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UNCLES EX MACHINA: FAMILIAL EPIPHANY IN EURIPIDES’ ELECTRA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 December 2016

Rosa Andújar
Affiliation:
King's College London rosa.andujar@kcl.ac.uk
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Extract

At the close of Euripides’ Electra, the Dioscuri suddenly appear ‘on high’ to their distraught niece and nephew, who have just killed their mother, the divine twins’ mortal sister. This is in fact the second longest extant deus ex machina (after the final scene in Hippolytus), and the only scene in which a tragedian attempts to resolve directly the aftermath of the matricide. In this article, I argue that Castor's and Polydeuces’ sudden apparition to Orestes and Electra constitutes a specialised point of intersection between the mortal and immortal realms in Greek tragedy: familial epiphany, an appearance by a god who has an especially intimate relationship with those on stage. Euripides’ focus on the familial divine as a category accentuates various contradictions inherent to both ancient Greek theology and dramaturgy. The Dioscuri are a living paradox, ambiguously traversing the space between dead heroes and gods, managing at the same time to occupy both. They oscillate uniquely between the mortal and immortal worlds, as different sources assign different fathers to each brother, and others speak of each one possessing divinity on alternate days. As I propose, the epiphany of these ambiguous brothers crystallises the problem of the gods’ physical presence in drama. Tragedy is the arena in which gods burst suddenly into the mortal realm, decisively and irrevocably altering human action. The physical divine thus tends to be both marginal and directorial, tasked with reining in the plot or directing its future course. The appearance of the familial divine, on the other hand, can in fact obscure the resolution and future direction of a play, undermining the authority of the tragic gods. In the specific case of Electra, I contend that the involvement of the Dioscuri, who are Electra's and Orestes’ maternal uncles, produces a sense of claustrophobia at the close of the play, which simultaneously denies the resolution that is expected from a deus ex machina while also revealing the pessimistic nature of what is typically considered a reassuringly ‘domestic’ and character driven drama.

Type
Research Article
Information
Ramus , Volume 45 , Issue 2 , December 2016 , pp. 165 - 191
Copyright
Copyright © Aureal Publications 2016 

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