The Io and Cassandra Scenes in Prometheus Bound and Agamemnon

Scott Edmund Goins

McNeese State University

The scenes centering upon Io, in Prometheus Bound, and Cassandra, in Agamemnon, are often regarded as the highlights of their respective plays and are surely masterstrokes of their author(s).[1]  Many scholars have noted the similarities between the two scenes in which the audience is presented with two characters who at first seem scarcely significant to the plot but who end up adding so much to their respective dramas.  Peretti, who focuses on the formal similarities between the scenes, notes also the general similarities between the circumstances of the two characters who are the victims of divine love.  Other scholars have commented on the basic parallels between the two women and have drawn other comparisons between the two scenes as well.  Conacher and Schein, for example, highlight the frenzied complaints of Io and Cassandra. Fraenkel, Taplin, and Griffith note the prophetic aspects of the two scenes.

Although these and a few other parallels between the Io and Cassandra scenes have received attention, no scholar has presented a thorough comparison of the two passages, and all discussions of the similarities between the two passages are limited to brief discussion, with consideration of only a few elements of comparison.  It will be the purpose of this paper to review briefly the previous scholarship and to add other points of comparison between the passages that have not received comment.  In particular this paper will focus on the portrayal of Io and Cassandra in bestial terms and on how their fates contribute to the audience's sympathy for Prometheus and Agamemnon and, accordingly, and to its antipathy towards Zeus and Clytemnestra.  Both Io and Cassandra are striking examples of the blurring between man and beast that, according to Heath, is a favorite Aeschylean device used to indicate the perverted use of power.  Io, the horned maiden, is frequently associated with animal images, such as yokes and prods, as is Cassandra.  Cassandra ends up becoming a literal sacrifice to the broken marriage of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, just as Io becomes a metaphorical sacrifice to the embattled spouses ruling Mt. Olympus.

The paper will close with a brief discussion of how the similarities between the Io and the Cassandra scenes are relevant to the question of the authenticity of the Prometheus Bound.  Although, of course, any treatment of the scenes in question can only be a small piece in the puzzle regarding the authorship of the Prometheus Bound, I will argue that these two parallel scenes suggest the hand of the same author.

[1] The reference to “author(s)” is made in awareness of the question of the authenticity of the Prometheus Bound, an issue that will be dealt with briefly in the paper.


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