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The Libation Bearers | Study Guide


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The Libation Bearers | Stasimon 1 | Summary



The Chorus describes horrors found in nature. They fear "monsters" in the sea, "fiery lights" in the sky, and storms. But the crimes of mankind—men's "arrogance" and women's "reckless passion beyond all self-control"—are even worse and beyond their ability to describe.

They tell stories of treacherous women in Greek mythology. First is Althaea, who planned the death of her own son by burning. Then it's Scylla, who murdered her father, bribed by a gift from her father's enemies. The Chorus also laments loveless marriages where women plot to harm their honorable husbands. The worst story of all, which still causes listeners to weep, is of the women on the island of Lemnos who killed their husbands. This horrified the gods so much they caused the race of women on Lemnos to die out.

The Chorus promises that Justice will deliver revenge, comparing the strike of Justice to a sword forged on an anvil. The "brooding Fury" of revenge will guide Orestes into his childhood home, the palace, to finally overcome the family curse.


The sea monsters and "savage beasts" continue the play's repeated references to animals as a part of the fearful natural world. Throughout the Oresteia, humans are manipulated by forces beyond their control. Storms and weather phenomena are another source of the natural world's power, evoking awe and terror. But the most destructive force, at least in the Oresteia, is human murder and evil. The Chorus even sings that human passion causes "all our lethal woes."

This song is a specific warning against female passion. The hostility of female desire, aggression, and revenge is contrasted with the stability of home, family, and "married love." Each example of treacherous women features a woman's violence against a male family member. In some cases, like Clytaemnestra's, the woman herself felt deeply wronged and the motive was vengeance. Althaea caused her son Meleager's death after Meleager killed her two brothers. (The "wood" and the "fatal torch" refer to the Fates' prediction that Meleager would live as long as a log in the fireplace. At first Althaea preserved the log to save her son but burned it in the fireplace after Meleager's murders.) Scylla was bribed by her father's enemy, Minos, to cut off a lock of the hair that made her father immortal, and then abandoned by Minos afterward. The women of Lemnos were sexually rejected by their husbands, who began sleeping with their female captives instead. The wives murdered their husbands in retaliation.

None of the men in the stories are innocent, and all of the women acted under duress. But the Chorus has a larger point to make; they believe a woman's job is to keep the family unit thriving. Women, according to the Chorus, should forgive personal crimes against them in service of the greater good—a strong family, a powerful household, a surviving legacy. Femininity is associated with righteousness and morality; for instance, Justice is described as female. Men represent inheritance and the strength of a house. When women harm men in their family, they destroy the inheritance and hurt any current or future children, injuring much more than the man himself.

The Lemnos women are especially guilty because they wiped out an entire city, race, and lineage. They took fate into their own hands and disregarded the authority of the gods. By contrast, Orestes's punishment of Aegisthus for his adultery is considered acceptable because it's sanctioned by the gods and within Orestes's rights as a man to defend his home.

The Chorus's stanza about loveless marriages is a not-so-veiled reference to the marriage of Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon. "Cunning" is a word used to insult Clytaemnestra, who tends to plot and plan ahead. (For instance, her intelligence and ability to anticipate her enemies' actions allow her to recognize that Orestes has deceived her in Episode 3.)

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