The Eumenides

The Eumenides Summary and Analysis of Lines 754-1047

Orestes' thanks and promise to the end of the play. (Lines 754-1047)


Orestes thanks Athene, his speech overflowing with enthusiasm and earnestness. She has saved him, and he knows it. He promises that Argos will forever be the ally of Athens, and Orestes' spirit will forsake the future people of Argos should they ever turn against Athens. He exits, to return to his homeland as its new king. Apollo goes with him.

The Furies are outraged by the verdict, saying that the new gods have trampled the old ways. They promise to punish the land for this decision. Athene reasons with them, pointing out that the ballot was close and that the decision was reached by a fair trial. She offers them a place under the earth in Athens, to receive offerings from the people. The Furies repeat their last speech verbatim, voicing their outrage and promising to bring destruction on the land. Athene, unshaken, continues to reason with them. She reminds them that she alone of the gods knows the location of the keys to Zeus' case of thunderbolts. She is powerful, and has Zeus behind her, but it need not come to that. Athens is a rich land, and the Furies can have offerings, too. The Furies do not believe Athene. They do not believe that the people of Athens will be able to treat them with kindness; they bemoan their fate as outcasts, their ancient rights denied. Athene continues to reason with them: she tells them that she understands their anger. She also acknowledges that they have a wisdom she lacks because of their great age. But Athene, too, possess a great wisdom, different from that of the Furies. She tells them that Athens will have a great future; if the Furies come to Athens as beneficiaries, as great goddesses who preserve peace and do good, protecting the country from the threat of civil war, then the Furies' days will be rich and beautiful. In response, the Chorus repeats, verbatim, their expressions of disbelief and anger about their status as outcasts.

Athene patiently continues to tell them about the benefits of accepting her offer. Instead of continuing in the path of hatred and destruction, Athene offers them peace and position. The Furies ask about the details of Athene's offer, and Athene responds to every question: they will have a comfortable home, and they will power over the prosperity of men. The Furies can hardly believe the generosity of the offer. They ask Athene what kind of prayer they should say for the land. Athene describes, in beautiful language, a city prosperous and blessed. The Furies accept Athene's offer, taking a position by Athene's side, promising to defend the interests of Athens and praying for the prosperity of the city. Athene establishes the Furies' authority as the dispensers of prosperity or ruin. Athene and the Eumenides speak in turns, Athene establishing the Furies' authority and thanking Persuasion for helping her to tame them, while the Furies repeatedly bless the city. The tone of the Furies' speech changes to one of gentleness; their words are about peace, mercy, and love. Athene orders that the Furies be brought to their new home, under the earth of Athens. There they will preside over the fortunes of the city, and act as the city's guardians. A second Chorus forms, made up of the women who serve Athene. They close the play singing of the harmonious arrangement brought about by their goddess, and they bring the Furies to their new home. Peace will reign between the Athenians and their new goddesses; it has all come to pass according to the wills of Destiny and Zeus.


Orestes exits after line 777. For almost a quarter of the play, then, Orestes is completely absent. The trilogy named after him finishes without him. The Eumenides is quite different from the other two parts of the Oresteia. The layers of symbolism (viper, serpent, poison, the net) are no longer present. We have gods that symbolize greater forces, but it might be more accurate to say that the gods are embodiments of these forces; the gods for Aeschylus are simultaneously symbols of abstract forces and real personalities. Also, for readers whose exposure to Greek tragedy has been limited to Oedipus the King, Antigone, or Medea, the ending of this play may come as a surprise. Indeed, for readers whose only exposure to Greek tragedy has been the first and second part of the Oresteia, the ending may come as a surprise. The ending of the trilogy is more than merely happy: it is a beautiful, lyrical, and optimistic ending that points to a great future. A great and beautiful fate awaits Orestes and his kingdom, the friendship between Argos and Athens, the Eumenides, and the city of Athens itself. The scope of the trilogy has opened up. Orestes exits promptly after his verdict, leaving Athene and the Furies to hammer out the beginnings of a new future.

The tendency of the Furies to repeat themselves is put to new use after the reading of the verdict. The Furies cannot initially see beyond their rage. In response to Athene's powerful arguments, they can only repeat threats and old grievances. These repetitions also suggest the directness of their minds; they are fully invested in certain thoughts and ideas. They have not the suppleness of thought possessed by Athene and Apollo. When Athene tries to reason with them after the verdict, it takes a while to get through to them; the Furies repeat their list of grievances and threats verbatim before Athene's arguments begin to make any impression on them.

But Athene is gracious, acknowledging the wisdom possessed by the Furies. While Clytaemestra used persuasion and flattery as part of her scheme to murder Agamemnon, Athene acknowledges Persuasion as her ally in taming the Furies (ll. 970-2). The abuses of Persuasion and Fear are corrected. Persuasion becomes the voice of reason, reconciliation, and diplomacy, and Fear becomes the tool of justice.

In successfully bringing the Furies into the new order, Athene ends the danger of the new gods trampling the old ways. Apollo, unable to contain his disdain for the Furies throughout, exits in a huff with Orestes. It is Athene who is wise enough to recognize that the Furies are the embodiments of a vital aspect of Truth. They were gods before Athene and Apollo were born, and they have their own kind of wisdom. According to Aeschylus' vision, their ferocity and strength can be part of maintaining order. Integration in the Oresteia is not the fusion between equals; the many opposing forces we have seen (male versus female, old versus new, primal versus rationally) are reconciled by the arrangement at the end of the play, but in most cases, one force is subordinated to the other. Female power supports and submits to male power; the old make way for the new; the primal forces accept their place in a rational pantheon. Still, no force is eradicated. The subordinate forces are necessary to the new order. The strength of the new order is dependent on integrating the primal past. The Furies are powerful allies for the young city of Athens; they are significantly transformed after accepting Athene's offer, but at their core they retain their ferocity and power to strike fear into men's hearts.

Aeschylus ends with a celebration of his own homeland and a tribute to Destiny and the plans of Zeus. The trilogy ends with the promise of a mighty destiny for Athens; the city's strength will come from its incorporation of the archaic alongside the rational, the violent alongside the gentle. Reason will be among the city's tools, as will ferocity and strength of arms.

Zeus and Destiny, sing the women of the Second Chorus, have willed that the Furies and Athene should make peace with one another. We have been made to understand the will of the gods. The urge to create teleology, or explain the ways of the divine in human terms, is an important theme of the trilogy. All of the events that have rocked the House of Atreus have led to this great triumph. The trilogy has explained to us how the people of the House of Atreus played a part in the progression of civilization. Brutality followed brutality for generations, until the gods intervened. Out of the need to deal with this violence rose the first homicide court of Athens. We must see the earlier tragedies of the house as part of a greater design, one leading to a hopeful and harmonious new order. Aeschylus captures a mythical moment in history, one in which the world was torn between a savage and archaic past and the bold new order of Greek civilization, the young Olympian gods, and rationality. The difficulty of the struggle between these two worlds is dramatized by the cycle of violence in the House of Atreus and the clash between Apollo and the Furies. The Oresteia is about the growing pains of a nascent civilization. In the end, the new has to integrate the old rather than destroy it; with help from the gods, the young is reconciled with the ancient. Out of the tragedies of the House of Atreus, Destiny has raised up a richer, deeper order, strengthening and civilizing men and gods alike.