This paper examines the nonverbal signals of coming events in Aeschylean tragedy, the accuracy of such signals, and the treatment of characters who rely on them. Aeschylus delimits nonverbal and verbal indicators of truth by using á¼”τυμος and á¼€ληθá½µς to describe the former and the latter, respectively. I will argue that this distinction parallels a “gendering” of truth, as it is female characters who put faith in nonverbal messages, only to be ridiculed by their male interlocutors for doing so. Ultimately, the female characters are vindicated when their interpretations of such signals are provedto be accurate.
Tragedy itself highlights gender difference, which has been a well-mined area for scholarship (e.g., Foley 2001; Zeitlin 1990, 1996), and it has been argued that male and female characters even have different modes of speech (McClure 1999; Mossman 2001). Furthermore, numerous studies ofterms for truth have been conducted (e.g., Cole 1983; Italie 1964; Krischer1965; Luther 1935; Snell 1975), but none of these has identified gender difference as a parallel for, and possible indicator of, the distinction between á¼”τυμος and á¼€ληθá½µς.
This paper will briefly summarize Aeschylus’ use of á¼”τυμος and á¼€ληθá½µς: the former more frequently designates the accuracy of nonverbal signs while the latter describes verbal messages and the dispositions of those who communicate them. I will then compare the Chorus of Theban Womenin Seven Against Thebes and Clytemnestra from Agamemnon in light of these two terms. The specific sections I will discuss are Sept. 78-286 and Ag. 264-500, where the Chorus of Seven reacts to a foreboding dust-cloud and Clytemnestra interprets the beacon-fires. Both the cloud and the fires are nonverbal signals of events about to occur and are described as á¼”τυμος or á¼τá½µτυμος (Ag. 477; Sept. 82). Furthermore, the receptions of the Chorus and of Clytemnestra are marked by hostility, skepticism or impatience, and by numerous references to their femaleness. By contrast, messenger-figures, who are invariably male, are never questioned about the accuracy of their messages, nor is their maleness a point of emphasis or contention. The Herald of Agamemnon provides the most illustrative example of this contrast, but messenger-figures from the other extant tragedies also confirm it. Not only are these messenger-figures believed by the recipients of their messages, they are also welcomed wholeheartedly and expected to communicate accurate words. The contrast between the belief in the messenger-figure and the doubt or hostility toward Clytemnestra and the Chorus of Seven is further marked by the use of á¼€ληθá½µς rather than á¼”τυμος to describe the words of the messengers (e.g., Ag. 491).
Not only do these contrasting uses of á¼€ληθá½µς and á¼”τυμος demonstrate a certain semantic distinction in which á¼€ληθá½µς is reserved for verbal communcations, whereas á¼”τυμος can mark signs of a nonverbal nature; it is also the contrasting contexts that point up further differences. The disdain experienced by the female communicators of nonverbal messages and the mannered use of á¼”τυμος to describe their messages demonstrates a distinction between the credibility they are assigned and the credibility they ought to enjoy. Both the Chorus of Seven and Clytemnestra, despite the negative reactions they experience from their interlocutors, turn out to be right: the dust-cloud indeed signals the imminent threat to Thebes while the beacon-fires likewise accurately communicate the fall of Troy and the imminent return of Agamemnon. This interplay of doubt and vindication suggests that, for Aeschylus, the truth may be found in less than obvious places, which the female characters are more likely to detect.