Publication details [#7358]

Lisowski, Thaddeus J., Jr. 2003. Architectures of advice: Didactic strategies of metaphor and interpretation in Aeschylean tragedy. Berkeley, Calif.. 175 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


The evidence we possess from Aeschylus's surviving tragedies indicates that during the last dozen years of his life Aeschylus staged three tetralogies in which issues of household/family and issues of state come into violent contact. The affirmation of specifically civic ties, as against the bonds of family and household, forms a large part of what the first half of the fifth century is remembered for in political terms, especially in Athens. In literary terms, the metaphorical reinforcement of exactly these civic ties makes up a large part of that for which Aeschylus was remembered and praised even after his death. Aeschylus was also remembered later in the fifth century (and beyond) as the tragedian most fond of abnormal diction and wild leaps of metaphor, from the minute details of diction to the broadest aspects of tragic representation. How do these two divergent pictures of Aeschylus fit together? How does Aeschylean tragedy, as it operates by means of these wide-ranging metaphorical equivalences, participate in the civic work of instruction? My inquiry links together a close investigation of the traditional rhetoric of exemplarity, from archaic didactic poetry through the early fifth century, with Aeschylus's tailoring of this rhetoric of metaphor to the instructional work of tragedy within the city of Athens. The poetry that was looked back upon as that which most significantly "makes the citizens better" ('Frogs' 1009-10), is also the poetry that most fundamentally operates by means of likenesses, analogies, links via metaphorical connection. This inquiry answers the larger question of how tragedy is instructive in this broader sense by way of the more tightly focused question, how does Aeschylean tragedy represent and enact metaphor and interpretation as specifically civic modes? From an introductory chapter, an analysis of how the exemplum tradition and the rhetoric of metaphor function within both the longer didactic work of Hesiod and smaller-scale didactic performances within the poetry of Theognis and Homer, this dissertation moves on to readings of Aeschylus's 'Suppliants' (Chapter 2), 'Seven Against Thebes' (Chapter 3), and 'Oresteia' (Chapter 4). The 'Suppliants' argument comes first in this sequence because its reading of the chorus's movement from marginality to centrality in this drama sets forth a paradigm for reading the operation of a specifically Aeschylean rhetoric of exemplarity. Whereas the second chapter centers on the chorus, the third works most closely with Seven's protagonist, connecting Eteokles's skill at interpretation (and, in the crucial scene, at the manipulation of counter-metaphor) with the saving of the city from threats both inside and outside the city. The fourth chapter draws on these two earlier chapters in its reading of one facet of the 'Oresteia''s progression: metaphor ultimately functions as the register through which the failure of the outmoded system of retributive justice gives way to a more sustainable response to loss based on collective compensation. The dissertation's conclusion reconnects the smaller-scale rhetorical readings of the previous chapters with the larger project of reading out from the operation of metaphor and interpretation within these tragedies a set of insights about how Aeschylean tragedy operates within its civic context. That is, this study ultimately proposes metaphor and interpretation as the ground upon which to link Aeschylean tragedy and the civic work of constructing an audience of Athenian citizens. (Thaddeus Lisowski)