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The Libation Bearers

Aeschylus

Lines 306–478

Lines 246–305

Lines 306–478, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

The Chorus, Orestes, and Electra switch off saying prayers. The Chorus begins by calling for the powers of destiny to press on now. Revenge must be paid and "the one who acts must suffer." Orestes speaks next, making a prayer to Agamemnon. He asks what words can reach him now, what light can oppose his darkness. The chorus replies, saying that the rage of the dead inflames the sons still living. Electra joins in, saying that she and Orestes are one in their misery. No one can escape doom.

The chorus says that there is hope for this mournful song to turn to joy, and for them to sing a song of triumph. Orestes and Electra then dwell on what could have happened to prevent their present misery. If only, Orestes says, Agamemnon had died a glorious death at Troy. Then he and Electra could have basked in his glory and been the envy of all. The leader of the chorus picks up on this idea, saying that Agamemnon could have ruled among the kings of the dead. Electra wishes instead that the murderers had been slain first so that Agamemnon would never had been killed.

The chorus puts an end to this musing, saying "[d]reams are easy, oh, but the double lash is striking home." The time for the children to take victory is now. Inspired by this, Orestes calls for Zeus to force up destruction from the earth. The chorus grows more excited, foreseeing its triumphant cries when "the man is stabbed, the woman dies." Their hatred is rising to a furious pitch. Electra joins in now, crying, "Zeus, crush their skulls! Kill! Kill!"

The chorus justifies these murderous cries by saying that "it is the law." Blood must be paid for with blood. Orestes nearly loses himself in his misery, and the chorus sinks low with him, but then rebounds. Emotions are running high at this point, and hope and despair swing back and forth across the stage.

But, just as they say that they have found new hope in Orestes, Electra cries out, "What hope?" Their miseries are past soothing, she says, even by a mother's touch. Clytamnestra will never be able to calm the "wolves' raw fury" that she has bred. She dared to bury their father unwept and unsung, so now she must pay. The chorus focuses in on Clytamnestra as well, providing excruciating details of her crimes. "Butchered, I tell you—hands lopped, strung to shackle his neck and arms!" They work to cultivate this vehement hatred brewing in Orestes and Electra's hearts.

Electra reminds them that she, too, deserves pity. Clytamnestra leashed her like a dog in a cell, leaving her to weep in vain.

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