Friday, February 8, 2013

"Eumenides": The Furies Revenge (Or Lack Thereof)

Eumenides, the final play of the "Orestia", begins with the Furies, Greek deities that bring vengeance on the wicked and impious, pursuing Orestes, the young prince of Argos who recently murdered his mother in retaliation for her murder of her husband and Oreste's father, Agamemnon. Orestes tries to find refuge in a temple of Apollo, but the Furies do not relent. Apollo casts a sleeping spell on the Furies and sends Orestes to Athens under protection of Hermes. Clytemnestra's ghost appears and she urges the Furies to resume their pursuit of Orestes. The Furies do so and find Orestes in Athens in the Areopagus, the judicial centre of Athens. In the trial of Orestes, the Furies serve as the prosecuting attorneys for the dead Clytemnestra, Apollo serves as Orestes attorney, and Athena is the judge of the case. Eleven men of Athens vote over whether or not Orestes is innocent, and the result is a draw. Athena, the deciding vote, votes for Orestes acquital and Orestes is spared from judgement. The Furies are, characteristically, furious, but Athena, the goddess of wisdom, calms the Furies and persuades them away from persecuting Orestes.

And so the final play in the trilogy of tragedies ends with... a happy ending. I was really surprised by the ending. The final lines are: "Peace to thee and peace to thee / And peace for ever in Pallas' land! / Partnered with happy Destiny / All-seeing Zeus hath wrought to this end! / (Cry, cry aloud with jubilee!)". That's downright optimistic! I'm no expert in tragedies, but I thought one of the fundamental rules is that they have very sobering, tragic endings. I have to acknowledge that the ending only came after multiple bloody murders and great cost to Orestes character (i.e. the murder of his mother), but still.

Eumenides was by far my favourite play of the trilogy. I feel like the most happened in this play, it was the most dense. I found the court scene very interesting, and I liked Aeschlus' portrayal of Athena, my fvaourite character from Greek mythology. The impression I got from the words of the play (I would have loved to see a performance of it) was that Athena was a serene, fair, and wise judge. The ending seems to be a triumph of fairness over blind retribution and mercy over harshness.

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