Analysis

This passage is packed with many layers of meaning. It should be a recognition scene between mother and son, but Orestes puts up a wall of lies to keep his mother from discerning his intent before he can carry out his plan. In doing so, he is like Odysseus, who, throughout the Odyssey, lies about his name and origins. Such deceit is the tool of a man who is not safe in his own home.

Orestes's use of manipulative language to gain entrance to the palace is problematic. Throughout the Agamemnon, we saw how Clytamnestra used cunning words to carry out her plots. While the Greeks prized strong rhetorical skills, they were also suspicious of them. A slick-talking politician could use words to confuse the issue and manipulate the situation to his own ends. Clytamnestra did the same when she convinced Agamemnon to walk on the fine tapestries of the house when he arrived back from Troy, thus sealing his fate.

Orestes's plan had been to find Aigisthos and kill him before he could ask his name. However, his expectations go awry when Clytamnestra herself answers the door. Thinking on his feet, he immediately conjures up a story about how he is a stranger from Daulis, come to bring news of Orestes's death.

Orestes's deceit is particularly interesting in light of his statement to the porter that "man speaks to man with boldness and sets forth his meaning without reserve." Men are strait talkers, he asserts. However, when confronted by an unexpected situation, Orestes immediately resorts to lies. One could also interpret his statement to the porter to mean that when speaking to women, deceit is always involved. Thus, he is forced to lie to Clytamnestra in order to compete on a level playing field. Either way, we see that when women take strong action, a corruption of the normal order of things ensues.

Orestes's statement to the porter is also significant because it tells us not to trust anything that Clytamnestra is about to say. She will try to arouse our sympathies by playing the good host and by lamenting the news of her son's death. We must not fall victim to these tricks.

Whether or not Clytamnestra is sincere in her sadness at Orestes's news, it clearly would have been better for her had Orestes really been dead. It is interesting that she calls him the only hope for the house. Is this an entirely ironic statement, intended to give false pretences of grief but written also as a sign to remind the audience that Orestes is about to fulfill his function as the hope of the house? Or does she mean that Orestes might have come home and assumed the kingship, thus putting the kingdom back in proper order and putting the bloodshed behind him. Her intentions are ambiguous, in keeping with her complex character.