1. INTRODUCTIONNotwithstanding the fact that the oldest of the tragedians was the least read in the fourth century he easily rivals Sophokles in his influence on art. This was not due to his being more admired, and can only be accounted for by the bold situations that he invented situations new and striking. There are certain of his plays that left a lasting impression on Greek and Roman art. Such are the Choephoroi, the Eumenides, and the Lykurgeia. Further than these, Aischylean plays did not appeal to the artist to any great extent. It is the peculiarly popular inventions distinguishable in these tragedies, their uniqueness, so to speak, that set them apart by themselves, a mark for the artist. The character of the plays is easily denoted. They ring with cries of murder and resound with the storming fury of avenging deities ; we are struck by the perils of the situations and remain all but breathless to learn the issue. These features attracted the painter and sculptor, and this is what meets one on all the monuments that may be called Aischylean. The deep religious vein that pulsates in every line of the mighty tragedian is reflected to some degree on the vases and the sarcophagi. This force in art was rather epic ; it was, in a way, Polygnotean, and the ethical nature of it all but condemned it for the artists who sought the pathos of Euripides. This very fact explains why Aischylos and Sophokles did not address themselves more to the succeeding generations of artists. The ethical was more difficult to express than was the pathetic, and it was not so attractive. The spirit of the times, moreover, demanded the latter as it demanded Euripides, and consequently one should not expect to meet a large number of vase paintings that were made under the influence of either Aischylos or Sophokles. Those that can be associated with the extant tragedies of the former are given in the following pages. It will be observed that certain scenes from Aischylos were greatly in favour in Lower Italy. All of the nine paintings published are from Italian ware. Not one Attic vase that shows an Aischylean scene has, so far as I know, been discovered. In the West, however, where he was quite as much at home as in his own Athens and where he was destined to end his days, the vase decorators were largely influenced by him.
2. CHOEPHOROIThere is no proof at hand that epic literature knew aught of Elektra or the part which she played in avenging her father's murder. The fragments from the lyric poet Stesichoros furnish the oldest literary source for the Oresteia which became later so popular under the hands of the fifth-century tragedians. The trilogy of Aischylos which has happily come down to us is, therefore, the oldest extant authority. When one turns to works of art one discovers a series of vase paintings representing the death of Aigisthos ; yet these are but a little older than Aischylos' work. Events concerned with Orestes' return are even less common in carly art. The Melan terra cotta plaque in the Louvre, which represents a scene somewhat similar to the opening of the Choephoroi, is the oldest of the Oresteia monuments, but still must be dated within the fifth century B.C. It may be considered as fairly well established that Elektra and Orestes first appeared in art but a few years before the production of Aischylos' trilogy in 458 B.C. Nor is it possible, so far as I know, to discover any influence of the Agamemnon or Choephoroi upon artistic productions in the last half of the century. A small group of vase paintings from Lower Italy belonging to the fourth century B.C. do, however, present
Figure 1 - Naples
We have before us the grave of Agamemnon, at which the first 585 verses of the Choephoroi were played. There is no trace of palace or royal building. Orestes, accompanied by Pylades, enters the orchestra and lays his tribute upon his father's tomb, tumbou d ep ocqw (v. 4), but suddenly withdraws to avoid the company of women which approaches with ceremonial step. The chorus and Elektra proceed to perform their services when the latter discovers the lock of hair, agalma tumbou (v. 200), and the footprints - two proofs that Orestes must be near. While she is still examining the tracks the latter comes up and proves beyond a doubt, by pointing to the garment that Elektra had once woven, who he is (vs. 212-232). Perhaps one may think of Elektra as sitting upon the grave at some point between v. 84 and v. 212, but when she had discovered the traces of Orestes' presence, she must have been actively scanning the surroundings. It pleased the artist, however, to represent her as ignoring the appeal of her brother, or at least manifesting no signs of recognizing him. But for the presence of the tumbos one would be inclined to see the influence of Sophokles' Elektra, where Orestes' words gain credence very slowly, and where Elektra hesitates long, before believing his assertions that he is living and standing before her (v. 1219 ff.). But the Sophoklean tragedy is played before the palace. The pedagogue and Orestes leave the orchestra to pour their libations on the grave (v. 82 ff.) when Elektra comes out of the house. The fact that the recognition scene is represented as taking place at the grave gives us therefore ample reason for accepting our painting as under the influence of the Choephoroi. This painting is strikingly free in its conception ; no words of the poet can be cited as fitting the situation. The suggestion, the setting, are Aischylean ; all else is the artist's. The work is far removed from the character of an illustration.
Figure 2 - Naples
The discussion of fig. 1 above applies equally well to Orestes and Elektra here. We have practically a repetition of the group. The former figure is, however, thought of at an earlier moment. By removing Elektra, one may think of Orestes at the opening of the play. He holds the vase in his hand rather than the lock of hair. The first words of the prologue are suggestive :
Figure 3 - Munich
The painting is, it would seem, more beautiful than that of fig. 2. although the publication of the latter is an old one, and may be more or less inaccurate. I have not seen the vase myself. The scene is abbreviated by one figure ; Pylades would be expected.
There can be little doubt that these vases all belong to the same artist or that they come from the same locality. The marvellous agreement that runs through them is something quite extraordinary. I know of no other similar cases in vase paintings of the red figured ware. The popularity of this scene, and therefore of Aischylos' Choephoroi, is attested by such a series of paintings as one cannot find in the case of any other work in Greek literature.
Since writing the above I have discovered in the Louvre another Lucanian vase that represents a further simplification of this scene. The painting is practically identical with the middle group in fig. 3.
© [Louvre.edu] - Photo H. Lewandowski
© [Louvre.edu] - Photo H. Lewandowski
3. EUMENIDESThe various stories which may have been popularly told in regard to Orestes' purification, and his reconciliation with the Furies, prior to March 458 B.C. were swept for ever into oblivion by the last member of Aischylos' trilogy. The stamp of his genius has ever remained upon the myth, and no one ever attempted to repeat his work. All the elements of the persecution were cast by him into their final mould. The immense influence of this work is attested in no way more forcibly than by the monuments of art to which one can point. There is a long line of vase paintings, dating from the fifth century, that bear witness to the wide popularity of the Eumenides, and that give the most direct and authoritative testimony of the influence of the play upon the masses of the people. A sharp distinction must be made, however, between paintings that illustrate the general myth and those that exhibit unmistakable Aischylean features. Orestes' pursuit and expiation were universally known, and the tale was so popular that it often found its way into art where the artist had in mind no poetic version of the story. So it is that there is a number of paintings representing Orestes either pursued by the Furies or already having reached the omphalos, which do not represent any situation or combination of situations that can be traced to Aischylos. Of the number whose subject is Orestes at Delphi, at least four, it seems to me, are to be explained as substantially under the influence of the Eumenides and representing the first scene of the tragedy in more or less modified form.
Figure 5 - St. Petersburg
The addition of the temple strikes one at once as being in harmony with the poet. To be sure, this need not mean a particularly close relation with the actual production of the play in a Greek theatre. Our temple is merely one of the numerous buildings of this class found upon the vases of Lower Italy, some of which were intended evidently as suggestions of the stage setting. In the present instance the coincidence is a happy one. The Agamemnon and the Choephoroi, which had just been produced, were both played before the palace at Argos, and this scenery was changed to represent the Apollo temple at Delphi for the third play. There can be no question as to this skhnh for the Oresteia, at least, even though one does not allow an extensive background for the earlier plays. The painting is well adapted, therefore, for placing the opening scene vividly before us. It brings one closer to the meaning of the text than is apparent at first sight. In v. 1048 ff. of the Choephoroi Orestes saw the Furies. They wore bright chitons, and had snakes in their hair. He calls them hounds from whose eyes oozed ugly drops of blood. The chorus evidently did not see them, for Orestes cries : «You do not behold them here, but I do». At these words he is away to Delphi to seek Apollo's protection. During the intermission which followed between the two plays the necessary alterations were made in the skhnh and the costumes were changed. The chorus in particular, which had represented Argive maidens, underwent considerable transformation in order to appear again as Furies. The Eumenides is opened by the Pythia, who comes from the temple. She recounts the nature of her duties, and mentions various gods in her address until v. 30, at which point she turns from the orchestra to re-enter the temple and attend to the delivery of responses. In a moment she reappears in great fright, and begins to relate the cause of her alarm. The sight described is exactly that which the painter had in mind. One is able, however, to get behind the scenes with the aid of the picture, for the front of the temple is removed so that the interior is plainly in view. To compare the words of Aischylos and the painting more closely - the Pythia says that a terrible sight drove her ek domwn twn Loxiou. The artist has expressed this with some action, for she is actually represented as leaving the house of Loxias. She adds further :
There are still two other vase paintings to be considered in this connexion. They present minor variations from the one just discussed, but on the whole the three betray a common source.
Figure 6 - Ruvo krater
Figure 7 - Berlin
It does not appear necessary to take up the details here after the examination which has been given to the preceding paintings. The artist's debt to Aischylos was quite as direct as in the case of the two other works. The greatest modification occurs in the figure of the Fury, which is a being far removed from the Aischylean type.
A painting on a bell-shaped krater in the Louvre is less hampered by the scene given in Aischylos, and is accordingly more artistic. The inventiveness and individuality of the artist come prominently to view, and the result is an intensely interesting composition. The combination of events and the manner in which all is told bring one a great deal nearer to the deeper meaning of Eumenides than any other monument with which I am acquainted.
Figure 8 - © Musée du Louvre
© [Louvre.edu] - Photo Erich Lessing
Apollo's speech follows directly upon that of the Pythia's. How the god appeared in the orchestra is a question on which scholars are not agreed. The most widely accepted view is that the ekkyklema was brought into use, and that on it the whole company was in some manner rolled or pushed out from the temple to the orchestra. This means that the chorus of twelve or fifteen, together with Orestes, Apollo, and Hermes, was moved bodily forward from the skhnh, far enough at least to give the audience a glimpse of what had been the interior of the temple with ail its surroundings. Apollo seems to speak of the Furies and Orestes as though he himself saw them and as though the audience could see them 1. They are in fact in plain view if one insists upon the literal meaning of his words. It is argued on the other hand that such a ponderous weight could not have been moved by any machinery at Aischylos' command. In other words, the ekkyklema, in the interpretation usually given the term, is not to be counted a part of the Aischylean scenic apparatus. If Apollo stood in the doorway of the temple where he could look in upon the Furies and Orestes, and at the same time be seen by the audience, one has really no need of any machinery. The shade of Klytaimestra must also be thought of as appearing in the same place. She glances in upon the Furies who continue to give forth their grunts till v. 140, when they for the first time appear in the orchestra. There is much in favour of this explanation of the arrangements for the scene. Fortunately for our purpose it makes little difference which of the two opinions one follows. Conclusive evidence is hardly to be reached either one way or the other, yet the notion that Aischylos did not employ such extensive machinery as the ekkyklema must have been certainly does not harmonize either with the extant plays or with the tradition in regard to Aischylos' inventions. My conviction is that from v. 64 the interior of the temple was in some way visible, and that the whole audience could see Orestes at the omphalos, surrounded by the slumbering Furies. The god reassures the suppliant of his support, and bids him leave for Athens and embrace the sacred image of Athena. He turns to Hermes, who is at hand for the occasion, and bids him accompany Orestes. At this point, v. 93, the two quit the orchestra, Orestes passing over the bodies of the Furies.
Our painting follows the development in vs. 94-140, where the shade of Klytaimestra appears and chides the Erinyes for neglecting their duty and forgetting her and her rights. The artist has grasped the spirit of the poet, and has given a graphic account of the scene such as one is not likely to forget. The dread figure of the veiled ghost, who glances searchingly at the sleeping instruments of her vengeance and endeavours to rouse them into consciousness, is a creation but little inferior to that in Aischylos. Her position on the extreme limits of the sanctuary serves to express the uncleanliness of the spirit and the incongruity of its appearing within the sacred ground. The gesture towards the main group connects the two scenes and lends a unity to the whole. This is real art and no illustration. One must remember that Orestes is at this time on his way to Athens, and that the shade did not appear in his presence. The very fact that the painter chose to unite the two moments adds greatly to the general effect. The tragedy is played in part before us. The number of Furies representing the chorus is the same that one meets first in Euripides, and that is particularly emphasized also by Aischylos in
White the story of Agamemnon's murder and the succeeding terrible revenge wrought by Orestes, as well as the latter's atonement at Delphi, were all a part of the legendary inheritance from a very early period and had played for some centuries, at least, before Aischylos an important rôle in the epic and lyric literature, it remained for the great tragedian to break new ground for the last chapter of the Oresteia. Orestes' acquittal and deliverance were, prior to Aischylos, distinctly Delphic in setting ; in his hands all became decidedly Athenian. Apollo had once been the sole divinity to absolve the murderer ; Athena became the new arbiter and director of the case. The temple at Delphi gave way to the Old Temple of Athena upon the Acropolis. Keeping these facts in mind, one has to look about for vase paintings which show traces of this Attic turn. So far, only the early scene at Delphi has claimed our attention, and here it has been possible to point out several compositions that demand the Eumenides to the exclusion of popular tradition.
From v. 235 the scene is transferred from Delphi to Athens, and remains throughout the rest of the play the Old Temple on the Acropolis. Athena becomes the centre. Everything moves about her. The one impressive figure in this part of the tragedy is the goddess. Orestes is simply a poor helpless mortal - the apparent subject of the action. He and the Erinyes sink into insignificance when compared with the majestic figure of Athena. Substantial traces of the influence of Aischylos' invention have reached us on the vases. A small number of paintings claim the right to be considered under this head. The composition of all (I know three such) is so similar that it seemed necessary to reproduce only one.
The two other vase paintings are, in the main, close counterparts of this and need not be described here. The Vatican amphora is particularly interesting as representing Athena with aigis extended over Orestes to protect him from the Furies. The Capua hydria in Berlin takes precedence over the other two in age, and furnishes us with the nearest approach to Aischylos' time. It falls within the fifth century, while the others are to be placed in the last half of the fourth century. The introduction of Athena is the unmistakable sign. She intervenes at Delphi simply because Aischylos introduced her in Athens. The artist transferred her to Delphi and combined the two scenes of the tragedy. If one considers only Orestes and Athena in fig. 9, and reads the interview between them in the Eumenides, he will appreciate at once how well the painter has managed his task. The whole make-up of the figures is that of stage characters. This is especially noticeable in the dresses of the Fury and Athena. This elegance and finery on vases of the fourth century were widely regulated by dramatic performances.
The set of paintings which thus associates Athena with Orestes' delivery may be counted as the direct product of the Eumenides, and therefore important witnesses for the influence of Aischylos upon the succceding century of Greek art.