Aeschylus.Eumenides(selection). Trans. Herbert Weir Smyth.This translation is taken from the Perseus website.The line numbers refer to the lines in the Greek text.I have used this transla- tion only so as to more easily do a commentary on it.It is different from the translation in Mau- rizio’s text. 1 Athena To the Furies.It is for you to speak—I am only bringing in the case; for the prosecutor at the be- ginning, speaking first, shall rightly inform us of the matter2 . Chorus We are many3, but we will speak briefly. To Orestes.Answer our questions, one by one. Say first if you killed your mother. Orestes I killed her. There is no denial of this. Chorus Of the three falls that win the wrestling match4, this one is already ours. Orestes You make this boast over a man who is not down yet.  Chorus You must, however, say how you killed her. Orestes I will say it: with drawn sword in hand, I stabbed her in the throat. 1By way of background–theEumenidesis the third play in a trilogy of plays by Aeschylus.The trilogy goes by the name of theOresteia(the trilogy about Orestes).The first play, theAgamemnon, tells the story of Agamemnon returning to Troy only to be killed by his wife and her lover.It ends with the lovers triumphant, Agamemnon dead, and the chorus crying out for Orestes (at that point about 11 years old) to come and avenge his father.The second play,The Libation Bearerstells the story of Orestes’ return (about 7 years after the first play). Having grown up far away, he is not recognized by his mother or by her lover and he gets his revenge.Triumphant, he is beset by the Furies (the spirits that avenge blood-guilt) and runs off stage screaming.TheEumenidestakes place maybe a year later, with Orestes at Delphi, where he begs Apollo for help.As the play opens, Apollo tells Orestes to get to Ath- ens where he will be put on trial for killing his mother.In the trial, Apollo acts as defense attorney, Athena as chief witness for the defense, and the Furies (the chorus in the play) act as prosecution.The Furies are not concerned with Clytemnestra killing Agamemnon (as his wife, she is not a blood relative).They are worried about Orestes killing his mother (blood guilt). 2This is how trials still work.The prosecutor brings the charges, sets the frame for the trial. 3The chorus in Greek tragedy generally numbered 12.They would interact with the actors in the drama, would comment on the action, and would also perform choral passages (something like ensemble numbers in musicals or operas) where they would also dance.The chorus rarely are actors in the drama, but here the Furies are moving the action, and not just commenting on it. 4So we have the metaphor here of wrestling, where the winner is the guy who can throw his opponent three times.
The matter of Orestes’ killing Clytemnestra is not contested.Apollo and Orestes claim he had a duty to avenge his father, and to avenge his king.The Furies see his killing of Clytemnestra as worse than her killing of Agamemnon because of the blood connection.
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Chorus By whom were you persuaded and on whose advice? Orestes By the oracles of this god here5 ; he is my witness. Chorus The prophet directed you to kill your mother?  Orestes Yes, and to this very hour, I do not blame my fortune. Chorus But if the jury's vote catches hold of you, you'll soon speak differently. Orestes I have good confidence. My father will send protection from his grave. Chorus Put your confidence in the dead now, after you have killed your mother!6 Orestes I do, for she was twice afflicted with pollution.  Chorus How so? Teach the judges this. Orestes By murdering her husband, she killed my father. Chorus And so, although you are alive, she is free of pollution by her death. 7 Orestes But why did you not drive her into exile, while she lived? 5Orestes, in theLibation Bearers, is about to refrain from killing his mom, when his friend Pylades reminds him the oracle told him he must do the deed.That scene is very dramatic (Pylades, a silent character, has only one line in the play.When the audience heard him speak, they likely gasped in disbelief, which means what he said got all the more emphasis). 6The Furies are somewhat snarky, but they make a good point.Orestes indicates confidence in his dead father’s protection, but the Furies bringup his dead mother (whom he killed).Clytemnestra’s ghost appears at the beginning of theEumenides, waking the sleeping Furies and demanding they get after her son who’s hotfooted it down to Ath- ens. 7From the Furies’ perspective, Clytemnestra would have been guilty ONLY if she killed her kid, not her husband.
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