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Eumenides
We are just outside the sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, in Delphi. The Pythia, Apollo's priestess, sings a prayer that honors the gods who have prophesied from this shrine. The first was Earth, then Themis, then Phoebe, and then fourth was Apollo. Apollo is the fourth in this tradition of divine seers; he is the spokesman of his father, Zeus, king of the gods. The position of prophet has always been passed from god to god peacefully, rather than through force. The Pythia prepares to begin her day as the spokeswoman of Apollo. She enters the temple and almost immediately comes out again, terrified because of what she has seen. A man is seated in the suppliant's seat, his hands dripping with blood, carrying a bloodied sword in one hand and an olive branch wrapped with wool in the other hand. Surrounding him are gorgon-like creatures, dark and revolting, eyes oozing foul liquids. These creatures sleep. The Pythia trusts in Apollo to clear things up.
Eumenides
The temple doors open, revealing Orestes and the sleeping Furies. Apollo and Hermes are there as well. Apollo affirms that he will stand by Orestes' side; it is he who has put the Furies to sleep. He expresses disgust for the Furies, and instructs Orestes to go to the city of Athena. There, he must clasp the idol of Athena. They will find people to judge his case, and Orestes will be purged of his mother's curse. Apollo asks Hermes to escort Orestes, reminding Hermes that Orestes is his suppliant and the wanderer must be treated well in accord with the laws of Zeus. (Note: the Greeks ascribed much importance to the rights of the suppliant. A suppliant was a person in desperate need who put himself at the mercy of another; violation of the suppliant's right to protection and hospitality was a great wrong. The Curse on the House of Atreus began with the slaughter of Thyestes children, and part of the horror of the act was that Atreus violated Thyestes' rights as a suppliant.)
Eumenides
Hermes, Orestes, and Apollo exit. Clytaemestra's ghost enters, bemoaning her fate. Among the dead, she is condemned. No god protects her, but she can still have her revenge if the Furies keep after Orestes. During her life, she gave the Furies offerings; she reminds them of this and asks if the offerings were in vain. She tries to rouse them from their sleep, telling them that Orestes is laughing at them, berating them for being less helpful allies than Apollo. After much prodding, the Furies cry out in their sleep; even in their dreams, they chase Orestes. Clytaemestra makes another attempt to rouse them, inciting them to drive on despite fatigue. She wants them to make Orestes suffer horribly.
Eumenides
The Eumenides wake up, and begin to howl. They cry out that Apollo has robbed them of their rightful prey, a man who has committed the terrible sin of matricide. The Furies accuse Apollo of injustice and offending the old order, saying that by championing Orestes the Olympian god stains his own shrine. Apollo enters again, not bothering to hide his disgust for the Furies. He tells them to leave his temple.
Eumenides
The Furies accuse Apollo of wrongdoing, reminding him that he was the one who commanded Orestes to kill Clytaemestra. Apollo is responsible, and he has had the nerve to offer sanctuary to the killer. He has prevented the Furies from doing their duty, which is to punish matricides. Apollo asks about Clytaemestra's wrongs: the woman killed her husband. The Eumenides respond that the murder was not committed against one who was related to her by blood. Orestes' sin is worse, because he killed his own kin. Apollo argues that the bond of marriage is sacred, and for the Furies to punish one murder and not the other makes void their claims of righteousness. Orestes' case will be put before Pallas Athene, and the great goddess will be the judge. The Furies insist that nothing will stop them from hounding Orestes. Apollo insists, with equal force, that he will protect Orestes.
Eumenides
The scene changes from the temple of Apollo at Delphi to the Acropolis in Athens, before Athene's temple and statue. Orestes takes the suppliant position at the feet of Athene's statue, asking her to help him. The Furies enter, hot on his trail. They find him seeking protection from Athene, and they tell him that only his blood can answer for the blood of his mother. The Furies torment him with promises of the suffering he will endure at their hands. The exhausted and terrified Orestes defends himself, not denying the charge of matricide, but defending his character and saying that Apollo has cleansed him of his guilt. He now calls on Athene to protect him, showing faith that she can hear him no matter where she may be.
Eumenides
The Chorus gives a long response. They tell Orestes that he is theirs to devour, and the Olympians cannot protect him. The Eumenides are agents of the most basic and ancient form of justice. The blood that Orestes spilled can only be paid for by the spilling of his own blood. The torment of guilty mortals has been the Furies' office from the first moments of the world. They seek to bypass the authority of Zeus, who has declared them outcasts. The guilty receive their punishment; the Furies are strong and cannot be appeased with words.
Eumenides
Athene enters and asks the identity of Orestes and the Eumenides. Athene listens to the grievances of the Furies, but suspects that they tell only half the truth about Orestes. She will ask him herself; the Furies trust her to adjudicate the case. Orestes insists that he is no supplicant, and that he has been absolved of the blood on his hands. Orestes tells her his story; the goddess Athene acknowledges his rights, but also acknowledges the position of the Furies. The matter is too difficult even for her to judge. She goes to select a group of men to sit in council and judge Orestes' case; it will be the foundation for a jury that will judge all future murder cases.
Eumenides
The Chorus sings again, claiming that if Orestes goes free the values and laws of the new gods will be proven false. Fear and violence are a part of justice, and the Furies make sure that the guilty do not go unpunished.
Eumenides
Athene re-enters, with the jury of twelve citizens and a herald. She instructs the herald to blow his trumpet, so that all of the citizens of Athens will watch the proceedings, which will form the basis of the court for all time. Apollo enters, to testify on Orestes' behalf. Athene presides over the trial. The Furies question Orestes about his mother's murder. When they accuse him of being guiltier than Clytaemestra because he killed someone of the same blood as himself, Orestes asks Apollo to guide his response.
Eumenides
Apollo argues with the Furies, implying that Zeus authorized Clytaemestra's death and describing in detail the way that Agamemnon was murdered. The Furies say that the Olympians are hypocritical for prioritizing the death of the father, for Zeus himself put his own father in shackles. Apollo cannot veil his disgust for the Furies as he argues that there is a great difference between shackling a man and murdering him. Apollo also argues for paternal rights, saying that the father, as the one who plants the seed, is the only true parent. A person can have a father and no mother, and as proof of this idea Apollo points to Athene, who was born from her father's skull instead of the womb of her mother. Therefore, Orestes' murder of his mother must be seen in light of the killing of Orestes' father.
Eumenides
Athene asks if the arguments have all been made. When the two parties agree that all has been said, Athene takes a moment to establish this site as the site for the court in all time to come. She advises the citizens of Athens to shy from anarchy and from tyranny alike; she warns them of the danger of corruption and the sanctity of law. She also tells them that fear must be a part of justice. The court will be like a sentry for the city of Athens, protecting her citizens from injustice and violence.
Eumenides
The jurors begin to deliberate over the verdict, and the Chorus and Apollo both swagger and speak of their strength, and the consequent dangers of upsetting them. Athene seems unshaken by the threats; she casts her ballot in favor of Orestes, being without a mother herself. She admits that she is always sides with the male. Her vote will decide Orestes' fate if the jurors are tied. There is a moment of suspense, as Orestes frets about what the verdict will be and the ballots are counted. Athene announces that the ballots are tied: Orestes is free.
Eumenides
Orestes thanks Athene, his speech overflowing with enthusiasm and earnestness. She has saved him, and he knows it. He promises that Argos will forever be the ally of Athens, and Orestes' spirit will forsake the future people of Argos should they ever turn against Athens. He exits, to return to his homeland as its new king. Apollo goes with him.
Eumenides
The Furies are outraged by the verdict, saying that the new gods have trampled the old ways. They promise to punish the land for this decision. Athene reasons with them, pointing out that the ballot was close and that the decision was reached by a fair trial. She offers them a place under the earth in Athens, to receive offerings from the people. The Furies repeat their last speech verbatim, voicing their outrage and promising to bring destruction on the land. Athene, unshaken, continues to reason with them. She reminds them that she alone of the gods knows the location of the keys to Zeus' case of thunderbolts. She is powerful, and has Zeus behind her, but it need not come to that. Athens is a rich land, and the Furies can have offerings, too. The Furies do not believe Athene. They do not believe that the people of Athens will be able to treat them with kindness; they bemoan their fate as outcasts, their ancient rights denied. Athene continues to reason with them: she tells them that she understands their anger. She also acknowledges that they have a wisdom she lacks because of their great age. But Athene, too, possess a great wisdom, different from that of the Furies. She tells them that Athens will have a great future; if the Furies come to Athens as beneficiaries, as great goddesses who preserve peace and do good, protecting the country from the threat of civil war, then the Furies' days will be rich and beautiful. In response, the Chorus repeats, verbatim, their expressions of disbelief and anger about their status as outcasts.
Eumenides
Athene patiently continues to tell them about the benefits of accepting her offer. Instead of continuing in the path of hatred and destruction, Athene offers them peace and position. The Furies ask about the details of Athene's offer, and Athene responds to every question: they will have a comfortable home, and they will power over the prosperity of men. The Furies can hardly believe the generosity of the offer. They ask Athene what kind of prayer they should say for the land. Athene describes, in beautiful language, a city prosperous and blessed. The Furies accept Athene's offer, taking a position by Athene's side, promising to defend the interests of Athens and praying for the prosperity of the city. Athene establishes the Furies' authority as the dispensers of prosperity or ruin. Athene and the Eumenides speak in turns, Athene establishing the Furies' authority and thanking Persuasion for helping her to tame them, while the Furies repeatedly bless the city. The tone of the Furies' speech changes to one of gentleness; their words are about peace, mercy, and love. Athene orders that the Furies be brought to their new home, under the earth of Athens. There they will preside over the fortunes of the city, and act as the city's guardians. A second Chorus forms, made up of the women who serve Athene. They close the play singing of the harmonious arrangement brought about by their goddess, and they bring the Furies to their new home. Peace will reign between the Athenians and their new goddesses; it has all come to pass according to the wills of Destiny and Zeus.
Orestes:
Son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra; King of Argos. Orestes was warned by Apollo that he would suffer if he did not avenge Agamemnon's death by killing Clytaemnestra. After murdering his mother and her lover, Aegisthus, Orestes is pursued by the avenging Furies. He flees Argos to Apollo's temple at Delphi, seeking protection. Apollo puts the Furies to sleep for awhile, instructing Orestes to journey to Athens, where the goddess of wisdom, Athena, will help him. Soon after, Apollo and the Furies join Orestes at Athens where they participate in a public trial decided by twelve Athenian jurors. In the end the jurymen are divided in their decision, and Athena casts the deciding vote, acquitting Orestes. Overjoyed, he vows that citizens of Argos shall forever be allies with Athens and returns to his home city in peace, since the Furies cannot torment him any more.
Apollo:
Son of Zeus and Leto; brother of Artemis; Greek god of light, music, and prophesy. Apollo protects Orestes from the Furies after he arrives at his Temple at Delphi. Later, Apollo testifies on behalf of Orestes at his trial at Athena's temple on the Acropolis in Athens. He insists that Orestes had a duty to avenge his father's death by killing Clytaemnestra, explaining that she was not in fact a blood relative of Orestes at all. Apollo uses Athena as an example of how mothers contribute nothing to a baby's creation, since she was born out of Zeus' head without the help of any woman. Since the Furies insist that Orestes must be punished for murdering a blood relative, Apollo convinces Athena that Agamemnon was the only blood relative of Orestes, acquitting him. After the trial, Apollo leaves Athens without another word.
Athena:
Daughter of Zeus; Greek goddess of wisdom and war; the patron goddess of Athens; born from Zeus' head dressed in full battle armor. Athena is called to her temple on the Acropolis rock when Orestes arrives there, clutching her statue and begging for help. Hearing about his suffering, she realizes that a big decision needs to be made about whether Orestes should be punished as the Furies wish, or if he should be forgiven. Athena decides to establish a court on the Acropolis to deal with other accused criminals in the future as well, finding twelve Athenians to serve as jurors in Orestes' trial. She directs the Furies to state their accusations and then gives Orestes the chance to defend himself, with help from Apollo. Apollo convinces Athena that mothers are not blood relatives of their children, prompting her to tip the even balance in the jury's vote, favoring Orestes. Afterwards, she calms the irritated Furies by convincing them to rule Athens with her, after much persuasion. Athena leads them to a secret place beneath the ground where they will sit on golden thrones and bless the Athenian populace. Athena is pleased to hear Orestes' promise that Argos shall be allies with Athens, declaring that it will be the greatest city.
Clytaemnestra:
Daughter of Tyndareus and Leda; wife of Agamemnon, King of Troy; mother of Orestes. Clytaemnestra was outraged when Agamemnon sacrificed their eldest daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis, murdering him after the Trojan War. Orestes returned to Argos later and murdered her to avenge Agamemnon's death. Clytaemnestra's ghost appears at Apollo's temple in Delphi, demanding that the Furies punish Orestes for killing her. Her wish for revenge is unfulfilled, as Orestes is later acquitted with Athena's help after going through a public trial.
Chorus of Furies:
Ancient goddesses of revenge with the heads of monstrous women, with snakes for hair; created from the blood that was shed when Zeus' father, Cronus, castrated his father, Uranus. The Furies punish the worst sins that humans can commit, especially kindred bloodshed. They show great contempt for the younger gods of Zeus' generation, demanding respect because they are so much older. At Clytaemnestra's insistence, they torment Orestes, demanding his death for killing Clytaemnestra. Athena determines that mothers are not blood relatives of their children, and the Furies are forced to leave Orestes alone. Athena then convinces the infuriated Furies to cast aside their rage to become peaceful protectors of Athens, ruling at her side. The Furies agree after much persuasion, transforming into the Eumenides or the 'Benevolent Ones.' They then only wish for peace and love throughout Athens. The Furies finally get the respect they have sought by becoming a part of this younger world they had once despised.
Agamemnon:
Son of Atreus and Aerop; King of Argos; father of Orestes; husband of Clytaemnestra. Agamemnon was murdered by his wife after returning from the Trojan War. Apollo informed Orestes of his duty to avenge Agamemnon's death by killing Clytaemnestra. Orestes completed this task, and Agamemnon's restless spirit was at last lain to rest.
Iphigenia:
Eldest daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. In order for the Greek ships to sail away to Troy, the goddess Artemis demanded that Agamemnon sacrifice Iphigenia at a small town called Aulis. Clytaemnestra was outraged when Agamemnon did this, murdering him after the Trojan War to avenge Iphigenia's unfortunate death.
Aegisthus:
Son of Thyestes; cousin of Agamemnon; King of Argos; lover of Clytaemnestra. Aegisthus helped Clytaemnestra to plot Agamemnon's murder because Agamemnon's father, Atreus, had murdered his older siblings. Once this revengeful act was done, Aegisthus crowned himself king of Argos with Clytaemnestra as his queen. Orestes later slew Aegisthus to avenge Agamemnon's death and punish this adulterer. Aegisthus' spirit does not appear, demanding revenge like that of Clytaemnestra, because he was not a blood relative.
Atreus:
Son of Pelops; King of Argos; father of Agamemnon and Menelaus; brother of Thyestes. Atreus cooked Thyestes' children in the oven, exiling Thyestes from Argos after learning that he had a love affair with Atreus' wife, Aerope. Thyestes' son, Aegisthus, later returned to Argos and plotted the murder of Atreus' son, Agamemnon, in order to get revenge for what Atreus had done to his father.
Thyestes:
Son of Pelops; brother of Atreus; father of Aegisthus. Thyestes had a love affair with Atreus' wife, Aerope, prompting a jealous Atreus to cook Thyestes' children in the oven and feed them to him. Thyestes then raised his remaining son, Aegisthus, in exile, never to return to Argos. Aegisthus later plotted the murder of Atreus' son, Agamemnon, in order to get revenge for what Atreus had done to Thyestes.
Aerope:
Wife of Atreus; mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus. After Aerope had a love affair with her brother-in-law Thyestes, a jealous Atreus cooked Thyestes' children in the oven.
Pythia:
Priestess in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Many travelers come to the Pythia to hear prophesies about the future, for she is a direct bridge to these humans and Apollo, god of prophesy. The Pythia gets her name because the temple once was controlled by a monstrous python snake. This python was shot dead by Apollo's arrows, and he was thereafter known as 'Pythian Apollo.' Because the priestess lives in the temple and forms a link to Apollo, she is in turn called the 'Pythia.' She runs out of the temple after seeing a bloody Orestes inside with the Furies, declaring that Apollo himself must deal with this situation.
Bromius:
Another name for Dionysus, Greek god of wine and revelry. Bromius rules Delphi in the fall and winter, sharing the Temple of Apollo as his home during these months. The Pythia only gives prophesies during the spring and summer for this reason, since Apollo controls the temple during this time only.
Hermes:
Greek messenger god and guide into Hades for dead spirits. Apollo sends Hermes to protect Orestes from the Furies as he journeys to Athens. Hermes is not heard from again after Orestes reaches his destination.
Zeus:
King of the gods; Greek god of the heavens; son of Cronus and Rhea; father of Apollo and Athena. Many characters show great reverence for Zeus, except for the Furies who mock Zeus for being such a young god compared to them. Apollo insists that Zeus himself supported Orestes murderous actions against Clytaemnestra.
Mother Earth:
Called Gaia, she is the first mother goddess of the world, from which all other gods came. Mother Earth was the first owner of the sacred temple at Delphi, eventually giving it to her daughter Themis, who was Apollo's great aunt. The temple at Delphi is very old and has belonged to many gods.
Themis:
The daughter of Uranus and Mother Earth; sister of Phoebe; Greek goddess of Divine Justice. Themis owned the temple at Delphi after Mother Earth gave it to her. Themis gave it to her sister, Phoebe, who eventually gave the temple to her grandson, Apollo, god of truth, light, and prophesy.
Phoebe:
Daughter of Uranus and Mother Earth; sister of Themis; grandmother of Apollo; Greek goddess of the Moon. Phoebe eventually gave the temple at Delphi to her grandson, Apollo, as a birthday present. Apollo is sometimes called 'Phoebus Apollo' because of his descent from her.
Hades:
God of the Underworld; brother of Zeus; son of Cronus. Hades rules over the Underworld (also called Hades), where all human spirits go when their bodies die. There they are judged and treated accordingly; the wicked are punished, and the virtuous are blessed. Although the Furies claim to despise the younger gods such as Zeus, they praise Hades as being an god whom they respect.
Jury of twelve men:
Twelve Athenian male citizens chosen by Athena to decide if Orestes should be punished or not for murdering Clytaemnestra. This jury system serves as a model for future court cases in Athena as well, as Athena establishes a tribunal there on the Acropolis. The jury's vote is evenly divided with six votes in favor of conviction and six favoring acquittal. Athena tips the balance by voting for acquittal, thus sparing Orestes from punishment. This incident models that in future Athenian court cases, if there is a tie again, then the judge presiding shall cast the deciding vote.
Herald:
A messenger who blows his trumpet loudly to get the Athenians' attention, as the first court trial is beginning on the Acropolis in Athens. Athena wants the citizens to observe and learn how to conduct a trial in the future without her help.
Cronus:
Son of Uranus and Gaia; Greek god of Time; father of Zeus; brother of Themis and Phoebe. Cronus castrated Uranus' penis, stealing his power, and the avenging Furies were born from Uranus' blood. Zeus overthrew Cronus, imprisoning him for what he had done to Uranus. The Furies compare Zeus' actions against Cronus to Clytaemnestra's avenging actions against Agammenon, justifying his murder. Apollo replies that Zeus did not kill Cronus, for he merely imprisoned him. Clytaemnestra made a mistake went by going to the extreme and murdering her husband in cold blood.
Argos:
A city located on the Peloponnesian Peninsula in southern Greece. The Argive king Tantalus began a pattern of destruction for Argos after he offended the gods by feeding them his son Pelops at a banquet. King Pelops' sons continued this as Atreus cooked Thyestes' children, exiling him brother afterwards. Clytaemnestra murders Agamemnon later after he killed her daughter Iphigenia, thus continuing this cycle of death and jealousy for the royal house of Argos.
Oracle of Apollo:
Located at Delphi, many travelers would go to hear the Oracle at Apollo's temple. There, the Pythia would relate prophesies for the future, given to her directly from Apollo himself. The Oracle was the name for the temple that travelers would go to, and also the Oracle is another name for the prophesies that travelers would hear once they arrived there.
Delphi:
A city northwest of Athens on the Greek mainland. Also called Pytho because of the legend of Apollo reclaiming the city after slaying the python snake, Delphi was a very old, sacred city. Hordes of people would make a pilgrimage there to visit the Oracle. The Pyhia describes how control of Delphi has passed from many hands, from Mother Earth to Themis to Phoebe to Apollo, and also to Bromius in the winter months. Orestes goes to Delphi for protection against the avenging Furies. From there, Apollo sends him along to Athens.
Temple of Apollo:
Site of the Oracle, where people hear prophesies from the Pythia, priestess of Apollo. Orestes goes to the Temple of Apollo seeking protection. The Pythia is frightened after seeing Orestes inside with blood-stained hands while the Furies lay all around him. She insists that Apollo himself must come to deal with this situation.
Temple of Athena:
Temple dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom, located on the Acropolis rock in central Athens. As Apollo has instructed, Orestes goes into the Temple of Athena and hugs the statue of Athena that is within, seeking her help in dispelling the Furies. There, Athena appears and facilitates a public trial decided by twelve Athenian male citizens; she breaks the tie vote, freeing Orestes from punishment. The Temple of Athena shall serve as a courtroom for future court cases as well, as Athena uses this trial as a model for how future accused criminals should be dealt with.
Acropolis:
Literally the word means 'Upper city,' the name for the great, rocky hill that towers high above Athens. A very holy place, it is the site of the Pantheon housing shrines to the goddess Athena. The Pantheon was not built until 447 B.C., however, ten years after the play was written. A much smaller shrine existed on the Acropolis, called the 'Temple of Athena Nike,' and it is this temple that is most likely referred to in The Eumenides. The Acropolis was the religious center of Athens, due to its imposing height above the city clustered at its feet.