Aeschylus: Familial Loyalty/Vengeance Versus Duty to the State/Justice
In the third and final play of The Oresteia trilogy, The Eumenides, Apollo testifies for Orestes and the Furies testify for the late Clytemnestra in a trial that will decide whether or not Orestes is guilty. In this play, a new system of justice centered around rationale and testimony is established. However, parallel to the establishment of a new justice system is a leap towards a society in which claims of men are have more authority over those of women, male-dominated society. The new rule of law also comes to support the marginalization of motherhood and therefore women in general. In this essay, I shall argue that in Aeschylus’ The Eumenides, the battle of the genders, with the Furies representing parental equality and Apollo representing male dominance. The loss on the Furies’ front defines a new social order that weakens the role of the mother and women in society.
The Libation Bearers is the second part of the trilogy Oresteia, written by Aeschylus. It has been known that Athens has gifted the world with two exquisite creation of beauty – the Parthenon and the Oresteia. Aeschylus had established himself as a legendary figure in the field of drama in the west. The trilogy Oresteia reveals a great deal of his unique ideas. There was a mystery about the origination of Greek drama even in the fourth century BC. Religious celebrations along with associated songs and dance were the surrounding circumstances. Athenians have largely contributed to the transformation of Greek drama by the 6th century BC when they transformed a rural celebration of Dionysus into an urban festival with dancing choruses liable to be appraised. The chorus comprising of masked actors was born out of an the idea that came from an anonymous poet and later, Aeschylus modified the art by using two masked actors, each of whom played different roles throughout the play. This can be called a transformation from many dimensions since the Greek drama originated from this transformation. The modern readers may find the Chorus as a foreign element of the play. The Greek drama was an exquisite form of art where the actors were adorned with masks, and the performances incorporated song and dance. Hence it was not a “naturalistic” presentation. The Chorus emphasizes on poetical representation of themes with a represent of a group of characters. In case of The Libation Bearers, slave women living in Clytaemestra’s palace and captives from old wars are all a part of the Chorus. Those slave women had loyalty towards Orestes and Electra while they hated Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus. Their interaction with the actors plays a significant part in the conspiracy. In general, the choruses of the Oresteia are more intensely tied up with the action than in the works of the other two great Greek tragedians. Despite all Aeschylus, was nearer to convention in which the Chorus was the entire show.
Pelasgus, the King of Argos, has just had a group of fifty sisters arrive at his shores together with their father Danaus. The sisters are escaping from forced marriage to their cousins, the fifty sons of Danaus’ twin brother Aegyptus (Bakewell 303). The sisters, together with their father, plead with the king to grant them permission to reside within his kingdom to escape the lecherous pursuit of their husbands-to-be and their band of captors, led by Herald of Egypt. The first matter that is at stake for Pelasgus is his authority. Pelasgus’ kingdom is a sort of consultative monarchy and Pelasgus seems to draw his right to rule from making decisions that are arrived at consultatively, and are in the best interest of the people within the Argos kingdom. Therefore, although he feels compassion for the group of asylum seekers, he cannot make a unilateral decision because any opposition to such a decision within the ordinary people of the Kingdom might create discontent and thus challenge his authority. His Kingdom is also at stake. Pelasgus realizes that there is a distinct possibility that were he to grant asylum to the group, their pursuers might very well wage war against his Kingdom in a bid to re-capture the group. Since he has not had the time to asses the strength and weaknesses of the pursuing band, the likelihood that his Kingdom could be overrun in the pretext of re-capturing the girls is eminent.The band of captures is also in hot pursuit therefore, the decisions he is going to make are hurried, which may not augur well for his kingdom. As king, Pelasgus cannot also wholly trust the word of the asylum seekers, and he needs to consult, because the group may as well be spies sent by enemy Kingdoms. If he grants them asylum and they turn out to be spies or agent provocateurs of sorts, his kingdom is doomed (Garvie, Frank, 1969.
Obviously, Clytaemnestra behavior is typically that of a man, this upsets the Chorus of Elders. By doing everything in a manly manner she believes that she has finally delivered justice to Argos, she manages to end the curse of bloodshed that had been in force for several years. In the chorus “I swept from these halls/the murder,” it is enough evidence for her belief, According to her, the murders of Agamemnon and Cassandra marks the erasure of previous generations’ bloodshed.
Bakewell, Geofrey. “Aeschylus’ Supplices 11-12: Danaus as Pessonomon.” Classical Quarterly 58.1 (2008): 303-307.
Garvie, Frank. Aeschylus’ Supplices, Play, and Trilogy. Cambridge, 1969.