Beneath the root of memory : the engine of recollection and forgetfulness in the tragedies about Orestes' matricide
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The present dissertation deals with the function of memory and forgetfulness within the story of Electra and Orestes, as presented by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. The introductory chapter represents a brief account of the philological and theoretical tools of our research. Chapter One proves that words of active memory as well as expressions of forgetfulness are recurrent in the texts. Chapters Two and Three show how different public roles influence the apparatus of memory for various agents. Memory and forgetfulness operate at three levels: private recollection, public function, and divine agent. We analyze the relationship between the heroic ethos and the collective memory in times of crisis. The three authors treat differently the Electra’s memory and her relationship with the logos of her city, especially because of her liminal tendencies. In Euripideas, we further emphasize a particular aspect of memory: a genos-related aspect of Mnēmosynē that affects both the male and the female functions. Chapter Four further analyzes the feminine liminal potential and the ability to access a transcendental form of memory, ability which at times proves morbid and dangerous. The solution to this burden is either divine intervention, or return to private memory through acts of initiatory forgetfulness. Chapter Five deals with the presence of divine memory and the fissures between the Olympians and the chthonian divinities at the level of mnemonic discourse. The three authors have different ways in recording it. However, there is a general tendency to move from grudging memory to healing amnesty. This effort is sustained by the Olympian divinities in the detriment of the Furies and their pre-cultural form of memory in Aeschylus. The picture is further complicated in Euripides by Helen and her physical presence as a memorial of the war, as well as her ultimate disappearance into thin air. In Sophocles, we witness a similar movement from the "logocentric" memory to the visual and symbolic aspect of social Mnēmosynē. Electra depicts the ambiguities and the failure of monumental memory and the ritualistic return to private memory. Chapter Six analyzes the mnemonic filter in theatrical experience. The dramatic performance is a way to share the social burden of memory: with each show, Orestes' murder is re-tried and collectively re-solved. Beside the memory of the author, the theatrical experience involves the perspective of the public and its function as a “social framework” for the memory of the myths.