F. Saayman


Most studies of Aeschylean imagery have made simple deductions as to its meaning,
whereby a single motif is encapsulated in what may be called a monistic abstraction. Thus
Whallon interprets the vulture and eagle symbolism as "predacity" (1961:81); likewise
Lawrence takes all the animal imagery together as displaying "the predatory laws of
nature" (1976:107). In the case of "dog" and "lion" imagery in the Oresteia this is an oversimplification
which leads to wrong interpretations of some occurrences. Such single labels
for imagery are obtained in a facile manner by accepting the most direct meaning common
to all the instances and linking it to some assumed aspect of an imagined semiotic
background. When applied to the text, we can simply state repeatedly that certain imagery
portray the same idea over and over, such as "predatory justice", as if this is the only
meaning of all its occurrences. Instead, the imagery should rather be interpreted in terms
of its function in the play (Garson 1983:33). In the case of "dog" and "lion" imagery,
subdivisions in the imagery serve not only to bind the three plays together and to show
contrast between and within characters, but it also forms an integral part of the literary
contrast in the major theme of predeterminism versus personal responsibility, providing
crucial insight into the psychology of the characters.

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