Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Argos. Ancient Greek city in which the play is set. The square is dominated by a statue of Zeus, god of flies and death, and it has two purposes within the drama. First, Sartre emphasizes visually the overbearing influence of Zeus. Second, by assuming that his audiences are aware that public squares in ancient Greece were places through which everyone had reason to pass, he avoided having to contrive pretexts for the meetings that set in motion the action of his play. In the square, Orestes and his tutor come into contact with assorted citizens, none of whom welcome them. There, they are also accosted by Zeus (disguised as a human traveler) and meet Electra as she goes about her business. Later, Orestes meets Clytemnestra there. This sequence of meetings contrasts with the absence of Aegisthus from this public place, creating a sinister aura which in turn is reinforced by references to his spies and to his palace, showing how he dominates the minds of the inhabitants even when not present.

Mountain cavern

Mountain cavern. Ostensible resting place of the souls of the dead, who emerge on this day each year. This artificial device, invented by Aegisthus and Zeus, justifies the permanent state of remorse in which the inhabitants of Argos are kept by their ruler, the better to control them. (Parallels with Occupied France cannot be missed here.) Here, too, Zeus can play his magician’s tricks with the rock that...

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