Lines 235-565 Notes from The Eumenides

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The Eumenides Lines 235-565

Meanwhile, Orestes has arrived at the Acropolis hill at Athens. Just as Apollo instructed him to do, the young man goes within and kneels on the floor, embracing the statue of Athena. He explains that it was Apollo who advised him to go to her for assistance so that she can make a judgment in his "trial." The Chorus of Furies arrives and frantically begin searching for Orestes, calling themselves "hounds after the bleeding fawn." Seeing him, they become very excited and declare that he must give them the "red blood" of his body for them to suck out of him. They mention that the god of the Underworld, Hades is very great because he punishes men for their crimes on earth after they die. Oddly enough, Hades is a younger god just like Apollo and Zeus, for he is Zeus' brother. Yet these avenging goddess do not have any problem with him. Unafraid, Orestes does not flee this time and instead responds to them that his sin of matricide is disappearing, because of the piety he showed back in Delphi at Apollo's temple. Because he made a sacrifice there to the gods, he is forgiven for this crime of matricide. He calls out for Athena to assist him in dealing with these Furies, declaring that she will save him.

Topic Tracking: Forgiveness 5

Orestes admires Athena very much, "Whether now ranging somewhere in the Libyan land/beside her father's crossing and by Triton's run/of waters she sets upright or enshrouded foot/rescuing there her friends, or on the Phlegraean flat/like some bold man of armies sweeps with eyes the scene,/let her come! She is a god and hears me far away" Lines 292-297. This goddess of wisdom is very bold, known to "rescue her friends" from danger; Athena's effect on humans is compared to "a bold man of armies." She is Orestes' hope in dealing with these avenging Furies. The Chorus of Furies insists that no one can save him from their clutches, because the crime of matricide is an unforgivable sin no matter what, adding that they want to drain away all of his blood and take his life. They ramble on about how Orestes' hands are stained with his mother's blood, and he will suffer intolerably for this, since nobody can stop their rage from devouring his soul, cursing Apollo for trying to stop them.

They continue to sing about sucking his blood, repeating the same words again and again in a rather primitive way, "Over the beast doomed to the fire/this is the chant, scatter of wits,/frenzy and fear, hurting the heart,/song of the Furies/binding brain and blighting blood/in its stringless melody.../Men's illusions in their pride under the sky melt/down, and are diminished into the ground, gone/before the onset of our black robes, pulsing/of our vindictive feet against them" Lines 341-371. Orestes is called a "beast" as the Furies loom over him, and the Furies describe themselves as having "scatter of wits/frenzy and fear." This suggests that they are rather erratic, unpredictable creatures, since they are in a frenzy. Finally, the Chorus punishes any men who are prideful and do not respect the gods. Although Orestes already told them that he has made a sacrifice to Athena, the Furies pay absolutely no attention to this.

The Furies do not forgive, but instead they punish anyone who does not respect the gods' laws, referring to the law against matricide in this situation. Yet Apollo already said that Zeus abolished the laws against murdering blood relatives. The human institution of marriage is a far more important relationship than just being blood relatives. Again, this is a conflict between the old world and the new world, as the Furies adhere to older, harsher laws that existed before Zeus was born. Although Orestes is forgiven and protected by the younger gods, the Furies still recognize the old gods as the authority in the world. They do not realize that the world has changed, refusing to surrender their harsh, primal perception of justice.

The Furies later rejoice that they represent the old world that existed before these younger gods, proclaiming that everybody in the world is afraid of their wrath, "Is there a man who does not fear/this, does not shrink to hear/how my place has been ordained,/granted and given by destiny/and god, absolute? Privilege/primeval yet is mine, nor am I without a place/though it be underneath the ground/and in no sunlight and in gloom that I must stand" Lines 389-396. These avenging goddesses call themselves "primeval" because they have existed for so very long, predating the arrival of Zeus and Apollo by far. They cry again that every man fears their wrath, because these Furies are so very powerful; they are filled with pride themselves now, even though they criticize men when they are prideful. These women live in the darkness underground, emerging only when a man has committed such a foul crime as Orestes has done.

The Furies do not realize that there are in fact many people who don't fear them any longer. Apollo treats them with extreme disapproval, for he portrays them to be savage and even uncivilized because of their thirst for blood and their enjoyment of harsh penalties, such as decapitation. Orestes doesn't fear the Furies any more either, for Apollo has given him confidence after making a promise to protect him. The young man is confident that Athena will understand his point of view and decide that the Furies are wrong in their ways of thinking, because they don't recognize that the world had changed from the way it used to be. The Furies mistakenly think that men and gods respect them as much as they did. In truth, they think that the Furies are lowly, monstrous creatures.

Topic Tracking: Humility 5

As Orestes and the Furies confront each other, Athena arrives at the temple dressed in full battle armor. She does not wear a dress or any of the clothing that would be customary for a female. The goddess of wisdom explains that she has rushed to arrive there as quickly as she could after hearing Orestes' appeal for help, although she was at Troy receiving land and weapons that the other Greek commanders had left there for her near the Scamandrus River. Curious, she asks what exactly is going on, as the Chorus of angry Furies moans nearby. Athena describes them not as goddesses or as humans, but instead as being "like no seed ever begotten." The Furies are outsiders from the human and godly worlds alike. They are creatures of the ancient past. However, Athena declares that their argument shall be heard because her temple is the "place of the just" and she shall see that justice is served. The Furies tell her that they torment murderers, indicating that Orestes is a man whom they currently pursue because he killed his mother, Clytaemenstra. Athena asks if there was a reason why he killed her, or if maybe he was afraid of someone else's anger, referring perhaps to the restless spirit of Agamemnon.

The Furies respond that his reasons for murdering are irrelevant, because the bare fact remains that he committed matricide. Athena dismisses this, saying to them "You wish to be called righteous rather than act right" Lines 430, suggesting that the Furies do not deliver justice in actuality and instead just want everybody to think that they do. Instead, they are shallow creatures that fail to rationalize their actions. Rather than thinking about the exact circumstances surrounding a crime, such as in the situation with Orestes, the Furies exact a false sense of justice. These creatures respond by saying simply that she can then make the final decision in their disagreement then, and they will respect it. If Athena decides that Orestes is guilty, then they will continue to torment him, but if she decides that he is innocent from crime then they will leave him alone. Agreeing on this, Athena asks Orestes to describe his point of view, giving him a chance to defend himself. Orestes responds that he did not come to the Acropolis in order to find forgiveness for killing Clytaemnestra, but instead it was to ask Athena for protection against the Furies, who refuse to leave him alone.

Topic Tracking: Forgiveness 6
Topic Tracking: Motherhood 6

Orestes goes on to explain that he has come to Athens all the way from Argos and that his father Agamemnon is the very many who led the Greek forces to victory at Troy, adding that "He died/without honor when he came home. It was my mother/ [Clytaemnestra]/of the dark heart, who.../cut him down. The bath is witness to his death./I was an exile in the time before this. I came back/and killed the woman who gave me birth. I plead guilty./My father was dear, and this was vengeance for his blood./Apollo shares responsibility for this./He counterspurred my heart and told me of pains to come/if I should fail to act against the guilty ones" Lines 458-467. The young man admits that he killed his mother, but it was in response to his father's death. The god Apollo instructed Orestes that he was obligated to kill Clytaemnestra, or else he would suffer himself. The fact that he killed this woman is clear and evident, but what remains to be seen is whether or not Orestes should be punished for this act, as the Furies insist he must be. He chose to avenge his father, and now he asks Athena to decide what should happen next. Should the Furies torment him to the death, or should the Furies leave him alone? Orestes states that, as the Furies have said, he too will accept any decision that Athena shall make, whether it is for better or worse.

The goddess of wisdom becomes very thoughtful, declaring that there is no one man who can make a judgment in a situation such as this, nor does she have the authority to make such an important decision, either. Athena would like to see that justice is served, and although she knows that Orestes is not a villain and will not harm Athens, the Furies also have a valid argument as well, because he has murdered his own mother. She warns that if the Furies do not win this disagreement and Orestes goes free, then they might bring Athens great sickness, just to spite Athena for not siding with them. Pondering these things, Athena declares, "Here is dilemma. Whether I let them stay or drive/them off, it is hard course and will hurt. Then, since/the burden of the case is here, and rests on me,/I shall select judges of manslaughter, and swear/them in, establish a court into all time to come" Lines 480-484. Because the disagreement is a very tricky situation, and the Furies will cause destruction whether they win the case and torment Orestes, or if they lose the case and poison Athens, Athena will find men to serve as a jury and hear the two sides of this disagreement.

These men will then make a decision after hearing the evidence, and a court shall thus exist from that point forward there on the Acropolis hill high above the city of Athens. Athena urges the Furies and Orestes to go and prepare their respective arguments before she returns, so that the trial can begin when the jury arrives, leaving the temple to go down into the city in search of the most devout citizens to serve as jurors. Rather than using her divine wisdom to solve this disagreement, Athena instead turns to humans for justice. This was a problem that the Furies pointed out earlier, because they think these younger gods help humans out too much, instead of dominating them. The Furies represent an older world and an older way of thinking that existed before Zeus, when humans were at the mercy of the gods. Now things are very different, and the gods work with the humans cooperatively. After Athena leaves, the Chorus of Furies laments that if Orestes is found to be not guilty and suffers no punishment, then people everywhere will start murdering their parents because they think that they can get away with it just like Orestes has done. For this reason, the Furies insist again that he must be punished.

If Orestes is found not to be guilty, then the Furies say they will unleash death against all men, in order to prevent this lawlessness from becoming widespread. The avenging monsters cry aloud, "Now/the House of Justice has collapsed./There are times when fear is good./It must keep its watchful place/at the heart's controls. There is/advantage/in the wisdom won from pain./Should the city, should the man/rear a heart that nowhere goes/in fear, how shall such a one/any more respect the right?/Refuse the life of anarchy" Lines 515-526. They have cataclysmic visions of what will happen to the world if Orestes escapes punishment, since there will be no justice to this matricidal murderer.

Men will no longer fear the Furies' wrath if Orestes is found innocent; they insist that fear is necessary in a city to maintain order. If there is no fear of consequences, then men will begin committing more crimes, and society will fall apart. The Furies call this lifestyle anarchy, where there is no government. They address Orestes, still kneeling before the statue of Athena, urging him to simply accept the consequences for what has happened rather than trying to fight back, warning "Vengeance will be upon you." The Chorus says that the just man has nothing to worry about, but a man who takes the law into his own hands shall suffer intolerably for what he has done.

The Furies use a frightening comparison for any man who dares to break the sacred laws of the gods by comparing the criminal to a sailor whose ship has been badly ruined by some storm. Lost at sea, "He calls on those who hear not, caught inside/the hard wrestle of water./The spirit laughs at the hot-hearted man,/the man who said 'never to me,' watches him/pinned in distress, unable to run free of the crests./He had good luck in his life. Now/he smashes it on the reef of Right/and drowns, unwept and forgotten" Lines 558-565. The criminal is killed, for there is no one who can save him from the justice that is owed to him. This is the perception that the Furies have of Orestes.

Like the sailor lost at sea, Orestes said 'never to me' when thinking about being punished for killing his mother, Clytaemnestra. The Chorus warns him that he was wrong and he, too, will feel the "reef of Right," the claws of the Furies' justice as he is tormented. Orestes will be forgotten, and nobody will mourn for him because he is such a villain; he must be punished to set an example for anyone else who may want to murder their parents, otherwise people will start thinking that they can get away with it. The two sides remain in deep disagreement. The Furies insist that Orestes is quite guilty even as Orestes protests his innocence. They wait impatiently for the return of Athena so that they may present their arguments to the jury.

Topic Tracking: Forgiveness 7
Topic Tracking: Humility 6

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