Anagnorismos

April 9, 2018 General Studies

‘Anagnorismos’ means ‘recognition’, ‘discovery’, or ‘revelation’ not only of a person but also of what that person stood for and it is the critical moment in a Greek tragedy leading to the denouement of a story. In heroic myth, anagnorismos is the recognition of a hero at the end of his quest by other another person. A hero can experience anagnorismos by bringing back objects from his quest proving his heroic deed. For example, Perseus Polydectes recognizes that Perseus has accomplished the task that he sent him out to do with the intention of killing him when he brings back the Medusa’s head.

Heracles is also recognized twelve times by Eurysteus when he accomplishes all the local labors he sent him out to do. Theseus is recognized by Aegeas when he lifted the boulder and retrieved the sandals and the sword his father had left him. Recognition can be brought about by a physical attribute. For example, in the Libation Bearers, the 2nd trilogy written by Aeschylus, when Orestes comes to avenge the death of his father Agamemnon, Electra, his sister recognizes him by a series of tokens: a lock of his hair and a footprint he leaves at Agamemnon’s grave.

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Upon his return from Ithica, after twenty years of absence, Odysseus is recognized by his nurse Euryclea by a scar on his foot. Anagnorismos also happens by the means of acquired skills and knowledge. The people of Ithica recognize Odysseus as their king because of his physical ability to shoot a bow through twelve axe handles. Penelope accepts the beggar as her husband when he reveals a particular aspect of the marital bed. In tragedy, recognition by hero of some truth about his identity accompanies the reversal of the character’s fortune, the peripeteia.

It is the understanding which leads to the suffering. In Oedipus Rex, for example, it is Oedipus’ recognition of his own identity, and the realization that he is his father’s murderer and his mother’s lover leads to self-mutilation when he puts out his eyes and exiles himself. In Euripides’ The Bacchae, under Dionysus’ spell, Agave displays the head of her son on a stick like a trophy, having killed him with her bare hands. However, when Dionysus’ possession wears off, Agave recognizes the horror of her action.

Anagnorismos represents the resolution to the confict of “man versus man” or “man versus self”. It is self-recognition that has a tragic outcome, whereas recognition by others is seen as positive and is often pursued by heroes. Anagorismos can be done through several different aspects, such as: objects being brought back from the quest, demonstration of particular skill or revelation of a fact. In tragedy, anagnorismos takes the form of tragic self-recognition.

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