Notes on Characters from The Libation Bearers

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The Libation Bearers Major Characters

Clytaemnestra: Daughter of Leda and Zeus; sister of Helen; wife of Agamemnon; mother of Orestes. Clytaemnestra is a very prideful woman who does not want to be punished for her crimes, although she is tormented by a prophetic dream in which a snake suckles her breast and bites her. To avenge the death of her daughter Iphigenia, she had killed Agamemnon and the Trojan princess Cassandra when they returned from the Trojan War. Her lover Aegisthus helped her to plan these attacks as well. Later, Orestes returns to Argos and murders her and Aegisthus, in order to avenge his father's death. Clytaemnestra begs for mercy, attempting to make her son feel guilty because she is his own mother. Inspired by Apollo, Orestes does not relent and kills Clytaemnestra after a tense confrontation. She realizes then that the snake of her dream is her own son Orestes, the boy who suckled her breast as a baby and will now deliver a deathly blow.

Aegisthus: Son of Thyestes; cousin of Agamemnon; lover of Clytaemnestra. Aegisthus helped Clytaemnestra to plan Agamemnon's murder, although he did not actively participate in it. Aegisthus seeks revenge against Atreus by killing his son Agammenon, because Atreus murdered his older siblings and exiled Thyestes. He has ruled Argos as king after Agamemnon's death with Clyaemnestra as his queen. He is murdered when a sword-bearing Orestes enters the palace disguised as a foreign traveler bringing him a message. The nurse Cilissa tells Aegisthus not to bring his bodyguard when meeting him, leaving him unprotected and at Orestes' mercy.

Orestes: Son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra; brother of Electra. Inspired to return to Argos by Apollo after many years in exile, Orestes meets Electra at the tomb of Agamemnon. There the two children mourn their father's death and plan for revenge. Orestes goes with Pylades into the royal palace, disguised as foreign travelers, and they murder Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. The Chorus wants him to stay there and rule as King of Argos, but Orestes is tormented by the avenging Furies, because he has murdered his own mother. Orestes then flees to Apollo's temple at Delphi, seeking protection from the Furies. He is angry that he is being punished for killing Clytaemnestra, since Apollo had warned him that punishment would come only if he did not avenge his father's death.

Electra: Daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra; sister of Orestes. Clytaemnestra asks Electra and the Chorus to make holy libations at Agamemnon's tomb in order to appease his angry spirit. There, they discover a hair that Orestes has left there, wondering where he is. Orestes emerges from hiding, and they immediately begin to plan revenge against their mother, because she murdered Agamemnon. Electra's role is merely to act as if she doesn't know anything about Orestes returning to Argos, and she is generally a passive observer as these events unfold. It is the man, her brother Orestes, who acts against Clytaemnestra.

Minor Characters

Agamemnon: Son of Atreus; King of Argos. Agamemnon was slain in the bathtub by his wife, Clytaemnestra, when he returned from the Trojan War. His son, Orestes, returns to Argos after many years in exile to avenge his father's death by murdering his mother.

Iphigenia: Eldest daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. Iphigenia was sacrificed to the goddess Artemis by Agamemnon so that the Greek fleet could sail away to Troy. Clytaemnestra later murdered Agamemnon because she wanted to avenge Iphigenia's death.

Artemis: Greek goddess of hunting; sister of Apollo. Artemis would not permit the Greek fleet to sail to Troy because the Greeks had killed a rabbit in the forest, a creature that she loved dearly. As a result, she demanded that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia in her name. Eager to attack Troy, Agamemnon kills her, and the Greeks are given favorable winds for their ships.

Atreus: Son of Pelops; King of Argos; father of Agamemnon. Atreus began a pattern of kindred bloodshed when he cooked his brother's children in the oven and fed them to Thyestes at a banquet, exiling him from Argos shortly afterwards. Thyestes' son Aegisthus helped Clytaemnestra to plot Agamemnon's murder, because he wanted to avenge the deaths of these older siblings by murdering Atreus' son.

Thyestes: Son of Pelops; brother of Atreus. Thyestes and Atreus lived peaceably in Argos until Thyestes fell in love with Atreus' wife Aerope; jealous, Atreus cooked Thyestes children in the oven and fed them to him at a banquet. Thyestes was then exiled from Argos. His son, Aegisthus, helped Clytaemnestra to plot Agamemnon's murder because of what Atreus had done to his own father.

Menelaus: Son of Atreus; brother of Agamemnon; King of Sparta. Unlike the brothers Atreus and Thyestes, Menelaus gets along very well with Agamemnon. When his wife, Helen, is kidnapped by Paris, Agamemnon readily agreed to help his brother rescue her by assembling a great army. After the Trojan War, Menelaus' location is unknown, since is ship was sunk during a massive storm.

Helen: Daughter of Zeus and Leda; sister of Clytaemnestra; wife of Menelaus. Helen and her sister, Clytaemnestra, married the brothers Menelaus and Agamemnon, respectively. After Helen was kidnapped by the Trojan prince Paris because she was the most beautiful woman in the world, she lived in Troy for ten years until the city was finally conquered by the Greeks, and she was reunited with her husband. Helen is blamed for causing the Trojan War because the Greeks and Trojans were fighting over her.

Paris: Son of Priam, the king of Troy. Because Priam received a prophesy that Paris would cause the destruction of Troy, he sent his son to live as a shepherd outside of Troy on nearby Mount Ida. However, it is there that the goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera found him, asking him to decide which of them was the most beautiful. He chose Aphrodite, and as a reward she said he could have Helen as his wife because she was the most beautiful woman in the world. But Helen was already married to Menelaus, and when Paris kidnapped her, Menelaus attacked Troy with a huge army of Greeks. Paris was slain in the ninth year of this war, and Troy itself was destroyed in the tenth year, thus fulfilling Priam's prophesy. Had it not been for Paris, Troy never would have been attacked.

Cassandra: Daughter of Priam; prophetess of Apollo. Enslaved at the end of the Trojan War, Agamemnon had made Cassandra his lover., and she was slain at his side by a jealous Clytaemnestra. Cassandra tried to warn everyone about what Clytaemnestra was going to do, but nobody believed her. Indeed, an angry Apollo cursed her so that no one would ever believe her prophesies, because she rejected his love for her. Cassandra's warning went unheeded.

Chorus of foreign serving-women: Slave women who aid in plotting the murder of Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus. Rather than remaining passive and quietly observing events as they occur, the Chorus encourages and reassures Orestes that he must murder his mother. These women tell Cilissa that Aegisthus must not bring his bodyguard with him, so that he will not be able to defend himself when Orestes attacks.

Pylades: Companion of Orestes. Pylades does not say a lot during the play and functions essentially as Orestes' shadow, following him around. Posing as a foreign traveler bearing news in order to gain entry to the royal palace of Argos, he aids Orestes in the murder of Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus.

Zeus: King of the gods; god of the heavens. Zeus' name is invoked many times, as the Chorus, Electra, and Orestes all ask for his help in murdering Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus. Everyone respects Zeus' authority very highly, and he is seen as having the final decision on whether their revenge plot will be a success or a failure.

Hermes: God of messengers and guide to the Underworld for dead souls. Electra asks Hermes to carry her message to the dead Agamemnon for him to help her in exacting revenge against Clytaemnestra. The Chorus also asks Hermes to help Orestes to murder Clytaemnestra and reclaim the throne for himself.

Althaea: A legendary woman who was told by the Fates that a wooden log held the life force of her son, Meleager while it was burning. She ripped it out of the fire, preserving it for many years although the partially burnt log left Meleager maimed. When he murdered her brothers during a hunting trip in a fit of anger, Althaea tossed the log into the fire again, burning it away into ash, causing her son to drop dead. A guilty Althaea committed suicide soon after. The Chorus compares Clytaemnestra to Althaea, declaring that women are wicked.

Scylla: Daughter of Nisus, king of Megara. Not to be confused with the sea monster bearing the same name, Scylla fell in love with the invading King Minos. She decided to help Minos by cutting off the sacred purple lock of hair Nisus had on his head and bringing it to Minos. The man would not love her back, disgusted that she had betrayed her own father. Megara was destroyed, and Scylla wandered aimlessly until a god turned her into a bird. The Chorus compares Clytaemnestra to Scylla, declaring that women are traitorous people.

Nisus: King of Megara. His daughter Scylla betrayed him by cutting off the sacred purple lock he had in his hair. Megara was then destroyed by Minos, and Nisus was slain, stripped of his protective hair.

Servant: A simple servant who answers the door when Pylades and Orestes arrive at the royal palace of Argos, declaring that they are foreign travelers. The Servant does not suspect any deception, and allows them to enter the palace when Clytaemnestra appears and greets them.

Cilissa: Orestes' childhood nurse. Cilissa is more saddened to hear news of Orestes' death than even Clytaemnestra herself. Although she is unaware that Orestes isn't really dead, Cilissa participates in the murder plot by asking Aegisthus not to bring his bodyguard with him to go see the two travelers. The Chorus encouraged her to do this, knowing that this would leave Aegisthus very vulnerable.

Follower: A simple follower of Aegisthus, king of Argos. Although few among Electra, Orestes, or the Chorus of serving women are genuinely upset to hear about Aegisthus' death, this Follower breaks down into tears when he learns that King Aegisthus has been murdered. He warns Clytaemnestra that she is the next victim.

Apollo: Greek god of prophesy and light. When the Furies begin to torment Orestes, he asks Apollo to protect him, since it was Apollo that prodded him to kill his mother. Orestes then flees Argos to Apollo's temple at Delphi, hoping to find protection there.

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