Book Notes Lines 306-584 Notes from The Libation Bearers

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The Libation Bearers Lines 306-584

It is a matter of principle that he, as the only son, avenge the death of his father and that he reclaim the kingship that has been stolen from him. He must save all of the citizens of Argos from the disgrace of being ruled by women, calling Aegisthus a woman as well due to his lack of honor for having Clytaemnestra commit the murder alone. Instead, Aegisthus should have committed the act honorably himself, avenging the deaths of his brothers whom Agamemnon's father Atreus had brutally murdered. Thus, there are multiple forces that drive Orestes forward with his plan of killing Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus. Some of these reasons are personal, while others are for the common good. First and foremost, fate drives him forward involuntarily to kill them; he owes it to his fellow citizens in Argos to save them from this tyranny; he owes it to his father to avenge his murder; and he owes it to himself to reclaim the kingship of Argos that rightfully belongs to him. What he must do next remains all too clear.

Topic Tracking: Power 4

The Chorus prays that Zeus will allow this act of vengeance to come to pass, adding "For the word of hatred spoken, let hate/be a word fulfilled. The spirit of Right/cries out aloud and exacts atonement/due: blood stroke for the stroke of blood/shall be paid. Who acts, shall endure. So speaks/the voice of age-old wisdom" Line 309-314. The Chorus states that he must give an eye for an eye, that he must kill those who have themselves killed. Those who act must later endure the very same fate that they once dealt out unto others. Orestes calls out to Agamemnon, wishing that he could once again talk to him in person rather than speaking out into the air, hoping only that his father can hear these words. The Chorus assures him that Agamemnon will be avenged and that he must not worry, for the dead man "shows his wrath in the after-/days." Even if Agamemnon does not reply, his spirit is with Orestes in all that he will do. Electra wonders if her father can hear them, calling out to him aloud and asking if they can ever succeed in this righteous act of revenge. The Chorus reassures her that if the gods support them, then they will succeed.

Topic Tracking: Death 5

Orestes continues to lament aloud to Agamemnon, wishing that his father had died honorably in battle while at Troy, rather than suffer the disgrace of being murdered after the war had ended by his wife. If he had died while fighting, he would have been forever remembered as a hero. Now his entire family is known for its disgrace because of Clytaemnestra. The Chorus of women adds that Agamemnon was a very powerful king, who held the "staff of authority" and was "King on earth." He is heralded as a mighty warrior, and his wife is seen as a wicked temptress, responsible for this act of murdering such a virtuous man. Little attention is given to how Agamemnon had sacrificed his eldest daughter Iphigenia before sailing to Troy in order to appease to gods; it appears that even Electra and Orestes place the importance of their city as being greater than that of the family. Although they were wronged when their mother killed their father, the greater sin is that the city of Argos is now controlled by this tyranny of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. It is not the fact that their father has been slain that drives them now, but moreover that such a virtuous king was cruelly murdered in his own house.

Topic Tracking: Revenge 6

Electra disagrees entirely with these comments that Agamemnon should have died a hero at Troy, however. She insists that he should not have died at all and should still be alive and well. The bold daughter insists that his murder should have been avenged long before that time. The Chorus patronizes her for these words, saying that they hold no basis, "Child, child, you are dreaming, since dreaming is a light/pastime, of fortune more golden than gold/or the Blessed Ones north of the North Wind./But the stroke of the twofold lash is pounding/close, and powers gather under ground/to give aid. The hands of those who are lords/are unclean, and these are accursed./Power grows on the side of the children" Line 372-379. Although these foreign slaves disagree with Electra about whether or not Agamemnon should have died at Troy to preserve his honor, they assure her that soon vengeance will come from she and Orestes against their mother and Aegisthus with these words, "Power grows on the side of the children."

Topic Tracking: Power 5

The group continues to pep each other up about avenging Agamemnon's death as each person speaks in turn. First Orestes asks Zeus once again to bring ruin to these murderers, and then Electra says, "May Zeus, from all shoulder's strength,/pound down his fist upon them,/ohay, smash their heads./Let the land once more believe./There has been wrong done. I ask for right./Hear me, Earth. Hear me, grandeurs of Darkness" Line 394-399. She hopes that Argos will once more have faith in the government, which Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus have taken away. She asks for everyone to rise up against this evil. Like Orestes and the Chorus, she is getting excited with the thought of killing her mother. She calls upon Zeus, the Earth, and the avenging "grandeurs of Darkness," also called the Furies to aid them in this quest. The Chorus describes these Furies as creatures that "bring out of those who were slain before/new ruin or ruin accomplished." From this violent death in the past, there shall only be more violent death in the future because of these avenging Furies. No crime goes unpunished, especially not murder.

Topic Tracking: Revenge 7

Hearing these words, Orestes wonders about what will happen when he commits this act of murder:. Will he be subject to the same torment that Clytaemnestra now faces? Will someone come forward to slay him for killing his own mother? The Chorus suddenly becomes solemn, for it is something that had not been considered before. Their previous hopes retreat again in light of this revelation. Electra responds that the consequences of his actions will mean little compared to the great justice that would be done to their father by avenging his death, saying "Of what thing can we speak, and strike more close,/than of the sorrows they who bore us have given.../For we are bloody like the wolf/and savage born from the savage mother" Line 418-422. She states that nothing worse can befall them than the pain that has already been endured. Although the Furies may threaten them, it is better to avenge their father's death. Orestes really has no choice, since his oracle from Apollo had already declared that he will suffer intolerably and die if he does kill Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus anyway, so at least if he will suffer after committing these murders. Then he will know that his father's spirit rests at long last.

Encouraged by his sister's words, he reaffirms his desire to avenge Agamemnon's death, "O all unworthy of him, that you tell me./Shall she not pay for this dishonor/for all the immortals,/for all my own hands can do?/Let me but take her life and die for it" Line 434-438. Orestes is confident about what he needs to do and does not waver, insisting that if he were to die as a punishment for killing his own mother, then it would be worthwhile to have the knowledge that he has avenged his father's death. The Chorus of foreign slaves describes how Clytaemnestra herself buried Agamemnon in that very tomb with the help of Aegisthus. She is disgusted to think that it was the murderers who paid tribute to Agamemnon by burying him themselves, recalling that she was not asked to help out at all. She was kept locked away in the palace "as you would kennel a vicious dog." Her mother did not treat her very well at all. The group becomes very excited, and the Chorus reminds Electra to keep these feelings hidden deep within, so that her mother will not suspect anything. These women then sing aloud gleefully as if it is a battle cry, "We gather into murmurous revolt. Hear/us, hear. Come back into the light./Be with us against those who hate" Line 458-460. The Chorus proceeds then to invoke the gods and the dead king Agamemnon to make their revolt a success.

Topic Tracking: Death 6

Orestes asks for the power to rule over the city of Argos. Electra follows suit by asking that she can herself murder Aegisthus. They continue to ask his spirit to awaken from its slumber, reminding him of how cruelly that Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus plotted to murder him while he was taking a bath and in his most vulnerable of states. These words spoken, the Chorus assures them that they have both done all that they can to enlist the gods' help in exacting revenge for Agamemnon's death. They attempt to appease his spirit by pouring these offerings over his grave and asking the gods yet again to help them in their quest for revenge and vengeance. They pray that these two murderers will themselves be murdered and suffer in the same way as their victims had years before. Rather than remaining passive and compliant, now the Chorus of women takes a much more active role in plotting this act of revenge. They advise and prod Orestes, Pylades, and Electra along, urging them to seek out revenge for Agamemnon's death. His death shall thus be made right by the deaths of those who murdered him.

The women go on to describe that Clytaemnestra had dreamed that she gave birth to a snake from her womb, treating this snake like she would any child by tucking it in at night and by offering her breast for it to suck her milk. At this moment, the snake made a bite into her nipple and Clytaemnestra woke up, terrified, and ordered every torch in the palace to be set alight so that she would not have to sit in the dark. After this dream, she sent the women forward to make libations and calm Agamemnon's restless spirit. Orestes immediately concludes that he is the snake from her dream, destined to harm his mother, "If this snake came out of the same place whence I came,/if she wrapped it in robes, as she wrapped me, and if/its jaws gaped wide around the breast that suckled me,/and if it stained the intimate milk with an outburst/of blood, so that for fright and pain she cried aloud,/it follows then, that as she nursed this hideous thing/of prophesy, she must be cruelly murdered. I/turn snake to kill her. This is what the dream portends" Line 543-550. The son sees a similarity between how he was raised as a child and how the snake was treated in Clytaemnestra's dream. Because of this and the harm that the snake eventually causes to the mother, he decides that he is, indeed, the snake that is destined to murder she who bore him into the world in order to avenge his father's death.

Topic Tracking: Death 8

The Chorus of slave women readily agrees with this interpretation of the dream and urges Orestes to plan out exactly what he will do next. The brave Orestes explains his plan: first Electra must return to the palace of Argos and pretend that she does not know anything about what has been planned for her mother. Orestes and his faithful companion Pylades will then arrive at the palace gates, disguised as messengers and shall even change their voices so that they sound like foreigners. There they will ask to be go inside and if no one lest them in, then they will just wait until someone comes along, insisting that he has come to pay homage to the great Aegisthus. Orestes describes how he will slay Aegisthus upon entering the palace if he sees the man seated upon his father's throne. He warns that the Furies shall have yet another drink of blood as he slays this man there in the royal palace. There is no mention of what shall happen to Clytaemnestra, for Aegisthus remains the prime target. Orestes tells his sister and the Chorus of foreign serving women to stay out of the way and let him do his work, reminding them not to tell anyone else about what they have planned. Invoking the gods above to aid him in this act of vengeance, he leaves the area of Agamemnon's tomb as does Electra, who turns now to return to the palace at Argos. Orestes' plan is ready to go into action.

Topic Tracking: Power 6

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