Libation Bearers as a Revenge Tragedy - Essay Example

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Aeschylus' Oresteia is the only surviving ancient Greek trilogy. It is an achievement of western civilization that can be compared to Dante's Divine Comedy, Michelangelo's painting that adorn the walls of the Sistine Chapel or Shakespeare's tragedies. Though the other Greek playwrights did not present connected episodes in their plays, Aeschylus experimented on the theme of revenge in three connected plays in Orestes…
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Libation Bearers as a Revenge Tragedy
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The ancient world saw retribution as a divinely ordained necessity. Avenging the death of father and mother or near of kin takes the dimension of a sacred filial or fraternal duty. However, the execution of this can put a person in conflicting situations. The person killed also can be near in blood and the avenger endangers himself or herself by inviting more curses. Often this takes the form of perennial stream of unending retribution with no escape route. This aspect of vengeance has engaged the attention of Greek Tragedians. In primitive societies, the fear of retribution might have acted a deterrent in reducing crime. In the heyday of Greek culture, the great writers used the themes of retribution for its cathartic effect on the spectators.
The last of the Oresteia trilogy The Libation Bearers is indeed a play of retribution. It opens at the tomb of Agamemnon. Orestes' sister Electra comes to the tomb to perform the rite for the dead father. The libation bearers who have come to pour the libations on the tomb also accompany her. She does not seem to be steadfast in her resolve to avenge the death of her father due to certain reasons. At the point of time, she has come for performing the rites on the request of Clytemnestra to lessen anger the spirit of the dead against her. She wants to avenge her father's death however she wants to keep her hands free of the dead. She also knows that if she kills her mother, justice will pursue her. This dilemma is shared with the chorus, who ask her to entrust the duty of revenge on a man. She prays to the gods that Orestes will come and perform the sacred duty of avenging their father's death. Now Orestes steps in and the brother and sister recognize each other. Since Orestes comes with divine mandate from the god Apollo himself to purse the path of revenge he is bent on the deed. Aeschylus uses the theme of eagle (Agamemnon) and viper (Clytemnestra) to echo the past:
Behold our cause!
Look on the brood bereft of their eagle-sire,
Who died entwined in the coils of a vicious viper
Look on the starving orphans, ravaged by hunger,
Too young to carry their father's prey to shelter. (lines 246-250)
Greek plays are apparently fatalistic in tone. However, personal responsibility in their ruin is not completely ruled out. The tragedy of Oedipus unknowingly marrying his own mother and producing brother children and sister children and ultimately repenting and doing penance for his deeds is height of tragic fate that awaits great heroes. Aeschylus makes it clear that Agamemnon is both trapped by fate and his own innate nature. Orestes is torn between two forces the sacred duty of avenging his father's death and the injunction of Apollo and the lengthy harangue of Apollo in which he spells out the punishments that awaits him if he fails in his duty. The other force is his dislike of matricide and the fear of justice that will follow him as it did the heroes of the past. Great triumphs are followed by great perils. Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife receives the victor with ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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