Under State Protection Aeschylus’ the Suppliants and the Shift from Clan to State



Aeschylos’ tragedy The Suppliantsis in this article related to an opposition between clan and state—and more specifically with the development in ancient Greece from barbarism to civilization, from a lawless, uncultivated and disorganised world, to a clan-based social order and from there to a state-based organisation, which in many ways would set the pattern for the development in Europe for centuries to come.In the play, fifty sisters are fleeing from Egypt to Argos, persecuted by their fifty male cousins. The women seek protection and therefore refer to their shared origins with the population of Argos.

The fact that Danaus has fifty daughters but no son, implies that if the daughters marry their cousins the legacy will stay within the clan. What the daughters’ uncle Aegyptus and his sons demand is that Danaus and his daughters should act in accordance with the regulatory framework of the clan system. This stipulates that in cases where fathers in patrilineal systems only have daughters, these daughters must marry endogamically (that is inwards) instead of exogamic ally (outwardly, and in the corresponding way for sons in matrilineal systems).

The article shows how Argos, governed by King Pelasgus, is depicted in the play in contrast to the claustrophobic catatonia of incestuous relations, the latter illustrated by an imagery that stems from archaic Greek mythology. The claustrophobic feeling that links the family and kin in The Suppliants, through events such as incestuous marriages and family-related cannibalism, gives a picture of the individual’s room for manoeuvre being strictly regulatedin fact almost non-existentin the extended family. It is such a claustrophobic world that the women in The Suppliants (like Orestes in Oresteia) are fleeing from.

Instead they seek out a city state based on fundamentally different ideas than the family, kinship and clan-related organisation principles of the Egyptians. The Greek city state thereby appears to aim to liberate the archaic human from a claustrophobic captivity.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22158/assc.v3n2p1


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