Essay on Suffering in the Oresteia

Essay on Suffering in the Oresteia

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In the Greek play, the Oresteia, suffering acts as a vital role in the lives of the main characters. One character, the chorus, discusses suffering at great length. The chorus is made up of old men who were too old to fight against Troy, and who often give the audience an inside view to the actions happening on stage.

The chorus sites hubris, the Greek word referring to mortal pride or arrogance, as being the cause of many bad fates. Someone guilty of hubris aspires to be more and do more than what the gods allow, resulting in severe punishment and a tragic destiny. As an example, the chorus recites the story of Ouranus in lines 168-175 of Agamemnon. They tell of his pride and arrogance, and how both ultimately led to his fall. They continue to list two of his successors who suffered the same fate. Hubris is also discussed in lines 461-470, explaining that, "The gods are not blind to men who... unjustly prosper." The chorus views this arrogance as a terrible offense to the gods, and warns all those who dare set themselves beyond Justice to limit their belongings to what they need and what the gods allot them. They offer this warning so that all people might "avoid this suffering," (Agamemnon, lines 370-381).

But once someone commits hubris or any other offense towards the gods, can their fate be changed? The chorus suggests that one's destiny is set and unchanging, leading to a great deal of suffering. In lines 67-72 of Agamemnon, they chant, "It is the way of Destiny/ that what will be, will be,/ and neither by burning offerings on high,/ nor pouring sacred wine below,/ can you calm the relentless rage." Nearly as often as Destiny is discussed, pain and suffering are included. In line 130, the chorus speaks of Troy as, "do...


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...rying out twice, "You young gods have ridden roughshod over/ the ancient ways,/ wrenched them from our grasp./ We are dishonored and dejected,/ and our anger rises..." (lines 778-781 and 808-811).

In this case, Orestes's suffering was answered. His fate was changed. However, it is important to note that Orestes did not commit hubris. He did not go out of the bounds of what the gods had set for him. Apollo told him to kill his mother, and he obeyed. Even though this contradicted the laws of the Furies, the help of the young, "new" gods prevailed. So, an answer to suffering is found in the end, but only for certain cases. Even in the final verses, a hint of change is found in the voice of the Furies, "All -seeing Zeus/ and Destiny, unite to seal our truce," (lines 1045-1046). It appears to be a case of a new generation of gods taking over an out-of-date decree.

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