Sign Systems Studies

Volume 31, Issue 2, 2003

Maria-Kristiina Lotman
Pages 441-463

On the semantics of rhythm
Formal differences between the characters of Oresteia in tragedy

The paper analyses the formal features of the characters of Oresteia in Greek tragedy. The protagonists and the minor characters are compared, for which the rhythmical liveliness and variability of the personages’ utterances, the length and number of utterances, and the number of dialogue verses in the metrical repertoire of the corresponding personage are taken into account. The analysis revealed that the data of Sophocles and Euripides are more close to each other both in the respect of general “liveliness” and the “liveliness” of characters’ utterances. Certain differences in the metrics and rhythmics of the main and minor characters’ verses become most obvious when we compare Electra’s part with minor characters (e. g., in Electra’s part there is always the biggest proportion of lyrical parts, more unstandard settlements, more verses with splits than any other character). The index of liveliness of Electra’s part is almost the same in all the authors. Although the same tendencies in Orestes are more schematical, the metrics and rhythmics of his utterances are rather similar to those of Electra. Thus, in respect of the proportion of lyrical verses, he always comes second after Electra; he also has quite many split verses. The parts of minor characters are usually made up entirely of iambic trimesters, the rhythmical variety of their speeches is higher than average, but there are no splits in their parts (except for Aegisthus). However, there are characters which parts have unstandard rhythm, e.g., the pedagogue in Sophocles or Chrysothemis, who is a contrast to Electra by her nature as well as her rhythmics. The contrast with other minor characters is even bigger. Clytaemnestra’s part is both rhythmically and metrically intermediate: in Aeschylus her utterances consist entirely of iambic trimeters, but in Sophocles and Euripides she pronounces also a couple of lyrical verses. There are also some splits in her verses which usually do not occur in minor persons.