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The Libation Bearers

Aeschylus

Key Facts

Important Quotes Explained

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

full title · The Libation Bearers

author · Aeschylus

type of work · Play

genre · Tragedy

language · Attic Greek

time and place written · Athens, 458 BCE

date of first publication · Unknown

publisher · Unknown

narrator · Not Applicable (drama)

point of view · Not Applicable (drama)

tone · While Aeschylus uses a well-known myth as the basis for his Oresteia, he approaches it in a distinctly different way than all other writers who came before him. He has an agenda to convey, which is that only civil law courts can break the primitive cycle of violence that destroyed Agamemnon, Clytamnestra, and Aigisthos. His tone is at times moral and at times objective. He seeks to convey to us the nature of gods and men.

tense · Not Applicable (drama)

setting (time) · Archaic Greece, about twenty years after the end of the Trojan War

setting (place) · Argos

protagonist · Orestes

major conflict · Revenge must be sought for Agamemnon's murder at the hands of Clytamnestra and Aigisthos. Apollo sends Orestes to do the job. Orestes must return home, pay tribute to his father's tomb, plot with his sister Electra, connive his way into the palace, and commit a double murder. All of this is very complicated and also presents some difficult ethical questions.

rising action · Orestes returns home, runs into Electra at their father's tomb, plots with her to avenge their father's murder, and gains audience with Clytamnestra and Aigisthos under false pretences.

climax · Orestes commits matricide, a horrendous but necessary crime that is sanctioned by Apollo.

falling action · The house of Argos is now free of Agamemnon's murderers, but Orestes is haunted by his mother's curse and runs away screaming from the Furies who come to claim him.

themes · The cyclical nature of blood crimes; the lack of clarity between right and wrong; the conflict between new and old gods; the difficult nature of inheritance

motifs · Light and Dark; net imagery

symbols · Serpents; eagle; Agamemnon's robes

foreshadowing · This concept does not directly apply to this play, as Aeschylus's audience would have been very familiar with the myth of Orestes. However, instances of foreshadowing include the fateful vision of the vicious eagles attacking the hare, Apollo's declaration that Orestes will not have to pay for his crimes, and Clytamnestra's snake dream.

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