DQ: The Eumenides

Highlights from The Libation Bearers:

  • The chorus is made up of the procession of black robed women
  • Now, in the longest and most structurally complex lyric passage in extant Greek tragedy, the chorus, Orestes, and Electra, conjure the departed spirit of Agamemnon to aid them in revenging his murder.
  • Orestes then asks “why she sent libations, what calculation led her to offer too late atonement for a hurt past cure”(l.515-516). The chorus responds that in the palace of Argos Clytemnestra was roused from slumber by a nightmare: she dreamt that she gave birth to a snake, and the snake now feeds from her breast and draws blood along with milk.
  • Clytemnestra bears her breast and pleads, “Hold, oh child, and have shame” to which he responds by saying to his close friend Pylades, the son of the king of Phocis: “Shall I be ashamed to kill [my] mother ?”(l.896-899).
    • Some interpreters have suggested that Orestes’ question may be connected to a greater theme in the Oresteia: that sometimes we are faced with impossible decisions; in this case, Orestes’ familial duty to his father is fundamentally opposed to his familial duty to his mother
  • Chorus ends the play with the open ended question—where will the curse end, and we know that we’ll get the answer in the final play of the trilogy


The Eumenides (583-600)/Also called The Furies

1.Does Orestes murder of his mother justify the torment the Furies have inflicted on him and want to inflict on him after his death—hound him to a mad grave?

2.The opening scenes of this play contained a number of surprises for the Greek audience, departures from the conventional structure of tragedy. What are these surprises and how effective do you imagine they were when the play was actually performed?

3.Who is the speaker of the prologue? What story does she tell in her opening prayer?

4. What are some major themes in her prayer? How do these themes play out in the rest of the play?

5. What unusual gesture does she make? Why do you think she makes it, and how may the audience have responded? How do you respond?

6. Who are the Chorus? What is unusual about their entrance? What is unusual about their role in the play as a whole? How does the Priestess describe them?

7. First Episode: How does Apollo describe the Furies and what advice does he give to Orestes?

8. First Stasimon: Why are the Furies sleeping? What does their dream of Clytemnestra ask of them? How do they respond

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