AESCHYLUS, THE ORESTEIA (Greek Tragedy Module).
- After lamenting the state that the Royal house has been left in, the Watchman sees a signal from a beacon signalling the fall of Troy. He goes to tell the Queen, Clytemnestra.
- Twelve Elder of Argos approach Clytemnestra and ask her for the news. They are likened to vultures.
- Clytemnestra announces the fall of Troy. The Chorus seem to not believe that this could be true. Clytemnestra explains the way that Agamemnon has set up a system of beacons so that the news might spread easily if they did sack Troy. She thinks about the destruction that Troy must be facing now.
- The Chorus thank Zeus for repaying the folly of Paris. They do, however, question Clytemnestra and whether she, like most women, has believed rumour all too quickly.
- A Herald announces Agamemnon’s return. There is discussion about the horrors faced by the soldiers during the war. He also reports of Menelaus’ misfortune and how he was caught in a storm on the journey home.
- Clytemnestra declares joy at the thought of her husband’s return.
- The Chorus discuss Helen and the part she had to play in the trouble.
- Agamemnon arrives with Cassandra, a priestess of Apollo that he has enslaved as his concubine.
- The central action of the play is the agon between Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. During this interaction, Clytemnestra plays the loyal and loving wife.
- She persuades her husband to enter his palace by walking over a purple/red tapestry. Even though he feels guilty about committing hubris, Agamemnon is persuaded by Clytemnestra and walks all over the tapestry.
- Cassandra is suddenly possessed by Apollo. She has been silent up until this point.
- She seems to ramble un-understandable words. After a time she starts to make sense. She engages in a discussion with the Chorus about whether she should enter the palace too, even though she knows that she will be killed. [Apollo had previously cursed Cassandra by giving her the power to see exactly the path of the future but being believed by absolutely nobody.]
- Cassandra gives a speech in which she talks about the many gruesome things that will happen to the House of Atreus. She is so clear about these things that it is almost like she has witnessed them herself.
- She eventually enters the palace knowing what her fate will be.
- The Chorus of Elders are confused and scared. They hear the screams of Agamemnon inside the palace and frantically try to decide on what they should do.
- The dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra are revealed along with Clytemnestra holding the murder weapon. She is defiant in her actions.
- She explains that she killed Agamemnon in a similar way to how an animal would be killed for sacrifice - with three blows, the last given while reciting a prayer to the gods.
- Aegisthus arrives on the scene and gives a speech full of arrogance; he is now the King. The Chorus are incredibly angry with his attitude.
- Clytemnestra stops the dispute by saying there should be no more blood spilled on such a day.
- The play ends with the Chorus reminding Aegisthus and Clytemnestra that Orestes is still alive and that he was sure to return and avenge his father.
LIBATION BEARERS (CHOEPHOROI)
- Orestes and Pylades arrive at the grave of Agamemnon.
- Orestes places a lock of hair on the tomb.
- The two men hide as Electra arrives at the grave, along with a group of women. Clytemnestra has sent them to the grave in an attempt to appease the gods and comply with burial rites, and to avoid being avenged by Orestes.
- Electra sees the locks of hair and notices how similar they are to her own. She also sees two sets of footprints and considers that one set are similar to her own size.
- Orestes and Pylades reveal themselves. Orestes persuades his sister of his true identity.
- The Chorus, Orestes and Electra conjure the spirit of Agamemnon to help them in their revenge.
- Orestes questions why Clytemnestra had cared enough to send offerings to Agamemnon’s tomb and the Chorus explain that she had dreamed that she had given birth to a snake. That snake fed from her breast and drew not only milk, but blood. She considered that this might be a warning from the gods and so sent funeral offerings to the tomb with her daughter.
- Orestes and Pylades, disguised as travellers, ask for hospitality in the palace. They go so far as to tell Clytemnestra that her son is dead.
- Clytemnestra is delighted and calls for Aegisthus. When he arrives, Orestes reveals his true identity and kills Aegisthus.
- Orestes’ next decision is very difficult; in order to avenge his father he must kill his mother. He struggles with his decision.
- Clytemnestra bears her breast and pleads with her son that he take pity on the woman who gave birth to him. Orestes asks Pylades whether he should be feeling so much shame about killing his mother. Pylades assures him that murder is the correct thing to happen and that his friend must not forget his duty.
- Orestes almost immediately carries out the act of killing his mother.
- He leaves the palace and is haunted by the Furies. Orestes is hugely panicked and flees.
- The Chorus conclude that the cycle of vengeance has not stopped with the death of Clytemnestra and that one murder must be punished by another.
- The Furies continue to torment Orestes. He finds refuge in a Temple to Apollo in Delphi. The god is unable to protect him but sends him to Athens under the protection of Hermes.
- The Furies are approached by the ghost of Clytemnestra and she encourages them to continue their search for Orestes.
- The Chorus of Furies arrives on stage. They seek the scent of Orestes’ blood.
- Orestes supplicates a statue of Athena once he arrives in Athens but the Furies find him all the same. They are able to see drops of blood on the ground where Orestes has walked.
- Athena intervenes and brings in a Jury to judge her supplicant.
- Apollo acts as a kind of barrister for Orestes while the Furies act on behalf of the dead Clytemnestra.
- During the debate Apollo manages to convince Athena that the man is the more important person in a marriage, and does this by pointing out that Athena was born to Zeus without any involvement of a female.
- The Jury is split equally in opinion. She announces that the Orestes will be acquitted of the accusations brought against him because this is what she had earlier said would happen if the votes were equal.
- Athena tries to persuade the Furies that the decision is correct. They are angry but eventually accept the decision when Athena promises to have them honoured in Athens. She also gives them a home in the heart of the city. In return they will look favourably on Athens.
- Athena leads the Furies to their new home after declaring that any future tied juries would lead to acquittal because it is best to err on the side of forgiveness than harshness.