Line 566-733 Notes from The Eumenides

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The Eumenides Line 566-733

At this moment, Athena returns to her temple at the Acropolis in Athens, accompanied by twelve jurors who will make a decision after hearing the disagreement between the Chorus of Furies and Orestes. Athena orders her Herald to sound the trumpet and announce that the court session will begin. This way, all Athenian citizens will know what is going on. She explains, "Let the stabbing voice of the Etruscan/trumpet, blown to the full with mortal wind, crash out/its high call to all the assembled populace./For in the filling of this senatorial ground/it is best for all the city to be silent and learn/the measures I have laid down into the rest of time" Lines 567-572. Athena is establishing a court that will try other cases in the future as well. She wants everyone in Athens to watch what she is doing, so that they will be able to properly resolve future disagreements between other groups of people. As the trumpets sound, Clytaemnestra. He urges Athena to proceed with the trial, and so she begins, acting as the judge and facilitator of the trial.

First, she asks the Furies to explain what Orestes has been charged with exactly, stating that the pursuer must begin every court case so that it is clear what the purpose of the trial is. These words set a standard for how future trials shall be conducted, with the plaintiff speaking first. The Furies interrogate Orestes in front of the jury, asking if he killed Clytaemnestra; he readily admits this, describing how he cut her throat with his sword. Yet he states that Apollo prompted him to kill her to avenge the death of his father, Agamemnon. The Furies reply that Clytaemnestra has suffered for her crime, but Orestes the murderer is still living. They insist that there was never a need to punish Clytaemnestra, because Agamemnon was not a blood relative, but because he killed his own mother, Orestes must suffer intolerably.

In defense, Orestes calls Apollo to the stand to explain why he was justified in killing Clytaemnestra. The god of prophesy states plainly, "This [the murder of Clytaemnestra] is justice. Recognize then how great its strength./I tell you, follow our father's will. For not even/the oath that binds you is more strong than Zeus is strong" Lines 619-621. Apollo reaffirms that Orestes did the right thing, suggesting that even Zeus himself supported this action. He urges everyone to recognize "how great its strength." This point of view is very much in contrast to that of the Chorus of Furies.

Topic Tracking: Forgiveness 8
Topic Tracking: Humility 7

Apollo next states that the cruel manner in which Agamemnon was murdered justifies Orestes' actions. Agamemnon had just returned from a great victory in the Trojan War and was taking a bath, when Clytaemnestra restrained his arms in a robe and chopped him into pieces with an ax. This was a cowardly, dishonorable way to kill. Apollo calls this the "death of a great man" who was killed by means of deception from his very own wife. The Furies don't believe that Zeus would support this action, declaring that Zeus once handcuffed and imprisoned his own father, Cronus for crimes that he had committed. The Chorus insists that Zeus supports punishing men as much as women, for Clytaemnestra was merely avenging the death of their eldest daughter Iphigenia whom he had sacrificed so that the Greek ships could sail to Troy.

Apollo replies that imprisonment and murder are two totally different things. Clyatemnestra did not imprison or handcuff Agamemnon to punish him; she murdered him in cold blood. The Furies ask what would happen to Orestes if he is forgiven for this crime, declaring that he will live his life in misery anyway because no other city will want him to live there, including his home city of Argos. People everywhere will be disgusted that he spilled the blood of his own mother.

Topic Tracking: Motherhood 7

The god of prophesy rejects this argument from the Chorus of Furies, declaring that mothers are not in fact blood relatives of their children at all. He states that women are merely vessels that hold the man's seed. They are like the soil of a farm that nurtures the seeds that are planted there, until they bloom. The man is the only true blood relative of a child and as such, Orestes was fully justified in avenging his father's death, "The mother is no parent of that which is called/her child, but only nurse of the new-planted seed/that grows. The parent is he who mounts. A stranger she/preserves a stranger's seed, if no god interfere.../There can/be a father without any mother. There [Athena] stands,/the living witness, daughter of Olympian Zeus,/she who was never fostered in the dark womb/yet such a child as no goddess could bring to birth" Lines 658-666. As an example to support this argument that mothers are not blood relatives of their children, Apollo refers to Athena, the very judge at this trial. She was born after popping out of Zeus' head, without any help from any woman, mortal or godly. Apollo declares that Orestes was completely justified in avenging Agamemnon's death, because the man is the only blood relative of the child. The mother is merely an empty vessel to hold the growing child until he is born.

Topic Tracking: Motherhood 8

After using Athena as an example for why Clytaemnestra is not Orestes' blood relative, Apollo adds that if Orestes is indeed acquitted for this crime, then Orestes will go home to Argos, and he shall insure that the Argive citizens shall forever be allies with the Athenians. He says these words with great confidence, "I shall make great your city and its populace./So I have brought this man to sit beside the hearth/of your house, to be your true friend for the rest of time,/so you shall win him, goddess, to fight by your side,/and among men to come this shall stand a strong bond/that his and your own people's children shall be friends" Lines 668-673. If Athena forgives Orestes for killing Clytaemnestra, then she will have many benefits. Rather than furthering a pattern of destruction and murder that has afflicted the rulers of Argos ever since Atreus was king, now Athena can insure future peace, prosperity, and friendship between Athens and Argos as well.

With these words said, Athena next asks if the Chorus of Furies or Apollo have any other arguments to add, but both sides rest their cases and wait to hear the jury's decision. The goddess of wisdom turns to these twelve men, reminding them about the holiness of the Acropolis where they stand. Because of this, she warns them not to "muddy their own laws/with foul infusions." She encourages them to make the best decision based upon the evidence that they have heard, and not to make a poor decision. If a poor decision is made, that will be unjust and the court will become foul and meaningless. She adds that this court shall be present on the Acropolis to decide many cases in the future as well, saying "I establish this tribunal." Athena adds that the citizens of Athens must use the court to accomplish good and to honor the laws that the city has established.

Topic Tracking: Humility 8

Next she asks the jury of twelve men to cast their votes about whether or not Orestes is guilty for the crime of killing a blood relative. The Furies warn as the voting occurs that they will destroy Athens if the jury rules against them. Apollo reassures the jury not to be afraid of the Furies because the king of the gods, Zeus, will protect them all from any danger. The Furies reply that regardless, they will return to Athens and destroy the countryside. Apollo reprimands them, accusing them of having no respect for any gods at all; they have no humility and instead worry about their own selfish anger. The two continue to argue back and forth and resort to name-calling. Apollo says that if a man is faithful and worships the gods dutifully, then he is obligated to protect that man.

The Furies accuse Apollo of overturning the older order of gods that ruled before Zeus since he "won the ancient goddesses over with wine." Apollo warns that the Furies will not win the case, nor will they be able to cause any destruction in response to this at all. The Furies say that Apollo has no respect for them, for they are much older than he is. They calm their anger down a bit as they wait to hear the decision of the jury, "Since you, a young god, would ride down my elder age,/I must stay here and listen to how the trial goes,/being yet uncertain to loose my anger on the state" Lines 731-733. Apollo has insulted them greatly and these avenging creatures are resentful of him. They all sit expectantly to hear from Athena.

Topic Tracking: Humility 9
Topic Tracking: Forgiveness 9

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