The Eumenides by Aeschylus
“I give first place of honor in my prayer to her
who of the gods first prophesied, the Earth; and next
to Themis, who succeeded to her mother’s place
of prophecy; so runs the legend; and in third
succession, given by free consent, not won by force,
another Titan daughter of Earth was seated here. …..”
Time passes and Orestes arrives at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, still pursued by the Furies. His conflict continues in tormenting unrelief and he appeals to Apollo for alleviation from his guilt. He has avenged his father, but in doing so has murdered his mother. Divine command has clashed with divine decree, and he is helpless to navigate his way through the maze of paradoxical possibilities. The priestess, Pythia, is shocked to find him in the suppliant’s chair with a sword dripping with blood and the sleeping Furies surrounding him. A spell has been placed upon them by Apollo so Orestes can travel unhampered to Athens, which he does after Apollo absolves him of complicity in his murder of Clytaemestra. But now he must seek Athena for a possible resolution to his dilemma.
The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus
“Hermes, lord of the dead, who watch over the powers
of my fathers, be my saviour and stand by my claim.
Here is my own soil that I walk. I have come home;
and by this mounded gravebank I invoke my sire
to hear, to listen …..”
|Mercury (Hermes) (1636-38)
Peter Paul Rubens
source Wikimedia Commons
The play opens with Orestes standing at the tomb of Agamemnon, with a request to Hermes (or “Cthonic Hermes” who acts as a messenger between the Olympian gods and the Underworld) for favour and for the ear of his father, to bring his spirit back into play. Sadly, in the only surviving manuscript of The Libation Bearers brought to Florence in the 15th century, the opening speech is damaged and there are number of missing lines, the number of which can only be guessed (an estimate is 80 lines). However, other lines survive in works of other authors: the first five lines are written in Aristophanes’ play, The Frogs, and other lines can be found in the commentaries of other authors, however, it is expected that most of the explanatory prologue has been lost.
|The Sacrifice of Ipheginia by Agamemnon (1671)
Agamemnon by Aeschylus
“Dear gods, set me free from all the pain,
the long watch I keep, one whole year awake …
propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of Atreus like a dog.”
Agamemnon is the first of a trilogy of plays called The Oresteia, the next two plays being The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides, all performed in 458 B.C., only two years before the death of Aeschylus. This surviving unified trilogy allows the reader to experience the development of these three-part stories and to observe the common strands of informatiion and enlightenment winding throughout. Each play would have built support and framework for the others. However, even though we have all three plays of this trilogy, the satyr play Proteus is lost, as it would have been a type of comic epilogue to finish The Oresteia.