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Aeschylus and the Binding of the Tyrant

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
Authors:
Damien K. Picariello University of South Carolina Sumter 200 Miller Road, Sumter, sc 29150 USA picaried@uscsumter.edu

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Arlene W. Saxonhouse Department of Political Science, University of Michigan 505 South State Street, Ann Arbor, mi 48109 USA awsaxon@umich.edu

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In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, the playwright depicts the punishment of Prometheus by the tyrannical Zeus. Zeus’ subordinates understand his tyranny to be characterized by an absolute freedom of action. Yet the tyrant’s absolute freedom as ruler is called into question by insecurity of his position and by his dependence on Prometheus’ knowledge. We find in the Prometheus Bound a model of tyrannical rule riddled with contradictions: The tyrant’s claim to total control and absolute freedom is in tension with a reality characterized by insecurity, impotence, and constraint. We contrast this model of rule with the model found in Aeschylus’ Suppliant Maidens, in which the King, agreeing to be bound by the wishes of his subjects, nevertheless preserves for himself a certain freedom of action that the tyrannical ruler lacks.

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