The Libation Bearers Plot Summary
After many years in exile, Agamemnon's son Orestes has returned to the city of Argos, prompted by Apollo's oracle to avenge his father's death. The first stop he makes is to his father's tomb outside of the city, where he laments and leaves a lock of hair as a symbol of mourning. He and his companion Pylades hide nearby when they hear Orestes' sister Electra approach with a group of female slaves. Electra reveals that she has been sent there by her murderess mother, Clytaemnestra, who has been having nightmares and wants to appease Agamemnon's angry spirit by pouring libations out in front of his tomb. Although much time has passed since she took Aegisthus as her lover and murdered Agamemnon when the Trojan War was over, the wounds have not been healed. Instead, the spirit's anger has festered, and Orestes has answered this cry for revenge.
Electra notices Orestes' lock of hair, marveling at how similar it is to her own and thinking that it is a sign from her brother. Orestes emerges from hiding, and the two siblings are reunited. They weep together for their dead father, pouring out libations now that do not seek forgiveness as Clytaemnestra originally instructed but instead demand revenge against this woman. The Chorus urges them both to murder Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, who have unjustly seized the royal throne and ruled the city after Agamemnon's death. Orestes explains his plan to carry out this deed, insisting that Electra simply play dumb and not mention anything at all about the fact that he has returned. Then he and Pylades shall go to the royal palace at Argos, disguised as foreign travelers bearing fake news that Orestes is dead. After gaining entry, they will then easily slay Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus, hoping that they'll be caught off guard. Having discussed this, they put the plan into action.
Orestes and Pylades arrive at the palace and are asked to come inside by an unsuspecting Clytaemnestra, who shows little remorse after hearing about Orestes' death. The Chorus of women urge Aegisthus not to bring a bodyguard to meet these travelers, knowing that this will leave him weak. Believing them, he is murdered soon after meeting Orestes and Pylades, but Clytaemnestra pleads for her life. She reminds Orestes that she is his own mother, inciting feelings within him about whether he should kill her or not. However, Pylades reminds him that he has a duty to avenge his father and to liberate Argos from Clytaemnestra's unjust rule. Energized, Orestes kills her over Aegisthus' body, ignoring her promise that he will be cursed, and the act of revenge is complete. Immediately after this, the avenging goddesses called Furies torment Orestes to the point of insanity. He flees the palace of Argos, bound for Delphi where he hopes that Apollo will protect him against this suffering. The citizens of Argos simply wait in suspense, without a ruler until Orestes can hopefully return to them again.