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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

ambiguity & irony in Sophocles' Electra — part 3

Electra has thrown open the doors and the body of Clytemnestra, ostensibly the body of Orestes, is visible but wrapped in a shroud which conceals the identity.  The meaning and reference of Aegisthus' speech Soph. El. 1466-1467 is once again ambiguous.

O' Zeus. I see clearly an omen which has fallen not without the jealousy of the gods ...  

What Aegisthus sees is not a body wrapped in a shroud but a φάσμα, a portent, omen, vision, which is attributed to divine agency, the retribution of the gods. This involves a mixed metaphor, the jealousy/wrath of the gods has fallen resulting in death but the shrouded body is a vision or an omen. Aegisthus' statement also has a double a double reference. The first is applied to Orestes in light of Aegisthus' misunderstanding of the scenario and the second applies to Clytemnestra. The contrast between Orestes and Clytemnestra as referent produces irony.
Soph. El. 1466-1467
Ὦ Ζεῦ, δέδορκα φάσμ' ἄνευ φθόνου μὲν οὐ
πεπτωκός· εἰ δ' ἔπεστι νέμεσις, οὐ λέγω.
Aegisthus' second sentence is prophetic:
εἰ δ' ἔπεστι νέμεσις, οὐ λέγω
If nemesis is present, I will not speak.
νέμεσις nemesis:  the impersonation of divine retribution,  distribution of what is due; but in usage always retribution, esp. righteous anger aroused by injustice — LSJ.

ἔπεστι: to be attached ... esp. of rewards and penalties ... ἔπεστι νέμεσις S.El.1467; — LSJ.

ἔπεστι νέμεσις need not imply direct personal intervention of a deity. The level of divine agency is left somewhat vague. In other words, we might translate: "If this was an unlucky statement I will retract it."


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