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The Libation Bearers | Study Guide


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The Libation Bearers | Symbols



Snakes, or vipers, are used to represent betrayal and self-interest. Vipers poison their victims, and they act quickly and silently. Clytaemnestra and Orestes use a snake to describe a perversion of the mother/child relationship in which the mother and child attack and destroy each other instead of nourishing and loving. Orestes and Clytaemnestra both see each other as the snake. Orestes repeatedly compares Clytaemnestra to a viper. The Chorus calls Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus "two serpents," the power-hungry, selfish rulers of the house.

Clytaemnestra dreams of Orestes as a stealthy snake, masquerading as a hungry infant. He'll prove her dreams true by seeking shelter in the palace. Snakes are the enemy to both sides, demonstrating the fear and doubt pervading the family.

Snakes are also the animal associated with the Furies, the underworld goddesses who avenge Clytaemnestra. Orestes sees them approaching as "hundreds of writhing snakes" and knows he's doomed.


Once characters are caught in a net, they're trapped for good. Nets stand for intricate plans of deceit or fates leading to certain doom. Weaving a net, like pulling off a murder, takes planning and plotting. Both Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon are tricked into their deaths by net-like plots. Orestes compares the robes his father died in to "a hunting net ... something a highway thief might use to trick and rob a stranger." Nets can refer to verbal trickery and deception as well as physical traps. Electra accuses Orestes of "weaving a net" to trick her when he reveals his true identity.

Nets also show the inescapable nature of fate as the gods ordain it. Characters become entangled like hunted prey. Agamemnon was physically tangled in his robes when Clytaemnestra killed him in a graphic physical display representing the fate of the house.


Blood stands for pain and death but also for family (blood relatives). Blood represents the forceful forward momentum of the Atreidae family curse, where family members betray and kill one another. The flowing of blood symbolizes the self-perpetuating nature of the curse. The Chorus describes blood as a personified, physical force with a voice: "once drops of blood are shed ... they cry out for still more blood."

Besides standing for emotional ties and irrepressible forces, blood is used as a physical representation of guilt and grief. The women of the chorus draw their own blood when they mourn. Orestes demonstrates his father's suffering through the blood on Agamemnon's clothing. Later the Chorus suggests the blood on Orestes's hands compromises his judgment.

Questions for Symbols

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