Conceptions of the Future in Aeschylus' Oresteia

  • Vasileia Kouliouri

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis examines the narrative function and significance of the future through its configurations in Aeschylus’ Oresteia. Drawing on the fields of narratology, literary criticism, and philosophy of history, it argues that the future is employed in the Oresteia as a narrative in a number of different ways. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 probe the teleological implications of the future in the four plays of the tetralogy, exploring the meaning of telos not only as a purposeful fulfilment but also as transition, deferral, and perpetual crisis. Those aspects of the future favour approaches that challenge and undermine the sense of a complete closure. They also draw connections between ancient and modern understandings of the future as something experienced in the present: either as a disruption outside one’s control (future present) or as a new order to be produced in and for the present (present future). Moving beyond the concept of telos, Chapter 5 demonstrates how the narrative of the Oresteia manipulates certain types of future-related knowledge through the literary terms of foreshadowing and sideshadowing. It is argued that, far from neat, the mapping of these terms onto the concepts of the open and closed future is often unpredictable. Finally, two other concepts explored are suspense and surprise (Chapters 6 and 7). They are both examined as intense experiences that are interconnected but distinct. The focus is on their centrality to the narrative mechanisms through which we find ourselves anticipating the future or marvelling at its unexpectedness. Taken together, the concepts explored in the thesis allow us to imagine and experience the future not as something remote and foreseeable, but as something at once tangible, unpredictable, and, thus, always open.
Date of Award11 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorPantelis Michelakis (Supervisor) & Patrick Finglass (Supervisor)

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