AESCHYLUS: Choephoroe

AESCHYLUS: Choephoroe

  • Orestes asks Hermes to save him, and also addresses his dead father Agamemnon. He offers one lock of his hair in sacrifice to the river-god Inachus and another lock to his father. Orestes regrets not being at Agamemnon’s side during his death and funeral. He sees his sister Electra and other slave girls bearing libations to the grave, and decides to stand at a distance with his friend Pylades to observe them without being seen himself. He requests from Zeus the responsibility to avenge his father’s murder. [be careful what you wish for]
  • The chorus of slave girls and Electra enter the scene. The chorus explains that Clytemnestra has sent them to pour the libations on Agamemnon’s grave to atone for the murder lest the furies exact revenge upon her. The chorus believes that no ransom can atone for blood once it is shed. A hand stained with the blood of murder can never be washed clean. Revenge may tarry, but always fulfills the punishment of sinners eventually.
  • Electra requests counsel from the chorus. She does not know how to offer the libations in Clytemnestra’s name because Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon. Electra cannot tell Agamemnon that she is bringing the libations from a well-loved wife because Electra doesn’t consider Clytemnestra to be a good wife. Electra even refuses to acknowledge Clytemnestra as her mother.
  • The chorus advises her to honor those that love Agamemnon, such as Electra, the chorus, and Orestes. Then pray that some god or mortal come to slay the slayers.
  • Clytemnestra follows the chorus’ advice, and bids Hermes to carry her message to her father. She informs her father that Clytemnestra has disowned Electra who lives as a slave and Orestes who is banished. They have been cut off from the property that they have a right to, being Agamemnon’s children. She wishes for Orestes to return, and also for a purer soul than Clytemnestra’s. She prays for vengeance.
  • Clytemnestra notices a lock of hair on the grave. Electra knows that no other person than Orestes would leave a lock of hair on the grave. The hair also resembles Orestes’. She also sees a footprint in the sand around the grave that resembles her own. In despite of these circumstances she still has doubts about whether Orestes was the person who left the lock of hair.
  • Orestes reveals himself to Electra. They both appeal to Zeus for safety and revenge upon the murderers of Agamemnon. Electra appeals to his vanity by asking him who will offer sacrifices to him in the future if he does not protect and aid Electra and Orestes, who are the children of one whom always offered sacrifices to him.
  • The chorus warns Electra and Orestes to not contrive their revenge aloud lest someone hear and tell Clytemnestra. Orestes disregards the advice, stating that the oracle of Apollo assured him that his revenge will be fulfilled. The oracle proclaimed that if Orestes did not avenge his father’s death, then he would suffer and die. Orestes is motivated to avenge his father by three things: the god’s behest, his grief for Agamemnon and duty as Agamemnon’s son, and the inheritance seized from him.
  • The chorus relishes in the adage that those who take the sword shall perish by the sword.
  • Orestes wonders what word or deed can reach his father in the underworld. The chorus assures him that the spirit of the dead survive the funeral fires and long for revenge.
  • Orestes contemplates the glory and honor Agamemnon would have left behind for his family if he had died during the Trojan War instead of returning to be killed by Clytemnestra.
  • The chorus tells Orestes and Electra that their wish for a different sequence of past events is vain. The past is immutable, but wrongs will inevitably be avenged in the future. Blood calls for more blood, and one crime crowns another.
  • Orestes proclaims that he will not heed his mother’s prayers for forgiveness and mercy. He is wolfish like his mother.
  • Orestes and Electra call upon their father to aid them in their revenge. They appeal to his honor and pride. They say that his grave will be obscure and lacking of offerings if he does not aid them to avenge him. Electra also says that Agamemnon lives through his children; for children preserve the image, thoughts, and characteristics of the parents.
  • Orestes wonders why Clytemnestra sent these offerings to Agamemnon’s grave. Once blood is spilled, no offerings of wealth can atone for the deed. The chorus tells Orestes that Clytemnestra sent the offering after receiving a frightful dream. She dreamt that she bore a serpent in her womb; she nursed it, offered it her breast, whereat the serpent bit her breast and sucked forth gouts of blood. Orestes believes that the dream bodes his own revenge upon her.
  • Orestes tells the chorus that he will approach the palace in disguise with his friend Pylades, and asks them to remain silent concerning his plot for revenge.
  • The chorus sings of the many fierce and terrible things in the world, such as death and suffering, but the fiercest thing is the human soul – in particular the female soul. The chorus relates the tale of Scylla. She cut a lock of purple hair from her father’s head. The lock of hair rendered him invincible. She cut the lock of hair because she fell in love with Minos, who was invading her father’s kingdom.
  • Orestes and Pylades arrive at the palace in disguise. They are greeted by a slave. Orestes asks to speak to the queen or man of authority. He says that it is more seemly for men to speak to one another because they do not confound their speech with modesty as they do when they speak to women.
  • Clytemnestra greets them, and says that they will receive whatever the comforts of a bath and bed and food. Orestes informs her that he met a traveler on his way here that informed in that Orestes had died, and asked the queen if she wished to retrieve his ashes or to allow him to lie buried where he currently is.
  • Clytemnestra mourns Orestes’ death, and promises that Orestes, disguised as the messenger, will receive lodging for the night despite bearing such woeful tidings. Clytemnestra exits with Orestes and Pylades.
  • A nurse named Klissa enters the scene. Clytemnestra has asked her to summon Aegisthus to meet the strangers. Klissa tells the audience that Clytemnestra hid her glee at the news of Orestes death under the pretense of grief. Klissa laments the death of Orestes, whom she nursed when he was an infant. Klissa tells the chorus that Clytemnestra wishes for Aegisthus to bring an armed guard with him. The chorus tells Klissa to lie to Aegisthus, to tell him that the news is good and to haste to the castle without an armed guard. Klissa agrees.
  • In an apostrophe to Oreestes, the chorus exhorts him to think on his father if his mother should plead with him not to kill her.
  • Aegisthus enters the scene and enters within the palace. The chorus hears him scream for help from within the palace. A slave enters the scene and announces the death of Aegisthus. He calls for Clytemnestra, who enters the scene. The slave tells her that the dead are come to slay the living.
  • Orestes enters the scene holding a sword dripping with blood. Clytemnestra laments Aegisthus’ death, and pleads with Orestes to spare her. She entreats him to consider that she nursed him as an infant and gave him life. Orestes turns to Pylades and asks him if he should spare his mother. Pylades responds that he should not because he would obtain the hate of the gods; it is better to be hated by men than by gods.
  • Clytemnestra attempts to rationalize the murder of Agamemnon by saying that Fate played a role in it. Orestes says that fate plays a role in her death too. Orestes says that Clytemnestra, not him, is her own killer. Clytemnestra warns Orestes to beware of her revengeful furies from hell. But Orestes asks how he can avoid his father’s if he spares her. Orestes chases Clytemnestra within the palace and kills her.
  •  The chorus talks about Justice being akin to Revenge. They even say that the law of Justice rules over those that are divine too.
  • Orestes enters the scene standing over the corpses of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. In one hand he holds a sword, in the other the robe in which Agamemnon was killed. He exults and wails, he is happy and sad, glad that he avenged his father’s death, but sorrowful because he killed his mother. He thinks that he will become insane soon. He calls everyone to witness that Apollo promised he would be absolved from the murder, but he feels pangs of guilt, fear, and remorse. Orestes intends to travel to Loxias in order to seek refuge from the avenging furies and hate of mankind. The chorus pleads with him to remain in Argos; they tell him that his deed was just.
  • Orestes hallucinates that he sees furies – gorgon women with snakes as hair.

“Fear ye not, the day of death and doom awaits alike the freeman and the slave.”

“Thine eyes behold thy heart’s desire.”

“Blood drops shed upon the hround plead for other bloodshed yet.”

“Twas the night wandering terror of a dream that flung her shivering from her couch.”

“A bearer can tell straight a crooked tale.”

“The dead are come to slay the living.”

“On Justice’s foes her breath is as the blast of death.”

“None of mortal men can pass his life untouched by pain!”

Themes: Revenge, Justice and Judgment, Family, Language and Communication, Memory and the Past, Fate and Free Will, Lies and Deceit, Religion, Gender, Exile.

  1. Does Libation Bearers portray revenge as a good way of punishing wrongdoing? No. Those perform acts of revenge are either killed themselves because of that specific act, or haunted and tormented by Furies. Furthermore, there seems to be no end to the violence, destruction, and misery generated by acts of revenge. Revenge is liable to create a cycle of grief and pain, a type of curse which plagues the participants and their posterity.
  2. Did Clytemnestra deserve to be killed by Orestes? She did and she did not deserve to be killed by Orestes. She did deserve to be killed by Orestes because she killed Agamemnon, she subjugated her daughter to the condition of a house-slave, and she exiled and disinherited Orestes. She did not deserve to be killed by Orestes because no act deserves the punishment of death and she gave birth to Orestes. Orestes owes her a filial duty to care for her, not kill her. These positions can both be argued persuasively. The ultimate judgment one makes regarding this question depends upon what values and moral code one adheres to.
  3. In line 120, Electra distinguishes between a “judge” and a “just avenger.” What is the most important difference between these two roles? The most important difference between these roles is that a judge decides what is just and unjust, he even suggests a suitable punishment for transgressions, a just avenger is the person who carries out the decision of the judge, the person who acts according to the laws of justice as decided by the judge. Therefore, the judge is a person who acts through words and logical reasoning while the just avenger acts through physical means.
  4. Who suffers the most as a result of the revenge-plot in Libation Bearers? I believe that Orestes suffers the most. At the end of this play he imagines that he sees frightening gorgons sent from hell to pursue, torment, and punish him to avenge his mother’s murder. He is driven into madness and experiences profound fear, anxiety, and guilt. His last speech is a desperate attempt to justify his deed. He calls upon the chorus to be witness that Clytemnestra used a robe to kill his father. He implores the god Apollo to bear witness to the robe as well. I believe these are attempts to justify the deed to himself as much as to others. Yet in the end he succumbs to his own doubts about the justness of his act.
  1. In Libation Bearers, is there a difference between justice and revenge? If so, what is it? Yes, there is a difference between Justice and Revenge in the Libation Bearers according to the majority of the characters. Many of the characters consider Clytemnestra’s act of revenge – killing Agamemnon in retaliation for him killing Iphigenia – to be unjust. Even Clytemnestra herself never claims that her act was an act of Justice, but rather an act of revenge. On the other hand, the chorus, Orestes, and Electra consider that killing Clytemnestra to avenge their father’s death is Justice. However, after murdering his mother to avenge his father’s murder Orestes is haunted by the furies, which seem to represent the torments of guilt. He fears that he is being driven insane. Indeed only he can see the furies; the chorus does not see the visions and tell him that he is distraught from committing the murder. I don’t believe that Orestes would be haunted by the furies if he was entirely certain that he was acting according to the dictates of Justice, nor do I believe that there is a noticeable difference between revenge and justice. Even if we accept that Clytemnestra’s act of revenge was unjust, a similarly convincing argument that Orestes’ act of revenge was unjust could be made as well.
  2. Many characters in the play say that Zeus and the other gods are in charge of justice. But if Zeus is in charge of absolutely everything, doesn’t that make him the cause of injustice as well? How can we resolve this contradiction? Is it possible? If everything happens according to Zeus, then what we deem to be unjust is the responsibility of Zeus. However, if we accept that Zeus is never unjust – the chorus asserts that even the gods must obey Justice – then the contradiction can be resolved by changing our interpretation of Justice. Essentially we must accept everything that occurs in the world as an act of Justice: Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia, Clytemnestra’s revenge on Agamemnon, and Orestes’ revenge on Clytemnestra are all just acts according to this proposition. Some may accept this theory while others will not. For the latter, Justice is a definable thing, and acts in this world can be just as far as it accords with this notion of Justice and also unjust as far as it does not accord with this idea. However, for everyone else, we are still waiting for these people to provide a definition of Justice.
  3. Who is the most unjust character in Libation Bearers? Who is the most just? As I have previously written, there must be a fundamental moral system from which to judge whether a person is just or unjust. If we accept the moral and ethical system of the ancient Greeks, then the most unjust character would be Clytemnestra. First because she is a woman, the simple fact of being a woman is considered an unjust act by the Greeks. They were a very misogynistic society. Furthermore, her murder was not performed in pursuit of some honorable goal such as honor, which was the goal Agamemnon hoped to reach by sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia. Her act was motivated by hatred and desire to avenge the death of a girl. On the other hand, Orestes was motivated by a desire to avenge the death of a father, a king. This would be considered a much more just act than Clytemnestra’s, despite the fact that he had to kill his mother to avenge his father’s death. The most just character according to ancient Greek standards of morality is Agamemnon. He strove to attain glory, the highest value of that ancient society, and he only killed a sniveling little girl to achieve it. Orestes is a close second, but as much as the Greeks disliked women, they hated mother-killers even more.
  4. In Libation Bearers, is it possible to be just and unjust at the same time? It is possible to be just and unjust at the same time. Orestes justly killed his mother to avenge his father’s murder, but unjustly killed his mother because it is unjust to kill one’s own mother. However, the notion of justice is entirely dependent upon what one considers to be just, and I don’t believe that there is a satisfactory definition of Justice. Just because something is considered perverse by a majority of society does not make it wrong. David Hume would be quick to argue that an ‘is’ cannot imply an ‘ought.’ Just because one has knowledge of a particular set of facts does not mean that the person can conclude a specific course of action ought to be taken without appeal to some external goal. For example, slamming one’s finger in a door is painful. This does not mean that we ought not to slam our finger in a door unless our goal is to avoid pain. If our goal is to be just, then we must define justice, and that is no easy task. Is justice the avoidance of pain, the attainment of pleasure, the fulfillment of revenge, an eye-for-an-eye, the act made according to the dictates of logic and reason (who’s logic, who’s reason?), etc.?
  1. Electra and Orestes are both much more loyal to their father than to their mother. Why? They are more loyal to their father than their mother for the following reasons: they live in a patriarchal society that values men more than women; Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon; and Clytemnestra disinherited Electra and Orestes – she subjugated Electra to the condition of a house-slave, and exiled Orestes.
  2. One of the reasons why Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon was because he sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia. How would you characterize her attitudes towards her remaining children? Are they consistent with her actions from before the murder, or have they undergone a shift? Clytemnestra is not fond of her remaining children. As I have written, she subjugated Electra to the condition of a house-slave and exiled Orestes. The slake-woman Klissa even informs the audience that Clytemnestra is happy at the news of Orestes’ death despite feigning grief. Although the reader does not know about the relationship between Clytemnestra and her children before she formulated her plan to kill Agamemnon, one can assume that it was a very loving one between mother and children. However, her actions likely shifted when she heard the news of the sacrifice of Iphigenia. She felt such tremendous rage, anger and sadness that she considered every possible way to get revenge on Agamemnon. One of the ways that she could wreak vengeance upon him is by disinheriting his remaining children. At least she did not kill them as Medea killed her and Jason’s children in order to get revenge on Jason for marrying another woman.
  3. Many critics, both modern and ancient, have found the scene where Electra recognizes Orestes based on his lock of hair and shoe-size unintentionally hilarious. Why do you think Aeschylus wanted to show this close family resemblance between his main characters? He wanted to demonstrate the strong bond which exists between members of the same family, a bond that can never be broken or effaced. One’s appearance can only change so much, it will always retain a semblance of one’s heritage. By demonstrating the powerful bond between family members, Aeschylus intensifies the significance of the dilemma faced by Orestes to kill his own mother. Regardless of her past behavior, she is his mother, and strong inseparable bonds of familial relations connect them.
  4. Does Libation Bearers portray family ties as more based on nature or social convention? The play portrays family ties as being based more on nature than social convention. Orestes grew up in exile, away from both his father and mother. Yet those connections are very strong, strong enough to compel him to avenge his father’s death and be driven insane with guilt after murdering his mother. Although Electra claims that she no longer considers Clytemnestra to be her mother because she does not behave like her mother, the agony Orestes experiences after murdering his mother demonstrate that the natural bond of family is much stronger than any artificial bond created by social conventions.
  1. The characters in the play spend a lot of time trying to communicate to the dead and to the gods. Do they get any answers back? They do not receive answers in the form of direct verbal communication, but one could argue that the living receive answers in the forms of fulfillments of wishes and prayers. For example, Orestes invokes his father’s spirit to aid him in his act of revenge. Orestes successfully performs the act, so one might conclude that the spirit of Agamemnon aided his son in exacting revenge upon his murderers.
  2. Does the play suggest that communication between different worlds is possible? The play does suggest that communication between different worlds is possible. Otherwise the characters would not have attempted to communicate with the gods and dead as often as they did. If they know something is impossible, it is asinine to keep trying to accomplish it while knowing that it is futile. The characters’ conviction that they can communicate with the dead and the gods induces the audience to believe that it is possible too.
  3. One important purpose of communication is to change another person’s mind. Does communication change anyone’s mind in the play? Yes, Clytemnestra ordered Klissa to summon Aegisthus to the palace with an armed guard. The chorus persuaded Klissa to deceive Aegisthus about the news so that he would not bring an armed guard. But this is a trivial example. I think the most significant attempt at persuasion is made by Clytemnestra when she pleads with Orestes to spare her. Orestes rebuts each one of her arguments and does not bend to her will.
  4. Which plays a more important role in the play: clear communication or misleading communication? Misleading communication plays a much more important role in the play than clear communication. Klissa deceives Aegisthus about the gravity of the circumstances at the palace, Orestes deceives Clytemnestra about his own death, Clytemnestra falsely claims that she nursed Orestes, etc. the only clear communication in the play is that between Electra, Orestes, and Pylades.
  1.  How does the theme of “Memory and the Past” relate to the themes of “Revenge” and “Justice and Judgment”? The notions of Revenge, Justice, and Judgment depend upon memory and the past. Revenge is an act made to avenge an event that occurred in the past. Memory is required to avenge a past event. If one forgets that something occurred, then one would not feel compelled to avenge the event. Justice also seems to be retroactive. If a lawyer convinces a jury that a defendant committed an unlawful act in the past, then the jury finds the defendant guilty and a suitable punishment is exacted upon the defendant.
  2. In Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, the Chorus is a group of old men who fill us in on important details from long before the play begins. In Libation Bearers, the Chorus is a group of slave-women, who are not native to Argos. Although they have some knowledge about the distant past, it is not nearly as detailed as that of the Chorus from Agamemnon. In what way (if any) does this difference in the Chorus’s connection to the past affect Libation Bearers as a play? The chorus in the Libation Bearers is much more active in the play than the chorus from the Agamemnon. They convince Klissa to persuade Aegisthus to go to the palace without a guard. The chorus in Agamemnon are focused on the past, reflecting upon the time when the soldiers set forth to the Trojan War, and are rendered futile to affect the characters in the play because of their constant discussion about the best course of action (they argued about whether to enter the palace when they heard Agamemnon scream for help). Furthermore, because the slave-girl chorus is not consumed by the past, they are much more future-oriented in their thinking. They foresee a better future after the murder of Clytemnestra and the restoration of the rightful heir to the throne.
  3. Because Libation Bearers is Part 2 of a trilogy, we, as the audience, already know some of its past because we have seen it performed, in Part 3. How much does our understanding of Libation Bearers depend upon the knowledge of the past provided to us by Agamemnon? Would the play still make sense if it wasn’t part of a trilogy? If so, in what ways (if any) would our interpretation of it be different? Our understanding does depend in some part on our knowledge of the Agamemnon. ‘To suffer is to learn.’ We who experienced the Agamemnon have a much stronger grasp on the interests and motivations of the characters. One who merely reads the Libation Bearers might sympathize more with Clytemnestra because they did not see the evil which she displayed in the preceding play.
  4. Many characters in this play seem to be living in the past. Are there any characters who are more focused on the future, and would rather forget the past? Who fits into which category (remember, one person could fit into more than one), and why? As I have written above, the chorus is focused more on the future. They would much rather forget the past because the past is full of woe. They were captives from the Trojan War, which means that their families were likely all slaughtered and their city was razed to the ground. Clytemnestra wants to forget the past as well, but cannot do so because of the prophetic dreams she receives portending her death at the hands of her own son. She strongly desires to rule the kingdom with her new husband Aegisthus, and tries to distance herself from her previous family by subjugating Electra to the condition of a slave and exiling Orestes.
  1. Does Libation Bearers portray fate and free will as complete opposites, or is there some wiggle-room between the two ideas? In this play everything happens according to Fate though the characters seem, at times, to possess the free will to act differently. For example, Orestes receives and oracle from Delphi that states he must kill his mother to avenge his father or suffer a fate much more miserable. Orestes suffers regardless of which course he chooses, but Fate has ordained that he should kill his mother – evidenced by the prophetic dream received by Clytemnestra and the frequent references made by the chorus to the inevitability of wrongs be avenged. Could Orestes genuinely choose not to murder his mother? When she pleaded with him, there were moments when I thought that he might relent, though I knew it was inevitable. I knew that it was inevitable, not because it’s a Greek tragedy and everyone knows that he kills his mother, but because of a profound sense of Fate guiding the actions of the play. It is an indescribable and inexplicable feeling, but when it’s there, one knows that nothing else can occur – This Must Be So.
  2. If Orestes does what he does partly in order to prove Apollo’s oracle right, does that mean that the oracle doesn’t really have the power to predict the future? What difference do you think it would make if Orestes had never heard of the oracle? Oracles are notoriously ambiguous. The oracle did not explicitly state that he would kill his mother. In fact, it told him that two fates awaited him, and that he could choose either. However, for the sake of argument, I will assume that the oracle told Orestes that he would kill his mother. It’s interesting to consider whether knowledge of the future, or the thought that one knows what will happen in the future, influences the actions of a person in the present. Does the person act in such a way to fulfill the foretold future because he considers it inevitable, or does the person strive against it in desperate defiance, knowing full well that his actions are futile, but deriving some sense of honor and self-satisfaction in defiance. This type of defiance reminds me of Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost. He knows that rebellion is futile but concludes that it is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven – never will he debase himself by fawning to God, despite God’s omnipotence.
  3. Libation Bearers shows that free will isn’t only limited by the gods; it can also be limited by human means, as when one group of people (the Chorus) is enslaved by another (the rulers of Argos). Which of these constraints on free will is most difficult? Does being enslaved deprive the Chorus women of all agency? The constraints on free will placed by the gods are much more difficult to overcome than constraints imposed by men. The fetters one man places upon another can be broken if the gods ordain it, but the constraints on free will imposed by the gods are irremovable.
  4. At several points in the play, Orestes acts as if it doesn’t matter whether we have Free Will. Why does he think this, and how might this belief influence his actions? Orestes acts as if it doesn’t matter whether we have free will or not because Justice will ultimately prevail. At one point in the play, the chorus concludes that even the gods obey the laws of Justice. Thus, whether we have the free will to commit just acts doesn’t matter because mankind will be guided to justice regardless of the evil desires of some people.
  1. At some points in the play, Orestes seems disgusted with the idea of using trickery. At other times, he sees it as an appropriate way of repaying the trickery of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus in killing Agamemnon. What do you think his true opinion is? Does he use trickery because he has to, or because he wants to? I think that Orestes did not want to use trickery, but was compelled to do so by the circumstances. He could not merely walk into the palace and kill Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. He needed to first pass the “gate keepers” and ensure that he did not alert Clytemnestra and Aegisthus of his intent. I think that Orestes, like any typical Greek male, was preoccupied with notions of honor. Trickery and deceit are not compatible with gaining honor. I believe that he wants the chorus, the citizens, and the audience to know that it is he who killed Clytemnestra and avenged his father’s death. Orestes’ last speech was an attempt to take credit for the deed. However, the longer he remained standing over the bodies, the more the realization that he had killed his own mother overwhelmed him to the point where he began to desperately try to justify his action before succumbing to insanity and hallucinations provoked by guilt.
  2. Who is the biggest trickster in Libation Bearers? Who is the best at seeing through trickery? The biggest trickster in the Libation Bearers is Orestes. He conceals himself so that Electra cannot see him when she first enters the play, he disguises himself before going to the palace, and he deceives Clytemnestra with news of Orestes’ death to gain entry into the palace. The best at seeing through trickery is Klissa. Clytemnestra feigns grief upon hearing the news of Orestes’ death, but Klissa tells the chorus that Clytemnestra is actually overjoyed because the news means that her frightening dreams foreboding her death at the hands of Orestes’ have come to nought.
  3. For egotistical people, trickery is a problem. The better you are at it, the less likely you are to be recognized for your talents. Based on the way in which he goes about his trickery, do you think Orestes suffers from this egotistical problem? I think that Orestes is egotistical. He makes certain that the chorus, the citizens, the gods, and the audience know that he is the one who killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. He stands over their body at the end of the play holding the bloody sword. He calls on the gods to witness his act of revenge. He does not attempt to hide behind his disguise as a traveler from Parnassia very long.
  4. When the Chorus convinces the Nurse to warp her message to Aegisthus, they don’t tell her why. Why do you think they keep her in the dark? They don’t tell her that Orestes has returned to avenge his father’s death because they do not know whether Klissa is truly sympathetic to their cause. She laments the death of Orestes, but she could be deceiving them as Clytemnestra is deceiving everyone by feigning sadness.
  1. Which god do you think is most important to Orestes: Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, or the spirit of his father Agamemnon? All of these gods and Agamemnon are very important to Orestes. Orestes invokes Zeus to aid him in attaining justice. He relies on the oracle of Apollo and Apollo’s promise to Orestes that he will be absolved for murdering his mother. H invokes Hermes to carry his message to his father in the underworld, and also to assist him to deceive Clytemnestra and gain entry to the palace. He loves his father, and all of his actions are made to attain the aim of avenging his father’s murder. Because all of Orestes actions are motivated by the desire to avenge his father’s murder, Agamemnon is the most important figure in Orestes’ life.
  2. Who is more pious towards the gods, Orestes or Electra? Both are pious towards the gods, and any distinction between their degrees of piety would be completely arbitrary. Both offer libations and rites to their dead father, and both implore the gods to assist them in their enterprises, promising them more sacrifices in return for their success.
  3. Does Libation Bearers give us any proof that the gods influence human affairs? The play does not give us any incontrovertible proof that the gods influence human affairs. The belief that there are gods who can influence worldly events does affect the behavior and actions of the characters in the play, but Aeschylus does not portray Apollo descending from Olympus to intervene in any of the events as Homer does so many times in the Iliad.
  4. Does Libation Bearers portray the gods as more helpful or harmful towards humans? As I have written, the gods do not act in any observable way other than that the characters believe the gods assist them in their endeavor to attain Justice and Revenge. If one assumes that the gods must follow the dictates of justice, and strive to assist those humans who are just, then the gods are very unsuccessful. Even though notions of Justice are very obscure and abstruse, there is not much semblance of Justice in these plays. On the other hand, the play portrays an unstoppable cycle anger, revenge, violence, and murder.
  1. Which character in Libation Bearers poses the biggest challenge to traditional gender roles? Clytemnestra is the biggest challenger to traditional gender roles. She is violent, which is contrary to traditional ideas of women being averse to violence and physical exertion. She is also a co-leader of a city. The Greeks were a patriarchal society that believed only men were competent to rule.
  2. Which generation in Libation Bearers is more conservative in its approach to gender: the older generation or the younger one? In this play the younger generation is more conservative. Orestes, Electra, and the chorus want to reestablish the “rightful” heir to the throne according to traditional notions of hereditary monarchies. Clytemnestra advocates very liberal ideas. She is essentially the leader of the city, and she has disinherited the children from her former marriage, and taken a new spouse.
  3. At some points in the play, Orestes utters opinions that seem sexist or even misogynistic. Does the play encourage us to accept any of these opinions as legitimate? If it encourages us to accept any of them, does it encourage us to accept all of them? Do Orestes’s views pose a challenge for modern readers in coming to grips with the play? The play does not encourage us to accept any idea, it merely presents a story to the audience and allows them to make their own interpretations depending upon the attributes, history, and thoughts that they bring with them into the theater. Orestes’ views are contrary to modern feminist views. He believes that women should be in a servile position in relation to men, and that they are not capable of telling truths, but are prone to lie because of their natural but irrational fears.
  4. Who is a stronger female character, Clytemnestra or Electra? Clytemnestra is a stronger character than Electra. When Clytemnestra is grieving for the death of a loved-one she plots revenge and fulfills her desire. Electra cries and laments her father’s death, wishing that her brother Orestes would return to avenge it. She does not possess the strength to act as her mother Clytemnestra did. She is a passive wishful character, while Clytemnestra is a strong, deliberate, and woman of action though also very violent.
  1. Why did Aeschylus make practically all of the “good guys” in the play exiles (of one form or another)? I do not presume to know the inner workings of Aeschylus’ mind, but I think that he made the Orestes, Electra, Pylades, and the chorus exiles, or at least similar to exiles, because an exile is often thought to be in an undesirable condition. The exile is forced away from a place where he wishes to be. The exile yearns to return home, to return to some previous time and place in his life where he was happy, or at least content. In a way, all of mankind are exiles. We are tossed to and fro by desires. We set goals for ourselves that we think will make us happy. When we fail to obtain the goals, we feel dejected and like a failure. When we do attain it, we often find that it doesn’t provide us the happiness we thought that it would, and if it does make us happy, it only does so for a very fleeting moment because some new desire will captivate our thought and send us striving uphill again towards some specter of happiness that always lies just out of our reach. I’m not religious, but if we consider the biblical story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, the writers of the bible seem to share this sentiment with Aeschylus – that we are all exiles. We once inhabited a world of happiness, but we have been exiled from it, and all of our actions in this world are an attempt to return home, to return to Eden, to return to a place where we were happy. Can Orestes and the other characters ever return to a place of happiness? No, because in order to do that they would need to return to the past. Orestes wishes to return to a time when his father was alive, when his mother was alive. He is tormented by the guilt of killing his mother, that moment of dramatic irony when Macbeth reflects that he would have died a happy death if he had not lived to witness the death of Duncan.
  2. Does anyone stop being an exile over the course of the play? No, everyone is still trying to return home, to return to the past, to return to happiness. Nostalgia is tormenting.
  3. Why do so many characters connect the ideas of being exiled and being orphaned? Being exiled and being orphaned are very similar experiences. One is removed from a desirable place and cast into another. For both the exile and the orphan, there is no way to return to that place barring extraordinary circumstances – a favorable change of political power in the case of the exile, and a reversal of the flow of time in the case of the orphan.
  4. Based on the different ideas of “exile” put forward by the various characters in the play, what do you think they would regard as “home”? I think that the characters would regard “home” to be a place of happiness. However, this place of happiness is like a spectre that always hovers just out of their grasp. Even when the exile returns “home” he realizes that it has changed since he departed, what he thought would make him happy doesn’t. Orestes act of revenge does not provide the satisfaction that he thought it would have. Instead he is tormented by guilt. The goals we set for ourselves often disappoint us, and if we attain some aim of ours then the happiness is very fleeting because a new desire is always lurking just beneath the surface of our consciousness ready to emerge and captivate us, so that we are always pursuing a phantom that is ungraspable but always tantalizing.

The Oresteia: Agamemnon; The Libation Bearers; The Eumenides


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