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The Libation Bearers

Aeschylus

Lines 479–584

Lines 306–478

Lines 585–652

Summary

Orestes and Electra make one last plea to Agamemnon before moving on to other concerns. They make specific, prodding prayers that are meant to incur the wrath of their father so that he will come to their aid. They remind him of all of the injustices that he has suffered, and assure him that only they will be able to avenge these injustices.

Orestes opens by asking that his father should give him power over the house. Electra asks that Agamemnon help her escape after she brings destruction upon Aigisthos. They both promise something in return for these favors. Orestes says that he will establish funeral feasts for his father, whereas otherwise he would receive no such honors since he died an ignoble death. Electra promises to pour out her bridal wine upon his tomb, which she will revere above all other shrines.

The children both remind Agamemnon of his sufferings. Orestes tells him to remember the bath in which he died. Electra reminds him of the strange and shameful net the murderers used to catch him. Both children taunt their father in order to force him to rise from the grave and help them. If he honors their call, then he can save his own glory.

After this final appeal to Agamemnon, the chorus calls the children back to the task at hand, saying that now is the time for action. Orestes asks for the details surrounding Clytamnestra's decision to send the libation bearers to the tomb. It is too little too late, he says. All ones possessions cannot balance out the blood spilled.

The chorus then describes Clytamnestra's terrifying dream. They tell that she dreamed she bore a snake, and wrapped it like a baby. Then she tried to feed it from her breast, but the snake bit her, and blood curdled the milk. She awoke with a scream, and sent the libations in the hope that they would appease whoever sent the vision.

Orestes interprets the dream, saying that he will be the snake, saying that just as she bred this violent sign, so she will die by violence. The chorus accepts his reading, and asks Orestes what should be done. He lays out a cunning plan, one to match that by which Agamemnon died. He will send Electra inside, and she will keep the secret. He will go the gates as a stranger and speak in Parnassian, the dialect of Delphi. He might have to wait at the doors, as no one might welcome him, but this will attract the attention of others, who will wonder at how Aigisthos keeps people waiting.

Once he crosses the threshold, he will find Aigisthos. Before he can ask who Orestes is, Orestes will kill him, and Clytamnestra will drink his blood unmixed, a libation to Zeus. Orestes then bids Electra to make sure nothing goes wrong in the house, and tells the chorus to stay silent. Finally, he calls on the deity to watch over him and drive his sword home to its goal.

Analysis

Orestes has previously stated that he has two personal reasons for wanting to kill Clytamnestra. The first, his grief over his father's murder, has been fully addressed in the kommos. Thus he opens this section with a reminder of the second reason, which is his desire to regain his kingdom. In this scene, the memory of the shameful murder is merely a tool by which Orestes, with Electra's help, plies Agamemnon to help him regain the throne.

In order to secure Agamemnon's help, Orestes and Electra both promise that they will bestow some significant honors upon him. It is interesting that both children appeal to their father in this formal sense, rather than calling on him as their father to help them as his children. Rather than appealing to an emotional attachment, Orestes and Electra appeal to their father's ghost as they would to any deity.

Both Orestes and Electra ask for kratos, or power. It is significant that Orestes asks that he regain power over the house, while Electra asks for power in general. As a Greek woman in her position would never be accorded power as such, it is clear that Electra is asking for power on behalf of her brother. She stands in contrast to her mother, who sought power for herself, as if she were a man. Electra is the embodiment of the Greek feminine ideal, always supportive and never intrusive. After this scene, she disappears into the palace, never to reappear.

Electra recalls the pervasive net imagery of the play when she calls on her father to remember the fishing net in which he was caught. This 'net' is a metaphor for the robes in which Clytamnestra caught Agamemnon before murdering him. It is interesting that there are far more references to Agamemnon's netting in the trilogy than to his actual murder. The idea of being caught up in a fishing net is also linked to the snake imagery previously discussed, as both the snake and the net strangle their victim in a close embrace. This can be interpreted as the perversion of the sexual union that should have existed between Clytamnestra and Agamemnon. Instead of holding him close, as a wife should, Clytamnestra caught him up and stabbed him with her 'fangs'.

Orestes uses Clytamnestra's dream to spur his revenge. He is thrilled to hear that she dreamed of giving birth to a little snake prone to biting, as this is an easy analogy for him to apply to his own actions. He takes the dream as an omen of his own success, which before he could only guess at. If the cthonic powers have sent such a vision, then they must be on his side.

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