The Eumenides Line 1-234
After slaying his mother Clytaemnestra, Orestes has fled away from his city of Argos because he is tormented by the avenging Furies. The god Apollo supported Orestes' actions, encouraging him to punish her for murdering his father Agamemnon. This man was stabbed to death by Clytaemnestra soon after he had returned with the prophetess Cassandra from the Trojan War. Clytaemnestra killed her husband out of grief because he had sacrificed their eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to the goddess Artemis in order that she would send wind so that the Greek fleet could sail off to fight at Troy. Clytaemnestra's anger was increased after discovering that Agamemnon had sex with the captured Trojan, Cassandra, although she was unfaithful herself in her husband's absence, for her lover Aegisthus helped her to plot the murder. He took control of the kingship in Argos after Agamemnon's murder with Clytaemnestra as his queen, and the young prince Orestes was sent away to live in exile.
In contrast, Aegisthus was seeking revenge from the sins of Agamemnon's father Atreus by punishing his son. This man battled for the kingship of Argos against Aegisthus' father, Thyestes. When Atreus learned that Thyestes had been having sexual relations with his wife Aerope, he cooked Thyestes' children alive and fed them to him unknowingly at a banquet. Discovering what had happened, Thyestes fled with the infant Aegisthus, who avenged Atreus' crimes by plotting the murder of his son Agamemnon. Yet Orestes slew both Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus, although the pursing Furies do not care about Aegisthus' death. He was merely an adulterer, but it is a terrible sin to kill one's own mother. They torment Orestes, swarming around his head and clouding his thoughts. He then fled in pain far away from Argos and has begun a journey to reach the Oracle of Apollo in the city of Delphi. There, he hoped to discover why Apollo betrayed him, having assured him initially that he would endure no punishment for murdering Clytaemnestra, because he was avenging the more terrible death of his father.
Now, Orestes has not yet arrived at Delphi, and the priestess of Apollo, called the Pythia, is going about her daily business at the temple of Apollo, sending a prayer to the gods above and recalling events that have occurred in history. She names the people who have owned the sanctuary at Delphi before Apollo. First there was the Mother Earth, followed by her daughter Themis. Then Themis gave the temple to her sister Phoebe, who was Phoebus Apollo's grandmother. The sacred spot at Delphi was then given to Apollo, and it is to there that people now come to hear prophesies about what the future may bring.
The Pythia also recognizes that the goddess of wisdom, Athena directs all advice that she may give, because of the insight that is needed to see into the future. She adds that the temple at Delphi is sacred to another god named Bromius, also called Dionysus. He is the Greek god of wine and revelry. After all of this is said, the Pythia has makes it clear that Delphi has a great importance to many gods. She then urges any people standing outside of the temple to come within to hear Apollo's prophesies, "May all [gods]/grant me that this of all my entrances shall be/the best by far. If there are any Hellenes here/let them draw lots, so enter, as the custom is./My prophesy is only as the god may guide" Lines 29-33. She recognizes that she is merely a vessel through which Apollo speaks and that she has no prophetic powers herself.
Going within the temple, the Pythia hopes that this will be her one of her best sessions of prophesizing. She abruptly returns, excited and in a panic, crying aloud that she has seen an awful scene within the temple. She laments, "Things terrible to tell and for the eyes to see/terrible drove me out again from [Apollo's] house/so that I have no strength and cannot stand on springing/ feet, but run with my hands' help and my legs have no speed" Lines 34-37. The frightened woman, who is unaware that Orestes has returned to Delphi, describes exactly what she saw within the temple. First, there was a man with bloody hands "postured in the suppliant's seat," which is a location where one may ask for forgiveness. In front of him is a group of monstrous women, and from their "eyes drips the foul ooze" sleeping upon chairs; these are the same Furies that have tormented Orestes since he murdered his own mother Clytaemnestra. Obviously, the Furies have chased him all the way to Delphi. The Pythia is confused, insisting that she can do nothing to deal with this situation. Instead, she states that Apollo himself must come. Waiting for Apollo, Orestes is not angry or defiant, but instead he is seeking answers and forgiveness, even though his hands are stained with his mother's blood.
At this moment, the doors of the temple open up. Inside, just as the Pythia described, Orestes kneels with blood-stained hands while the monstrous Furies surround him, sleeping, their bodies sprawled haphazardly across rows of chairs. Apollo, too, stands before Orestes accompanied by the message god, Hermes, who also leads dead souls into Hades. Apollo addresses Orestes, declaring that he will not allow Orestes to be punished by the avenging Furies. This god of prophesy adds that he will even protect Orestes, proclaiming that he has even put the Furies to sleep. Apollo instructs the man to flee away from Delphi, noting that the Furies will continue to torment him. In order to resolve the situation, Apollo tells him to go to the temple of Pallas Athena on top of the Acropolis in Athens. He insructs Orestes to embrace the statue of Athena in the temple there, and there he will then be judged for his crime of murdering his mother by Athena. Apollo tells Orestes not to worry, since it was Apollo "who made you strike your mother down." Orestes was merely following instructions from a god, rather than killing his mother for no reason.
Orestes states that Apollo knows that Orestes has done know wrong. Orestes also reminds him not to abandon him, even as he has been tormented by these Furies until Apollo had put them to sleep. Apollo reminds Orestes not to be afraid, and he asks Hermes to accompany Orestes and watch over him as he makes the journey from Apollo's temple in Delphi to Athena's temple in Athens. These three figures leave the temple of Apollo, and at once the angry ghost of Clytaemnestra appears and tries to wake up the Furies. She is very upset that they have stopped pursuing her son Orestes, from whom she demands vengeance. Crying aloud, she addresses the Furies, "You would sleep, then? And what use are you, if you sleep?/It is because of you I go dishonored thus/among the rest of the dead.../I am driven in disgrace. I say to you/that I am charged with guilt...And yet/I suffered too, horribly, and from those most dear,/yet none among the powers is angered for my sake/that I was slaughtered, and by matricidal hands./Look at these gashes in my heart, think where they came/from" Lines 94-104. She claims that the Furies tormented her after she murdered Agamemnon.
Furthermore, the dead queen blames them for not tormenting Orestes, who has also committed the foul crime of killing his own mother. She feels as if none of the gods care about what her son has done to her, urging the Fuires to pursue Orestes again. Clytaemnestra wants death for her son, in order that her death be avenged, just as Agamemnon's death was avenged by the murder of Clytaemnestra. One murder begets another. As this ghost speaks, the Furies begin to awaken from their slumber, moaning aloud in response to her words. Clytaemnestra taunts them, saying that it does no good to make noises because Orestes has already escaped. The Furies continue to make monstrous sounds, becoming louder and faster. Frustrated, Clytesmnestras simply says "Get on your feet quickly" and she later adds "Sleep and fatigue, two masterful conspirators,/have dimmed the deadly anger of the mother-snake" Lines 124-125. She compares herself to a "mother snake," suggesting that the Furies are perhaps her children.
At long last the Chorus of Furies rises up from the chairs, talking aloud in its sleep, "Get him, get him, get him, get him. Make sure." Pleased to see that they are waking up, Clytaemnestra urges the Furies to pursue Orestes immediately, giving him no mercy, "Let go/upon this man the stormblasts of your bloodshot breath,/wither him in your wind, after him, hunt him down/once more, and shrivel him in your vitals' heat and flame" Lines 136-139. The dead queen of Argos feels no love towards her son at all, hoping that Orestes will feel pain from the Furies until he dies, shriveled in the Furies' "heat and flame." This woman does not care that Apollo and Hermes protect her son. It was revenge that drove Clytaemnestra to kill Agamemnon, because he sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia at the start of the Trojan War. Aegisthus helped her to plan this murder, because Agamemnon's father Atreus had cooked his brothers in the oven and fed them to Aegisthus' father, Thyestes. Revenge has filled the house of Argos. Aegisthus killed to avenge his dead brothers and exiled father, Clytaemnestra killed to avenge her dead daughter, Orestes killed to avenge his dead father. Now Clytaemnestra demands that Orestes be killed in order to avenge her own death.
After speaking these words, the ghost disappears, and the Chorus of Furies begin to speak aloud excitedly. They call Orestes a "hunted beast," cursing Zeus by calling him a "young god," because he did not punish Orestes. Rather than showing any reverence for the gods, these ancient goddesses of revenge curse Apollo as well for his role in putting them to sleep. Like Zeus, Apollo is called a "younger god." The Furies question the lack of respect that these gods have for divine law, choosing instead to help the humans instead of asserting their supremacy, "Such are the actions of the younger gods. These hold/by unconditional force, beyond all right, a throne/that runs reeking blood,/blood at the feet, blood at the head.../[Apollo] has spoiled his secret shrine's/hearth with the stain, driven and hallowed the action on./He made man's way cross the place of the ways of god/and blighted age-old distributions of power" Lines 162-172.
The Furies disdain the younger gods such as Apollo or Zeus and value the old gods such as Themis or Phoebe, who controlled the temple at Delphi before Apollo. They declare that Apollo has defiled the holiness of the temple because he has decided to help out a murderer, Orestes. The Furies suggest think that humans have control over the gods' actions since "man's way" crosses the "place of the ways of god." Angered, the Furies continue to complain, insisting that they will never give up until Orestes is dead.
At this moment, Apollo reappears, ordering the Furies to leave his temple, or he will shoot them with his bow and arrow. Just as the Furies show little respect toward him, Apollo does not show much respect toward these goddesses either. Apollo states, "This house is no right place for such as you to cling/upon...by [your] judgment given, heads are lopped/and eyes are gouged out, throats cut, and by the spoil of sex/the glory of young boys is defeated, where mutilation/lives, and stoning, and the long moan of tortured men.../Listen/to how the gods spit out the manner of that feast/your love leans to" Lines 185-192. He criticizes these avenging women for their harsh, painful torture of humans, as they demand decapitation, stoning, and other such violent deaths for criminals, stating that the other gods dislike their form of punishment. He rejects their old, unforgiving system of justice in favor of his own, newer version. It appears that this is a conflict perhaps between the older gods and the older way of handling crimes, and the newer gods with a different interpretation of what justice should be. Apollo and the Furies do not understand each other's point of view. Instead, they resort to name-calling.
The Furies refuse to leave, insisting that Apollo is more guilty than Orestes, because he encouraged him. Curious, Apollo asks the Chorus to explain the importance of this since Orestes was just avenging the worse death of his father, whom Clytaemnestra had murdered in cold blood. They reprimand Apollo for protecting him afterwards as well, but Apollo is unconcerned, adding that the Furies have no business to be there in the first place. The Chorus replies that it is their duty to avenge crimes of matricide. Apollo mocks these words, "Sound forth your glorious privilege." The Furies state that if a woman kills her husband, it is not as terrible a crime as killing your own mother because a wife and husband are not blood relatives.
Apollo is stunned to hear this news, insisting that crimes against one's own blood are no longer considered to be crimes. Marriage is more meaningful than being blood relatives because "married love between/man and woman is bigger than oaths, guarded by right/of nature." The Furies do not view Clytaemnestra's actions to be criminal, because she and Agamemnon were not blood relatives. The god of prophesy thinks that this is ridiculous, replying that Athena, goddess of wisdom, shall will make a wise decision. Apollo believes that she will agree with him, adding if the Furies continue to bother Orestes, then they will get into trouble because they are wrong. They talk back to him, telling him not to make that judgment so soon before they have even heard from Athena.
The Furies respond that although Apollo is a god after all, they cannot obey him, declaring that the "motherblood" forces them to torment Orestes until he dies. Apollo says that they can do whatever they want, but he is forced to protect Orestes similarly for different reasons, stating "But I shall give the suppliant help and rescue, for/if I willingly fail him who turns to me for aid,/his wrath, before gods and men, is fearful thing" Lines 232-234. Now, Apollo is actually afraid of Orestes' anger if he refuses to help him as well as the anger of the other gods. Just as it is the Furies' duty to pursue Orestes for killing Clytaemnestra, so too is it Apollo's duty to defend Orestes against their attacks. The two divinities are driven by different forces. The Furies do not understand why Apollo cares so much about this human, and Apollo does not understand why the Furies care so little for him and are so cruel. Again, this is a conflict between the old world of which the Furies are a part, where the gods controlled many human events, and now it appears that the newer gods work together with the humans more. Rather than trying to destroy, these newer gods such as Apollo want to heal and forgive. The Chorus of Furies and Apollo leave the temple at Delphi, going separately to Athena's temple at Athens to have her settle their dispute over the fate of Orestes.