Notes on Characters from The Eumenides

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The Eumenides Major Characters

Orestes: Son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra; King of Argos. Orestes was warned by Apollo that he would suffer if he did not avenge Agamemnon's death by killing Clytaemnestra. After murdering his mother and her lover, Aegisthus, Orestes is pursued by the avenging Furies. He flees Argos to Apollo's temple at Delphi, seeking protection. Apollo puts the Furies to sleep for awhile, instructing Orestes to journey to Athens, where the goddess of wisdom, Athena, will help him. Soon after, Apollo and the Furies join Orestes at Athens where they participate in a public trial decided by twelve Athenian jurors. In the end the jurymen are divided in their decision, and Athena casts the deciding vote, acquitting Orestes. Overjoyed, he vows that citizens of Argos shall forever be allies with Athens and returns to his home city in peace, since the Furies cannot torment him any more.

Apollo: Son of Zeus and Leto; brother of Artemis; Greek god of light, music, and prophesy. Apollo protects Orestes from the Furies after he arrives at his Temple at Delphi. Later, Apollo testifies on behalf of Orestes at his trial at Athena's temple on the Acropolis in Athens. He insists that Orestes had a duty to avenge his father's death by killing Clytaemnestra, explaining that she was not in fact a blood relative of Orestes at all. Apollo uses Athena as an example of how mothers contribute nothing to a baby's creation, since she was born out of Zeus' head without the help of any woman. Since the Furies insist that Orestes must be punished for murdering a blood relative, Apollo convinces Athena that Agamemnon was the only blood relative of Orestes, acquitting him. After the trial, Apollo leaves Athens without another word.

Athena: Daughter of Zeus; Greek goddess of wisdom and war; the patron goddess of Athens; born from Zeus' head dressed in full battle armor. Athena is called to her temple on the Acropolis rock when Orestes arrives there, clutching her statue and begging for help. Hearing about his suffering, she realizes that a big decision needs to be made about whether Orestes should be punished as the Furies wish, or if he should be forgiven. Athena decides to establish a court on the Acropolis to deal with other accused criminals in the future as well, finding twelve Athenians to serve as jurors in Orestes' trial. She directs the Furies to state their accusations and then gives Orestes the chance to defend himself, with help from Apollo. Apollo convinces Athena that mothers are not blood relatives of their children, prompting her to tip the even balance in the jury's vote, favoring Orestes. Afterwards, she calms the irritated Furies by convincing them to rule Athens with her, after much persuasion. Athena leads them to a secret place beneath the ground where they will sit on golden thrones and bless the Athenian populace. Athena is pleased to hear Orestes' promise that Argos shall be allies with Athens, declaring that it will be the greatest city.

Minor Characters

Clytaemnestra: Daughter of Tyndareus and Leda; wife of Agamemnon, King of Troy; mother of Orestes. Clytaemnestra was outraged when Agamemnon sacrificed their eldest daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis, murdering him after the Trojan War. Orestes returned to Argos later and murdered her to avenge Agamemnon's death. Clytaemnestra's ghost appears at Apollo's temple in Delphi, demanding that the Furies punish Orestes for killing her. Her wish for revenge is unfulfilled, as Orestes is later acquitted with Athena's help after going through a public trial.

Chorus of Furies: Ancient goddesses of revenge with the heads of monstrous women, with snakes for hair; created from the blood that was shed when Zeus' father, Cronus, castrated his father, Uranus. The Furies punish the worst sins that humans can commit, especially kindred bloodshed. They show great contempt for the younger gods of Zeus' generation, demanding respect because they are so much older. At Clytaemnestra's insistence, they torment Orestes, demanding his death for killing Clytaemnestra. Athena determines that mothers are not blood relatives of their children, and the Furies are forced to leave Orestes alone. Athena then convinces the infuriated Furies to cast aside their rage to become peaceful protectors of Athens, ruling at her side. The Furies agree after much persuasion, transforming into the Eumenides or the 'Benevolent Ones.' They then only wish for peace and love throughout Athens. The Furies finally get the respect they have sought by becoming a part of this younger world they had once despised.

Agamemnon: Son of Atreus and Aerop; King of Argos; father of Orestes; husband of Clytaemnestra. Agamemnon was murdered by his wife after returning from the Trojan War. Apollo informed Orestes of his duty to avenge Agamemnon's death by killing Clytaemnestra. Orestes completed this task, and Agamemnon's restless spirit was at last lain to rest.

Iphigenia: Eldest daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. In order for the Greek ships to sail away to Troy, the goddess Artemis demanded that Agamemnon sacrifice Iphigenia at a small town called Aulis. Clytaemnestra was outraged when Agamemnon did this, murdering him after the Trojan War to avenge Iphigenia's unfortunate death.

Aegisthus: Son of Thyestes; cousin of Agamemnon; King of Argos; lover of Clytaemnestra. Aegisthus helped Clytaemnestra to plot Agamemnon's murder because Agamemnon's father, Atreus, had murdered his older siblings. Once this revengeful act was done, Aegisthus crowned himself king of Argos with Clytaemnestra as his queen. Orestes later slew Aegisthus to avenge Agamemnon's death and punish this adulterer. Aegisthus' spirit does not appear, demanding revenge like that of Clytaemnestra, because he was not a blood relative.

Atreus: Son of Pelops; King of Argos; father of Agamemnon and Menelaus; brother of Thyestes. Atreus cooked Thyestes' children in the oven, exiling Thyestes from Argos after learning that he had a love affair with Atreus' wife, Aerope. Thyestes' son, Aegisthus, later returned to Argos and plotted the murder of Atreus' son, Agamemnon, in order to get revenge for what Atreus had done to his father.

Thyestes: Son of Pelops; brother of Atreus; father of Aegisthus. Thyestes had a love affair with Atreus' wife, Aerope, prompting a jealous Atreus to cook Thyestes' children in the oven and feed them to him. Thyestes then raised his remaining son, Aegisthus, in exile, never to return to Argos. Aegisthus later plotted the murder of Atreus' son, Agamemnon, in order to get revenge for what Atreus had done to Thyestes.

Aerope: Wife of Atreus; mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus. After Aerope had a love affair with her brother-in-law Thyestes, a jealous Atreus cooked Thyestes' children in the oven.

Pythia: Priestess in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Many travelers come to the Pythia to hear prophesies about the future, for she is a direct bridge to these humans and Apollo, god of prophesy. The Pythia gets her name because the temple once was controlled by a monstrous python snake. This python was shot dead by Apollo's arrows, and he was thereafter known as 'Pythian Apollo.' Because the priestess lives in the temple and forms a link to Apollo, she is in turn called the 'Pythia.' She runs out of the temple after seeing a bloody Orestes inside with the Furies, declaring that Apollo himself must deal with this situation.

Bromius: Another name for Dionysus, Greek god of wine and revelry. Bromius rules Delphi in the fall and winter, sharing the Temple of Apollo as his home during these months. The Pythia only gives prophesies during the spring and summer for this reason, since Apollo controls the temple during this time only.

Hermes: Greek messenger god and guide into Hades for dead spirits. Apollo sends Hermes to protect Orestes from the Furies as he journeys to Athens. Hermes is not heard from again after Orestes reaches his destination.

Zeus: King of the gods; Greek god of the heavens; son of Cronus and Rhea; father of Apollo and Athena. Many characters show great reverence for Zeus, except for the Furies who mock Zeus for being such a young god compared to them. Apollo insists that Zeus himself supported Orestes murderous actions against Clytaemnestra.

Mother Earth: Called Gaia, she is the first mother goddess of the world, from which all other gods came. Mother Earth was the first owner of the sacred temple at Delphi, eventually giving it to her daughter Themis, who was Apollo's great aunt. The temple at Delphi is very old and has belonged to many gods.

Themis: The daughter of Uranus and Mother Earth; sister of Phoebe; Greek goddess of Divine Justice. Themis owned the temple at Delphi after Mother Earth gave it to her. Themis gave it to her sister, Phoebe, who eventually gave the temple to her grandson, Apollo, god of truth, light, and prophesy.

Phoebe: Daughter of Uranus and Mother Earth; sister of Themis; grandmother of Apollo; Greek goddess of the Moon. Phoebe eventually gave the temple at Delphi to her grandson, Apollo, as a birthday present. Apollo is sometimes called 'Phoebus Apollo' because of his descent from her.

Hades: God of the Underworld; brother of Zeus; son of Cronus. Hades rules over the Underworld (also called Hades), where all human spirits go when their bodies die. There they are judged and treated accordingly; the wicked are punished, and the virtuous are blessed. Although the Furies claim to despise the younger gods such as Zeus, they praise Hades as being an god whom they respect.

Jury of twelve men: Twelve Athenian male citizens chosen by Athena to decide if Orestes should be punished or not for murdering Clytaemnestra. This jury system serves as a model for future court cases in Athena as well, as Athena establishes a tribunal there on the Acropolis. The jury's vote is evenly divided with six votes in favor of conviction and six favoring acquittal. Athena tips the balance by voting for acquittal, thus sparing Orestes from punishment. This incident models that in future Athenian court cases, if there is a tie again, then the judge presiding shall cast the deciding vote.

Herald: A messenger who blows his trumpet loudly to get the Athenians' attention, as the first court trial is beginning on the Acropolis in Athens. Athena wants the citizens to observe and learn how to conduct a trial in the future without her help.

Cronus: Son of Uranus and Gaia; Greek god of Time; father of Zeus; brother of Themis and Phoebe. Cronus castrated Uranus' penis, stealing his power, and the avenging Furies were born from Uranus' blood. Zeus overthrew Cronus, imprisoning him for what he had done to Uranus. The Furies compare Zeus' actions against Cronus to Clytaemnestra's avenging actions against Agammenon, justifying his murder. Apollo replies that Zeus did not kill Cronus, for he merely imprisoned him. Clytaemnestra made a mistake went by going to the extreme and murdering her husband in cold blood.

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