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The Libation Bearers

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Apr. 16th, 2007 | 11:25 am
posted by: gpolhemus in democracy105w

Drama in ancient Greece was directly tied to the gods. The great Dionysian in Athens was a sort of temple where every play that was performed was in ceremonial tribute to Dionysus. The tragedies that were performed were lessons the art of drama was to evoke a catharsis among the audience. Sitting in the theatron, the citizen of Athens were to learn from the behaviors of the characters. When the tragic hero makes the wrong decision, betrays his fellow man or the gods, he will be punished. Thus, the citizens will not reciprocate these actions in real life out of fear of punishment.
In the Libation Bearers, Aeschylus tells the story of Orestes returning to Argos after hearing of his father’s death. After reuniting with his sister, Electra, at their father’s grave, Orestes and his friend Pylades go into town disguised as travelers in need of rest. Clytaemestra allows them to enter the gates. Once inside, Orestes tell her the false news of his own death. After Clytaemestra and Aegisthus learn this news they feel relief, with Orestes’ death, brings the end of threat to their rule. Aegisthus is murdered first by Orestes. Clytaemestra learning that the traveler is Orestes desperately pleas for her life and for her throne; she tries to persuade Orestes to spare her because she was the one who gave him life and raised him with unconditional love. Orestes drags Clytaemestra over to Aegisthus’ body and proceeds to murder her. Throughout the play the chorus reminds Orestes of the consequences of his actions.
The libation Bearers discusses the issue of one’s birthright. One cannot choose how their life will play out; however, one does have the choice to act in the situations that are placed before them. Orestes is caught between a rock and a hard place; his mother has successfully murdered his father and alongside Aegisthus, now controls Argos. Orestes is bound by the furies to get payment for Agamemnon’s blood; however if he kills Clytaemestra, the Furies will come to collect for her blood as well. The objective is to choose the lesser of the two evils. Apollo grants Orestes his permission for vengeance against his mother, ending the curse upon his house, thus Orestes chooses this route.
The lesson learned is that decisions will not always be easy, life is unfair and unpredictable; one must make the best decision possible, in order to ensure preservation of the laws of men. Also, this tragedy depicts the significance of the gods in mortal’s decisions. Drama is cyclical in that the plays are rituals to the gods, portraying situations where humans get punished for not following the rules of the gods. This play includes both levels, portraying both the laws of the gods as well as the laws of men. Orestes had a duty as a citizen of Argos, as a son of Agamemnon, to take his place as ruler; he also has the duty by the gods to repay the blood of his dead father.

Word Count: 500

1. Do you feel as though the citizens of Athens truly did base their actions on the lessons from tragedies?
2. Why is it that Orestes accepted Apollo’s promise of protection over the threat of the Furies?

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