Classical Mythology Images and Insight, Third Edition

Following is an outline of the chapter along with the main learning objectives.  To help coordinate your studies, this outline and the learning objectives are organized to match your textbook.  This organization is also utilized in the chapter review section.  

Part 1:  Key Themes

  1. You should be able to discuss the "Oresteia" in terms of the themes of the three sequential plays, "Agamemnon", "The Libation Bearers" and "The Eumenides" as they play out the story of Orestes, who is forced by the Gods to avenge the murder of his father, by killing his mother.

  2. You should be aware of the underlying concern of the trilogy in terms of the cultural evolution from the ancient traditions of blood and vengeance to the laws that stabilize the new civic order.

 Part 2: Aeschylus' Drama of Crime and Redemption

  1. You should be able to discuss the dramatic characters of the Furies in contrast to the Gods and Goddesses of Olympus, in terms of their influences on the human realm --  considering the concepts of democracy, attempting to redefine justice, the evolution of the divinities as they reconsider moral and civic law.

  2. You should be able to discuss the cultural implications of the transformation of the Furies from avenging monsters, representative of the most savage aspects of the female, into the benign protectors of humanity -- renamed the "Eumenides" / "Kindly Ones" --  by virtue of the Goddess Athene's persuasive speeches that remind the Furies of the benefits they stand to gain. 

  3. You should be aware of the on-going role that the family of Atreus plays in ancient mythology, considering various myths that chronicle the cursed and dysfunctional family.

  4. You should be aware of the significance of Aeschylus' decision to break the "unities" of Aristotle's classic dramatic form to allow his play to range over ten years of time and various geographic locals.

  5. You should be able to discuss the story line that ties the three plays together -- murder and its consequences

  1. In "Agamemnon", we hear of the sacrifice/murder of Agamemnon's daughter, Iphigenia by his own hand, and his wife Agave's vengeance for the murder of her daughter -- she murders her husband, brandishing the sword.

  2. In the second play "The Libation Bearers", Orestes grieves over his father, Agamemnon's grave and is forced by the God Apollo to kill his father's killer, who is Agamemnon's wife and Orestes' own mother,

  3. In the last of the trilogy, Orestes is judged for the murder of his mother.

  1. You should be able to discuss the cultural roles represented by the three differing choruses to each of the plays of the trilogy: 

  1. The chorus of "Agamemnon", citizens of Thebes too old to have gone off to the war in Troy -- physically impotent but rich in traditional wisdom and religious insight -- passively watching Clytemnestra's vicious murders.

  2. The chorus of  "The Libation Bearers" ("Choephoroe"), captive Trojan women, forced by Clytemnestra to ritually honor the dead Agamemnon  -- their captor, responsible for the death of their husbands, sons, fathers, etc., whom they hate.

  3. The chorus of the "Eumenides", the Furies themselves, merciless in their punishment for crimes against kin, who evolve into compassionate protectors of justice.

  1. You should be able to discuss the cultural implications of the sacrifice of Iphigenia in terms of: the initial event that starts the events of the "Oresteia", the perception of Agamemnon that sees his sacrificing daughter (to appease the Gods so they would allow his becalmed ships to sail to Troy) as a device built on greed -- the sacking, looting of Troy. 

  2. You should be able to discuss the cultural implications of the revenge that Clytemnestra exacts for the murder of her daughter (the killing of her husband) as comparable to the revenge Orestes is forced by the God Apollo to exact for the murder of his father (the killing of his mother, Clytemnestra), in terms of: crimes against family; the patriarchal order that values the death of the father above the life of the mother (the God Apollo even declares that women only nurse the seed, that males are the true parent); the female that is superior in intelligence and drive to most men and who is capable of murderous violence.

  3. You should  be able to discuss the role of Cassandra, one of Agamemnon's captives, hacked to death by Clytemnestra, in terms of her earlier myth as virgin priestess of Apollo, who defends her virginity against his sexual advances and is then cursed by him to see the future (a gift he gave her earlier, and could not rescind) but never to be believed; and as the captive of the conqueror Agamemnon -- who rapes and enslaves her (desecrating the virgin priestess of the God Apollo) as his concubine; and in terms of the lack of any feeling of sisterhood or compassion for the plight of the captive women (as unwilling victims) on the part of Clytemnestra.

  4. You should be able to discuss the underlying themes of the "Oresteia" in terms of gender roles: the association of the Furies and the Savagery of Clytemnestra with the negative shadow of the Goddess, in contrast with the concept of male principle as defined in terms of the birth of Athene (not requiring female/mother); the contrast of the darkness of the unconscious instinct to the light and reason of the God Apollo; the levels of status implied by the powerless captive women, the impotent aged citizens of Thebes; a male murder, a female murder, a male murderer and a female murderer in terms of the justice they elicit from the traditional and the new forms of law.

  5. You should be able to discuss the effect of the satyr play created to accompany the tragedy of "Oresteia" in terms of its theme -- the happy-ever-after sexual reuniting conclusion of the "Odyssey" -- as well as its focus on the conflict between King Menelaus (husband of the Helen, the "start" of the Trojan War) and the God Proteus (a sea god, who has the ability of metamorphosis (shape-shifting) and who is forced to tell Menelaus the future success of his campaign (including the returned and repentant Helen).

  6. You should be able to discuss the tension created in the culture as it shifts from chthonic to ouranic principles of belief, from the goddess of Earth to the sky gods of Olympus in terms of the basic dilemma that is created in terms of the character Orestes: he must obey the command of Apollo to revenge the murder of his father by killing the murderer, his mother or he will be cursed by the God Phoebus -- but -- if he kills his mother the Furies will besiege him taking not only his life, but his soul for committing such a heinous crime against blood kin.

  7. You should be able to discuss the conclusion of the tragedy in terms of Orestes' acquittal, not because of his innocence or guilt but because the Goddess Athene would not side with a woman who killed her husband.

Mythology Home Student Resources

Copyright ©2001 The McGraw-Hill Companies. Any use is subject to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. McGraw-Hill Higher Education is one of the many fine businesses of
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Corporate Link