The Imagery of Bloodshed in The Oresteia
In the prologue of Agamemnon, the first play of Aeschylus' trilogy, The
Oresteia, the watchman implores the gods for "a blessed end to all our
pain." (20). He is asking for deliverance from the retributive system of
justice, where the only certainty is that bloodshed breeds more bloodshed.
The old men of the chorus in their opening chant, "Hymn to Zeus," declare
that suffering must be experienced before man can be released from this
ceaseless irredeemable bloodshed and thus be, "free from all the pain." (1)
They declare that it is a law laid down by Zeus "that we must suffer,
suffer into truth./ We cannot sleep, and drop by drop at the heart/ the
pain of pain remembered comes again,/ and we resist, but ripeness comes as
well." (177-184) Eventually, as the more and more of the agony of
remembered pain, the blood, drips away from the heart, there will be
"ripeness." The blood will be transformed from pain into a deliverance
from the blood vendetta.
Throughout the Oresteia, there is a transformation
in Aeschylus' use of blood imagery. In Agamemnon, he uses it to illustrate
the suffering and hopelessness that arise out of the vendetta system of
justice. Then, in The Libation Bearers, he continues use of the imagery as
the bloody cycle continues and also uses it to testify to the beginnings of
the search for a deliverance from all the bloodshed. Finally, in The
Eumenides, through a change in the pattern of the imagery, Aeschylus
illuminates the deliverance and "ripeness" brought forth by a new order
that breaks the cycle of blood deeds.
In Agamemnon, Aeschylus presents the sufferi...
... middle of paper ...
...caused by the
retributive system of justice. Aeschylus illustrates this process of
deliverance through the imagery of bloodshed . In Agamemnon, he uses it to
illustrate the hopelessness that results from the futile and unending cycle
of the blood vendetta. In The Libation Bearers, he uses the imagery to
further illuminate the impossibility of redeeming bloodshed and to testify
to the beginnings of the search for deliverance. Finally, in The Eumenides,
the images of bloodshed are transformed into ones of "ripeness" testifying
that a blessed end to all the pain can be found in a resolution between the
ancient vendetta and the new social order.
Aeschylus. Aeschylus, The Oresteia A New Translation for the Theater by Aeschylus,. Translated by Wendy Doniger and David Greene. University of Chicago Press, 1989.
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