Libation Bearers — The Oresteia

Libation Bearers is the second tragedy in the Oresteia. It tells about the strong-willed prince Orestes, only son of the King of Mycenae Agamemnon, who comes home to find that his dear father has been tragically killed. Libation Bearers also tells of the inescapable deaths of the hypocritical Clytemnestra, queen and mother of Orestes, and her lover, Aegisthus.

Genealogy of Orestes
Genealogy of Orestes

It begins with Orestes’ sister, Electra, and the women of the house lamenting the death of their King. Electra must perform the customary libations and offerings to the dead. These are normally performed and given by the eldest son. But Orestes is not yet back from his adventurous travels. She prays to underworld dweller Agamemnon for Orestes to come and take revenge for his father’s sudden and tragic death.

Suddenly the prince arrives to find the weeping women. After discovering the heart-rending news of Agamemnon’s death, he performs the necessary libations and gives offering to the gods of the underworld.

It then becomes apparent to the devastated Orestes that he must kill his mother and her lover seeking both revenge and avoidance of the wrath of his father’s underworld Furies. (The Furies are female deities of vengeance). Orestes and his sister Electra then call upon the gods of Mt. Olympus, in particular the glorious sun god Apollo, for guidance and protection.

Orestes goes purposefully to his mother’s house disguised as a traveler. In order to fool his mother, he brings news of his own death. Clytemnestra hypocritically pretends to grieve but in reality she is relieved and thinks that she and Aegisthus are safe.

When Aegisthus comes to hear this ‘traveler’s’ story, the disguised Orestes kills him. But Orestes is in doubt as to whether or not he should kill his cruel mother, for after all she had given him life. If he doesn’t kill his mother, his father’s Furies will be after him. But if he does, he will be plagued by his mother’s. His mother’s Furies are the black clad Gorgons. Finally he decides, with a torn heart, to kill his mother in order to appease his father. But Clytemnestra’s Furies are after him and he must flee to save his life.

 

 

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