Pollution and Crisis in Greek Tragedy
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Pollution is ubiquitous in Greek tragedy: matricidal Orestes seeks purification at Apollo's shrine in Delphi; carrion from Polyneices' unburied corpse fills the altars of Thebes; delirious Phaedra suffers from a 'pollution of the mind'. This book undertakes the first detailed analysis of the important role which pollution and its counterparts - purity and purification - play in tragedy. It argues that pollution is central in the negotiation of tragic crises, fulfilling a diverse array of functions by virtue of its qualities and associations, from making sense of adversity to configuring civic identity in the encounter of self and other. While primarily a literary study providing close readings of several key plays, the book also provides important new perspectives on pollution. It will appeal to a broad range of scholars and students not only in classics and literary studies, but also in the study of religions and anthropology.
‘Fourteen’ and saved them and himself. Now the Athenians made a vow to Apollo, as the story goes, that if they were saved they would send a sacred embassy every year to Delos. And from that time even to the present day they send it annually in honour of the god. Now it is their law that after the sacred embassy begins the city must be purified and no one may be publicly executed until the ship has gone to Delos and back (ἐπειδὰν οὖν ἄρξωνται τῆς θεωρίας, νόμος ἐστὶν αὐτοῖς ἐν τῷ χρόνῳ τούτῳ
drama is vast: see e.g. Bierl (1991), Des Bouvrie (1993), Schlesier (1993), (2007) and (2010); Scullion (2002) argues against the Dionysiac nature of Greek tragedy. Yatromanolakis and Roilos (2004a), Bierl et al. (2007). Both include useful introductions: Yatromanolakis and Roilos (2004b) on the concept of ‘ritual poetics’ (on which see also Grethlein ); Bierl (2007) surveying approaches to ‘literature and religion’. For comparable publications on the topic in Latin literature, see
concept of justice, is arguably the central category by which meaning is attached to the act of murder, as each such act unfailingly provokes diagnoses of pollution and predications of the murderer as polluted (or indeed as ‘pollution’). Thus, in Agamemnon, the king anticipates pollution as the result of the sacrifice of his daughter (μιαίνων παρθενοσφάγοισιν | ῥείθροις πατρῴους χέρας, Ag. 209–10). The queen later confirms the king’s contraction of pollution (Ag. 1419–20); and as the result of
(1999/2000), Papadopoulou (2005a); also Zeitlin (2011). On Euripidean cult aetiologies (of which IT offers a striking example), see the Rereading the Oresteia 147 While this is not to deny that (especially since the 1990s) many scholars have evidently taken Iphigenia seriously and identified various weighty issues it negotiates, a radical reappraisal of the play and its overall ‘tragic’ outlook and ‘tone’ was formulated (and from a less narrowly ritualistic perspective) only fairly recently,
Iphigenia did not die; Helen did not go to Troy. I borrow the term ‘counterfactual’ from Wright (2005) e.g. 135. 66 Ibid. 135. 67 Ibid. 156. 68 Ibid. 136. 69 Ibid. 144. Ibid. 133–57. Both quotations: ibid. 154. 164 Excursus This tone of artificiality is best discernible in the curious scene in which Iphigenia interrogates Orestes about the return from Troy of the Iliadic heroes (517–75) and in which references to mythical tradition abound to a remarkable extent. The heroine, in her opening