Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus

The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus.  Translated by Richmond Lattimore
Published: 458 BC
Rating: 4

In the second play, The Libation Bearers, the setting is several years after the gruesome regicide of Agamemnon.  Aegisthis and Clytaemestra are king and queen of Argos.  Of the three children born to Agamemnon and Clytaemestra, only Electra is at the palace.  Iphigenia had been sacrificed to appease the gods at the start of the Trojan War and Orestes, her brother was sent away by Clytaemestra when she and Aegisthus had become lovers.  Key questions to be answered by the end of the trilogy are:
  • How does Thyestes' curse on the house of Atreus play out? 
  • Does it get resolved?  If so, how?
  • What are the consequences?
At the start of the play, Electra and some slave women are at Agamemnon's tomb, pouring out libations at the request of Clytaemestra, who had a nightmare of giving birth to a snake that suckled at her breast, drawing both milk and blood.   Electra has been reduced to a slave-like status herself and prays fervently for the return of Orestes so they can avenge their father's death.

Unbeknownst to her, he is there, listening to her prayer.   They are joyously reunited and plot their revenge.  After the dreadful deeds are done, both king and queen are dead.  Justice for Agamemnon's death has been served but Vengeance continues.  This is the problem with revenge killings; it never stops.

Memorable quotes:

Chorus at Agamemnon's tomb - this reminds me of the dead King Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet:
And they who read the dream meanings
and spoke under guarantee of God
told how under earth
dead men held a grudge still
and smoldered at their murderers (39-41).
Electra and Orestes work themselves up to the conviction needed to kill mother and step-father:
For we are bloody like the wolf
and savage born from the savage mother (Electra: 421-422). 
Warstrength shall collide with warstrength; right with right (Orestes: 461). 
I turn snake to kill her (Orestes: 550).
Powerful metaphor give by the chorus before Orestes goes to the palace:
Right's anvil stands staunch on the ground
and the smith, Destiny, hammers out the sword.
Delayed in glory, pensive from
the murk, Vengeance brings home at last
a child, to wipe out the stain of blood shed long ago (646-651).
But there is no peace for Orestes for the Furies have come in full force to avenge matricide (the killing of one's mother).  The descriptions are horrifying:
Women who serve this house, they come like gorgons, they
wear robes of black, and they are wreathed in a tangle of snakes....
how they grow and multiply,
repulsive for the blood drops of their dripping eyes (1048-1050 and 1057-1058).
The chorus ends on a cliffhanger:
Where is the end?
Where shall the fury of fate
be stilled to sleep, be done with? (1075-1076).

1 comment:

  1. Love the quotes you've included! -Sarah