Oresteia Summary

Oresteia Summary

The most powerful king in the latest generation of Greek heroes was Agamemnon, the king of Argos. He was the chief of all the Greek forces in the Trojan War and then conquered and destroyed Troy. But his fate was terrible, and the fate of his son Orestes - even worse. They had to commit crimes and to pay for their own crimes and others’. Atreus, Agamemnon's father, brutally fought for power with his brother Thyestes. In this struggle Thyestes seduced Atreus’ wife, and Atreus killed Thyestes’ two young children and fed their meat to Thyestes. For this a terrible curse laid down on Atreus and his family. The third son of Thyestes named Aegisthus, escaped and grew up in a foreign land, to seek only one thing: revenge for his father.

Atreus had two sons: the heroes of the Trojan War, Agamemnon and Menelaus. They married two sisters: Menelaus with Helen, Agamemnon with Clytemnestra. When the Trojan War started, because of Helen, the Greek army under the command of Agamemnon gathered for sailing in the harbor of Aulis. There they received an ambiguous sign: two eagle devoured a pregnant hare. Soothsayers said that two kings would take Troy, full of treasures, but they could not escape the wrath of the goddess Artemis, the patroness of pregnant women and mothers. Indeed, Artemis sent to the Greek ships contrary winds, and demands a human sacrifice - a young Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. The leader won in Agamemnon over father's feelings and he gave Iphigenia to death. The Greeks sailed to Troy and Clytemnestra stayed at Argos thinking only of one thing - revenge for her daughter.

Two avengers find each other: Aegisthus and Clytemnestra become lovers, and those ten years that the war lasted, were waiting for the return of Agamemnon. Finally Agamemnon returned in triumph. When he washed in the bath, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus threw a cover over him and hit him with an ax. After that, they ruled in Argos as a king and a queen. But a little son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, Orestes, stays alive. The feeling of a mother won and Clytemnestra sent him to foreign lands, so Aegisthus would not kill her son. Orestes grew in distant Phocis thinking only of one thing - revenge for Agamemnon. For his father he should kill his mother; it is terrible, but a prophetic god Apollo authoritatively tells him: "It's your duty."

Orestes grew up and came to take revenge. With him came his friend Pylades. They pretended to be travelers, which brought the news, sad and joyful at the same time: that Orestes has died in a foreign country, and Aegisthus and Clytemnestra have no longer to be afraid. They were admitted to the king and queen, and here Orestes performed his terrible duty: first killed his stepfather, and then his own mother. Who would continue this chain of death, who would take revenge on Orestes? Aegisthus Clytemnestra had no children to become avengers. And then goddess of vengeance monstrous Erin sent him crazy, he desperately rushed across Greece and finally crouched to the god Apollo asking the god of help.

Apollo opposes the goddesses: they stand for the ancient belief that the mother's relationship is more important than father’s, and he for a new conviction that his father's relationship is more important than the mother’s. Who will judge the gods? People. In Athens, under the supervision of the goddess Athena the court of elders decides: Orestes is right, he must be purified from sin.

These myths are used by Aeschylus in his trilogy "Oresteia" - three tragedies continuing one another: "Agamemnon", "Libation Bearers", and "Eumenides".

"Agamemnon" is the longest one. It starts unusual. In Argos, on the flat roof of the royal palace, lies a sentinel slave and looks at the horizon: when Troy falls, then near to it the fire will be lighted, and the message will reach Argos that the victory has been achieved, and Agamemnon will soon be home. He waits without sleep for ten years under heat and cold - and there a fire erupts, he jumps up and runs to inform the Queen Clytemnestra.

There enters a choir of Argos’ elders: they still known nothing. They are singing in a long song about all the evils of war - and treachery of Paris, and a betrayal of Helen, and the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and the current unjust power in Argos. At that moment Clytemnestra comes out of the palace and announces that Troy is taken, the warriors are coming home, and who is righteous - good will be returned to him, and who is a sinner – will receive evil.

The choir responds with another song: they sing about the gratitude to the gods for victory and anxiety for winners. A messenger of Agamemnon confirms victory, commemorates ten years of torment at Troy and tells the story of the storm on the way back when the whole sea "blossomed with corpses" - obviously there were many unjust. But Agamemnon is alive, and great as a God. Chorus sings again that guilt bears guilt and again curses the instigator of the war - Helen, Clytemnestra’s sister.

And finally Agamemnon with the captives enters. He really is great as God. Clytemnestra, bending, spreads a purple carpet for him. He recoils, and says that he is a man, and purple is only for gods, but she quickly persuades him, and Agamemnon enters the palace on the purple carpet, and Clytemnestra comes after him with an ambiguous prayer to Zeus asking him to make happen what she prays for. The measure is exceeded: retribution is approaching. The choir sings about the vague sense of misfortune. And he hears an unexpected response: on the stage appears the captive of Agamemnon, the Trojan princess Cassandra, loved by Apollo who gave her the gift of prophecy, but she rejected Apollo, and he did so that no one believed her prophecies. Now she cries of the past and future of Argos home: human carnage, eaten babies, death from an ax, and a son who killed his mother. The choir gets scared, and there behind the scene Agamemnon’s moanings are hear, he is killed with an ax.

In the inner chambers of the palace lie the corpses of Agamemnon and Cassandra, above them stands Clytemnestra. She says that it is her revenge for her killed daughter. The chorus terrified cries for the killed king and curses the villain: the demon of vengeance lives in the house, there is no end of trouble. Near Clytemnestra rises Aegisthus and tells of his own revenge. The elders of the chorus go on Aegisthus with the swords, Aegisthus is calling for the custody, and Clytemnestra pulls them apart and tells that now it is their right to rule in Argos. The end of the first tragedy.

The action of the second tragedy takes place eight years later: Orestes grew up and, accompanied by Pylades arrives to revenge. He leans over the tomb of Agamemnon and puts as a sign of his loyalty a lock of his hair. And then he hides, because sees the approaching choir.

These are Choephoroi, the libation bearers, the tragedy is called after them. Libations of water, wine and honey were made on the graves to honor the deceased. Clytemnestra continues to fear Agamemnon even dead, she has terrible dreams, so she sent here libations slaves led by Electra, Orestes’ sister. They love Agamemnon, and hate Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, and yearn for Orestes. Electra says she does not want to be like her mother and wants her brother Orestes to come back and revenge for their father. But maybe he's back already, as she sees on the grave of a lock of hair - in color like Electra’s. Here in front of the grave is a footprint - like Electra’s. Electra does not know what to think, and then enters Orestes.

The recognition was quick, of course first Electra does not believe, but Orestes shows her the cloak she herself has woven it for him when he was a kid. Brother and sister hug each other. Apollo and the imperative will of revenge connect them against general offender - Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Echoing the chorus, they pray to the gods for help. Clytemnestra dreamed that she gave birth to a snake and the snake bitten her in the chest. Let the dream come true! Orestes tells the chorus and Electra how he will penetrate into the palace to the wicked queen; the chorus responds with a song about evil women of bygone days - of wives, who out of jealousy killed all the men on the island of Lemnos, of Scylla, who for the sake of her lover ruined her father; of Alfea, who in revenge for her brothers, killed her own son.

Orestes and Pylades, disguised as pilgrims, are knocking at the palace’s doors. Clytemnestra comes out to them. Orestes informs that when he was passing Phocis he was told that Orestes is dead, and they said to inform in Argos that if they wanted could send for his body. Clytemnestra cries out: she feels sorry for her son, she wanted to save him from Aegisthus, but did not save him from death. Unrecognized Orestes and Pylades enter the house. Increase tragedy is interrupted by an episode almost comical: Orestes' old nurse complains to the chorus how she loved him as a baby, and fed, and washed his diapers, and now he's dead.

Aegisthus appears: to believe or not to believe the news? He enters the palace, the choir stops - and here comes from the palace an attack and moan. Clytemnestra runs, and Orestes with Pylades are after her with a sward. She opens the chest asking for pity and Orestes hasitates. He asks Pylades for advise, and the last one, who has been silent before, reminds him of his vows and Apollo’s will. Orestes hesitates no more. Clytemnestra shouts that the fate predestined her to kill her husband, Orestes responds that his fate predestined him to kill her.

The palace’s doops open and there lie the corpses of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, Orestes stands above them shaking Agamemnon’s bloody cover. He already feels Erin approaching. He says that Apollo told him, in revenge for his father to kill his mother; Apollo promised him to clear him from this bloody sin. He runs away, and the chorus sings: "What will be?" The second tragedy ends.

The third tragedy "Eumenides " starts before the temple of Apollo at Delphi. At the altar stands Orestes with the sword the olive branch of a supplicant; around him is the chorus of Erins, daughters of Night, black and monstrous. They are asleep: Apollo made them sleep to rescue Orestes. Apollo said him to run, to cross land and sea, and appear in Athens, where a trial will be held. Orestes escapes.

Clytemnestra’s shadow appears and appeals to Erins for revenge. Erins wake up and in chorus curse Apollo. Apollo accepts the challenge, and between them a short argument occurs. Erins claim that matricide should be killed, but Apollo protects Orestes. And they rush off to Athens: Erin to kill Orestes, Apollo to save him.

Next action takes place in Athens: Orestes sits in front of the temple of the goddess, hugging her idol, and calls out to her court, Erin dance around him singing. Athena appears from the temple and says it is not up to het to judge Orestes. She wants the citizens of Athens to decide who is right.

Athenian elders come out; Athena follows them, in front of them - on the one hand are Erins, on the other - Orestes and his mentor Apollo. The dispute starts. Apollo claims that father is closer to the son than mother, Erins claim that husband is not a blood relative to his wife. Athena tells the elders to make their choice. One after another, they vote, dropping pebbles into the bowl: a bowl of judgment, in justification of the cup. Counted: votes are equally divided. Athena also voted in Orestes’s favour: mercy is above anger, male affinity is higher than female. Since then in the Athens Court when the equality of votes occurred, the defendant was considered justified - "the voice of Athena."

With Apollo victorious, Orestes gratefully leave the stage. Before Athena remain the Erins. They're in fury: the ancient foundations crumble, people violate tribal laws. They want to send on the Athenians famine, plague, and death. Athena tells them not to. Mercy is above bitterness, and she tells them to send the Athenian soil fertility, Athenian families many children, the Athenian state stronghold. The tribal revenge with the killings chain undermines the state from the inside, and the state must be strong to withstand external enemies. Be merciful to the Athenians, and the Athenians will always honor you as "Bona Dea" - Eumenides. And your sanctuary will be between the hills where Athena’s temple stands. And the chorus gradually appeased, receives a new honor, blesses the Athenian ground. And not Erins, but Eumenides, under the leadership of Athena, leave the stage.

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