The ransacking of Tragedy for indications of the political views of tragic poets is seldom profitable and may be disastrous. But Eumenides, like much that Aeschylus wrote, is unusual, and one of its unusual aspects is the clarity and persistence with which the hearer's attention is engaged in the political present as well as in the heroic past; one might almost say, directed away from the past and towards the present. The nature of this re-direction, and its implications, if any, for Aeschylus's own standpoint, are no new problem. My reason for discussing it once more is that not enough attention has been paid to the immediate dramatic context of the passages by which this re-direction is effected or to the relation between these passages and the language of Greek politics in general.
I. The Central Stasimon 490–565
Editors of Aeschylus have assumed that these words cannot mean what they appear to mean: ‘Now new ordinances are overthrown, if the cause pleaded, and the injury done, by this matricide are going to prevail.’ The old laws, not the new, it is said, are in danger of overthrow, and it can only be the old laws which the Chorus defend and lament. Attempts to escape the prima facie meaning have taken the following forms:
(a) Emendation to give the sense ‘overthrow of old ordinances’ (ἕνων κ. θ., Cornford), ‘overthrow of ordained laws’ (κ. νόμων θ., Ahrens), ‘overthrow of my ordinances’ (ἐμῶν κ. θ., Weil), or ‘change to new ordinances’ (μεταστροφαὶ ν. θ., Meineke).