A thesis submitted to the faculty of San Francisco State University In partial fulfillment of The Requirements for The Degree

Master of Arts In Classics

by Christopher Kat King San Francisco, California May 2012


I certify that I have read Mother’s Matter: Women and Procreation in the Fifth Century by Christopher Kat King, and that in my opinion this work meets the criteria for approving a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree: Master of Arts in Classics at San Francisco State University.

___________________________________ David Leitao Professor of Classics

___________________________________ David Smith Professor of Classics


Christopher Kat King San Francisco, California 2012

The fifth century BCE produced monumental works in numerous literary genres. Common in many of them is the presence of mother figures occupying, for the first time, central (even some iconic) roles. However, there has been insufficient consideration given to a simple question: why did fifth-century writers choose to elevate mothers? The paper will argue that intellectual advancements in medicine and biology were key factors; furthermore, it will attempt to illustrate how these advancements impacted other literary genres by providing authors with different perspectives on the relationship between mothers and child, enabling new and prominent usages of mothers in literature.

I certify that the Abstract is a correct representation of the content of this thesis.

___________________________________ Chair, Thesis Committee

________________________ Date


1. INTRODUCTION ...............................................................................................1 2. CHAPTER ONE: Medical Conclusions About the Biological Role of the Mother..............................7 i. The Hippocratic Two-Semen Theory ...................................................................9 ii. Pregnancy and Child Development ...................................................................13 iii. Aristotle’s Single-Semen Theory .....................................................................17 iv. The Female Contribution ..................................................................................22 v. Conclusions ........................................................................................................26 3. CHAPTER TWO: Mothers, Sons, and Kleos in Pindar .......................................................................28 i. The Divine / Semi-Divine ...................................................................................31 ii. Mortals (Physical) ..............................................................................................35 iii. Mortals (Non-Physical) ....................................................................................40 iv. Naming..............................................................................................................47 v. Centaurs .............................................................................................................51 vi. Conclusions.......................................................................................................53 4. CHAPTER THREE: Kindred Blood in Aeschylus’s Oresteia ................................................................55 i. Agamemnon: The Lion Cub Parable ...................................................................57 ii. Choephoroi: Clytemnestra’s Nightmare ............................................................65 iii. Eumendies: The Trial of Orestes ......................................................................71 iv. Conclusions.......................................................................................................78 5. CONCLUSION ..................................................................................................80 6. BIBLIOGRAPHY ..............................................................................................83




In contemporary Western culture, parents are afforded many rights over their children. For mothers, the holding of such rights has not always been the case. In ancient Greece, child-rearing was typically the domain of the mother, but no matter the context, she always had a higher authority to respond to in daily life: her husband, to whose family unit (oikos) she belonged, and who held a singular power to make some of the most important decisions in their child’s life. Still, the relationship between a mother and her children has long been cherished and celebrated in Greek literature from its very beginnings in epic poetry. Homer’s Iliad provides two picturesque examples of the mother-child bond: Thetis and Achilles, and Hecuba and Hector. Much has been written about the first pair, particularly concerning Thetis’s heartbreak upon seeing her son forsake a chance at a peaceful life, instead rejoining the Greek host in battle against the Trojans. Much also has been written about Hector, Achilles’s mortal enemy who also shares a deeply affectionate bond with his mother, Hecuba. Perhaps no single image in all of Greek literature better encapsulates the mother-child relationship than when Hecuba, weeping and trying hopelessly to convince her son to remain in the safety of their city, exposes her bare breasts.1 It is a gesture that in the modern Western world would be considered illicit, but one that the Greeks would have understood to be an appeal to the deepest reaches of Hector’s heart. Hecuba realized the symbolic power of her breasts, and

Il. 22.79-81.


she intended to use them to remind Hector one last time of their relationship: it was she who protected and nourished Hector as a child, and it is she who can continue to do so now, if he will only remain by her side. Of course, Hector chooses battle with Achilles and is easily vanquished, but the efficacy of Hecuba’s gesture remained potent in following centuries. Despite the emotional impact of Hecuba’s message to Hector, mothers are mostly removed from the forefront of Homer’s poetry (one might argue the case of Penelope, who is central to the narrative of the Odyssey, but mostly in her capacity as Odysseus’s wife – not Telemachus’s mother). By the time of the fifth century BCE, things change. By themselves, the tragedies of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus offer a who’s-who of famous mothers in literature: Medea, Jocasta, Clytemnestra, Niobe, Agave, Althaea, Deianira, Semele, et aliae. Running alongside the tragic poets is the fifth-century poet Pindar, whose victory odes raise questions of genetic inheritance and the roles of mother and father, and the Hippocratics, whose medical research attempts an answer at those same questions (and many others). In short, whereas mothers in earlier literature were present, by the fifth century they have genuine presence in literature. Why there was a more frequent inclusion of mothers in texts, why they were given greater prominence, and what impact they make on our reading of fifth-century literature comprise the main questions that this paper will address. These questions presuppose that the increased frequency and prominence of mothers are not isolated phenomena – in other words, they are not characteristic of any


one author or literary genre, but multiple authors in multiple genres. To demonstrate this, the following three chapters will be devoted to examining the treatment of mothers within separate genres: philosophy, lyric poetry, and tragedy. The selections made are not intended to be exhaustive, only representative of the widespread emergence of mothers as prominent figures in fifth-century literature. Although written near the end of the fifth century, the medical texts of the Hippocratics make a suitable beginning to the discussion and create a solid foundation for reading and interpreting more literary texts. Naturally, only texts with an emphasis on female health and/or children’s health will be germane to the discussion; of these, the primary focus will be on two: On Generation (which analyzes the role of the female in conception) and On the Nature of the Child (which analyzes the role of the female during pregnancy and childbirth). In a sense, the Hippocratic texts mark a culmination in the Greek mother’s rise to prominence in fifth-century literature. A function of these texts is to empirically prove that mothers contribute genetically in procreation (to the extent that ancient science could successfully argue such a claim). Furthermore, both texts establish the very physical nature of the mother-child relationship in a biological context, discussing the sympathetic bond shared between mother and fetus, the function of the womb during pregnancy, and the roles played by different bodily fluids (e.g. menstrual blood and breast milk) both before and after birth. As a counterpoint to the arguments made by the Hippocratics, consideration will also be given to Aristotle. Although he wrote in the fourth century, Aristotle’s biological treatises sometimes engage the


Hippocratics in a cross-generational debate over the role of the mother. As such, reading Aristotle’s De Generatione Animalium will aid in both interpreting the Hippocratic texts, and determining what the Hippocratic texts are responding to. The following chapter steps back into the earlier part of the fifth century and offers a window into the Greek world beyond Athens. Pindar prided himself on being a pan-Hellenic poet, with clients ranging from mainland Greece to Sicily in the west and Ionia in the east. Pindar’s poetry was governed more strictly by rules of form and content than the prose of the Hippocratics and Aristotle, and its main purpose was the celebration of an individual’s (i.e. the laudandus’s) athletic achievement, not an examination of females in their capacity as mothers. Still, mothers do appear in these victory odes, perhaps more than one might suspect given Pindar’s customary placement in the middle of an old-boy network of Greek aristocrats. On occasion, mothers of divine or semidivine sons play significant roles in the mythological narratives Pindar weaves into his odes. On other occasions, the mother or the maternal ancestry of an actual laudandus is celebrated in the wake of his athletic victory (to be clear, historical mothers are never referred to by name in any of the odes; however, their male relatives are).2 By examining their role in both contexts – that is, mythological and historical – the subtleties of the relationship between mother and child in Pindar’s wide-reaching poetry will emerge. In Pindaric poetry, a child inherits his physical form from his mother, along with its weaknesses (mortality) and virtues (the talent and skill required to gain glorious fame, or

I use only masculine pronouns when discussing the subjects of Pindar’s odes only because they were all, in fact, male.


kleos), a correlation that might have roots in the socio-political changes of the fifthcentury which reassert the mother’s essential role in procreation. Roughly contemporary with Pindar was Aeschylus, the earliest of Athens’s three legendary tragedians. As a genre, drama can facilitate social experimentation, a quality that gives it great appeal when discussing changing perceptions of particular social niches, such as that filled by mothers. Aeschylean tragedy rises to this challenge: the Oresteia contains more than a few controversial elements, many of which either directly or obliquely involve Clytemnestra, one of the most notorious women in all of Western literature, and mother of the trilogy’s namesake. Clytemnestra is the key figure of the third chapter of this paper, which examines three passages from the individual tragedies which comprise the trilogy: two extended metaphors – one each in Agamemnon and Choephoroi – and the infamous speech Apollo delivers in defense of Orestes during his trial in Eumendies. Much has been said about Clytemnestra’s will to power and the predisposition toward bloodshed that she shares with her husband, qualities which, it will be argued, are transmittable and are inherited by Orestes. Furthermore, it will be argued that the manifestation in Orestes of his mother’s traits is a reaffirmation of a conception of the mother as one who possesses a genetic legacy which can be inherited by (and become manifest in) her children, perhaps in response to an emerging school of thought which believed such a process to be exclusively the domain of the father. With wars raging at its beginning and at its end, the fifth century can be characterized as chaotic. Its intellectual climate was no different, with a great many ideas


developing and maturing in a relatively small span of time. Although many fifth-century texts survive today, many others have been lost, compounding the already difficult (if not impossible) task of understanding the complexities of any one of them. By looking beyond the constraints of one author or one genre, a less-confused picture of the fifth century can appear. Such is what the following paper will strive for: an examination of mothers in different texts, in order to reach a bigger-picture understanding. Above all, the following three chapters will attempt to reach a clearer definition of the role of the mother in procreation and the depth of the mother-child relationship, but it will not seek to do so at the expense of the father, whose essential role in procreation and irreplaceable relationship with his children will never be argued against.


CHAPTER ONE Medical Conclusions About the Biological Role of the Mother

The evolution of Greek culture that accelerated in the first half of the fifth century – in the sense of its rapidly expanding polities and the dissemination of ideas – did not slow. Through its second half, and continuing into the fourth century BCE, what modernity recognizes now as empirical science began to come together as a legitimate discipline. Spearheaded by the Hippocratic writers,3 a burgeoning community of scientists began to build observational data which they could and would use in reconsidering certain theories, including (in the case of the Hippocratics, especially) those applying to the female body and to procreation. One such theory posited that a woman, in terms of her procreative function, is no more than a vessel to carry a fetus. 4 Perhaps Empedocles had this theory in mind when, according to Aristotle, he likened the female uterus to an oven, whose varying temperature would determine the sex of the unborn child.5 The appearance of this particular Empedoclean thought within one of Aristotle’s biological treatises (his De Generatione Animalium, hereafter referred to as GA) has special significance to the framework of this chapter. It was chiefly Aristotle
3 4

The Hippocratics, according to Lloyd, were the “pioneers of empirical research” (Lloyd 1999: 147ff). Such a theory, traceable back to the fifth-century philosopher Anaxagoras and his belief that male semen is the sole provider of human life, is at the forefront of Apollo’s defense of Orestes in Aeschylus’s Eumenides, wherein the god dubs womankind merely the “nurses” (τροφοί) of unborn children (Eum.659ff), thus understating their role in procreation. This passage is discussed at length below. 5 GA 764a16-18: εἰ γὰρ πεπλασμένων τῶν ζῴων, τοῦ μὲν τὰ μόρια ἔχοντος τὰ τοῦ θήλεος πάντα, τοῦ δὲ τὰ τοῦ ἄρρενος, καθάπερ εἰς κάμινον εἰς τὴν ὑστέραν τεθείη...For if, after the animals have been fashioned, with one having all female parts, and another having all male parts, they were placed inside the uterus as if it were an oven…


who inherited the mantle of the Hippocratics, continuing to advance medicinal science through meticulous observation and research. His biological treatises participate in a dialogue with the Hippocratic corpus, much to the benefit of those in the present day who wish to engage these ancient medical texts. The following discussion will demonstrate how the Hippocratics were the one party most responsible for the solidification and spreading of ideas in the fifth century in which the female sex is recognized as necessary in procreation, beyond the nurturing function of her womb. Furthermore, GA will also be discussed in order to show how the ideas introduced by the fifth century Hippocratic writer of On Generation and On the Nature of the Child permeated post-fifth century Greece and spawned further discussion on exactly what the procreative role of the female is. Finally, discussing these texts responds to critics who decry especially Aristotle as a misogynist determined to use his considerable intellect to further the suppression of women.6 As a literary genre, scientific and medical writings can be colored by the same authorial biases and subjectivities as, for example, poetry. This may seem counterintuitive, as responsible scientific work is supposed to be objective. However, according to Dean-Jones, “no scientific theory is entirely objective and we should not be surprised that, generally, scientific theory conforms to rather than challenges social ideologies”. 7


Including, for example, his inclusion of Empedocles’ uterus-as-oven analogy, which brings with it an added element in the feminist critique of Aristotle, even though he openly disagrees with the claim. 7 Dean-Jones 1994 (3). See also Lloyd 1999, who writes that the works of some Hippocratic authors are “theory-laden”, based off of experiments that could be (but were not always) “designed specifically to


The uterus-as-oven analogue is an example (albeit a simplistic one) of the susceptibility of some fifth-century philosophers to cultural traditions: historically the passive sex within the Greek household, females are thus assigned a passive role in procreation. This analogy cannot be entirely attributed to Empedocles’s sexism, however; although the study of human anatomy and physiology was coming into its own, dissection would not be regularly practiced in the classical world for some time.8 In the absence of dissection, the Greeks’ knowledge of human biology would remain terribly incomplete. Philosophers and doctors could only rely on their eyes and hands, filling in the many blanks with the most logical assumptions they could make. Accordingly, the fifth century (as well as the fourth century) produced all sorts of different medical theories, each varying in their veracity and biases.


Regarding their (written) treatment of women, the Hippocratics have come under less fire than has Aristotle.9 Still, in comparison to men, they do consider women to be physically weaker and more vulnerable to injury and illness. On the other hand, they also

provide support for theories that appear to have been adopted usually on the basis of general, often philosophical, considerations and arguments” (151). 8 Dissection may have begun in the late fifth century (cf. Lloyd 1999: 158-168), but more likely began in the Hellenistic period. 9 A prevalent belief held by scholars in the 1980s-1990s, in brief: “For the Hippocratics, woman is a radically different animal from man in structure and process. For Aristotle, she is a substandard man whose body only approximates to the ideal in human structure and processes” (Dean-Jones 1994: 225).


hold a pronounced fascination with female biology. The Hippocratic corpus has numerous treatises devoted to the conditions of women, several of which are focused primarily on pregnant women. It is within these treatises that a full-length, empirical study about procreation commences, in which men and women are discussed as procreators, and in which the female’s role as mother in a purely biological sense starts to be properly understood and suitably acknowledged for the first time in Western science. Why did the Hippocratics hold such an interest in the female body? There is no concise answer to this question, but let it suffice for now to say that, amongst other reasons, Greek scientists were perplexed by a perceived instability of the female body, particularly its monthly cycles (i.e. menstruation). Since the Hippocratics generally held a greater interest in fluids than in any other element of the human body, they had a special interest in the cyclical loss of menstrual blood and its ramifications. Furthermore, the female body is possessed of an additional orifice which the male body lacks – the vagina – that, while enigmatic, presented doctors with an additional means of diagnosing and treating different maladies.10 These factors, along with the mysteries of conception and pregnancy, made female biology a hot topic in fifth-century medicine, perhaps in order to develop a response to various contradicting theories about the role of the female in procreation. Conception and pregnancy are two topics addressed by Hippocratic writers in the treatises On Generation and On the Nature of the Child, written toward the end of the

cf. King 1998: 27-51; 248-249.


fifth century.11 These texts both espouse the theory of pangenesis, with some additional nuances (the pangenesis theory holds that sperm is collected from the entire body of a parent, not from localized areas or specific organs, and helped explain any resemblances between a child and his/her mother or father in specific areas: hair, eyes, skin, limbs, nose, and so on).12 The additional nuances given to the basic theory are, first, that sperm comes from specifically the four humours located in all parts of the body (blood, phlegm, water, and bile);13 second, that both parents emit sperm (cf. Genit. 8.15-16: ἔνεστι καὶ ἐν τῇ γυναικὶ καὶ ἐν τῷ ἀνδρὶ καὶ κουρογονίη καὶ θηλυγονίη, There is in a woman and in a man both male and female sperm),14 and that each set of sperm clashes, producing a clear “winner” whom the fetus will resemble (e.g. if a child resembles his father with respect to his nose, it is because the sperm from the father’s nose dominated that from the mother’s nose).15 To return to the first nuance: according to On Generation, the four humours, present throughout the entire body, are agitated during intercourse. The resulting movement and heat causes the production of a foam, beginning in the brain and later spreading into the spine, the kidneys, and the testicles before finally being discharged


Lonie dates these treatises, as well as Diseases IV, around 420 BCE, and attributes the same author to all three texts (Lonie 1981: 70-71). 12 Lonie points out that On Generation, On the Nature of the Child, and Diseases IV are the only texts within the Hippocratic corpus that accept pangenesis (Lonie 1981: 61). 13 Genit. 1.11-12; 3. When citing specific Hippocratic passages in Greek, I will use the text found in Littré 1973 throughout this chapter. 14 Unless otherwise noted, translations of Greek into English are the author’s own. 15 This phenomenon is explained in Genit .8.1ff.


through the penis as semen.16 Thus, the sperm carried inside seminal fluid is representative of the entire body, and the emission of this seminal foam during climax, produced from the most potent portions of the bodily humours, weakens the body.17 Of course, this model is exclusive to males; the production of female sperm is given far less detail. Presumably, the process of agitation that occurs in males is roughly analogous to the process of female sperm production. What the text assures is that, during intercourse, the vagina and the womb receive friction that produces heat in the entire body and that, like males, the emission of sperm is linked to the female’s orgasm. However, the text also outlines some discrepancies: first, females do not emit semen externally (although female sperm can be emitted outside of the womb, it does not leave the body); second, the female’s orgasm is longer but weaker than the male’s, and is somewhat subordinate to the male’s orgasm.18 Both parents produce sperm of two varieties: so-called “stronger” sperm (ἰσχυρότερον, associated with maleness), and “weaker” sperm (ἀσθενέστερον, associated

16 17

Genit. 1.16ff. Genit. 1.1ff. 18 Genit. 4.1ff. The metaphor used is complicated. In essence, the Hippocratic author creates two scenarios, depending on the level of sexual excitement in the female. If she is not excited, the male’s ejaculation of seed acts like cold water poured into boiling water, in the sense that it cools (ends) the female’s orgasm; it also prevents conception. If the female is excited, then the male’s ejaculation into the female acts like wine poured over a flame: it creates a rise in internal heat that intensifies the female’s orgasm, and conception becomes more likely. It is interesting to note that, although the female’s orgasm can be quashed by the male’s ejaculation, conception only appears possible when the female is sexually excited (for only then does she emit her own seed); also, in Genit. 5.1, the Hippocratic author explains that the female is able to decide whether to retain the male seed or to expel it, meaning that the power to conceive rests squarely in her hands.


with femaleness).19 Sex differentiation is bound within these types of sperm. Should both parents produce stronger sperm, a male is conceived; both parents producing weaker sperm results in female offspring. When one parent produces stronger sperm, and the other produces weaker sperm, the two conflict, and the sex of the child is determined by whichever of the two sets of sperm existed in greater quantity,20 and the resulting offspring could evolve into an effeminate male or a masculine female.21 The two-sperm theory concludes that, as individual men and women are capable of producing both male and female offspring with different sexual partners, each must carry two sets of sperm: one male, one female.


On the Nature of the Child continues the discussion of child formation, from the mixing of seeds in the womb (i.e. fertilization) through gestation. Upon both parents’ emission of their seed during intercourse, a blending occurs and the mixture is heated into a spherical mass (with the sex of the child to be determined later, by the process outlined

19 20

Genit. 6.1ff. Other factors could also potentially influence the sex of a child. In Superfetation 31, the Hippocratic author reports that couples wishing for a male child should wait for the female parent to cease menstruating, and that the male parent should bind his right testicle; those wishing for a female child should attempt to conceive while the female parent is heavily menstruating, and the male parent should bind his left testicle. 21 King envisions this confrontation between different sperms as occurring within a spectrum (a “sliding scale”, as she puts it) of sex and gender (King 1998: 9).


above).22 The internal warmth of the mother’s womb provides “breath” (πvεῦμα) for the mass, which creates a breathing passageway through which warm air is expended, and through which a second, cooler breath is drawn (a breath which is symbiotically linked with the mother). The mass then forms something like a membrane around itself, which grows along with the mass, expanding like a loaf of bread: καὶ ἡ γονὴ ὑμενοῦται φυσωμένη· περιτέταται γὰρ ἀμφ’αὐτὴν τὸ ἔξωθεν, συνεχὲς γινόμενον, ἅτε γλίσχρον ἐὸν, ὥσπερ ἐπ’ἄρτῳ ὀπτωμένῳ… θερμαινόμενος γὰρ καὶ φυσώμενος ὁ ἄρτος αἴρεται, And the mass, as it inflates, develops a membrane; what is on the outside (i.e. the membrane) stretches around it (i.e. the fetus), having become molded together, as though it were something sticky, like on baking bread…for bread rises as it is heated and inflates.23 The mass only takes shape after the transfer of blood into the mother’s womb from elsewhere in her body, which coagulates and forms the fetus’s flesh and umbilicus; as a byproduct, the rerouting of blood into the mother’s womb cancels menstruation until the pregnancy is finished.24 As the fetal body forms, its entrails and respiratory system begin to develop, with the fetus taking full form at either 30 days (for a male) or 42 days (for a female).25 After several months, the fetus forms limbs, nails, and hair, and begins to


Nat. Puer. 12.1-3. I am borrowing Lonie’s vision of the spherical “mass”, which is in fact seed (γονή) which has collected together and thickened (ἀθροίζεται καὶ παχύνεται). 23 Nat. Puer. 12.37-40. 24 Nat. Puer. 14.1-15.1. Also, 15.3ff explains the function of menstruation as being an evacuation of blood, which in its excess causes variations in the highly-sensitive female body’s internal temperature. In order to stabilize, the body forces an “evacuation” of this blood via menstruation. In pregnant women, instead of being expelled, the excess blood is relocated into the womb. The body’s failure to properly expel or relocate the excess blood leads to all sorts of illnesses (cf. Nat. Puer. 15.25ff). 25 Nat. Puer. 18.1-5. According to Nat. Puer. 18.66-71, the female fetus takes longer to develop because female seed is weaker and more fluid than male seed.


move within the womb; at this point, the expanding womb places pressure on the mother’s stomach, triggering the production of breast milk, of which a small quantity flows into the womb – the unborn child’s first taste of actual food.26 At nine months, the fetus is unable to consume an adequate amount of nutriment from inside the womb, and when its thirst for breast milk becomes unquenchable, the mother goes into labor. It is for this same reason that, according to the Hippocratic author, pregnancy beyond the ninth month is impossible.27 Throughout the treatise, as well as in On Generation, the author connects the fetus’s wellbeing to that of the mother. In particular, the author explicitly characterizes a healthy fetus as one that developed within a healthy womb, nourished by a mother who practiced good nutritional habits during pregnancy.28 An imperfect womb is a wide, open path for pre-natal illness. A womb that is too open is unable to properly contain the fetus’s nutriment, leading to malnourishment; on the other hand, a womb that is too constricted does not provide enough space for the fetus to grow, resulting in underdeveloped children. In fact, the Hippocratic author lays out a blanket statement that an unhealthy child born to two healthy parents must have contracted his or her maladies from the mother while in the womb.29

26 27

Nat. Puer. 21.7ff. Nat. Puer. 30.13ff. 28 See especially Genit. 9.1-10.1ff for the Hippocratic author’s summary of the effects of an unhealthy womb; Nat. Puer. 22.1-27.1ff for a summary of the effects of poor nutrition. 29 Genit. 9.1-6.


In On the Nature of the Child, the Hippocratic author writes another blanket statement claiming that, much like the health of plants depends on the nutritional quality of the moisture provided by the soil in which it grows, the health of the fetus depends entirely on the mother’s health.30 Furthermore, both during gestation and after birth, the child feeds on the mother’s breast milk, which is a byproduct of the foods she consumes (and thus is connected also to the quality of her diet).31 As the Hippocratic author explains it, responsibility for the health of the child, in its fetal and infant stages, is in its mother’s hands. Furthermore, she alone is the maker of the child’s flesh and blood, which is no insignificant task. When examined alongside other literature that is roughly contemporary (e.g. Pindar and Aeschylus),32 the relationship between mother and (unborn) child as detailed in these relatively sterile (in a literary sense) medical texts gains considerable depth. Pindar, as will be discussed in a following chapter, evidences the association between the mother and the physical, tangible qualities of a child; furthermore, as explained in the analysis of Nemean 5, he also evidences a connection between mothers and nature. Similarly, Aeschylus uses the word ἔρνος, a word often translated as “plant”
30 31

Nat. Puer. 27.1ff. Demand suggests that the use of wet nurses to breast feed newborn children devalues the mother’s contribution (Demand 1994: 135). However, this does not account for what the child consumes while it is growing within the womb, nor does it account for the fact that not every Greek household would have employed a wet nurse. 32 I say “roughly contemporary” because, although Pindar, Aeschylus, and the Hippocratics were all active in the fifth century, the Hippocratic texts were written possibly a full generation after Pindar’s and Aeschylus’s latest extant works (assuming Lonie’s 420 BCE date for On Generation and On the Nature of the Child to be correct). However, the reality is that, even if these ideas were recorded in 420 BCE, they were certainly alive well beforehand, and it is not a stretch to assume that the key tenets of these two treatises were fodder for discussion around the middle of the fifth century.


or “sprout”, to refer to children, as when Clytemnestra calls Iphigeneia the ἔρνος she bore to Agamemnon (Ag. 1525). The Hippocratic author employs vegetal imagery when explaining the value of a healthy womb with ample space at Genit. 9.3 (in which he likens the fetus to a cucumber), and later in his lengthy plant metaphor at Nat. Puer. 22.126.5 (in which the mother is compared to soil and the fetus to a plant). These comparisons are reminiscent of earlier literary texts and were likely deliberate on the part of the Hippocratic author. But even if they were not, the comparison between these treatises and texts from other literary genres is still worthwhile, as it aids in exposing their common themes. The Hippocratic author draws an explicit connection between a mother and her child’s physical form via agricultural imagery, and the clarity of the connection within this non-literary text aids in lifting the veil off of Pindar’s and Aeschylus’s more artful and more challenging language. Ultimately, despite differences in style, genre, intent, and audience, these texts agree on two basic principles: the mother contributes genetically to the creation of a child, and she provides the child’s physical form, its strengths, and its weaknesses.


In the fourth century, the analysis of the female’s role in procreation took on added layers of complexity, thanks to Aristotle’s exhaustive treatment of the issue, chiefly in GA. The following discussion about GA will summarize its key points


concerning the formation of a child, from embryo through birth, with special consideration given to the role of the mother, before moving to an analysis of some of the treatise’s more controversial passages (specifically those in which Aristotle denies the existence of female sperm). With regards to GA and his other biological treatises, Aristotle remains an embattled author. To be clear, this chapter – indeed, this entire paper – is not intended to entirely absolve any Greek writer of any charges of sexism, nor is it intended to build any charges of sexism against them, except insofar as the value of their various works is held in question. Sexism to some degree was ubiquitous in classical Greece, and it must be understood that traces (at the least) of sexism will inevitably be found in any classical text. However, a working assumption held throughout this particular chapter is that both the Hippocratics and Aristotle were more concerned with making honest scientific and medical progress than they were with fulfilling any sexist agenda. This is less of an issue for the Hippocratics, whose writings often resemble case files or memos; even the longer, more developed treatises more often than not carry a prescriptive, rather than philosophical, tone, as opposed to Aristotle’s more developed narratives. According to GA, the creation of a child begins with the act of intercourse (naturally), about which Aristotle has little to say that is noteworthy, save for what he says about the connection between physical pleasure and conception. Essentially, he finds that a child can be conceived whether or not the female derives physical pleasure from intercourse, but that physical pleasure and successful conception are part and parcel for


the male.33 This is because the male, at the end of intercourse, not only ejaculates semen, but also releases the air (πνεῦμα) which had been collected inside to facilitate breathing and to concoct (πέττειν) semen, the latter being a phenomenon exclusive to males (for Aristotle, concoction is a defining feature of the male sex).34 Aristotle was cognizant of female ejaculation as well, but rightly dismisses it as insignificant in procreation, and criticizes those who view it as analogous to the semen produced by males.35 Aristotle’s study of male semen, along with several other fluids in the female body, comprises a huge portion of GA. Although critical of some attempts by others to attribute seminal properties to various fluids produced by females, Aristotle himself struggles in his attempts to tease out their functions and properties (specifically menstrual blood, breast milk, and ejaculatory fluid). To be sure, he disqualifies all of them from being seminal, in the sense that females do not produce anything that actively procreates (an important point to which the discussion will return later);36 in his refutation of the pangenesis theory, Aristotle reasons that, if sperm is not produced throughout the entire


GA 739a29ff (intercourse for females); 728a10-14 (intercourse for males). GA 718a2ff. 35 GA 727b34-728a10; 739a20ff. 36 It is important to reinforce the distinction between the connotations of “sperm”, “semen”, and “seminal” for modern society and for Aristotle. For the former, “semen” is generally defined as the fluid emitted by a male during ejaculation which carries spermatozoa (“sperm”) to the female ova; “seminal” is an adjective that can be attributed both to the spermatozoa and the ova as being products of the reproductive system, each possessing unique genetic material. Aristotle knew only that male ejaculatory fluid carried “seeds” necessary for reproduction, hence his (and others') use of the word τὸ σπέρμα to mean both “seed”, along with ἡ γονή to denote specifically seminal fluid which comes from a procreator (724b12); however, having no notion of male spermatozoa (the true “seeds”), he could never fully understand why or how semen contains sperm.


body, it is probably not produced in both parents.37 This assumption is the foundation upon which Aristotle constructs his argument that females cannot produce sperm. Aristotle seeks to strengthen his argument by defining semen as being blood that has been heated to create a concocted substance.38 As a defining feature of males, the concoction of blood into semen is a process that cannot be enacted by females, who are characterized as being physically weaker than males and are relatively lacking in internal heat. As a result, they produce a residue that is like semen, only not concocted: menstrual blood, which does not have the ability to create life, but is still an essential component of the procreative process (paradoxical as that might seem).39 Simply put, the menstrual blood is what provides the physical matter of an embryo, which is acted upon by the seeds existent in male semen. The male semen provides “soul” to the female-produced matter.40 Considering what technology Aristotle had at his disposal (or, more precisely, the lack thereof), this theory is a considerable intellectual achievement. The core of what Aristotle presents is quite similar to the actual process of fertilization, which was only truly understood more than two millennia after Aristotle’s death.

37 38

GA 721b10ff; 724a9-10. GA 726b5ff. Aristotle presents here, as evidence, that unconcocted semen has a bloodlike appearance. 39 GA 727a3ff; also 727b, especially lines 14-17, wherein Aristotle explains that only male semen contains ἀρχή, which enables it to give life. 40 For menstrual blood providing matter: GA 727b; 729a; 739a; 740b. For semen providing “soul”: GA 729a; 734a; 740b. I put “soul” in quotation marks because it is a difficult concept to express concisely in translation. ἀρχή is, according to Peck’s translation, the “sentient Soul” (Peck 1943: 108 n.d), which is to say that it is not necessarily referring to the soul as the part of our existence that advances into the afterlife (i.e. the “immortal soul”), but rather the part that allows us to have consciousness and intellect.


In a more physical sense, male semen contributes in another way. While menstrual blood does provide the matter, it is the semen that shapes this matter. Aristotle does not bestow unto male semen a kind of demiurgic power – he denies that semen has the ability to actively form anything.41 Instead, the semen carries within it “movements” (κινήσεις), which themselves carry certain “potentials” (δυνάμεις) that the unborn child will realize gradually from the fetal stage through adolescence.42 This theory is very convenient, allowing Aristotle to confront several complicated issues, chief among them being the question of family resemblance. Other theorists (e.g. Empedocles and Anaxagoras) who positioned women as merely an incubator for the unborn child had no means of explaining the countless number of Greek sons who resembled their mothers. With his system of male-produced potentials (carried within semen) interacting with female-produced matter (in the form of menstrual blood), Aristotle produces a solution to this difficult problem. If male children resemble their father, it is because the κινήσεις carried by the concocted male semen have acted upon the mother’s menstrual blood. If, on the other hand, female children resemble their mother, it is because the male semen has not been thoroughly concocted (perhaps because the male was too young or too old at the time of conception) and the κινήσεις it carried were absorbed into the female element. In the instance of some κινήσεις acting upon the female element and others being

41 42

GA 734a30-33. GA 734b-735a, but especially 734b34-36: ἀλλ’ ἡ κίνησις ή ἀπὸ τοῦ γεννήσαντος τοῦ ἐντελεχείᾳ ὄντος ὅ ἐστι δυνάμει τὸ ἐξ οὗ γίνεται... In this sense, in the eyes of one scholar, sperm fashions matter (Henry 2005: 29-30), but “the father transmits his form to the offspring without transmitting any of his matter” (Henry 2006: 442).


absorbed, children may acquire the sex of one parent but exhibit the physical features of the other, resulting in sons who resemble their mothers, and daughters who resemble their fathers.43 On occasion, the κινήσεις may relapse (λύειν), essentially paving the way for children to resemble grandparents.44 If the male semen is well-concocted and its κινήσεις overpower the female element, then relapse, the result is a male child resembling his father’s father. If it is absorbed by the female element, and then relapses, the result is a female child who resembles her mother’s mother. The theory fails in its inability to explain a child’s resemblance to a male ancestor on the mother’s side or a female ancestor on the father’s side, which it could only logically do by admitting the existence of female sperm.


Aristotle’s consistent denial of the existence of female sperm has been heavily criticized by feminists scholars, who have treated Aristotle as anywhere from terribly misguided (at best) to an outright misogynist (or worse) because of his rejection of


Throughout the portion of GA that most heavily discusses resemblance (767b-769b), Aristotle employs noticeably vague language when it comes to the female’s part in the submission to and/or absorption of male κινήσεις. He does not attribute the terms κινήσεις or δυνάμεις to females as they are exclusive to semen, which females cannot produce, and avoids explicitly describing what part of the female’s menstrual blood, instead using passive constructions with male or masculine subjects (e.g. 767b10-12; 767b21-23; 768a28-31); hence my use of the phrase “female element”. This appears to be a rhetorical strategy on Aristotle’s part to avoid exposing a logical flaw in his argument (i.e. females can occasionally, somehow, overpower unconcocted semen, but if not by virtue of their own κινήσεις and δυνάμεις, from where would this power come?). 44 GA 768a34-768b2.


female sperm.45 According to Lesley Dean-Jones, Aristotle “argues vehemently against” the existence of female sperm, instead arguing that the female contributes only menstrual blood to the fetus.46 This is an exaggerated claim that places a value-judgment on Aristotle, and does so unfairly. While he denies the existence of female sperm, to say he does so “vehemently” in order to “[do] away with the notion”47 suggests that Aristotle carries some urgent purpose in his writing which is just not found in the text of GA; if anything, Aristotle avoids the topic as much as he can, except to say simply that female sperm does not exist. Robert Mayhew provides an excellent response to this criticism of GA, encouraging scholars to reconsider arguments such as that provided by Dean-Jones.48 On the whole, Mayhew’s larger argument, in which he portrays Aristotle as grossly misunderstood and wrongly disparaged, is sound; however, he is prone to sounding a bit like a crusader, at times more focused on dissolving the various labels placed on Aristotle than on engaging with the actual text (which is his grievance with Dean-Jones, et al.). There is no avoiding Aristotle’s blatant remarks that females do not produce sperm, but his careful (and sometimes awkward) language constructions and his occasional retreats from the issue of female sperm belie a struggle – one that rises primarily from the


G.E.R. Lloyd, for example, who believed Aristotle to be a misogynist who “squared his empirical findings with his presumptions” (Lloyd 1983: 60). 46 Dean-Jones 1994: 14ff. 47 Ibid. 48 The language of Mayhew’s response to Dean-Jones, in which he urges the academic community to be “suspicious” of Dean-Jones’s claims, is indicative of the emotional charge in recent scholarship on Aristotelian (and Hippocratic) biological texts (Mayhew 2004: 35).


difficulty of reconciling his theories with what empirical evidence he had. Female sperm was, perhaps, Aristotle’s most challenging hurdle. Aristotle never argues that females do not contribute to reproduction, or that what they contribute is unessential. Time and again, he reiterates that the female parent produces menstrual fluid, which, although not semen, is seminal; within it are found the building blocks of a child’s matter. However, it was unfathomable to Aristotle that females could also produce sperm for one simple reason: no animal can produce two seminal fluids, and females already produce one.49 If females were able to produce a second seminal fluid – for example, one identical to male semen – a host of dilemmas would arise, first and foremost among those being parthenogenetic births. Males would no longer be needed for procreation in such a scenario, which Aristotle cannot allow. By stating that no animal can produce multiple seminal fluids, Aristotle installs a safeguard against parthenogenesis, but does so at the expense of female sperm, in order to avoid being cornered into a position where he would have to acknowledge the fantastical (i.e. parthenogenesis) as reality.50 A second consequence of Aristotle’s single-semen theory is the preservation of the function of male sperm, the importance of which would have been compromised by the existence of female sperm. As parthenogenesis is impossible, Aristotle understood that males must contribute something irreplaceable in conception. In the absence of any

49 50

GA 727a26-30. At GA 730a30-33, Aristotle concedes that females of some species can procreate on their own, but that the result is always flawed (e.g. female birds laying wind-eggs).


knowledge of female ova or of the chromosomes they carry, the conclusion he reaches is quite logical: ὅτι μὲν οὖν οὔτ’ ἀπὸ παντὸς ἀπέρχεται τὸ σπέρμα τοῖς προϊεμένοις σπέρμα τῶν ζῴων, οὔτε τὸ θῆλυ πρὸς τὴν γένεσιν οὕτω συμβάλλεται τοῖς συνισταμένοις ὡς τὸ ἄρρεν, ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν ἄρρεν ἀρχὴν κινήσεως, τὸ δὲ θῆλυ τὴν ὕλην, δῆλον ἐκ τῶν εἰρημένων. διὰ γὰρ τοῦτο οὔτ’ αὐτὸ καθ’ αὑτὸ γεννᾷ τὸ θῆλυ, δεῖται γὰρ ἀρχῆς καὶ τοῦ κινήσοντος καὶ διοριοῦντος... Therefore, that sperm (amongst those of animals which ejaculate sperm) does not come from the whole (sc. body), and that the female does not contribute to embryos (τοῖς συνισταμένοις) with regards to generation as does the male, but that the male contributes the principle of movement, and the female contributes the matter, is clear from what was said. On account of this, the female does not generate by herself, for she needs a principle for movement and determination… (GA 730a24-30)

In other words, the female can produce skin, bone, teeth, blood, and hair, but not a soul. In brief, each sex provides what the other lacks during intercourse, resulting in conception. Aristotle’s conclusions would be rather tidy, if not for their aforementioned inability to explain certain instances of ancestral resemblance that require female sperm. In a sense, Aristotle chose to walk the path of least resistance: by denying female sperm, he could swiftly dispose of parthenogenesis, maintain the significance of male semen, and demonstrate the mutual dependency of the sexes for the purpose of conception; on the other hand, the strength of his insights into generational resemblances suffers. Yet his aim is not to use spermatic theories to empower the male sex or to attack the female sex;


opportunities to do either or both within GA are ample.51 Aristotle is not immune to fourth-century Greek sexism, and GA is rife with declarations of women’s innate coldness, frailty, physical inferiority, and emotional instability – as Mayhew puts it, a “list of history’s clichés about” women.52 However, it should be noted and borne in mind that these remarks need not supercede Aristotle’s ability to remain largely objective and genuine in his pursuits. To use the text solely to channel out its sexist elements ignores its larger purpose of identifying and publicizing exactly what women contribute to the formation of their offspring, which is hardly sexist at all.


At its core, GA is not a rejection of female seed, and it is not just a misogynist’s manifesto. It is Aristotle’s dialogue with his fifth-century predecessors, in which he endeavors to come to terms with what he perceived to be problematic ideas popularized a century earlier, including those written by the Hippocratics. His denial of female sperm is a large part of his solution for a set of logical dilemmas, including parthenogenesis, of which the writers of fifth-century medicinal texts appear to be unaware (and thus fail to

I would like to refer here to a particularly notorious passage at GA 728a18-25, which has put Aristotle under fire for essentially classifying womankind as a weaker, “infertile” (ἄγονον) version of man because of a certain “inability” (ἀδυναμία). However, Aristotle himself – in this same passage – explains exactly what he means, which is not that females are (in the context of procreation) drastically weaker than males; rather, their “inability” is in relation to males’ ability to concoct blood into semen. Nor are they truly “infertile” – they simply do not produce and emit semen, much like boys (to whom Aristotle compares women in this passage). 52 Mayhew 2004: 115.


address). In this sense, the value of reading Aristotle’s biological texts in concert with the earlier Hippocratic becomes apparent: together, the two provide a more complete report on the progression of ideas concerning the female’s role in procreation than either could achieve independently.53 Whether by a contribution via seed, matter, or both, the scientific acknowledgement of a female’s essential role in the creation of new life continued survived in the intellectual culture of Greece from the fifth century into the fourth century (and beyond). Equipped with a greater sense of the activity within the scientific community, an approach toward fifth-century literary texts – especially the complex relationships between mothers and children therein -- will, it is hoped, become more fruitful.


The idea of female seed was espoused before On Generation and On the Nature of the Child were written; Alcmaeon, Parmenides, Democritus, and Empedocles have all been connected to the theory of female seed, meaning the idea must have been known to some extent by the middle of the fifth century. However, as their texts are fragmentary, the Hippocratic texts are the only major, complete, fifth-century works treating this idea.


CHAPTER TWO Mothers, Sons, and Kleos in Pindar

Unlike the philosophers and natural scientists who concern themselves with the physical world, Pindar is invested in two similar but very distinct worlds: one in which he lives and composes his odes, and another that he engineers for large sums of money. Both prioritize males. The participants in athletic games were exclusively men,54 and so were all of the patrons and recipients of the odes. Even so, like the world in which he lived, the world which Pindar created is not at all devoid of a female presence. As mothers, women hold special significance, befitting a poet who relies heavily on the history of a patron’s ancestry as a means of honoring him. Herein lies a pronounced chasm between the two Pindaric worlds: whereas the classical world holds a tradition of ancestry and heredity being defined through the father, 55 there are moments in Pindar’s odes in which the poet harkens back to one’s maternal lineage, occasionally neglecting to make any mention at all of the father’s line.56 This is not the result of arbitrary decision-making; Pindar was fully aware of every word and every bit of content in each of his poems. An examination


This is certainly the case in Pindar’s victory odes; however, there is epigraphic evidence indicating that some females did participate in athletic games (although their participation seems to have been limited to equestrian events) (Van Bremen 2007: 368). 55 Leitao 2012 notes that, in the view of some people in Athens in the early 410s, if brother and sister resemble each other, it is because they have the same father (54-55). 56 This is not to say that Pindar was the first or only Greek poet to consider an individual’s maternal lineage; Hesiod, who pre-dates Pindar by at least 200 years, mentions the parthenogenetic birth of Hephaestus by Hera in his Theogony (and that myth must have existed for centuries prior as part of an oral tradition). Pindar is, however, unique in his attribution of the athletic success of historical men to their mother’s lineage, which he does both explicitly and through mythological narratives.


of certain of his odes will show that Pindar finds it acceptable to credit mothers for contributing to a man’s quest for everlasting fame (kleos). It should be noted that rallying for social change was never a part of Pindar’s manifold programme.57 However, this does not preclude a modern function of Pindar’s poetry as useful testimony for the goings-on of his lifetime. Independent of the poet’s agenda, the poetry itself preserves a great deal of information of a time and space long gone. Some such information is explicit and technical (e.g. the sort of victory achieved and the sort of victor who achieved it); other information is deeply embedded within the dense mythological episodes and sometimes opaque language that have become the hallmarks of Pindar’s poetry. It is within the latter group that much of modern scholarship finds its focus, and within which much vital information can be obtained, as it reflects some degree of reformation in fifth-century Greece.58 As such, it is not surprising to find hints of a new perspective on women as mothers within the Pindaric corpus.59 What is surprising is how often such hints appear. Each time Pindar traces a man’s qualities back to his mother and/or his maternal ancestors, he is giving a nod to the perception that women do indeed contribute to the genetic profile of their children. Consider one of Pindar’s fragments: τί ἔλπεαι σοφίαν ἔμμεν, ἄν ὀλίγον τοι ἀνὴρ ὑπὲρ
57 58

Finley 1955 puts it simply: “Pindar is not interested in social change” (4). The extremely transitional quality of fifth century Greece makes these reflections especially clear, as Segal alludes to in his observation that Pindar’s poetry is itself transitional, in both form (written as opposed to oral) and thought (incorporating “traditional” and “sophistic” elements) (Segal 1986: 65). 59 To clarify, the idea that Pindar’s corpus is reflective of fifth century Greek thought should be viewed as running with widely-accepted perspectives on the function of Pindar’s poems, not against them. The poetry can simultaneously be enkomiastic (as in Bundy 1986) and informative. Such is the force behind Kurke’s observation that epinician poetry is “socially embedded” (Kurke 1991a: 2).


ἀνδρὸς ἴσχει; οὐ γὰρ ἔσθ' ὅπως τὰ θεῶν βουλεύματ' ἐρευνάσει βροτέᾳ φρενί· θνατᾶς δ' ἀπὸ ματρὸς ἔφυ, What do you think wisdom is, which indeed one man holds slightly more than another? For it cannot be that he will seek out the plans of the gods with a mortal mind, descended from a mortal mother.60 This is the full extent of the fragment, believed to be from a paean, but about which little else is known. The language and syntax of the fragment allow for at least one thing to be ascertained, independent from any other potential features of the fragment: a child’s mortality – including his or her mortal (i.e. inferior to a god’s) mind -- can be inherited maternally (“…a mortal mind, descended from a mortal mother”). The notion of a child retaining a mother’s mortality is not new in fifth-century Greece – mythological heroes such as Heracles and Theseus, born of mortal mothers, were not themselves immortal at birth. But this reference to inheritability within the mother-child relationship is made noteworthy by the absence of a father, a curious exclusion considering the heavily-patriarchal society to which Pindar’s clients belonged. There are many odes that contain at least an oblique mention of a mother figure or figures.61 The focus will be limited to a selection of those odes in which processes of birth and/or heredity (and the parent figures involved) are featured prominently, with cursory mentions of other odes made along the way as necessary. The odes of interest will be broken down into several groups, each to be discussed separately (although some odes may overlap into multiple groups). The first group will consist of any sort of birth or

60 61

Paean Fr.61. A TLG search for ματ- revealed 66 instances in which the word for ‘mother’ or any of its compounds occurs within the Pindaric corpus.


hereditary issue involving divinities and semi-divinities (who, as anthropomorphic, share some commonalities with mankind), including a mention of Pindaric cosmology. The second odes to be discussed will be those depicting the physical act of birth and/or physically inherited qualities amongst mortals (e.g. bodily features and bodily weaknesses); a third and closely related group will treat those odes depicting nonphysical inheritance amongst mortals (e.g. one’s intrinsic sense of valor or virtue). The remaining two sections will deal with special cases: the impact of names and the naming process in the fourth group, and centaurs in the fifth and final group. The final group may appear to be a misfit, as the half-human, half-horse centaurs mark quite a departure from man and god with respect to form. However, the dual nature of centaurs lends itself well to a discussion of genetic inheritance, as does their tumultuous genesis. By breaking the odes down into these particular groups, this chapter aspires to reach a better understanding of the breadth of maternal influences and contributions – both actual and symbolic, affecting men, gods, and beasts – within the corpus.


It may seem inappropriate to look for parallels in the hereditary sequences of mortals and immortals. However, as they often mirror mankind in both form and character, the gods are well-suited for such a comparison. Naturally, they are pervasive in the odes, as seen in this bit of cosmology from the beginning of Nemean 6:


ἓν ἀνδρῶν, ἓν θεῶν γένος· ἐκ μιᾶς δὲ πνέομεν ματρὸς ἀμφότεροι· διείργει δὲ πᾶσα κεκριμένα δύναμις, ὡς τὸ μὲν οὐδέν, ὁ δὲ χάλκεος ἀσφαλὲς αἰὲν ἕδος μένει οὐρανός. ἀλλά τι προσφέρομεν ἔμπαν ἢ μέγαν νόον ἤτοι φύσιν ἀθανάτοις, καίπερ ἐφαμερίαν οὐκ εἰδότες οὐδὲ μετὰ νύκτας ἄμμε πότμος ἅντιν᾽ ἔγραψε δραμεῖν ποτὶ στάθμαν. One race of men, one race of gods; both breathe from one mother, but every allotted power separates [us], so that one is nothing, and bronze heaven remains a safe dwelling forever. But nevertheless, we do somewhat bear a resemblance to the immortals, either with a great mind or in physical appearance,62 although we do not know by day nor during night what sort of course fate has ordained us to run. (N.6.1-6) God and man both descend from a common mother – Gaia – but differ tremendously in their lifespans: one is immortal, the other is mortal. They also differ in their ability to know their future (gods can know this information, but men, with rare exceptions, cannot), but they are similar in both their internal and external qualities -- that is, their mental, emotional, and physical characteristics. These similarities, as they are identified by Pindar, are important to identify and to remember when reading the mythological narratives within the odes, insomuch as they validate comparisons drawn between the divine and mortal realms made within this paper, specifically those pertaining to the role of parentage, genetics, and heredity on, for example, one’s νόος and φύσις. In other words, the cosmology outlined in Nemean 6 suggests that certain shared universals exist among the gods and men in Pindar’s odes; therefore, what occurs in mythological


φύσις is a difficult word to translate as it has a host of meanings and nuances. LSJ renders Pindar’s usage of the word as “outward form” in this passage; Race 2006 and Slater 1969 are more specific, rendering the word as “bodily nature” and “bodily form” respectively (i.e. one’s physical appearance).


environments is reflective of fifth-century Greek values within the contexts of parentage, genetics, and heredity. This is an assumption that will be held throughout this chapter.

Though not wholly divine, the first generation of Aiakidai are certainly superhuman, and are ideal for a comparison between mortals and the (semi-) divine. The Aiakidai make regular appearances in the Aiginetan odes, and play pivotal roles in the trio of odes commissioned by Lampon for his sons Pytheas and Phylakidas following their respective victories (Nemean 5, Isthmian 5, and Isthmian 6). The central myth of Nemean 5 has borne much controversy due to its grim content (e.g. fratricide and exile) and debate over how Pindar approaches and manages such content. The myth itself, key to Aiginetan history, involves the murder of Phokos by his brothers Telamon and Peleus, the resulting banishment of the latter two, and the eventual marriage of Peleus and Thetis. Sometimes lost among the discussion of the controversies surrounding the myth is the manner in which the three brothers are first introduced by the poet to his audience: πίτναν τ' ἐσ αἰθέρα χεῖρας ἁμᾶ Ἐνδαΐδος ἀριγῶντες υἱοὶ καὶ βία Φώκου κρέοντος ὁ τᾶς θεοῦ ὃν Ψαμάθεια τίκτ' ἐπὶ ῥηγμῖνι πόντου, And they stretched their hands toward the aether, the well-known sons of Endais and mighty lord Phokos, whom the goddess Psamatheia bore at the edge of the sea. 63 The brothers are identified as individuals only via their mothers, but Phokos is given a second identification by name. Pindar refrains from referring to Peleus and Telamon by name or patronymic, instead saying simply “the well-known sons




of Endais”.64 The audience is expected to know whom Pindar is referencing here by virtue of their mother’s identity. Furthermore, the three brothers are cast as distinct from each other by means of their respective mothers: Peleus and Telamon are the “wellknown” sons of one female deity, and Phokos is a “mighty lord” and the son of another.65 Pindar could have distinguished the brothers by means of their innate attributes rather than their parentage, or even their physical attributes, as Phokos was something of a hideous sea-creature; the latter would have been a much easier and rather obvious route, but one which Pindar conspicuously does not to take.66 Instead, Pindar illustrates the differences between Phokos and his brothers via their mothers. If we widen our scope beyond Pindar for a moment, some other sources will shed light on Pindar’s choice to qualify the Aiakidai in such a way. Endais is the daughter of the centaur Cheiron, although she is anthropomorphic (Bacchylides characterizes her as ῥοδόπαχυς, rosy-armed).67 Her centaur ancestry has no bearing on the form of her children; she takes the shape of a human, as do her children. Psamatheia, on the other hand, is explicitly marked as a goddess by Pindar. She too must be anthropomorphic, yet her child is a monstrosity, which seems incongruous. However, according to one

It has been argued that Pindar avoids calling Peleus and Telamon by name solely out of fear, lest the reputation of either (but especially Peleus) be deeply damaged, which would in turn create complications in the remainder of the ode (cf. Stern 1971). However, even in hiding their names, it is not as though Pindar’s audience would be unaware of whom he was referring to. Furthermore, and most importantly, Pindar had the option of referring to them as sons of Aiakos, yet chose to reference their mother. 65 As noted in Burnett 2005 (65-66). 66 Carnes argues that certain mythological figures (e.g. Aiakos) merely required a mention of their name by the poet in order for the audience to have instant and total recall of their deeds and virtues – they act as “beacons”. The greater an individual’s renown or virtue, the less necessary it is for the poet to make a hermeneutic “bridge” to his audience (Carnes 1995: 85ff). Pindar builds such a bridge here, using mothers. 67 Bacchylides 13.96.


mythological tradition, Phokos’s conception occurred during a time in which Psamatheia had morphed into a seal in order to escape the sexual advances of Aiakos.68 Such an unnatural union between man and beast would result in deformed offspring (a topic which will be given more attention later in the chapter). If Pindar subscribed to this tradition – and there is no reason to believe he did not – then the difference between the Aiakidai and especially their mothers becomes much clearer. Phokos is beastly because he was born from a beast and inherited her form (part of it, at least), and the brothers’ inheritance of their respective mothers’ bodily forms is an important piece of this ode’s interpretive puzzle.


Pindar’s decision to compose an ode with this particular mythological backdrop is linked to the ode’s laudandus (as is the case with all of his epinician poetry). Pytheas, a boy for whom Pindar was commissioned to compose Nemean 5, is also identified largely through maternal language and his maternal ancestry. Both the word “mother” in the accusative case (ματέρ’) and a compound of it also in the accusative case (ματρόπολίν) appear in Pindar’s brief, five-line introduction of Pytheas (N.5.4-8). At the other end, the ode closes with Pindar extending the celebration of the boy victor to include Euthymenes,

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.12.6: μίγνυται δὲ αὖθις Αἰακὸς Ψαμάθῃ τῇ Νηρέως εἰς φώκην ἠλλαγμένῃ διὰ τὸ μὴ βούλεσθαι συνελθεῖν, καὶ τεκνοῖ παῖδα Φῶκον, And, in turn, Aiakos mated with Psamatheia, daughter of Nereus, who had changed into a seal on account of not wanting to join (with him), and she bore a child, Phokos.


himself an established athletic victor, and further identified at line 43 as μάτρως (“maternal uncle”). In between, Pindar offers some language that suggests a belief in the mother’s central role in the creation of a child’s body. The ode’s initial occurrence of “mother” occurs in the middle of a rather complex sequence: ἑσταότ’· ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ πάσας ὁλκάδος ἔν τ᾽ ἀκάτῳ, γλυκεῖ᾽ ἀοιδά, στεῖχ᾽ ἀπ᾽ Αἰγίνας, διαγγέλλοισ᾽, ὅτι Λάμπωνος υἱὸς Πυθέας εὐρυσθενὴς νίκη Νεμείοις παγκρατίου στέφανον, οὔπω γένυσι φαίνων τερείνας ματέρ᾽ οἰνάνθας ὀπώραν,

[stand]; but upon every ship and in (every) boat, sweet song, go from Aigina to proclaim that mighty Pytheas, son of Lampon, won the crown of the pancratium at the Nemean games, not yet showing spring’s bloom on his cheeks, the mother of the soft grapevine… (N.5.2-6) This passage, which forms most of the first strophe, is particularly complicated at its end, and is so in two respects: contextual and grammatical. The vocabulary is specifically agricultural, evidenced by the nouns οἰνάνθη (a grapevine or its downy surface) and ὀπώρα (spring; or, more narrowly, the blooming that is characteristic of this season). The vocabulary of farmlands may seem to be an odd find in the introduction of a victory ode, but Pindar is being anything but literal with his usage of it. The inclusion of the adjective τέρην (soft) allows the metaphor to take shape: the “spring” is that of Pytheas’s own youth, which will manifest on his cheeks (γένυς) in the form of facial hair which would,


at his early age, at first feel soft, like the downy surface of a grapevine. The noun μάτηρ rounds out the metaphor and is a catalyst for further discussion, but before that, it would be beneficial to examine the grammar of the passage so as to discern the function of this particular word. In line four, there is a change in subject from the song itself to Pytheas (to be clear, Pytheas is the subject of the news that Pindar commands his song to spread). The grammar of lines four and five is fairly straightforward, but a potential snag awaits in line six. In the translation above, ματέρ᾽ has been rendered as an accusative noun in apposition to ὀπώραν: spring is the mother of the soft grapevine.69 Others are in disagreement with this translation. Richmond Lattimore, for example, glosses over this line; curiously, the word “mother” appears nowhere in his translation.70 Burnett includes the word, but with a much different result: she understands the referent of ματέρ᾽ to be Pytheas’s living, breathing mother: “…though not yet has he shown to his mother a first soft bloom on his cheek”.71 In order for Burnett’s translation to be valid, ματέρ᾽ must be a noun in the dative case serving as an indirect object (“not yet has he shown to his mother a first soft bloom…”). This is erroneous. Under the rules of poetic elision, ματέρ᾽ cannot be a dative noun.72 An accusative, appositive translation of ματέρ᾽ is more grammatically sound. To return to an interpretive discussion of lines five and six, Pindar’s casting of
69 70

This is the translation accepted by Race 2006 (47). Lattimore 1976 (108). 71 Burnett 2005 (59). 72 Smyth 1920, §72d: “Elision does not occur in…the dative singular ending ι of the third declension, and in σι, the ending of the dative plural.” M.L. West notes that elision of the dative singular -ι occurs only in Homer, the Theognidea, Lycophron, and some inscriptions (West 1982: 10).


spring as a metaphorical “mother” for both the downy grapevine and, by extension, the facial hair her son will inevitably start to show, provides an extra layer to the poem.73 Pindar’s use of μάτηρ at the onset of Nemean 5 highlights an association between mothers and the earth via its vegetal imagery; specifically, it makes an association between mothers and sons which runs parallel to the relationship shared by earth and plant life, wherein the child’s aging and physical maturation – indeed, the child’s very body, from infancy through puberty – are inextricably linked to the mother, much like the growth of plant life from seedling to full bloom is dependent on earth. Ultimately, what this passage offers as a takeaway is a connection between mothers and the physical forms of their children; as noted above, this connection applies also to the children of goddesses. Working in tandem with the heavy presence of maternal language in Nemean 5 is the complete absence of paternal language or paternal references, aside from the obligatory mention at the onset of Lampon (who is, after all, the man paying for Pindar’s services). In this particular ode, the physical qualities of the boy, including those that brought him to victory, are traced only through his mother’s line. That Pindar can qualify the laudandus by means of his maternal ancestry evidences a degree of familiarity amongst his audience with such a practice; Pindar was many things, but he was not a writer of science-fiction. If he can find space in his poetry for the celebration of one’s mother and/or her line, it must be reflective of some greater idea or belief with

That is to say, this particular season provides the climate in which the grapevine can first appear, acting as its mother, in effect.


considerable support – perhaps an idea similar to that which was more fully addressed by the Hippocratics several decades after Pindar’s death, but which must have been gathering momentum during Pindar’s life: a mother’s genetic contributions to her child had long been misunderstood and undervalued, and were in need of reassessment.74 The language of some of Pindar’s odes, including Nemean 5, reflects this evaluative process. By itself, the presence of μάτρως hardly makes an anomaly of Nemean 5. Among the other instances within the Pindaric corpus in which the mother’s family is celebrated, there are moments in which a boy’s or a man’s μάτρως is mentioned.75 Some of these instances refer to a victor’s maternal line alone, and others are accompanied by references to paternal relatives. The latter can be seen in Olympian 6, wherein Pindar vaunts about Hagesias’s lineage (specifically, the divine origins of the father’s family, and the piety of the mother’s line to which both Hermes and Zeus have responded with their good favor).76 What makes Nemean 5 unique is the frequency of maternal language and the strength it receives from its central myth, which uses the differences between the Aiakidai and their mothers to illustrate the power of one’s maternity.77 Within this ode,


It should be noted that Pericles’s citizenship laws were adopted in Athens in 451 BCE, not long after Pindar’s death – another sign that a mother’s role was being reconsidered (see also p. 68 below). 75 μάτρως can refer to either a maternal uncle or less specifically to any sort of maternal relatives, e.g. N.4.80 (Pindar offers to commemorate in song the maternal uncle of the laudandus); N.10.37 (Pindar characterizes the victory of the laudandus as customary of his maternal relatives); I.6.62 (Pindar mentions the victory of the laudandus along with those of his brother and maternal uncle); I.7.24 (Pindar describes how the laudandus has dedicated a portion of his victory to his maternal uncle, with whom the laudandus shares a name).. 76 cf. O.6.70-80. 77 There are only six odes within the corpus in which the root ματ- appears three or more times: O.6, P.3, P.4, P.8, N.5, and N.10. According to a basic formula which divides the number of lines within these odes by the number of times in which the root ματ- appears, the ode with the highest frequency of this root is


the contributions of maternal heredity appear not just to rival paternal contributions, but to actually enact greater effects than any contributions inherited by the boy from the father’s line.


What is transferred paternally in Pindar’s poetry can be radically different from what is transferred maternally. Nemean 5 provides the foundation for the case that mothers provide what is physical and corporeal.78 Other odes suggest that what an individual inherits from his father tend to be intangible, but certainly crucial. In the central mythological episode contained within Isthmian 6 – a beautifully written encounter between Heracles and his compatriot Telamon – paternity has a powerful presence, with a bevy of traits being passed from father to son: νῦν σε, νῦν εὐχαῖς ὑπὸ θεσπεσίαις λίσσομαι παῖδα θρασὺν ἐξ Ἐριβοίας ἀνδρὶ τῷδε ξεῖνον ἁμὸν μοιρίδιον τελέσαι τὸν μὲν ἄρρηκτον φυάν, ὥσπερ τόδε δέρμα με νῦν περιπλανᾶται θηρός, ὅν πάμπρωτον ἀέθλων κτεῖνά ποτ' ἐν Νεμέᾳ· θυμὸς δ' ἑπεσθω, Now, now with holy prayers, I entreat you (i.e. Zeus) to perfect a bold son from Eriboia for this man, (to be) my
N.5, with an average of one instance per 18 lines. By comparison, ranking second is O.6 (also discussed in this chapter), which averages one instance per 26 lines. 78 Olympian 6 also corroborates the genetic relationship between mother and son as one in which the latter inherits his physicality and mortality from the former (although perhaps not as explicitly as Nemean 5). As the children of an immortal father and mortal mother, both Iamos and Euadne are necessarily mortal themselves. Interesting to note, however, is the vegetal nature of his name (from ἴον, the violet), and mother and son’s shared vegetal imagery (e.g. Euadne described as ἰόπλοκος at O.6.30, and O.6.54-56 wherein Pindar recounts Iamos’s birth in a thicket with violets). Cf. Irwin 1996 and Ruck 1976 for lengthier discussions on extra connotations specifically related to the violet in Pindar and other sources.


destined guest-friend, with an unbreakable body, like this skin wrapped around me from a beast which I once killed in Nemea, the first of my labors; and may courage follow.79 Notable is the way in which Heracles arranges his supplication: he asks for a son to be fashioned from Eriboia, not Telamon. Heracles can and will pass on certain exceptional qualities, but what he needs is a body; hence, he includes Eriboia in his invocation.80 This seems to be all Heracles needs to create new life -- so powerful is a father’s contribution to his child. Furthermore, we know the invocation to have been successful, as these attributes are all manifest in Aias as he appears in separate myths (Homer, for example). That Heracles is the source of Aias’ intrinsic qualities rather than the biological father (Telamon) is of little consequence; as Burnett has noted, Pindar has here created a fauxheredity sequence the likes of which could only occur in myth, seeing Heracles transform into something of a de facto father to Aias, therefore enabling him to “conceive” the child by means of his prophecy. What is passed on from Heracles to Aias (i.e. the prophesied boldness, durability, and courage) is just as paternal in origin as what the latter will derive from his biological father, Telamon (who certainly has his own considerable gifts to bestow upon his son).81 Even in arguing the importance of the mother’s role in


I.6.45-49. It is interesting to note that the subject of τελέσαι (which I have translated as “perfect”, but can also be interpreted as “bring to birth”, which is Slater’s favored translation) is neither Telamon nor Heracles. The subject of the verb is Zeus, who, in this capacity, acts as yet a third paternal presence within this sequence. 80 Burnett 2008 claims that, in Pindar’s odes, qualities which lead a man to victory were thought of as inherited from the father (46). The undecorated Lampon and his sons, however, appear to be an exception. 81 Cf. Burnett 2005 (81-88), who makes the observation of Heracles’ surrogate fatherhood, noting that he “fixes both the physical nature (φύα) and fighting spirit (θυμός) of the child” (83), and “joins the bird of Zeus to the now promised boy by way of a name, and in so doing he gives reality to that name’s recipient”


heredity, the integrity of the father’s role and his own contributions need not be compromised. If Aias is any example, what is inherited from the father (or fathers) is quite valuable. One of Pindar’s most evocative odes is Olympian 6, composed for Hagesias of Syracuse, a victor in the mule races. In celebrating the laudandus, the poet not only charges himself with immortalizing his victory and kleos, he escalates the celebration by recalling Hagesias’s divine lineage, intending to cement his place near the gods in both song and word; he does so via Hagesias’s standing as a descendant of the Iamidai. In fact, with bold, vivid language, Pindar uses a mythological narrative to follow the line of Hagesias and the Iamidai all the way back to its origin: he recites the birth of Euadne, daughter of the nymph Pitana and Poseidon, and eventual mother of Iamos (Apollo is the father). Iamos represents the final (semi-) divine branch of this family tree, which is not to say that his mortal descendants (all the way down to Hagesias) lack any residual benefits – in the middle of the ode, Iamos prays to his father and grandfather (Poseidon), requesting that he be made distinct as a leader for his people.82 His request is granted, and Iamos gains the gift of prophecy, along with the task of erecting and maintaining an oracular altar to Zeus in Olympia.83 With this, the mythological ring closes, and Pindar steers his audience back into the present. The subsequent chain of events, in which the

in a “final paternal gesture” (84). The latter observation will be relevant to this paper’s discussion on naming. 82 O.6.58-61 83 O.6.65-70


connection between the immortal and mortal realms is made, is what allows Olympian 6 to affect the current discussion: ἐξ οὗ πολύκλειτον καθ᾽ Ἕλλανας γένος Ἰαμιδᾶν. ὄλβος ἅμ᾽ ἕσπετο· τιμῶντες δ᾽ ἀρετὰς ἐς φανερὰν ὁδὸν ἔρχονται. τεκμαίρει χρῆμ᾽ ἕκαστον· μῶμος ἐξ ἄλλων κρέμαται φθονεόντων τοῖς, οἷς ποτε πρώτοις περὶ δωδέκατον δρόμον ἐλαυνόντεσσιν αἰδοία ποτιστάξῃ Χάρις εὐκλέα μορφάν. εἰ δ᾽ ἐτύμως ὑπὸ Κυλλάνας ὅρος, Ἁγησία, μάτρωες ἄνδρες ναιετάοντες ἐδώρησαν θεῶν κάρυκα λιταῖς θυσίαις πολλὰ δὴ πολλαῖσιν Ἑρμᾶν εὐσεβέως, ὃς ἀγῶνας ἔχει μοῖράν τ᾽ ἀέθλων, Ἀρκαδίαν τ᾽ εὐάνορα τιμᾷ· κεῖνος, ὦ παῖ Σωστράτου, σὺν βαρυγδούπῳ πατρὶ κραίνει σέθεν εὐτυχίαν.

From that time, the Iamidai have been much celebrated amongst the Greeks. Happiness followed, and, honoring brave deeds, they walked along a clear path. Each event is proof; blame from other, jealous men hangs over them, over those who ever drive around the twelve-lapped racetrack first and on whom revered Charis will drop a glorious form. In truth, Hagesias, if your maternal ancestors who dwell under Mount Kyllene have many times piously presented the herald of the gods with many supplicating sacrifices – Hermes, who lords over games and the fate of contests, and honors Arcadia, glorious in men – he, o child of Sostratos, with his loud-thundering father, judges your good fortune. (O.6.71-81) To summarize, in plain prose: Apollo’s voice led him [Iamos] to Olympia, where he granted him the gift of prophecy and made his family (the Iamidai) custodians of Zeus’ altar there. Since that time they have been celebrated throughout Hellas (6174). After stating that victory in equestrian competitions is especially subject to envy (74-76), the poet observes that Hagesias’ athletic success stems from the men in Arcadia on his mother’s side, who have gained the favor of Hermes and Zeus through their piety (77-81).84

Race 2006 (101).


The dichotomy between what is paternally and maternally inherited suggested at the beginning of the discussion of Olympian 6 is crystalized within these ten lines. Hagesias’s paternal lineage commands a much stronger presence in the entirety of the ode, and with good reasons, not the least of which is the superhuman standing Hagesias and his paternal ancestors have enjoyed, beginning with the prophetic Iamos – or, more precisely, with his father Apollo, the oracular god. It is specifically this connection between the Iamidai and their divine ancestors which has made them a πολύκλειτον καθ᾽ Ἕλλανας γένος for so many generations. Pindar extends this connection to Hagesias, ensuring the immortality of his paternally-derived kleos. In contrast, Hagesias’s maternal ancestors have provided him with the tools for specifically athletic success. In this particular ode, these tools need not necessarily include, for example, a solid physique, the likes of which Pytheas must have had in winning the pancratium. Hagesias won the mule race, which is to say that he was not himself an active participant in the games at all.85 Still, the μάτρωες ἄνδρες gave something to their descendant – something which specifically bolsters his chances of winning at the games, and something different from what he inherited from his father.86


According to Race, the driver of Hagesias’s mule team (i.e. the active participant) is a certain Phintis, identified by name at O.6.22 and corroborated in the scholia (Race 2006: 100). 86 The bonds shared by boys/men and their maternal male relatives (e.g. Hagesias in O.6; Pytheas, Phylakidas, and Euthymenes in N.5) in Pindar’s odes is unsurprising in light of Jan Bremmer’s article on the subject, which exposes such closeness as customary within Greek (and other) literature. Among other arguments, Bremmer writes that boys were, almost without exception, closer to male relatives on their mother’s side than those on their father’s. This includes maternal grandfathers and especially maternal uncles, to whom boys might be similar with respect to age (cf. Bremmer 1983: 178-184). Bremmer’s article helps to reveal the depth of such relationships and explain their prevalence in Pindar’s poetry.


Whatever gift or gifts Hagesias inherited from his mother, they are in no way eternal, nor do they contribute to Hagesias’s eternal kleos – he is afforded that by the divine ancestry on his father’s side, and by Pindar’s lyric poetry. Pythian 9 has an episode within its broader mythological narrative that must be reconciled with the general arguments made so far concerning parentage and heredity. The episode includes Cheiron’s prophecy of the birth of a son to Apollo and his mortal consort, Kyrene: τόθι παῖδα τέξεται, ὃν κλυτὸς Ἑρμᾶς εὐθρόνοις Ὥραισι καὶ Γαίᾳ ἀνελὼν φίλας ὑπὸ ματέρος οἴσει. ταὶ δ᾽ ἐπιγουνίδιον θαησάμεναι βρέφος αὐταῖς, νέκταρ ἐν χείλεσσι καὶ ἀμβροσίαν στάξοισι, θήσονταί τέ νιν ἀθάνατον Ζῆνα καὶ ἁγνὸν Ἀπόλλων᾽, ἀνδράσι χάρμα φίλοις, ἄγχιστον ὀπάονα μήλων, Ἀγρέα καὶ Νόμιον, τοῖς δ᾽ Ἀρισταῖον καλεῖν.

There she will bear a child, whom glorious Hermes will carry to the wellthroned Horai and to Gaia, having taken him from his beloved mother. They will pour nectar and ambrosia on his lips while beholding the infant upon their knees, and will make him immortal – a Zeus, even a holy Apollo, a joy to beloved men, closest shepherd of flocks, and for some to call him Agreus and Nomios, others Aristaios. (P.9.59-65) Were there a rigid rule to break, Pythian 9 would seemingly do so: a woman has given birth to an immortal son, which bucks the trend (that is, mortality / body / mother, immortality / mind / soul / father). Longer consideration of this passage, however, gives reason to think that Kyrene and Aristaios’ relationship is not troublesome, despite initial impressions. First and foremost, Kyrene is not the source of her child’s immortality; for


that matter, neither is his father, Apollo. Aristaios’ immortality comes after his birth from the Horai and Gaia, goddesses who, though female, are not his mother.87 His immortality comes through ritual rather than genes; it is, in a sense, artificial, though if ever there were a suitable candidate to acquire immortality, it would be Aristaios, especially considering his parentage. His father needs no introduction, but Kyrene is an anomalous woman. In the first epode of Pythian 9, Pindar gives her profile: she scorns weaving and cooking, but loves weaponry and hunting – so much, in fact, that she hardly sleeps.88 It is not womanly charms but a sense of duty and an iron will that attract Apollo to her. Imagine, then, the quality of the son of the Far Shooter and the hyper-masculine (and physically marvelous) Kyrene – the only weaknesses he might have would be a susceptibility to illness and an inevitable death, both of which the Horai and Gaia absolve him of in making him “a Zeus” (i.e. immortal). Indeed, it must be Kyrene’s contributions to Aristaios that mark him as a candidate to receive the gods’ greatest gift. It is this particular woman’s genetic gifts which differentiate her son from Iamos, for example, Apollo’s son mothered by the decidedly feminine Euadne. Like most gods, the Far Shooter has plenty of children born from human mothers. If Aristaios is exceptional among them and worthy of the gifts of Gaia and the Horai, it is because his mother was exceptional before him.

The cosmology in Nemean 6 holds that Gaia is the mother of both gods and men, but this would be illapplied to the ritual immortalization of Aristaios. The gods’ ancestral connection to Gaia is clear and immediate, whereas a man’s is seated in the religious notion of a magna mater of all mankind. Though himself half-divine at birth (before his immortalization), Aristaios is simply too far removed genetically from Gaia for a mother-child connection to be drawn. 88 P.9.17-25.



The immortalization of Kyerene’s child includes the boast that he will be called Agreus, Nomios, and Aristaios (in addition to becoming another Zeus and another Apollo). He acquires the names at the end of the ritual, but while he is still an infant. The association of names and the act of naming a child as part of a generative process is not new to scholars of Greek literature.89 Some of the scholarship tends to be narrow in its scope, particularly regarding the function of names in Pindar, wherein the role of mothers has been severely understated (or omitted). Names are an essential component of a child’s generative process to which both parents contribute, sometimes independent of each other. That parents can individually act with autonomy at a point in their child’s creation is worthy of greater discussion, and not just within Pindar, although his odes will remain the focus for now. Names and the act of naming a child are of the utmost importance in Pindar’s poetry; without a name, there is no chance at immortality, which is the greatest gift Pindar can offer his patrons.90 In a sense, the path to immortality first begins with the act of naming.91 Although not a purely biological feature, a name is nevertheless handed down from parent to child in a manner much like any given genetic feature. That said,
89 90

Cf. Segal 1986, Carey 1989, and Kurke 1991b. As noted in Carey 1989 (3). 91 In the case of Aristaios, Robbins argues that by bearing his father’s and grandfather’s names (P.9.64), the child will bear their immortality (Robbins 1978: 100).


two essential qualities of names should be kept in mind. First, although kleos necessarily requires a name, a name on its own does not presuppose kleos for its holder; every man who achieves everlasting fame necessarily has a name to be remembered by, but the names of those who fail to excel die away in obscurity. Second, while it has and will be said throughout this section that naming is a part of a child’s creation, it is unique from all others, both temporally (in that it can come before or after the physical birth) and spatially (in that the name is given externally by word of mouth, whereas other components develop biologically, in the womb, following intercourse). The spatial difference is perhaps the most significant; though a name is an abstract requirement for kleos, it is different from bravery, courage, and all sorts of virtues which are inherited from the father internally. Divinities (or, at least, semi-divinities) sometimes act as naming agents – Heracles is an example. In Isthmian 6, after Heracles makes his address to Zeus on behalf of Telamon, the king of the gods replies by sending forth an eagle as an omen of his consent. Heracles responds with the following prophecy and command: Ἔσσεταί τοι παῖς ὅν αἰτεῖς ὦ Τελαμών· καί νιν ὄρνιχος φανέντος κέκλευ ἐπώνυμον εὐρυβίαν Αἴαντα, λαῶν ἐν πόνοις ἔκπλαγον Ἐνυαλίου, There will be for you the child which you ask for, o Telamon; call him mighty Aias, named for the bird which appeared, awesome among the host in the toils of Enyalios.92 Conspicuous in this particular portion of the episode is the absence of a mother, contrasting sharply with the naming episodes which will follow.



Only one parent is required, and it happens to be a male in this instance (Heracles), which might be expected.93 As explained earlier, Heracles is the de facto father of this child, as it is he who begins the first motions for the creation of the child (i.e. the supplication of Zeus) and transfers his intrinsic qualities to the newborn. Here, he completes the formation of Aias by bestowing unto him his name (via his command to Telamon).94 Though riddled with its own interpretive difficulties, Pythian 2 has some bearing on this issue. The central myth of the ode recounts the sins of Ixion, who was consumed by his lust for Hera and forsook Zeus’ generosity. In the middle of Pindar’s narration is a short episode in which the genesis of the centaurs is recalled: τὸν ὀνύμαζε τράφοισα Κένταυρον, ὅς ἵπποισι Μαγνητίδεσσιν ἐμείγνυτ' ἐν Παλίου σφυροῖς ἐκ δ' ἐγενόντο στρατὸς θαυμαστός ἀμφοτέροις ὁμοῖοι τοκεῦσι, τὰ ματρόθεν μὲν κάτω τὰ δ' ὔπερθε πατρός, The one who raised him called him Kentauros, who mated with Magnesian mares at the feet of Mt. Pelion, from whom a wondrous host was born, like both parents, parts from the mother below, and parts from the father above.95 The birth of Kentauros has a nuance: he was named by the one who “had raised him”, who was certainly female.96 The same propensity to name a child that Heracles as a father demonstrated in


A father naming a child carries with it an air of tradition. Kurke argues that some male children derive their names from their father’s characteristics, and/or are based on their father’s epithets (e.g. Neoptolemos, Astyanax, and Telemachos). Also, she argues that in Pindar specifically there occurs “syntactic conflation” of father and son in intentionally ambiguous passages in which the son “echoes” the father (Kurke 1991b: 289-299). 94 Burnett 2005 (84). 95 P.2.44-48. 96 The gender of the participle τράφοισα allows for the naming agent to have only been a female party. Whether or not it was his biological mother (the cloud) is ambiguous, though the context makes it fair to assume that she did.


Isthmian 6 is here demonstrated by the mother, and this is no isolated act. The sequence is repeated in Olympian 6, with Euadne choosing the name for her son Iamos: ἀλλ᾽ ἐν κέκρυπτο γὰρ σχοίνῳ βατιᾷ τ᾽ ἐν ἀπειράτῳ, ἴων ξανθαῖσι καὶ παμπορφύροις ἀκτῖσι βεβρεγμένος ἁβρὸν σῶμα· τὸ καὶ κατεφάμιξεν καλεῖσθαί νιν χρόνῳ σύμπαντι μάτηρ τοῦτ᾽ ὄνυμ᾽ ἀθάνατον, But actually he had been hidden amidst a bunch of reeds in an impenetrable thicket, drenched by the gleaming, purple lights of violets on his delicate body; (his) mother proclaimed that he be called this immortal name for eternity.97 The act of naming is part of the generative process, but it is not by itself generative. Names do not gestate in the womb, but at the same time, for a child to exist without a name is incomprehensible; receiving one’s name is akin to receiving a sword and shield, without which the child is woefully underprepared to face the world. For a man to reach the sort of immortality that Pindar can offer (i.e. celebration in song), a name is mandatory. By that reason alone, the act of naming a child remains an integral piece of its birth, but its disconnection to anything internal gives a single parent complete authority over the process. The range of instances mentioned earlier show that the parent involved in naming can be either male or female (albeit with less frequency), with no great difference in execution or outcome; in this context, Segal’s observation that “male and female roles thus interchange in complementation…rather than conflict” is quite valid.98 Pindar’s comfort with this interchange should be seen as a reflection of the emerging ethos in the fifth century which offers greater recognition to the role of the mother.
97 98

O.6.53-57 Segal 1986 (76).



Outside of gods and men, there is a final population worth briefly examining: the centaurs. The troubled genesis of the centaurs is recounted in Pythian 2, which was introduced earlier but will come into focus. In summary, the child Kentauros was born from an illicit and unnatural union of Ixion and an anthropomorphic cloud made in Hera’s visage; upon reaching adulthood, Kentauros – himself somewhat subhuman, being the progeny of a cloud -- illicitly procreated with wild mares and produced the bestial and eponymous race of centaurs.99 Each generation, first Kentauros and then the centaurs, is formed from a balanced mixture of both parents. Kentauros takes only the shape of a human, as per his parents’ physical appearances. The centaurs, on the other hand, must take a half-and-half form, representing both parents equally (in terms of outward appearance). Both generations, though physically quite different, claim ostensibly human fathers. Where they differ is with their mothers; hence, it is unsurprising that Kentauros is essentially human, whereas the centaurs are only human down to their waistlines. Kentauros and the centaurs align more closely in mind and soul than in body, and given the tendency in Pindar to associate mental and emotional qualities with the father, this is also unsurprising. Whereas their bodies show variation, the three generations included in Pythian 2 (Ixion, Kentauros, and

These are the events described in P.2.42-48.


the centaurs) can be categorized en masse as boorish, savage, ravenous – altogether lacking in any estimable qualities. If champions are predisposed to success by way of their fathers’ excellence, it follows that those born from fathers of base character are naturally inclined toward depravity. Such is the case with Ixion, whose rapacious lust and violation of guest-host decorum condemned him to Tartarus and was transferred to his son Kentauros, whose own lack of morality led to an inter-special sexual union; from that ultimate taboo came the centaurs, infamous for their assaults on Greek women, thus maintaining and even magnifying the hypersexual behavior of their ancestors.100 In several ways, the genesis of the centaurs appears to amplify the subtext about the genetic relationships between parents and offspring in Pindar. The interjection of beasts makes the relationship between mother, child, and body markedly more clear – the centaurs are beasts born from beasts. The continuity of despicable behavior exhibited amongst the centaurs and previously amongst their paternal ancestors highlights the relationship between father, child, mind, and soul. In fact, Pindar’s willingness to transpose the genetic paradigms in play amongst mankind onto an element as foreign as the centaurs is demonstrative of a conscious awareness in the poet of the validity of such ideas, and that he had more than occasional exposure to them.


Excepting from this group Cheiron and Pholus, identified as the two “good” centaurs (Griffith 2006: 328n.5).



To a Greek, men and women were not equal. In the poetic world of Pindar’s odes, male superiority remains the general rule. The realm of childbirth is an exception. As mothers, women do hold a vital position in Pindar’s world, as major contributors to the successes of the boys and men whom the poet celebrates. Maternal presence is continuous throughout the odes in both mythological and real-life contexts, be it in the form of maternal diction (i.e. μάτηρ or its compounds), the inclusion of maternal relatives, mention of the maternal line, or the actions performed by a mother in the contexts of childbirth or upbringing (i.e. naming). The position of a mother does not come at the expense of a father. Rather, they perform complimentary tasks: one nurtures the body, the other nurtures the soul. Pindar could never be ambivalent about which parent to include in a particular part of any given ode. Given the odes examined in this chapter, ambivalence hardly appears to be the case.101 What have not been given due diligence are the external influences that factor into Pindar’s representations of mothers and fathers – what frameworks he employs in his poetry, and why. The Pindaric corpus encapsulates a wide spectrum of heredity: on one end, there is the male-dominated faux-conception of Aias in Isthmian 6, and Nemean 5 at the other, an ode virtually devoid of a paternal presence,


Additionally, Carey 1989 notes that Pindar had interest in a victor’s entire family, which would help explain the presence of both maternal and paternal ancestry in a given ode, but helps little in instances where only one side of the family is included.


epitomizing the impact of maternity on a child’s path to kleos. These odes are supplemented by those involving gods, beasts, and the importance of a name. Permeating all of these odes is the notion that, on some level, a person carries the genetic legacies of both mother and father – the former in body, the latter in mind and soul. What each of these odes also shares in common is their dependence on real-world validation. These are odes of Pindar’s personal design, but every word must have been intelligible to his target audience (the Greek elite). In this sense, his odes are windows into the world of fifthcentury Greece – its values and ideas, including the reconsideration of the role of the mother that began in Pindar’s lifetime. If there is any gravity to the unique relationships between mothers, fathers, and children in the literary world of his creation, it is only because such relationships were previously acknowledged by Pindar’s fellow Greeks.


CHAPTER THREE Kindred Blood in Aeschylus’s Oresteia

In the previous chapters, the texts examined were from genres that can be characterized as relatively straightforward in their aims: Pindar’s odes are primarily a celebration of athletic achievement, and the prose of Aristotle and the Hippocratics is an investigation into a set of scientific inquiries. This chapter will examine tragedy, a genre that makes up for in its mystique what it lacks in specific aims. To be more precise, this chapter will concentrate on the Oresteia of Aeschylus, written in or around 458 BCE to be performed during dramatic festivals in Athens. This multi-generational tale of lust, betrayal, and murder still maintains a grip on audiences thousands of years after its first performance, due in no small part to Aeschylus’s skill with language and metaphor, much of which is drawn from the relationship between parent and child, especially the motherson duo of Clytemnestra and Orestes. No discussion of ancient Greek theories surrounding parenting and heredity would be complete without turning at some point to the trial of Orestes for the murder of his mother in Eumenides, which has borne controversies still debated amongst scholars to this day. The goal of this chapter is to add a new perspective from which to view some of the more complex metaphors within the trilogy in the hopes of unlocking yet more meaning behind them, as well as a greater understanding of some central characters and the motives of their actions. This perspective will come from a reader’s deeper familiarity with the refined, reaffirmed


ideas of parentage and the female’s role in procreation which were alive in Athens at the same time as Aeschylus’s trilogy would have been staged, and which he appears to have incorporated – sometimes subtly, at other times not -- into his text. Before confronting specific passages in the texts, it is important to make a few preliminary comments about the nature of drama as a genre. Part of the reason (amongst others) that the Oresteia lacks any straightforward aim is due to Athenian drama being a space for intellectual experimentation. Only three major playwrights have a body of work which has survived into modernity, but we are aware of many others who wrote for Athenian audiences, which were themselves socially and economically diverse. The result, as one scholar summarizes, is that “Attic tragedy presents a remarkably large range of viewpoints and interests on the stage”.102 Whereas a contemporary poet such as Pindar composed odes following a rigid programme, and fifth century medical writers maintained a focus on untangling their inquiries (although that focus could occasionally be lost), Aeschylus, as a tragedian, was afforded greater flexibility to weave contemporary issues into his texts, so long as the basic historical and mythological paradigms on which he based his dramas remained intact. Pertaining to the Oresteia, scholars have tended to give their attention to Aeschylus’s incorporation of a new

Griffith 1995 (119). For Athenian theater possessing an experimental quality, cf. also Sommerstein 2010, Rose 1992, and especially Goldhill 2004 (16-18), who argues that tragedy’s function is to place developing ideas under “rigorous, polemical, violent, and public scrutiny” (italics not my own), and that the chorus in particular is tasked with provoking the audience to “engage in a constant renegotiation of where the authoritative view lies. It sets in play an authoritative collective voice, but surrounds it with other dissenting voices…The chorus is thus a key dramatic device for setting in play commentary, reflection and an authoritative collective voice as part of tragic conflict”. To be clear, Goldhill is remarking on developing ideas of democracy, but I would argue that the same principles apply under any other context.


political and judicial model (i.e. the polis and trial by jury), and with just cause. But if there is one thing that Aeschylus is not, it is one-dimensional; thanks in large part to the work of Froma Zeitlin, due consideration has also been given to issues of gender, sex, marriage, love, family, and parentage. The following discussion will seek to expand on the issue of parentage in the trilogy and add to the list the issue of heredity, understanding that just as he was aware of new political and social models, Aeschylus was also aware of the emergent theories which questioned a mother’s contribution in procreation, and his trilogy reflects an acceptance of a two-seed parenting model.


Just short of halfway into Agamemnon, on the verge of the king’s homecoming after a decade away at war, the chorus opens up a lengthy monologue offering a rather bleak outlook of the future amongst the Atreidae.103 Included therein is a poignant metaphor involving the maturation of a lion from cub into adulthood (appropriately known as the “lion cub parable”): Χορός ἔθρεψεν δὲ λέοντος ἶνιν δόμοις ἀγάλακτον οὕτως ἀνὴρ φιλόμαστον, ἐν βιότου προτελείοις ἅμερον, εὐφιλόπαιδα,

Ag. 681-809.


καὶ γεραροῖς ἐπίχαρτον· πολέα δ᾽ ἔσχ᾽ ἐν ἀγκάλαις νεοτρόφου τέκνου δίκαν, φαιδρωπὸς ποτὶ χεῖρα σαίνων τε γαστρὸς ἀνάγκαις. χρονισθεὶς δ᾽ἀπέδειξεν ἦθος τὸ πρὸς τοκέων· χάριν γὰρ τροφεῦσιν ἀμείβων μηλοφόνοισιν ἐν ἄταις δαῖτ᾽ ἀκέλευστος ἔτευξεν· αἵματι δ᾽ οἶκος ἐφύρθη, ἄμαχον ἄλγος οἰκέταις, μέγα σίνος πολυκτόνον· ἐκ θεοῦ δ᾽ ἱερεύς τις Ἅτας δόμοις προσεθρέφθη. Chorus So a man nurtured in his home a lion’s cub who loved to nurse, but was without milk. In the beginning of its life it was tame, beloved by children, a joy to the elderly. It was much like a newborn child in bent arms when it fawned, bright eyed, at his hand in the throes of hunger. After it had matured, it showed its blood-parents’ character, for in giving thanks to its caretakers, it prepared a banquet – unbidden, with sheep-slaughtering ruin. The house was soaked in blood, a pain impossible to overcome for its residents – a daunting, murderous bane. What had come from a god and been brought up in the home was a minister of Ruin. (Ag. 717-736) Ostensibly, this passage may be about Helen, as it is preceded by a few lines alluding to her marriage with Paris, and the behavior of an animal that bites the hand that feeds could apply to Helen’s role in starting the war between the Greeks and the Trojans


that resulted in the destruction of the latter.104 An alternative reading, and one with far deeper implications, suggests that the lion cub represents someone closer to the heart of the trilogy – someone within Agamemnon’s household, not that of his brother Menelaus (Helen’s husband). In fact, all three of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Orestes have been supposed to be the lion cub, evidence of both the flexibility Aeschylus could enjoy as a tragedian and the masterful way he employs it to his advantage.105 Given the prevalence of language connected with childhood and parenting, any of these suppositions is plausible.106 Still, the parable requires some unpacking. In order to do so, individual consideration will be given to Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Orestes, which will hopefully yield some interesting conclusions about the metaphor and its broader contributions to the trilogy.

An association between Agamemnon and a lion is perhaps instinctive, as he led the Greek forces during the Trojan War (Homer refers to him in the Iliad as ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν, the “king of men” – even of the other kings). Traditionally, his citadel was located in Mycenae (Aeschylus prefers Argos in the Oresteia), whose monumental entryway coincidentally features two lions carved into stone and remains standing to this
104 105

cf. Knox 1979 (34). Ibid. 106 The parable is comprised of 67 words, including nine which can plausibly be associated with the nourishment of a child or the parent-child relationship: ἔθρεψεν (from τρέφω, to nourish, foster, support), ἀγάλακτος (without milk, from γάλα, milk), φιλόμαστον (from φιλόμαστος, breast-loving), νεοτρόφου τέκνου (genitive of νεότροφος τέκνον, newborn child), γαστρὸς (genitive of γαστήρ, stomach and, as here, the feeling of hunger in one’s stomach; also, the womb), τοκέων (genitive plural of τοκεύς, one who begets, i.e. one’s parents), τροφεῦσιν (dative plural of τροφεύς, caretaker), and αἵματι (dative singular of αἷμα, blood).


day. His warrior nature notwithstanding, imagining Agamemnon as a lion cub requires a bit of extension. He only briefly appears in his eponymous tragedy, and does not survive through its end. His presence is largely felt before his return home and after his death. That having been said, it is probably not by chance that the chorus delivers their monologue immediately before Agamemnon’s first appearance on stage. But to explore Agamemnon’s place in the parable, it is necessary to move beyond Aeschylus’s text. If Agamemnon is understood as a man nourished from birth by the town over which he eventually rules, or even his oikos – part of a chronology that exists well before the beginning of the Oresteia, but would have been well-known to Athenian audiences -- the pieces begin to fall into place. In fact, the opening piece of the parable is reminiscent of a crowd of townspeople, in its mention that the lion cub was beloved by both children and the elderly. Upon reaching adulthood, Agamemnon settled into a life full of war, bloodshed, and eventually intrafamilial murder, much like his father, Atreus; thus, another element of the parable is fulfilled (i.e. displaying inherited qualities of parents). Finally, like the lion cub, Agamemnon returns to those who raised him with yet more bloodshed in his wake, his death just the first part of a chain reaction.

Unlike her husband, Clytemnestra actually spills blood within the course of the trilogy -- it is she who fatally stabs both Agamemnon and his consort, Cassandra. It is no stretch for a modern audience to picture her, in a murderous rage, resembling a lion, particularly given the cliché of mothers protecting their children like a lioness protects


her cubs (it must not be forgotten that, aside from the humiliation she suffers at the sight of her husband introducing a new female into the oikos, and aside from whatever political aspirations she held, Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon in seeking vengeance for her daughter, Iphigenia, whose life he sacrificed to the gods).107 For an ancient audience, too, Clytemnestra embodies a certain ferocity and rage that makes a comparison to a beast a sensible one. As one scholar has noted:

Clytemnestra’s language and actions reveal a woman in whom the capacity to love – whether it be a husband or a child – is unusually potent. In response to what has been done to her – the murder of her child by her father, that same father’s manifold betrayals – this capacity has turned destructive, taking on an imaginative and emotional energy that is terrifying, but that is the flip side of the very qualities that make Clytemnestra tower above all others in the trilogy.108 Part of what makes Clytemnestra so unique amongst females in Greek drama is her awareness of her own considerable power and a willingness to wield it. In this regard, perhaps the only other female in Greek drama who rivals her is the sorceress Medea, whose own set of committed atrocities was also compelled by the actions of her husband. Clytemnestra, however, stops short of killing her own children, which says a great deal about her value system: she holds the relationship between mother and child to be of


Interestingly, amongst extant sources, Pindar and Aeschylus are the first two to explicitly list Iphigenia’s death as one of Clytemnestra’s motives for the murder of Agamemnon (Gantz 1993: 672). Earlier sources attribute Agamemnon’s murder to Aegisthus alone or to him and Clytemnestra, with her romantic feelings toward Aegisthus being her primary motive (Gantz 1993: 665-667). 108 Porter 2005: 3.


greater importance than that of husband and wife.109 Concerning the lion cub parable, Clytemnestra exhibits the same pattern of behavior as Agamemnon, insofar as she also turns hostile toward a group that had once nurtured her as a young woman: the House of Atreus, which in marriage became the oikos to which she belonged. A beast resides within Clytemnestra, and she has the kills to prove it.

A final permutation of the parable centers on Orestes. He is not present during Agamemnon, but if this passage were to be understood as foreshadowing, the pieces do fit, and require less imagination than the previous examples. Orestes is unique amongst the dramatis personae in that he alone is physically maturing as the trilogy unfolds.110 In other words, where an audience has to imagine Agamemnon and Clytemnestra as youths (as “cubs”), Orestes is at a liminal age between childhood and manhood, exhibiting features of both (i.e. boy and man, cub and lion), and the parable’s account of a suckling lion cub suits the bit of childhood remaining within him. When he first appears, in Choephoroi, it marks the end of a considerable time away from home and the beginning of yet more bloodshed, circumstances similar to those of his father’s first appearance in Agamemnon. Indeed, the House of Atreus endures no greater time of ruin than after


Zeitlin 1996 observed that “if the female overvalues the mother-child bond, her own unique relationship, she will undervalue the marriage bond, which in turn will lead to or be accompanied by an assertion of sexual independence (free replacement of one sexual partner by another) and will be manifested politically by a desire to rule” (96). By the time of her death in Choephoroi, Clytemnestra has both acquired a second lover (Aegisthus) and sits on Agamemnon’s throne. 110 According to Zeitlin 1996, Orestes is an ephebe during the course of the trilogy (99). Knox 1979 seems to agree, explaining that the moment in which Orestes offers a lock of his hair to his deceased father in Choephoroi is “a symbolic thanks-offering which children made to their parents on coming of age” (35).


Orestes slays his mother and her lover, literally washing their home in blood for a second time, and winds up on trial, leaving only a woefully unwedded Electra to sustain the oikos, despite being unfit to do so.111 Though far away during its delivery, the evolution of the lion cub in this choral passage mirrors Orestes’s own, even more closely than it reflects that of either one of his parents.

The intention behind exploring individual characters and their place within the parable is not to depict the lion cub parable as a metaphorical vacuum. It is doubtful that Aeschylus designed it as a mask to hide a single character behind. The complexity of the metaphor sits in its ambiguity: an audience has to ask itself how much Agamemnon, or Clytemnestra, or Orestes resembles the growth of this lion as it evolves from friend into foe, and from a condition of innocence into one of blood-guilt. Each of them fits the mold, but to varying degrees. Orestes seems to bear the greatest resemblance, both in looks (i.e. his ongoing physical maturation) and in deed. Considering that both of his parents also bear resemblance to the lion within the parable, and are themselves likened to adult lions later in the drama,112 it stands to reason that the characteristics that allow for a comparison between Orestes and the lion are sourced from his parents. In other


An oikos requires the presence of a male to be sustainable, who “nourishes” it like a mother nourishes the family’s children (Sommerstein 2010: 189). 112 The image of the lion appears outside the parable three times: at Ag. 827, and twice more at 1258-59. The referent of Ag. 827 is unclear; at 1258-59, Cassandra identifies Clytemnestra as a “two-footed lioness, consorting with a wolf” (i.e. Aegisthus), and Agamemnon is identified as a “high-born lion”. A final instance at Ag. 1224 is the subject of conjecture, and I defer to Sommerstein’s use of “wolf” in its place (Sommerstein 2008).


words, the resemblance is genetic.113

Such was the conclusion reached by Peter Rose, who found at the center of the parable “the inherited character (ethos) of the lion manifesting its intolerable brutality despite the generous nurture it received from those who are not of the same species”.114 There is, however, one major difference: Rose sees in the lion a tendency to turn against that which is other (in his words, “not of the same species”). The reading of the parable just introduced suggests the opposite: the lion victimizes that which is, in many ways, closest to its heart (its town, its oikos, its mother). It is the horror of this implosive behavior that forms the crux of Orestes’s trial later in Eumenides. Rose further argues that Agamemnon “inherits not a genetically impaired nor primitively polluted psyche…but a socially reinforced set of characteristic responses”.115 It is easy to build a counterargument to this point -- one need only to look at Agamemnon’s ancestry to see that he comes from stock that is thoroughly polluted. His father, Atreus, murdered his nephews, cooked them, and fed them to their father, Thyestes (Aegisthus’s father). His great-grandfather, Tantalus, cooked his own son, Pelops, and attempted to feed his flesh to the gods.116 Pelops himself bloodied his hands with the murders of Oinomaios and

According to Goldhill 2004, the parable is a model which demonstrates the return of a parent’s characteristics in the child (58). 114 Rose 1992 (201). 115 Rose 1992 (215). 116 According to the common version of the myth. One variant, introduced by Pindar in Olympian 1, absolves Tantalus of this crime; Brillante 1991 argues that Tantalus exposed Pelops to the cauldron only to bestow unto him immortality (18ff), and characterizes Tantalus as “(un) uomo giusto…la sua colpa, pur grave, è di tipo prometeico: è prova di un profondo affetto verso gli uomini e in particolare verso i compagni di mensa umani, ai quali aveva donato il nettare e l’ambrosia ottenuti dalla divinità” (19).


Myrtilos during his pursuit of Hippodameia, his bride-to-be.117 One aspect of the savagery of the House of Atreus which makes it distinct from that of other families in other tragedies is the way such behavior manifests in successive generations. Suffice it to say, there exists in this bloodline murderous impulses which are passed down from father to son. Bearing this in mind as one encounters the choral passage above, the lion cub parable takes a new color. Aeschylus is not presenting the image of a lion biting the hand that feeds as a condemnation of his own characters, nor is he merely connecting the past to events that are about to transpire. The parable is making a statement about the inescapability of inherited qualities. Just as Orestes was born into a family of wealth and status, he was also born into one with a genetic predisposition to kill, as were his father and his grandfather.118


For all the talk of Orestes and his paternal lineage, the contributions of his mother, Clytemnestra, must also be addressed. In the second installment of the trilogy, Choephoroi (“Libation Bearers”), Orestes makes his long-awaited return to Argos, finding his father dead and his mother and her lover on the throne. Rather open with his discontent, Orestes is confronted by the chorus – this time, a group of women. Aeschylus

According to versions of the myth which appear in the schlioa to Apollonios and in Apollodorus. See Gantz 1993 (541-543). 118 Clytemnestra alludes to such a predisposition at the end of Agamemnon, when she says to the chorus νῦν δ᾽ ὤρθωσας στόματος γνώμην, τὸν τριπάχυντον δαίμονα γέννης τῆσδε κικλήσκων. ἐκ τοῦ γὰρ ἔρως αἱματολοιχὸς…τρέφεται, Now you have spoken an intelligent thought, having named the thrice-gorged spirit of this family. From it, a blood-licking lust grows…(Aga 1475-1479).


pits the two face to face in an intense round of stichomythia. The chorus describes a recent nightmare of Clytemnestra’s, which Orestes summarizes and interprets:

Ὀρέστης ἀλλ᾽ εὔχομαι Γῇ τῇδε καὶ πατρὸς τάφῳ τοὔνειρον εἶναι τοῦτ᾽ ἐμοὶ τελεσφόρον· κρίνω δέ τοί νιν ὥστε συγκόλλως ἔχειν. εἰ γὰρ τὸν αὐτὸν χῶρον ἐκλιπὼν ἐμοὶ οὕφις <…> καὶ μαστὸν ἀμφέχασκ᾽ ἐμὸν θρεπτήριον, θρόμβῳ δ᾽ ἔμειξεν αἵματος φίλον γάλα, ἡ δ᾽ ἀμφὶ τάρβει τῷδ᾽ἐπῴμωξεν πάθει, δεῖ τοί νιν, ὡς ἔθρεψεν ἔκπαγλον τέρας, θανεῖν βιαίως: ἐκδρακοντωθεὶς δ᾽ ἐγὼ κτείνω νιν, ὡς τοὔνειρον ἐννέπει τόδε. Orestes Well, I pray upon this Earth and upon my father’s grave that this nightmare comes to pass in me; indeed, I will explain so that it comes together perfectly: if the serpent, after it fell out of the same place (i.e. womb) as I…and suckled the same nurturing breast as I, and mixed dear milk with a clot of blood, and she lamented over the feeling with terror, indeed it is necessary, as she nursed this terrible monster, that she die by violence. And I, as I become the serpent, kill her, as this dream bids. (Cho. 540-550) Orestes’s interpretation of the dream is more or less straightforward: he is the snake, and is coming to exact revenge on his mother for the death of his father (and does not shy away from admitting that his plot for revenge includes a grisly death for Clytemnestra). The sequence of events runs strikingly parallel to the lion cub parable. The lion cub grows into an enemy of its former handlers, as Orestes predicts the snake


will do against Clytemnestra, who had nursed it from birth.119 Unlike the parable, however, this vision is an unambiguous link between mother and child buttressed by imagery about physical form. In the final lines of the passage, Orestes essentially provides summary detail of the initial stages of the snake’s life based on his own memories: the snake “came out of the same place” as he did (Clytemnestra’s womb) and nursed from the same breast. The only difference between the two is the snake’s final accomplishment, which was drawing its mother’s blood while nursing. Orestes vows to do the same (i.e. draw his mother’s blood), at which point he will become the serpent and fulfill his own prophecy.120

It should be asked why Clytemnestra’s blood is the final ingredient in Orestes’s fusion with the serpent. In this dialogue between the chorus and Orestes, the only offensive action taken by the serpent was drawing off blood from Clytemnestra’s breast, inflicting physical harm on her (enough to cause her lamentation). It is at the exact moment of wounding Clytemnestra and ingesting her blood that the serpent becomes a


I use the English word “nursed” as a translation of the Greek ἔθρεψεν (aorist of τρέφω; see n. 107 above). τρέφω is a verb very closely associated with mothers and infants, and forms of the word appear a total of 24 times in the trilogy. Nine such instances involve Clytemnestra either as a speaker (Ag. 880, 959, 1479; Cho. 908, 928) or as a listener or referent (Cho. 548, 921; Eum. 607, 665). Eight involve Orestes in the same respects (as speaker: Cho. 548, 921; as listener or referent: Ag. 880; Cho. 750, 754, 908, 928; Eum. 304, 607). The chorus of Agamemnon ranks a distant third with four uses of the word, and the chorus of Eumenides (i.e. the Furies) follows with three. This count suggests that Aeschylus reserved this word, for the most part, for use by Clytemnestra and Orestes. That there is considerable overlap in its usage by this duo is further indication of the unique nourishing/nurturing/nursing relationship between mother and child. 120 Indeed, Clytemnestra’s final words are οἲ 'γὼ τεκοῦσα τόνδ᾽ ὄφιν ἐθρεψάμην· ἦ κάρτα μάντις οὑξ ὀνειράτων φόβος, Alas, I gave birth to this snake and nursed it! The fear from my nightmares was truly prophecy (Cho. 928-929).


criminal, as it had before been essentially a surrogate assuming the role of baby Orestes. Similarly, Orestes will only become a criminal once he has drawn blood from Clytemnestra (in effect becoming the serpent, as well). As discussed in earlier chapters, a recurring idea in fifth- and fourth-century literature was that a woman’s procreative power is found in her womb and menstrual blood; indeed, both were held to be the means by which the fetus is nourished, replaced in this capacity after birth by breast milk, and it is not coincidental that a mixture of the two is what the serpent draws from Clytemnestra’s breast.121 Clytemnestra’s womb producing a serpent is telling (even if in a dream), as is the function of her blood (and milk) as a catalyst for Orestes’s upcoming transformation. The serpent is a symbol of certain qualities Clytemnestra embodies: both are deadly, violent, cunning, and non-discerning with their victims. These qualities are transmittable through acts of bloodshed, as indicated by Orestes’s assumption of the role of serpent upon revealing his identity and then killing his mother moments later. That Orestes, at least for a time, displays such moral corruption can be traced back to the womb that held him and the blood that nourished him before his birth – the womb and blood of a “metaphorical snake”.122

Aeschylus has noticeably omitted any mention of the serpent’s father in Clytemnestra’s dream, which leads one to wonder if the serpent even has a father. The image of a female giving birth to deformed, even beastly offspring is a familiar one in
121 122

Cf. pp. 12-13 above. Rose 1992 (234).


Greek mythology, especially when parthenogenesis is in play (e.g. Hephaestus, who was born to Hera without a father, or Typhoeus, similarly born to Gaea). If this is understood to be the case with Clytemnestra, then the dream sequence reveals something else about Orestes: the qualities he shares with the serpent have nothing to do with his paternity, but are entirely traceable to his mother. After all, the dream sequence does not indicate that Agamemnon’s seed produces abominations, only that Clytemnestra’s womb does. One resulting effect is that Agamemnon’s name is absolved of any involvement in his wife’s murder, save that it was committed as an act of justice in his honor (albeit one that a modern audience would find very misguided). What serpentine qualities Orestes has are derived from Clytemnestra alone. Orestes alludes to this when, before he slays his mother, he says to her σύ τοι σεαυτήν, οὐκ ἐγώ, κατακτενεῖς, Indeed, you will kill yourself, not I (Cho. 923). As she is herself a serpent who has struck down her kin, perhaps it is only natural that Clytemnestra’s offspring would do the same.

The hallmark of the serpent is its impulse to kill. Similarly, Clytemnestra and Orestes are both defined largely by the murders they commit, both undertaken after each responsible party surrendered to impulse. The intersection between this mother-son pair grows deeper upon examination of their crimes, especially the manners in which they were performed. Clytemnestra’s masculinity has long been a topic of study amongst scholars, who see in her a political astuteness not commonly seen amongst females in classical literature, and a deep frustration directed at the social customs requiring her to


remain mute.123 Still, she cannot be completely contained. Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon and Cassandra is an effect of a mental and emotional explosion triggered by four key factors (in no particular order): the death of Iphigenia, the blatant adultery of Agamemnon coupled with the presence of Cassandra in the oikos, her romantic feelings toward Aegisthus, and her resentment over being dominated by males who are intellectually inferior.124 The manner of the deaths of Agamemnon and Cassandra reflect Clytemnestra’s volatile condition: both were quick, gruesome, and anything but stealthy. Certain details of the murders give Clytemnestra a distinctly masculine quality: the weapon used was a sword (Agamemnon’s, to be exact), she acted without an accomplice, and she acted (in part) to assume control of both the oikos and the throne.125 Conversely, Orestes’s assault on Clytemnestra and Aegisthus was pre-meditated and more finessed. He has two co-conspirators – Electra and Pylades – and assumes a false identity in order to infiltrate the palace.126 The plot requires subterfuge and the assistance of others, more the domain of women than of men.127 However, the point of this comparison is not to emasculate Orestes; rather, it is to show how both of these characters, already united by their mother-son relationship and by the serpent metaphor, further display their close connection in their ambitions. Each is so bent on exacting his or her own form of justice

Aeschylus calls Clytemnestra ἀνδρόβουλον, “counseling like a man” (Ag. 11), which is an unusual way of describing a female, and one which speaks to her considerable intellect. This word, among other factors, has fuelled talk about Clytemnestra’s masculinity (cf. Sommerstein 2010, Zeitlin 1985, Winnington-Ingram 1983, Goldhill 2004). 124 Sommerstein 2010 (137). 125 Ibid. 126 It could be argued that Orestes had a third accomplice: Apollo, who had given an oracle that Orestes should avenge the death of his father. 127 Zeitlin 1985 (76ff).


that neither moral code nor rules of society and gender are able to control them. Clytemnestra eschews her role as wife and the constraints of her gender, instead slaughtering her husband and his mistress and claiming his throne. Orestes, meanwhile, sends the moral code of the entire polis into disarray by killing his own mother, an act that requires a bit of gender-flexibility on his part.

The serpent metaphor details the connection between mother and son in a more explicit fashion than the lion cub parable can. Where the lion cub broadly connects Orestes to his paternal ancestry, situating his crime in a long history of similar crimes against kin, the serpent is exclusive to Orestes and Clytemnestra. Its particular ferocity and savagery begins with Clytemnestra and ends with Orestes: the symbol of the serpent starts no earlier, and continues no later. The mother’s blood acting as the vehicle by which the serpentine traits are transported is an example of mother-to-son genetic inheritance that is independent of the father. The Choephoroi would have given some members of an ancient audience pause to reflect on the emergent reproductive theories making their way into and out of Athens. Such reflection would have served them well as they prepared to watch the final installment: Eumenides.


Only moments into Eumenides, Clytemnestra returns to the stage in spectral form, seeking the aid of the Furies in avenging her death, committed by χερῶν μητροκτόνων,


mother-killing hands (Eum. 102). After a few tries, Clytemnestra successfully rouses the Furies, who are only too eager to oblige her request. Fortunately for Orestes, his protector is Apollo, who had predicted the Furies’ pursuit and advised the youth to flee from his shrine in Delphi to Athens to seek the aid of Athena. Upon their arrival at Delphi, the Furies have a heated confrontation with Apollo, arguing the nature of the crimes committed by their respective charges.128 The Furies defend Clytemnestra as a woman free of blood-guilt, while Apollo condemns her for breaking her oath of marriage (a grave offense to Hera, Zeus, and Aphrodite). Apollo defends Orestes, whom the Furies charge with the murder of his own kin, a severe accusation which Apollo will later combat following a controversial strategy: he will attempt to strip mothers of their procreative role.

Eventually, all of the major players convene inside the Parthenon, where Athena agrees to preside over a trial of Orestes in front of a jury of citizens – a first of its kind in Athens. The testimonies given by each advocate – the Furies on behalf of Clytemnestra, Apollo on behalf of Orestes – are poignant in their language and hold deep implications. The following analysis of key testimony will show not only Aeschylus’s awareness of emergent theories regarding maternal genetic contributions, but that the Eumenides acknowledges the legitimacy of a two-seed theory in which females play an essential part in procreation.


Eum. 198-231.


First, the Furies bring their prosecution before Athena and the citizen jury. They interrogate Orestes about the death of his mother, for which he is unapologetic. In his estimation, Orestes exacted justice and revenge for his father’s death, with Apollo’s blessings, proclaiming καὶ δεῦρό γ᾽ ἀεὶ τὴν τύχην οὐ μέμφομαι, And until now, at least, I find no fault with what has happened (Eum. 596). He rationalizes the deed further by explaining that Clytemnestra carried a δυοῖν…μιασμάτοιν, double pollution, as she had both killed her husband and left his child without a father, as though they were two separate entities (Eum. 600). Orestes’s distinction between Agamemnon’s roles as husband and father underscores the value he places on each: to him, the death of a husband and the death of a father are of equal impact, and violence against either one calls for retribution. In contrast, when the Furies question Orestes about Clytemnestra, he stands defiant, questioning whether he actually has any blood-ties at all to his mother: ἐγὼ δὲ μητρὸς τῆς ἐμῆς ἐν αἵματι; And I am my mother’s kin? (Eum. 606). Outraged by this response, the Furies press harder: πῶς γάρ σ᾽ ἔθρεψ᾽ ἂν ἐντός, ὦ μιαιφόνε, ζώνης; ἀπεύχῃ μητρὸς αἷμα φίλτατον; How then did she nourish you, you murderer, beneath her girdle? Do you reject your mother’s blood, the nearest and dearest blood? (Eum. 607608). The Furies call Orestes’s bluff: his questioning of the blood relationship between himself and his mother lacks conviction, evidenced by his cry for help to Apollo, who must then speak in place of his charge for the remainder of the trial.129 Orestes never can bring himself to answer directly the Furies’ question – he never publicly disavows the

Eum. 609-614


mother’s role. Perhaps he feels that Apollo is a more articulate speaker than he, and simply leaves the heavy lifting for the god. On the other hand, it could be that, no matter the justifications he can provide for slaying his father’s killer, he can find no justification for detaching a mother from her child.

Upon being called to speak for Orestes, Apollo begins his defense. His first tactic is to reveal the origin of the oracle he delivered to Orestes to seek vengeance on his father’s killer: Zeus himself. Apollo privileges the death of Agamemnon over the death of Clytemnestra, as he was a Zeus-honored king and, of course, Orestes’s father; Zeus presumably shares his son’s opinion.130 He achieves some success with this speech, enough to further anger the Furies, who question the willingness of Argos to embrace one guilty of matricide as their leader.131 Apollo then delivers his intended coup de grâce:

Ἀπόλλων καὶ τοῦτο λέξω, καὶ μάθ᾽ ὡς ὀρθῶς ἐρῶ. οὔκ ἔστι μήτηρ ἡ κεκλημένου τέκνου τοκεύς, τροφὸς δὲ κύματος νεοσπόρου· τίκτει δ᾽ ὁ θρῴσκων, ἡ δ᾽ ἅπερ ξένῳ ξένη ἔσωσεν ἔρνος, οἷσι μὴ βλάψῃ θεός. τεκμήριον δὲ τοῦδέ σοι δείξω λόγου. πατὴρ μὲν ἂν γείναιτ᾽ ἄνευ μητρός· πέλας μάρτυς πάρεστι παῖς Ὀλυμπίου Διός, οὐδ᾽ ἐν σκότοισι νηδύος τεθραμμένη, ἀλλ᾽ οἷον ἔρνος οὔτις ἂν τέκοι θεά.

130 131

Eum. 625ff. Eum. 652-656.


Apollo I shall explain this, and watch how justly I will speak. The mother is not the parent of a named child, but the nurse of a newlyconceived fetus. The one who ejaculates is the parent, and the female keeps the fetus safe, like a friend would for her friend, unless god prevents them. I will show you proof of this argument: one can become a father without a mother. There is evidence nearby: the child of Olympian Zeus, who was never nourished in the depths of a womb, but is the sort of progeny no other goddess could produce. (Eum. 657-667) Apollo intends for this speech to be the endgame of Orestes’s trial, and in a sense it is: Orestes narrowly escapes a murder conviction by a single vote. It hardly marks the end of the tragedy, as Athena must still placate the enraged Furies, a process which consumes roughly the last third of the play. Likewise, this speech hardly marks the end of the current discussion. In his speech, Apollo voices some of the beliefs that would have been supported by contemporary purveyors of a one-seed theory: from his perspective, the female is a passive sexual partner who provides the locus in which a fetus may grow, reminiscent of the uterus-as-oven analogy attributed to Empedocles in GA. To augment his stance, Apollo looks to his half-sister Athena, who, according to mythology, is the child of Zeus alone.132 As she was never carried inside a female womb, yet is revered as an Olympian goddess, Apollo finds Athena to be proof that the function of a womb – the

The common myth has Athena springing to life from a wound in Zeus’s head, thus the attribution of a single parent to her. However, a part of the myth sometimes undervalued entails Zeus swallowing a pregnant Metis, a female deity, who acts in a sense as the female procreator. Zeus may have appropriated from Metis the responsibility of carrying a child in the womb, but whether or not Athena’s conception is purely parthenogenetic is debatable.


function of the female in general – has been overstated. Apollo finds Athena to be living proof that a male can conceive a child without a mother.

Apollo’s defense has spawned decades of feminist outcry for its excessively misogynistic message.133 Misogyny aside, Apollo’s argument is not bulletproof. To begin, Athena and her birth have an analogue in myth: Hephaestus, who, as mentioned earlier, was born from Hera alone.134 Although disfigured (whereas Athena is flawless), Hephaestus’s birth is an effective counterpoint to Apollo’s claim that a mother has no procreative ability. On a broader scale, it remains the case that Zeus, Hera, Athena, and Hephaestus are all divine, whereas Clytemnestra and Orestes are flesh-and-bone mortals subject to physical laws and constraints which the gods are not (including an inability to conceive children alone). A more palpable approach for Apollo – in the eyes of a live audience watching the tragedy, who could have seen these same argumentative flaws -would have been to only downplay the importance of the female, not attempt to abolish it completely.135

In spite of Apollo’s imperfect logic, Orestes survives the trial unscathed, thanks to the deciding vote of Athena, who declares the following: μήτηρ γὰρ οὔτις ἐστὶν ἥ μ᾽

See Zeitlin 1996 for well-argued feminist reactions to this speech (and others), especially the essay entitled “The Dynamics of Misogyny: Myth and Mythmaking in Aeschylus’s Oresteia” (87-126). 134 The Furies claim to be only the children of the female deity Night (Eum. 415), which would make them a second example, although in Hesiod’s Theogony they are said to be the children of Ouranos and Gaia. 135 I turn here to Winnington-Ingram 1983: “When Orestes first questioned the tie of blood between himself and Clytemnestra, the audience was bound to share in the indignation of the Furies. Did Aeschylus intend that they should now accept, upon the authority of Apollo, a theory which deprived the mother of real kinship with her child?” (123). The answer is a resounding “no”.


ἐγείνατο, τὸ δ᾽ ἄρσεν αἰνῶ πάντα, πλὴν γάμου τυχεῖν, ἅπαντι θυμῷ, κάρτα δ᾽ εἰμὶ τοῦ πατρός, There is no mother who gave birth to me, and, except for chancing upon marriage, I applaud the male in all ways with my entire heart; I am truly my father’s (Eum. 736-738). It is ironic that a female would deliver such a verdict given the circumstances, yet because she never experienced the womb, Athena shares no affinity with mothers.136 This need not be understood as a restoration of traditional male/paternal dominance, as some scholars have believed.137 Additionally, it need not be understood as a harmonious conclusion.138 Much of the dramatic power of the tragedy sits in the blood shared between Clytemnestra and her children. Had Aeschylus constructed his trilogy as a means to assert a one-seed theory, he would have risked undercutting all of the tension, intrigue, and complexity of his own drama.139 Indeed, such an Oresteia would scarcely resemble the masterpiece we possess. A more palatable position is found in the middle ground: the conclusion of Eumenides does nothing to explicitly challenge the male/paternal claim to power – Orestes is acquitted, after all – but by even discussing the issue of parentage in a public venue (i.e. the stage), the female/maternal response to


Zeitlin 1996 sees Athena’s declaration to be, amongst other things, a reflection of her “social function, ratified by god and science” (111). It may be that declaring Orestes innocent, while morally objectionable, is the most socially responsible. By declaring him guilty, Athena would be setting a precedent under which retribution for the death of military heroes, fathers, and civic leaders would be viewed as a crime. 137 According to Zeitlin 1985: “In the end, tragedy arrives at closures that generally reassert male, often paternal, structures of authority, but before that the work of the drama is to open up the masculine view of the universe” (81). 138 So in Gagarin 1976: “Male and female elements, which have been in conflict since before the beginning of Agamemnon, are thus reconciled at the end of Eumenides. Social harmony is restored at last” (104). Also, Finley 1955: “When the conflict is resolved, the sexes are at last in harmony…” (248). 139 cf. Winnington-Ingram 1948: 143.


such a claim grows slightly stronger (albeit somewhat paradoxically).140 At the conclusion of the trial, one might reasonably wonder about the influence this trilogy may have had on Athens’s political future (specifically, Pericles’s citizenship laws).141 In this sense, it is difficult to imagine Aeschylus as a champion of Apollo.


The Oresteia was and is more than a tool used by a tragedian who sought to broaden the horizons of his audience for the duration of a performance. The lion cub from Agamemnon and the serpent from Choephoroi are two metaphors representative of a larger theme that permeates the entire trilogy: heredity. Orestes is the sum of the parts of his parents. Born of his father’s noble blood, the throne of Argos should be his for the taking. The traits inherited from his mother – an unquenchable thirst for justice, a refusal to be restricted by any moral or social code, and a susceptibility to impulse – that

In speaking of aristocracy versus democracy in the Oresteia, Griffith 1995 writes that one function of Attic tragedy is “to negotiate between conflicting class interests and ideologies within the polis”, and that “the resolution, or suppression, is usually managed in a way that both classes can wind up feeling their own interests and ideology validated; but the actual or implied outcomes of the whole process is a mutual assurance of the continuation in authority of a class of aristocratic leaders, vulnerable, occasionally flawed, but in the last resort infinitely precious and indispensable” (109-110). I would extend this to include also the discussion of father versus mother in Eumenides, which sees the role of the mother in procreation placed before an audience who is, at the last minute, spared from the need to decide on its own whether one parent holds primacy over another by Orestes’s acquittal, which emphatically reasserts paternal power. The role of the mother is indeed validated in the course of the trial, but paternal power continues in authority; it is indispensable. 141 Perhaps a mother’s greatest validation would have come not via the trial sequence of Eumenides, but rather the Periclean citizenship laws, which were adopted in 451/0 BCE (not even ten years after the initial performance of the Oresteia). These laws defined an Athenian citizen as a male child of an Athenian citizen and an Athenian-born female (females cannot properly be called citizens of Athens, since only males were recognized as such). The passing of the laws was a political maneuver foremost, and while it is clear they were not designed as a concession to mothers, it cannot be mere coincidence that they were enacted in the same decade which saw the role of the mother being explored in multiple literary genres.


jeopardize the fulfillment of his (paternal) destiny. The conflict between Orestes’s paternal and maternal bloodlines boils over throughout the trial sequence in Eumenides, when the strength of one is matched against the strength of the other. Orestes’s exoneration from the murder of Clytemnestra need not be seen as an invalidation of the blood relationship between mother and son. Aeschylus’s use of metaphoric language in Agamemnon and Choephoroi, the audacious testimony of Apollo in Eumendies, and the reliance of the entire trilogy on the horrors of matricide to give it dramatic force not only illustrate a reaffirmation of a two-seed procreative theory in the middle of the fifth century, they function altogether as a means of injecting the implications of that model into the collective conscience of an audience. Justice may elude Clytemnestra, but Aeschylus’s trilogy is a powerful testament to her irreplaceable value as a mother, and the legitimacy of the relationship between mother and child.



It may be that scholars will never be able to piece together the full picture of fifthcentury ideas; such is the burden attached to a discipline whose roots reach back thousands of years. As the discovery of a new text is a rare occurrence, there is little help on the horizon. The only thing left to do is examine and reexamine the texts which have managed to survive, combing through them in an effort to extract new meaning. Such has been the task of the preceding discussion, which holds at its core an observation – that mothers gain prominence in fifth-century literature – and a question: why? It is a simple question, but deceptively so, for there can be no simple answer. Again, the only thing to do is return to the texts themselves, using them to construct as thorough a response to the question as possible. The preceding three chapters do not form an exhaustive response to the inquiries introduced at the onset of the paper. Rather, they are representative of different authors and genres with two things in common: they reflect the intellectual climate of fifthcentury Greece, and they display this phenomenon of suddenly prominent mothers. That this phenomenon occurs across genres and not in isolation is an indication of its gravity – something had shifted in the fifth century, paving a way for authors to incorporate mothers into their narrative, or even feature them. The aim has been to explain the presence of mothers in the context of a debate over the role of the female in procreation which was centered in Athens and first appears in text in the middle of the fifth century,


but which must have been brewing for some time prior (and continued on for some time after). Scientific analysis of the female’s function was the domain of the medical/philosophical community (to which the Hippocratics belonged), but the debate had a ripple effect, creating waves that reached into drama and poetry. Aeschylus felt them, finding in them fodder for a tragic masterpiece. Pindar also felt these waves, perhaps finding in them a set of circumstances allowing for the integration of maternal figures (largely mythological, but also historical) into his victory odes. A debate over the procreative functions of the female would be no small argument. This was a debate with broad implications for our understanding of the ancient world, particularly the fifth century, and the history of the debate ought to be considered in any serious examination of a fifth-century text. Not among the issues at the heart of the debate – whether females produce seed, what their specific contributions to children are, and so on – is an attempt to weaken the position of the father in Greek society or science. The process of recognizing a mother’s unique procreative abilities, while at the same time preserving the father’s primacy, was a delicate process for Greek intellectuals (excepting a few, like Anaxagoras). Similarly, this paper has toed a fine line, arguing that the role of mothers in fifth-century literature has long been understated, but insisting that the granting of power to literary mothers need not be imagined as a drain on the power of their male counterparts. In the Oresteia, Clytemnestra’s biological influence on her son grows more and more pronounced, but his need to kill his mother to avenge his father still wins the day. On a microcosmic level,


this turn of events is an illustration of the balance that some Greeks perhaps envisioned: this child does indeed have a share of his mother’s genes, but his father remains the alpha-parent (even after his death). As alluded to at the beginning, the fifth century was a hotbed of literature and ideas, and it is unsurprising that mothers begin to enjoy prominence in that time. But the discussion can carry much further. Across the 2500 years between fifth-century Greece and the present, sexual and gender equality has constantly been sought after, and one can only wonder how the evolving role of the mother has affected that desire, or been affected by it; within the boundaries of classical antiquity, one might wonder about any interplay that exists between the mother-child dynamics of Greek tragedy and later biographies of Roman emperors, or between the Hippocratic treatises and Roman doctors (a more obvious pairing). More than making progress with the interpretive riddles of the texts it has considered, the foregoing investigation will have been a success if it has demonstrated the worth of discussing the role of the mother in fifth-century literature, and instigates further conversation about that role across antiquity and modernity.


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