“Ah, ah! You slave women, look at them there: like Gorgons, wrapped in sable garments, entwined with swarming snakes! I can stay no longer” Orestes, speaking of the Erinyes at the finale of The Libations Bearers
At Hour 25 we continue to study The Oresteia; a trilogy of plays by Aeschylus. Currently under review is The Libation Bearers. As usual my emphasis is not so much the main character; Agamemnon of the first play of the same name, nor his son or daughter who are the main characters in the present play, but rather on the Erinyes; the ancient goddesses of vengeance.1. Still No Erinyes
Just like the first play for all the talk of “malignant powers from underneath”, blood crying out for the Furies, the personified Curses of the slain, deep-brooding Erinyes, and “the hounds of wrath that avenge a mother: Tisiphone, Megaira and Alecto don’t appear on stage. Okay, maybe they appear at the final moment of the play, but they are clearly off-stage. Regardless of Loxias’ prophecy that the Erinyes will hound Orestes if he does not avenge his father’s killing, they don’t. The god of Delphi threatens the fallen Agamemnon’s son with “the wrath of malignant powers from underneath the earth, and telling of plagues & leprous ulcers” and who are stirred by kindred victims calling for vengeance, and madness, and groundless terrors out of the night, torment and harass a man” But the powers that Loxias threatens Orestes with, don’t seem interested in him, until the final moments of the play when our young hero slays his mother, Clytemnestra. “Have you no regard for a parent’s curse, my son?....Take care: beware the hounds of wrath that avenge a mother.”2. Locks and Rivers
“Look, I bring a lock of hair to Inakhos [The river-god of Argos.] in compensation for his care, “Achilles discusses this ritual in honor of his own home-town river Spercheüs. (Iliad 23:138) Why the river? Why not the local nymph?3. Heroic Honors and the Proto-Event
Recently at Hour 25 we meet with Lenny Muellner. One of the topics discussed was his proto-event theory in “The Anger of Achilles”. Proto-events are things that happen and at the time there is not context then just in retrospect. So, Uranus was not the first King of the Gods, because, no one knew what a king was or who “gods” were. For example Julius Caesar was never crowned Caesar, Augustus was the first Caesar. Likewise Electra was presenting her father Agamemnon heroic honors for the first time as it would be forever after. The experiences the foreign slaves had of heroic honors is the proto-event to the Greek mind. The House of Atreus sending a princess to perform them is the first time and hence forth Agamemnon (and Cassandra) received honors (conceptually) forever. Ain’t that cool?4. The Answers to Electra’s Rhetorical Questions.
“O mother Earth, she sends me forth, godless woman that she is. But I am afraid to utter the words she charged me to speak. For what atonement is there for blood fallen to earth?” (45) Now there is irony or wisdom. One mariticide, Clytemnestra asking the proto- mariticide Gaea for help. Yes mariticide means; husband-killer.) And the answer to Electra’s question as to what atonement there is for blood fallen to earth is; Erinyes (Hesiod, Theogony 176)5. More Comparisons of Agamemnon to an Eagle
At line 110 of the Agamemnon there is a reference to him as an eagle and here in the Libation Bearers the poet says, “Behold the orphaned brood of a father eagle that perishes”. Aeschylus refers to their “nest” and calls Orestes and Electra “nestlings”. And how did Agamemnon die? “…a father eagle that perishes in the meshes, in the coils of a fierce viper.” The viper in question is of course Clytemnestra and consequently it only makes sense that she should birth a viper (Orestes) in a dream later on in The Libations Bears. “What food did it crave, the newborn viper? In her dream she offered it her own breast. “(530) It only makes sense that a viper births a viper and that the poison in her veins should be passed to him. I am reminded of Hera’s poisoned left breast nursing the hydra and an argument that Hera’s “bile” passed through her milk to Thetis and Thetis’ to Achilles. Both pointing out the long life and re-cycling ability of that slow poison which when clutched to the chest eventually kills its possessor.6. Orestes Should Have Listened to Homer
“The gifts are too paltry for her offense [hamartia]. 520 For though a man may pour out all he has in atonement for one deed of blood, it is wasted effort. So the saying goes”. That is pretty opposite the argument presented in the Embassy Scene of the Iliad7. Confounding of the Fates and Furies
There seems to be a lot of confusing other goddesses with the Erinyes. Around 310 & 950 the Fates unleash a very fury-like Dike. At 650 the Fates are the smithies producing weapons on the Dikes anvil for the Furies. (I looked up “anvil” at Perseus.org one of the resulting entries included “thunderbolt”) And finally the Erinyes are described as Gorgon-like; which is odd because Medusa was originally a looker, so her immortal sisters should have been good looking. Medusa was the only one to become scary … and dead. What was Aeschylus trying to say?
In summary, no Erinyes until Orestes killed a blood relative, Aeschylus tossed in some ancient ritual, there is some logic for Clytemnestra asking the Earth for help, the analogy of Agamemnon to an eagle continues with his children and his inter-species marriage to that viper Clytemnestra gets tossed into the metaphoric mix, Orestes totally blew off the argument of accepting blood-money and Aeschylus seems to wax a little too poetic at times mixing up is goddesses.