Donald F. Jackson, University of Iowa

            Although mysteries as fictional prose narratives were not a genre produced in the ancient world, human existence and history were a mystery – unfathomable on the whole, but recognizable in particulars.  One of these particulars was the undeniable fact that certain families, from generation to generation, fell afoul of the gods and/or fate and suffered thereby.  This train of suffering begins in one generation, and, because of the horrendous nature of deeds done then, contagion carries over into succeeding generations and prompts a new round of horrendous deeds, engendering further contagion that seems likely to plague the family indefinitely.

            Observers of this phenomenon, of course, interpret and explain it – when they explain it – according to the intelligence of their time.  Aeschylus saw it in the family of Agamemnon and interpreted it as a theological problem which only the gods could set right, as they finally do in Eumenides.  Ross MacDonald, writing in the mid-twentieth century, saw it as a social problem which only the reformation of society could correct.  But behind their disparate views, both saw the problem as ultimately unexplainable, an aberration inherent in the familial fabric of certain individuals, inescapable and tragic.


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