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Eumenides | Quotes

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1.

While it's asleep/the mind can see, but in the light of day/we have no vision of men's destiny.


Clytaemnestra, Prologos

Clytaemnestra allies herself with night and the Furies by saying she can see destiny more clearly in darkness, when she's asleep. In the dark the Furies will be driven by instinctual forces to pursue revenge. Meanwhile, in the daytime reason may take over and cause them to forget their goal. This quote highlights the symbolic conflict between light and darkness, or instinct and knowledge.

2.

What work/has fate assigned you if not causing pain?


Clytaemnestra, Prologos

Since Clytaemnestra has suffered, she doesn't think justice will be served until someone else has suffered on her behalf. And she knows whom to turn to. This quote encapsulates the Furies' original role, dictated (like many actions in the Oresteia) by their function rather than their will. They pursue and harm any fugitives from blood vengeance. When Athena changes their role in Stasimon 3, she'll change fate's dictate for the Furies' work.

3.

I see Earth's central navel stone/defiled with blood, corrupted,/stained with guilt.


Chorus, Parodos

"Earth's central navel stone" is the stone in Apollo's Delphi temple, where Orestes hid, still covered in his mother's blood. Greek mythology placed this stone at the geographic center of Earth, so it was a place of great significance. By corrupting the stone with his guilt, Orestes has threatened the natural order of Earth. To let him go unpunished, the Furies think, would harm nature itself.

4.

With man and woman/a marriage sealed by fate is stronger/than any oath, and justice guards it.


Apollo, Episode 1

Marriage was governed by law, politics, and ceremony in ancient Greece. By asserting the importance of marriage in making a family, Apollo signals the value of man-made oaths in achieving justice. For the Furies, who regard only blood relatives as family worthy of vengeance, this concept flies in the face of their beliefs.

5.

Time destroys all things which age with time.


Orestes, Episode 1

Orestes is appealing to the Furies—and indirectly to Athena—for mercy and redemption. He never denies his crime, but he's taking the long view. The blood on his hands is fading, showing his crime is in the past. He pledges to be an ally to Athens in the future. With time, he hopes, what he's done can be forgiven and eventually forgotten—since he and his story will "age with time."

6.

Remorseless Fate gave us this work/to carry on forever, a destiny/spun out for us alone.


Chorus, Stasimon 1

The Furies disagree with Orestes about time's destruction. They see their work as eternal and constant. Fate is "remorseless" and won't make exceptions. They cite "destiny," a common theme in the Oresteia: characters feel they are destined toward certain actions and that strength resides in having the will to carry out one's destiny, no matter how challenging it may be to do so. Their stories are already written or "spun out."

7.

You wish to be considered righteous,/but not to act with justice.


Athena, Episode 2

Athena finds the flaw in the Furies' argument for blood vengeance. They haven't heard Orestes's side of the story, considered the situation from all angles, or acted with compassion. Though their songs show the Furies want to be seen as the guardians of dike or order, their actions prove otherwise. They're more invested in being known for their power—being "considered righteous"—than actually doing the right thing.

8.

Sometimes what's terrible can work/to bring about what's good.


Chorus, Stasimon 2

The choral odes of the Oresteia include many variations on the idea of suffering as the only path to a good and righteous life. The gods bring suffering to humans, or humans create "what's terrible" themselves through their mistakes. The Chorus hopes the decision made in Orestes's case will lead to a positive outcome for mankind in the precedent it sets for justice, even though the House of Atreus has gone through tremendous pain to get there.

9.

Justice has an altar./Give that full human reverence.


Chorus, Stasimon 2

The Furies sound bent on revenge and driven by rage in earlier scenes. In their second choral ode they show their sense of values and moral compass more recognizably. They intend the phrase to "sum up everything about this case" and show what the play really means; humans have to sacrifice self-interest for the greater good of justice. The "altar" of justice makes the audience picture the rite of animal sacrifice on an altar, rather than the courtroom—which Athena will make an altar of a different kind.

10.

The parent is the one who plants the seed,/the father. Like a stranger for a stranger,/she preserves the growing life, unless/god injures it.


Apollo, Episode 3

Apollo's theory of paternity and family ties is strictly patriarchal, giving authority to the father. His argument insists Orestes's crime of matricide is not nearly as bad as Clytaemnestra's slaughter of her husband. While Clytaemnestra overstepped her role to exact vengeance, Orestes did not. Apollo presents the case for "male" forces like reason, daylight, and the courts to triumph over "female" forces of vengeance and night.

11.

What mortal man is truly righteous/without being afraid? Those who sense the fear/revere what's right.


Athena, Episode 3

Athena's speech establishing the permanence of the Areopagus court speaks to a dilemma every government has. How can laws enforce good, selfless behavior in humans who are naturally inclined to be selfish? Athena's answer is reverence and fear. If people know they'll answer to a court for their crimes, they are more likely to follow the law. Athena may permit humans to govern themselves through the courts. But she doesn't trust humans to be "righteous" of their own accord. She knows fear of consequences helps.

12.

So here I now establish this tribunal,/incorruptible, magnificent,/swift in punishment—it stands above you,/your country's guardian as you lie asleep.


Athena, Episode 3

Though Athena's words are reasoned and calm, they're laced with threats. She wants humans to respect and fear the court the way they once feared the Furies. She establishes the tribunal as a separate character and an independent force, with the powers of a watchman and a military ("your country's guardian"). This quote expresses the unifying force Athena hopes the democratic court will be.

13.

You younger gods, you've wrenched our ancient laws/out of my grasp, then stamped them underfoot.


Chorus, Stasimon 3

The first choral refrain of Stasimon 3 is a song of revenge, while the second refrain is a song of sorrow. The Furies use violent and expressive language to portray the injustice they've seen take place. The "younger gods" are portrayed as predatory, attacking institutions that have kept humans alive. The Furies fear anarchy will follow the jury's lack of respect for "ancient laws," and they follow an animalistic compulsion toward revenge.

14.

But if you respect Persuasion,/holding in reverence that sacred power/whose soothing spell sits on my tongue,/then you should stay.


Athena, Stasimon 3

Athena's answer to the Furies' sense of injustice invokes Persuasion. Persuasion is a force represented elsewhere in the Oresteia as flattering and deadly, used by murderers to lure people to their deaths. Athena uses Persuasion here to mean the power of rhetoric and rational speech, with its "soothing tongue." She knows court cases will be decided by speech and arguments, and she wants Persuasion to be a force for good. But she's using Persuasion in a more self-interested sense as well—to flatter the Furies into accepting her bargain.

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