Orestes as Fulfillment, Teraskopos, and Teras in the Oresteia
American Journal of Philology
Aeschylus' Oresteia is filled with the portentous: prophecy and prophetic vision, dream, omen, ominous speech and action.1 All these have in common a need for interpretation and a prophetic significance that expects fulfillment, and thus exemplify vividly two central and related motifs of the trilogy: the persistent ambiguity of word and action and the search for a final fulfillment that will solve and settle every problem.2 At the very start of the Agamemnon, in the watchman's opening speech,
... 's opening speech, we are presented with language that is obscure save to those somehow initiated in its meaning (36-39), and in the parodos we already find an uncertain wait for the final fulfillment and outcome of predictions long past. Although the Oresteia contains no single prophecy as much discussed as those, for example, in the Oedipus Tyrannus and the Prometheus Bound, it is a trilogy (to adapt Frank Kermode's phrase) preoccupied with prophecy and portent.3 And the trilogy's central character plays a threefold prophetic role, for Orestes is the fulfillment of a series *An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Philological Association, San Francisco, December 1981. On prophecy and portents in the Oresteia, see R. Staehlin's "Das Motiv der Mantik im antiken Drama," Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten 12 (1912), and, more recently, E. Bachli, Die kunstlerische Funktion von Orakelspruchen, Weissagungen, Traumen usw. in der griechischen Tragodie (Zurich 1954); P. Vicaire, "Pressentiments, presages, propheties dans le theatre d'Eschyle," REG 76 (1963) 337-57; J. J. Peradotto, "Cledonomancy in the Oresteia," AJP 90 (1969) 1-21; and D. H. Roberts, Apollo and his Oracle in the Oresteia, Hypomnemata 78 (Gottingen 1983). On the oracular quality of language in the Oresteia, see especially A. Lebeck, The Oresteia: A Study in Language and Structure (Washington, DC 1971), and M. D.-S. Dobson's dissertation, "Oracular Language: its Style and Intent in the Delphic Oracles and Aeschylus' Oresteia" (Harvard 1976). 2 On fulfillment as a motif in the Oresteia, see K. Burke, "Form and Persecution in the Oresteia," Sewanee Review 60 (1952) 377-96; D. Clay, "Aeschylus' Trigeron Mythos," Hermes 97 (1969) 1-9; U. Fischer, Der Telosgedanke in den Dramen des Aischylos (Hildesheim 1965); Roberts (note 1 above) chs. 2 and 3; andJ. de Romilly, Time in Greek Tragedy (Ithaca 1968) 66. 3The phrase is adapted from Kermode's comment that Macbeth is a play "obsessed by prophecies" (The Sense of an Ending [Oxford 1966] 84).