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|← Religious and Political Perspectives||The Mortals and the Gods →|
Three plays that are intertwined in their plot and theme are often referred to as a trilogy. A perfect example of a trilogy is the Oresteia which is made up of three plays namely Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers and the Eumenides respectively. This excellent piece of literary genius is the work of Aeschylus and is about Greek tragedies. Oresteia is the only surviving trilogy of the ancient Greek. The title was coined after a key character called Orestes in the second play, the Libation Bearers. This essay highlights how the gods, mortals and the city are related. The scene in Agamemnon is at the palace of Atreus at Mycenae were there are statues of the gods and alters prepared for sacrifice.
In Agamemnon, the first play of the Oresteia trilogy, we read of key characters like Agamemnon the king of Argos, his wife queen Clytemnestra and Aegisthus the cousin to Agamemnon. The relationship between these three mortals is sour and one that leads to a cold blood murder. The play begins with the watchman on the house rooftop where he is mandated to keep an eye on the ongoing war between Greece and Troy for ten years. When the Greece triumph over Troy, he says with jubilation,
“But now at last fair fall the welcome hour that sets me free…with beacon-fire of hope differed no more…fire of their night that brings my spirit day, shedding on the Argos light, and dance, and song.”(Morshead p. 5).
He is aware of the plan that has been hatched by Clytemnestra and his adulterous lover Aegisthus but is not ready to spill the beans. He says,”…but I say no more: Upon my tongue treads hard the ox o’ the adage”(Morshead p. 6).
The return of Agamemnon with Cassandra the captive daughter of Trojan king angers Clytemnestra even more since her daughter Iphigenia was murdered by Agamemnon. So, to get back at her husband, she pretends to welcome him to the palace (before he enters the palace, Agamemnon calls onto the Greek god saying,”O Zeus, Zeus, who accomplishes all things, answer my prayers.”(Ian p.40) and kills him with an axe. She is later on joined by Aegisthus her accomplice to confirm the demise of king Agamemnon. Cassandra suddenly enters into a trance after the god Apollo takes possession of her thus striking the first encounter between the gods and the mortals. Apollo on the one hand enables Cassandra to foresee future events but on the other hand curses her so that no one believes her until the events become imminent. She says,”Apollo! Apollo! God of the road…You’re destroying me.”(Ian p.44) This god also enables her to behold the vivid history of the house of Atreus which she recounts as if she had witnessed them. These gruesome events lead to the second play of the Oresteia: The Libation Bearers.
Orestes, the son to the murdered king returns from Phocis where he grew up in exile to avenge the death of his father. This leads to a reunion with his sister Electra at the grave of their father. Clytemnestra, in a bid to quell any eruption of violence, sends a chorus of elderly women who are the libation bearers to pour libations on the grave of Agamemnon. Orestes inquires “why she sent libations, what calculation led her to offer too late atonement for a hurt past cure.” (Lines 515-516). The chorus reports a nightmare that was experienced by Clytemnestra of giving birth to a snake which turned to feed on milk and blood from her breast. This reassures Orestes that he is that snake and thus a revenge mission ensues. Consequently, he brings upon himself the guilt of matricide after killing his mother Clytemnestra.