29. The Oresteia (458 BC), part 3. The Eumenides (The Furies) by Aeschylus

Plot : Following on immediately from the end of The Choephori, Orestes flees from the Furies to the Pythian temple of Apollo after killing his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegithius. Apollo advises him to go Athens and plead his case to the goddess Athene. In what may be the first recorded court case heard in literature, Athene gathers twelve Athenian jurors, and Apollo and the Furies present their cases. Orestes is pardoned, and Athene placates the Furies from exacting their frustrations upon Athens by offering them a home and worship from her people.
My thoughts : Again, not a resounding success in my heart, despite the fascinating presence of the wingless black-garbed Furies. Apollo’s arguments are weak (“Zeus made me do it”, “Zeus is more right than Justice” and most controversial “Mothers are not true parents”) yet the human jury is deadlocked until Athene casts her deciding vote for Orestes. The anger and frustration of the Furies is quickly overcome by the bribes Athene offers, so the whole thing collapses in an unbelievable happy-ever-after.
Not sure if it is just the version I read, but in this last play there is evidence of development of the drama as staged : there are two distinct scenes – in previous plays there was change of scene but not scripted as in this case; and at one point there are more than two speaking actors on stage besides the Chorus (Athene, Apollo and Orestes)

Favourite lines/passages:
Athene in response to the Furies’ initial outburst

“You seek the form of Justice, more than to be just”

And her warning to keep the sanctity of the courtroom

“If you befoul a shining spring with an impure
And muddy dribble, you will come in vain to drink.”

And of course some great lines for the Chorus of Furies

“Come, swift avenging Furies,
O sword of Justice, fall!”


“The old is trampled by the new!
Curse on you younger gods who override the ancient laws and rob me of my due!
Now to appease the honour you reviled
Vengeance shall fester till my full heart pours
Over this land on every side
Anger for insult, poison for my pain ….
A sterile blight shall creep on plant and child
And pock the earth’s face with infectious sores.”

Personal rating : 5 /10
Next: The Histories, by Herodotus. This is quite a long work, and I am going away for two weeks’ holiday with this in my luggage.

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