Eumenides | Study Guide

Aeschylus

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Eumenides | Stasimon 3 | Summary

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Summary

The Chorus of Furies, slighted, declare their rage at the "younger gods." They plan to destroy Athens's people with disease and sterility. Athena tries to calm the Furies down, reminding them they lost in a fair trial and promising them leadership positions in Athens. The Chorus remains angry and vindictive. Athena insists the Furies haven't lost honor. She reminds them of Zeus's power, which overrides their own, and requests they ease their anger.

The Furies continue to lament their own suffering. Athena admits they are older and wiser than she is. But she predicts they'll miss Athens with "a lover's yearning" if they leave. She promises the Furies the reverence and respect of her citizens if they stay and rule with her. She urges them not to goad her city toward civil war out of wrath. Harming the innocent citizens of Athens, she claims, would be unjust.

Now curious, the Chorus Leader asks Athena what powers the Furies will have if they accept her offer. Athena tells them, "Without you no house can thrive." She assures the Furies she'll keep this promise forever. The Chorus Leader's rage recedes. Athena provides the Chorus with a blessing they can speak for the land of Athens, promising the city prosperity and wartime triumph. The Chorus accepts her offer.

Athena says the Furies' new role will be "to guide all mortals' lives in everything they do." The Chorus wishes the city good fortune, and Athena tells the guardians of her city they have the powerful Furies on their side. She says Zeus and justice have triumphed. Despite the Furies' "terrifying faces," Athena says they mean nothing but good. The Chorus prays for Athens never to be torn apart by civil strife and revenge. They tell the city to rejoice.

Analysis

This unusual Stasimon functions less as commentary and more as scene driving the plot forward. Athena participates, and the Chorus members become active agents in the play's outcome.

The Chorus's references to venom, contamination, and sterility show the lengths of their power. They can prevent men from having children and the land from surviving. They can shut down a city forever if they choose. Honor was significant in ancient Greek society, and the "dishonourable contempt" of the verdict is the ultimate insult to the old goddesses. They align themselves with nature and Earth, threatening to "saturate this ground" with disease and infection.

Their second choral refrain moves from rage to sorrow. The Furies' way of life is ending. The courts deliver justice now, and their jobs are irrelevant. An old era in Greece is ending as well—the era when the family unit protected one another exclusively, and the natural order was honored.

Despite the Furies' influence they feel the pain of being societal outcasts. Athena appeals to their pride and their loneliness, offering them a permanent place in Athens. She also invites them to a life without the pain and anxiety of their former work. The Furies are slowly transformed from terrifying supernatural forces to beneficent Earth goddesses as they transition to the Eumenides, becoming souls who long for a place to call home.

Athena, a fan of moderation, pleads with the Furies, "Don't let your anger lead you to excess." At first she seems genuinely fearful, pacifying more powerful forces and begging them not to destroy her city. As the Stasimon continues, Athena reveals she's had the upper hand all along.

Athena's offer isn't as kind or flattering as it first appears. She is generous, implying the Furies deserve honor and respect and acknowledging their status as "ancient goddesses." She also coerces them with threats, such as the "lover's yearning" they will feel for Athens if they leave. Athena makes the implicit threat of violence from Zeus's lightning bolt, which she hopes won't be necessary: "I'm the only god who knows the keys to Zeus's arsenal." She masterfully gives the Furies power without surrendering power herself. Athena also wants to secure military peace in Athens. She knows it's better to make friends than enemies.

Athena's concession to the Furies is often read as a message from Aeschylus to the aristocrats who formerly ruled the Areopagus, but whose power was limited by the democratic reform in Athens. The older rulers are assured they will still have important roles in the new system. By emphasizing the honor the Furies will receive, Athena softens the blow of the verdict and reminds them the younger gods are in charge now. Similarly, the wealthy rulers of the old Areopagus were given control of the new homicide court, retaining power after the reform. Athena promises the Furies will deliver "for some a life of song, for others lives of tears." They will still enforce order, punishing the guilty and rewarding the innocent.

Was justice really served? The Oresteia leaves the audience with lingering questions. Though he may have been coerced, Orestes did commit and confess to murder, and he's been freed. Athena's vote was just as political as it was moral, since she wanted to align herself with Zeus, Apollo, and the new rule of law. The new system is less lethal than the old work of bloodthirsty divinities, but it is not necessarily fairer. The "people's" court of law can be corrupted too. As the Chorus implies in Stasimon 2, it may take generations of suffering before justice can fully be achieved.

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