. 824-825, convincingly argues that ἱππίους is right beyond doubt. Cf. v. 1264.

20 For a contemporary victor and Orestes in Pindar’s Pythian XI, see Egan 1983 ; Golden 1998, p. 98 ; Finglass 2007b, pp. 43-47.

21 For a thorough discussion of the epinician imagery and language in Euripides’ Electra, see Swift 2010, pp. 156-165.

22 See Roisman, Luschnig 2011, v.n. 883-885.

23 For the terms τέλος and τέρµα in this context see Myrick 1993, pp. 141-144.

24 See also Euripides’ Orestes 36, Iphigenia in Tauris 82-84, cf. 971. For Orestes see further Myrick 1993, pp. 144-146 ; Golden 1998, pp. 102-103. For Iphigenia in Tauris see Myrick 1993, pp. 146-148.

25 See Finglass 2007a, v.n. 703-704, for the literary sources.

26 An exception is v. 84-85, concerning pouring libations to Agamemnon’s tomb: ταῦτα γὰρ φέρει νίκην τ᾽ ἐφ᾽ ἡµῖν καὶ κράτος τῶν δρωµένων.

27 See March 2001, v.n. 26-27, 28.

28 For the sources concerning the foundation of the Pythian Games see Finglass 2007b, p. 21ff.

29 For the different accounts of the myth see Finglass 2007a, v.n. 504-515.

30 For an excellent analysis of the speech see Marshall C. W. 2006.

31 See also Solez 2012 who focuses on the use of chariot-racing metaphors in Agamemnon and Iliad 22.

32 See vv. 690-693 (especially the deleted 691). The translation is by H. Lloyd-Jones, Loeb, 1994.

33 See Crowther 1994 as regards the historical basis of the tutor’s speech concerning Orestes’ accident for the first audience of Electra.

34 See Finglass 2007a, v.n. 694-695.

35 Cf. fr. 38 Radt from Aeschylus’ Glaucus of Potniae.

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© École française d’Athènes, 2019

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