• F. Saayman University of the North


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.