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Eumenides | Symbols

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The Navel Stone

The "central navel stone" in Apollo's temple, where the Priestess first encounters Orestes in the Prologos, represents Apollo and the peace, rationality, and order he stands for. It's also known as the omphalos stone.

According to Greek mythology, Zeus discovered the center of Earth by releasing two eagles, one east and another west. The eagles met in Delphi, Greece, at the dome-shaped stone. The phrase naval stone represents birth and the center of the body. The stone is also legendary as the spot where Apollo killed Python, a serpent sent from the Earth goddess Gaea.

Python, like the Furies, is associated with chthonic forces or the ancient forces of the underworld. The stone comes to stand for the two opposing forces in Eumenides—Apollonian order and light, and the darkness and chaos of the Furies. Orestes takes shelter at the navel stone because he hopes Apollo and the rule of law will save him, but the Furies pursue him even there.

Blood

The physical image of blood recurs to represent murder and revenge. Blood drips from Orestes's hands in the shrine of Apollo. Apollo promises the Furies will "vomit up the clotted blood you've drunk/from murder." Blood stands for crimes a criminal can't escape. The Chorus tracks Orestes from Delphi to Athens by "the drops of blood he sheds" and the scent of his blood.

Blood also signifies family ties and the inescapable consequences of violence. Blood crimes, or crimes of one family member against another, have a cyclical nature—they haunt both the perpetrator and the victim. Clytaemnestra returns for vengeance, and the Furies compare her blood to a "flowing stream" that can't be unshed or stopped. Similarly the old laws of blood crimes will continue to affect generation after generation.

Blood functions as a purification agent for Orestes, as well as a symbol of his damnation. He bears "blood guilt" and is purified with "suckling victim's blood." The repentance fits the crime. Blood must be shed in order to atone and start over. Orestes's attempt to break the cycle and purify himself comes from the blood of a sacrificial animal. In the Exodos Athena marks the Furies' new roles with the "sacred sacrificial blood" of animals.

Snakes

Many animals are associated with the Furies, such as bloodhounds, lions, and goats, but the ancient goddesses are most commonly portrayed with (or as) snakes. Snakes or serpents symbolize chthonic deities, or gods and goddesses from the underworld, as well as the ideas they themselves represent. Hades, Persephone, and Medusa (a Gorgon with snakes for hair) all share serpent iconography. The Furies come from Earth, like serpents. By comparing the Furies to animals, Aeschylus comments on the disappearance of the old cycle of vengeance—humans who can't govern themselves properly are given bestial or animal-like qualities.

Snakes are destructive, poisonous forces. When Apollo threatens the Furies with his arrows, he describes the arrows as "glittering winged snakes." The Furies have snakelike qualities in their physical appearance and the deadly effects they have on their enemies. After the trial the Chorus pledges to "release this venom in my heart ... disease will grow,/infecting leaves and children."

Night and Darkness

Aeschylus is the only Greek genealogist of the gods to make the Furies daughters of Mother Night. Night and Fate are sisters and two of the oldest Greek deities in the pantheon. The Furies' direct descent from Night gives them high status in the cosmos, making them creatures to be feared.

Darkness represents the Furies in concrete ways; they wear black robes and live beneath Earth. Darkness stands in for ideas as well, such as sorrow, evil, age, and death. These qualities contrast with the qualities Apollo (the sun god) and Athena revere—reason, light, youth, prosperity, and knowledge. Though the Furies become the Eumenides or "kindly ones" they are still confronted by opposing forces. For instance, as the Furies transition to their new homes as respected citizens of Athens they are guided by torchlight but are still heading underground.

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