Stefano Amendola’s (henceforth A.) monograph is a revision of the doctoral dissertation he completed at l’Università degli Studi di Salerno. It aims to demonstrate that in extant Aeschylean tragedy prayer is the sole public discourse granted to women and constitutes not only their
The first chapter serves as an introduction to prayer in Greek literature generally and to the argument as a whole. Taking Homer as a starting point, A. presents prayer as the mortal attempt—via
The second chapter links the characters of Electra and Atossa by arguing that in turning to prayer and ritual action, both women attempt to ward off misfortunes (whether actual or expected) threatening themselves and those close to them. For the two plays in question this attempt involves appropriating a rite initiated by others: Electra takes Clytemnestra’s propitiatory libations and turns them into prayers for Orestes’ return and vengeance, and, instead of the prayers suggested by the uncertain chorus (l.216), Atossa undertakes the summoning of Darius’ ghost. In doing so, A. argues, both women effectively take on the public role of priestess, guiding the ritual action of the chorus with the intention of altering a particular state of affairs.
The third chapter argues against the long scholarly tradition of interpreting the Seven Against Thebes which opposes a frantic and irrational chorus of maidens to a calculated and rational Eteocles. Instead, A. finds parallels in the chorus and Eteocles’ responses: both pray, both seek the appropriate reaction in the
The fourth chapter hinges on a number of contrasts between Suppliants and Prometheus Bound, whose authenticity A. does not call into question.2 In the first part, A. argues that the Danaids’ prayer in the second stasimon of Suppliants does not demonstrate the weakness of their suppliant position in Argos but rather supports their request for asylum (and forcibly at that) by exalting their kinship with Zeus. The second part of the chapter contrasts the positive tone with which the Danaids recall Zeus’ affection for Io ( Supp. ll.531-4) to Io’s utter silence on the topic in the Prometheus, where she longs to be consumed or simply to disappear (ll.581-4) but makes no mention of the background to her situation. A. characterizes her relationship to Zeus as one of traditional piety: she makes no promises and speaks of the god only inasmuch as he ” rappresenta ancora la vera e sola soluzione” to her problem (p.68). A.’s purpose in describing Io as pious and modest is to distinguish her from Prometheus; while the scholarly tendency is to view them as similar victims of the tyrannical Zeus, A. finds none of the complaints of injustice or revolutionary rumblings voiced by Prometheus in her appeal.
The fifth chapter concisely reinterprets the prayer for Argos at Supp. 625ff. A. argues that, prior to obtaining their goal of asylum in Argos, the Danaids’ status is ambiguous and dangerous, utilizing aspects of Greek ritual supplication on the one hand but threatening the
The sixth chapter turns to the Agamemnon, taking up the familiar topic of gender confusion and relating it (specifically) to the ritual
The seventh chapter is concerned with the prayers of the Agamemnon as structural elements of the drama. The prayers of male characters all hinge on a polarity between success at Troy and the uncertain state of affairs at Argos—including those in the house of Atreus. The victor’s safe return home and the restoration of order is for them the final element of the expedition to Troy. Opposed to these prayers and their wish for the return of order to Argos and to the house of Atreus stands the figure of Clytemnestra, who similarly seeks Agamemnon’s return but as a requirement for her own victory (ll.972-4). For Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s return marks an end not of the events at Troy but of those set in motion by the sacrifice of Iphigeneia at Aulis. As in the sixth chapter, her actions aim at results opposed to those desired by the men surrounding her.
There is much to praise in this short volume, and scholars of Aeschylus, at whom the book is aimed, will be particularly well served by it. The great virtue of the book is not only that its analyses of female prayer are thought-provoking but that they also reinvigorate specific problems in Aeschylus whose interpretation has stagnated. A. takes a new approach to old problems, and so while some analyses such as those concerning Electra and Atossa (chapter 2), and the Agamemnon (chapters 6-7) are clearly set within established scholarly discourses, others break new ground. A.’s reevaluation of the chorus in Seven not as frenzied maidens but as efficacious petitioners (chapter 3), his discussion of Io’s piety vis-a-vis Prometheus’ dissent in PV (chapter 4) and his discussion of the Danaids’ hymn to Argos (chapter 5) all take issue with longstanding scholarly trends. In each case, the active and public role of female prayer is key: the maidens in Seven correct Eteocles’ error in their prayer for Thebes, and Io modestly prays to disappear from public view in PV. The novel interpretation of the hymn to Argos in the fifth chapter is especially noteworthy: for A. it is not some reward offered in return for the Argive offer of asylum but rather the Danaids’ purposeful acceptance not only of asylum in Argos but also of the responsibilities of social life placed on the polis’ women. The point is a simple one, but it has a ripple-effect on the interpretation of the chorus which has plagued the scholarship of this most difficult play, for, while the Danaids initially invoke Artemis as the protector of chastity in rejecting marriage with their Egyptian cousins (ll.144-53), following the dispensation of asylum they invoke Artemis as the overseer of reproduction (ll.676-7). By reading the hymn not simply as
A.’s methodology is soundly philological, taking individual words and their usage across the plays as the comparative basis for his interpretive points. For the most part, he is well served thereby; for example, his argument that the Danaids must set aside the threats of
Of course, the book is not without shortcomings, but with one exception these are relatively minor and few. The arguments of the books’ seven chapters are—with the exception of chapters 6 and 7—self-contained and focused: despite their broad-reaching and unifying topic, the chapters are essentially disparate exegeses of very specific passages in particular Aeschylean plays. Such concentration means that there is little discussion of women and prayer more generally beyond the introductory first chapter. In the end, the broader introductory material serves merely as a springboard to the discussion of Aeschylus, and the thread of the larger argument reappears only in the conclusion. As such, the work will delight scholars of Aeschylus but disappoint those anticipating a more sustained discussion of women and prayer.
In addition, while the philological vigor that structures the work is admirable, as A.’s primary methodology it is at times restrictive. For example, using primarily Choephori 125, in which Electra calls upon
Still, A.’s work is for the most part well researched and well versed in Aeschylean scholarship. His bibliography is rich and multilingual, and the second chapter alone falls short of the rest of the book in this respect. Furthermore, his philological focus prevents him from over-theorizing his topic; narratological terminology pops up only briefly on p.101, and in his discussion of the Eteocles’ response to the Argive oaths Seven (p.46-7), A. comes close to Zeitlin’s treatment of cledonomancy.4 It is commendable that the text of Aeschylus is always the basis for his points, and whether the lack of theoretical terminology is considered one of the book’s strengths or weaknesses I will leave to individual readers’ own judgment.
In short, A.’s book is a succinct revitalization of old problems in Aeschylus, and its virtues far outweigh its faults. Not only does his argument concerning the public role of female prayer deserve the attention of Aeschylean scholars, but it also lays the path for potentially rewarding interpretations of other poets’ work.
1. Pulleyn, Simon, Prayer in Greek Religion. Oxford: OUP, 1997; 29-31.
2. In n.19 (p.65), A. refers simply to Pattoni, Maria Pia, L’autenticità del Prometeo Incatenato di Eschilo (Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore, 1987). He justifies his position as follows: “Anche per quanto concerne i temi qui affrontati, il Prometeo appare un drama eschileo, se non scritto dallo stesso Eschilo.”
3. On Persae in particular, see Hall, Edith, Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition Through Tragedy (Oxford: OUP, 1989); and Harrison, Thomas, The Emptiness of Asia: Aeschylus’ Persians and the History of the Fifth Century (London: Duckworth, 2000). Neither text appears in A.’s bibliography.
4. Zeitlin, Froma, Under the Sign of the Shield: Semiotics and Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes. Roma: Edizioni dell’Ateneo, 1982. Strangely, this text is absent from A.’s bibliography.