Notes on The Libation Bearers Themes

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The Libation Bearers Topic Tracking: Death

Death 1: Clytaemnestra brings death to her husband Agamemnon because he killed their daughter Iphigenia. Aegisthus helped her to plan this murder, because Atreus had killed his older siblings by cooking them in the oven. A history of death fills the royal House of Argos.

Death 2: The story begins in front of a tomb where the body of Agamemnon is buried. It is unmarked, because he was entombed by his murders Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus. The Chorus of women weeps for the dead king, and Electra has come to pay tribute to him.

Death 3: Electra asks Hermes to help her to communicate with her dead father by carrying a message down to his spirit in the Underworld. The Chorus of women also states that Agamemnon's tomb is like a holy altar to them, because they are so upset that Agamemnon was so unjustly murdered by his wife.

Death 4: If Orestes does not murder Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra, then the oracle of Apollo decrees that he will suffer a painful death for failing to avenge his father's death. Orestes chooses to bring death to these murderers rather than suffer death himself.

Death 5: The women in the Chorus state that Orestes must give an eye for an eye, he must punish the murders by murdering them. There is no need for him to fear any punishment for doing this, because this will be justice in their opinion.

Death 6: Electra is saddened that she did not help bury her father Agamemnon at all. She is jealous and disgusted that her mother Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus, the murderers, are actually the two people who buried her father in his unmarked tomb. This increases her hatred for them.

Death 7: Orestes identifies himself with the powerful image of a deadly snake in Clytaemnestra's bad dream. This snake had bitten her breast, making her nipple bleed. Orestes thinks of himself as a lethal creature with the power to kill his own mother, biting her with his sword.

Death 8: The Chorus of women states that women can be deadly creatures, mentioning the "dark embrace" they bring to men. They mention the story of Althaea, who murdered her own son when she found out that he had killed her brothers while on a hunting trip.

Death 9: Women brought death to all of their husbands on the island of Lemnos in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. There, jealous wives murdered all of their husbands because these men chose to have sex with captured slave women instead of them. The Chorus states that this situation was even worse than that of Argos, because all of the wives were involved.

Death 10: Disguised as foreigners, Orestes and Pylades gain entry to the royal palace at Argos by bearing fake news that Orestes is dead. Clytaemnestra does not seem to be very upset, stating simply that she warned him to be careful, and it's too bad that he's dead.

Death 11: Unlike Clytaemnestra, the nurse Cilissa's reaction to Orestes' death is very sad and remorseful. She approaches the Chorus crying and does not understand why these women are not upset at all. Indeed, she does not know the truth that Orestes is not really dead.

Death 12: Orestes hesitates before killing his mother, wondering if the death of his father or mother is worse. He debates whether it is wrong to kill his own mother in order to avenge the death of his father, but Pylades reminds him that he has no choice at all. He must murder Clytaemnestra for Argos, Apollo, and Agamemnon. Convinced, Orestes proceeds.

Death 13: The deaths of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra very much mirror the deaths of Agamemnon and Cassandra many years before. Their dead bodies lie side by side on the palace floor, and the same blood-stained robe used to restrain Agamemnon's arms by Clytaemnestra is displayed again after she is murdered, reminding everyone about what she had done and why she suffered death herself for her husband's murder.

Death 14: Orestes would choose death for himself instead of ever having an evil wife like Clytaemnestra was to him. He is distrustful of women, recalling the Chorus' words earlier about women's "dark embrace" and their potential to bring suffering and death to the men in their lives.

Death 15: Death is a revolving cycle in Argos that does not end. First Atreus' children were cooked by Thyestes, then Agamemnon murdered his own daughter Iphigenia; Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus murdered Agamemnon; Orestes killed Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. Now the Furies drive Orestes into insanity, hoping to kill him. In Argos, death is a daily reality that pollutes every generation in the royal house.

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