Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Argos (AR-gohs). Ancient city in southeastern Greece, adjoining the Gulf of Argolis. Its area was prominent in the Bronze Age; therefore, its very name summons an ambience of antiquity and myth for Sophocles’ audience. In the play, the first speech (by Orestes’ mentor Paidagogos) introduces Argos as the old and sacred homeland for which Orestes has yearned. Like a guidebook, Paidagogos enumerates its most famous sights: the river Inachus (believed to have been a god and the first king of Argos), the marketplace (consecrated to the god Apollo), the temple of the goddess Hera, and the palace. By providing so much geographical information, Paidagogos reminds the audience that he is—as his name suggests—like a pedagogue, the tutor who led children to school in Ancient Greece. Therefore, Orestes’ coming to Argos is likened implicitly to education for him (and, presumably also for the audience, brought into this fabled place of splendor and tragedy).

Appropriate to the function of Greek drama as both religious instruction and ritual, the play concerns the spiritual cleansing of Argos. Despite Paidagogos’s acute awareness of the city’s beauty and venerable tradition, his speech presents the kingdom as desecrated and thus in need of the purification Orestes and Electra will bring by avenging their royal father’s death. According to a notion common among many ancient religions, only more blood can cleanse the earth from the impurity generated by the shedding of a king’s blood, in this case that of Agamemnon, murdered by his wife. Consequently, through a divinely ordained execution of the murderers, Orestes expects to make the land flourish again.