In this essay I will examine the war-of the-sexes taking place in The Eumenides, the final play of The Oresteia. The plot of The Eumenides pits Orestes and Apollo (representing the male gods and, to a certain extent, male values in general) against the ghost of Clytemnestra and the Furies (equally representative of female values.) Of more vital importance, however, is whether Athene sides with the males or females throughout the play.
The character of Orestes is somewhat down-played in The Eumenides and in fact his role is far less significant than that of Apollo. Our first sight of Orestes sees him in a contradictory stance at Delphi, "Orestes holds a suppliant's branch in one hand, wreathed with a shining, pious tuft of wool, but in the other hand a bloody sword - bloody from his mother's wounds or from Apollo's purges, or both, since purging contaminates the purger and Apollo's shrine is polluted either way." (Fagles, R., The Serpent and the Eagle, p. 73, Penguin Classics, 1977.) Orestes admits his guilt (with no small amount of rationalization) but also attempts to place the bulk of the blame on Apollo, "And Apollo shares the guilt - he spurred me on, he warned of the pains I'd feel unless I acted, brought the guilty down." (Aeschylus, The Eumenides, Robert Fagles Trans., lines 479 - 481, Penguin Classics, 1977.) Apollo is representative of the new gods and, more particularly, of Zeus. "In the rapid succession of scenes at Delphi the representatives of the male and female divine forces appear before our eyes in bitter enmity with each other. And, they are indeed only representatives. Apollo speaks with the voice of Zeus... and hence of the Olympian patriarchy..." (Harington, J.,...
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... of Athens - all will praise her, victor city, pride of man." (Aeschylus, The Eumenides, Robert Fagles Trans., lines 919 - 926, Penguin Classics, 1977.) Note she even uses a masculine construction in this statement (I love them as a gardener loves his plants.) And ultimately where actions are used to imply character, Athene's works are all in the interests of the male, when acting in the interests of the female (or, indeed, of herself) she is merely acting with diplomacy.
- Aeschylus, The Oresteia, Robert Fagles Trans., Penguin Classics, (1977).
- Fagles, R., The Serpent and the Eagle, Penguin Classics, (1977).
- Harington, J., Aeschylus, Yale University Press, (1986).
- Sommerstein, A. H., Aeschylean Tragedy, Levante Editori-Bari, (1996).
- Thomson, G., The Oresteia of Aeschylus, Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, (1966).
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