In The Eumenides, the third book of The Oresteia, there exists a strong rivalry between the Furies and the god Apollo; from the moment of their first confrontation in Apollo’s temple at Delphi, it is clear that the god and the spirits are opposing forces. Their actions bring them into direct conflict, and both of them are stubbornly set on achieving their respective goals while at the same time interfering with or preventing the actions of the other. There is also considerable personal animosity between Apollo and the Furies, especially from the former toward the latter. Because of the differences between the respective ideals they stand for, their personal conflict is as intense as that brought about by their actions. The nature of the rivalry is ironic because they possess ideals that are very similar in some respects; both seek to establish order and justice in the world (although they have separate and very different conceptions of order and justice), and, therefore, they are striving for the same goals, yet neither realizes this truth.
Apollo and the Furies despise each other because their actions and even their very natures are diametrically opposed. In this play, Aeschylus depicts Apollo as a noble and virtuous figure, based on two traits for which the god is well known: an interest in peace and justice, and a tendency to passionately defend from harm individuals or groups of people who worship him. It is worth noting that The Eumenides is not the only incidence of Apollo protecting someone from the Furies; there exists a remarkably similar Greek legend in which Apollo commands a character named Alcmaeon to kill his mother (Grant 139), who had arranged for her ...
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...ries. Each is determined to achieve his/their goal while blocking the actions of the other. Their respective natures, in addition to their actions, also breed a strong mutual contempt between them. The play depicts Apollo as a seeker of peace and justice, and more importantly, as a defender of the weak, while the Furies are seemingly his antithesis--primitive creatures which incite murder and foment chaos within the Atreus family. However, the god and the spirits are also similar in that they wish to establish order in the world by ensuring justice for the mortals they patronize although their conceptions of justice and order are quite different, and this leads to the irony that they work to defeat each other without ever recognizing that there is a common bond between them.
Aeschylus. Oresteia. Trans. Peter Meineck. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998.
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