The Bucket List Book Adventure - The Libation Bearers - Aeschylus

 Dear Henry,

Book Four, Aeschylus's The Libation Bearers, of the Bucket List Book Adventure (read about that here) is done! Let me tell you all about it.

This story can be summarized as Clytemnestra and Aegisthus getting their comeuppance.

It begins about seven years after the events in Agamemnon, and Orestes, having been sent by an oracle of Apollo, returns from exile to Mycenea to mourn his father and exact revenge. While in the cemetery, Orestes meets and eventually recognizes his sister Electra. The two lament the loss of their father and the current state of their lives. Then, Orestes goes to the house, lies to his mother about his origins, and kills Aegisthus. Orestes briefly considers sparing his mother's life but, remembering the words of Apollo's oracle and the curse he will receive if he doesn't, kills her too.

Of course, Orestes didn't escape a curse. The Furies begin to torment Orestes for killing his mother, and the story ends with Orestes leaving Mycenea for Delphi to remove the Furies' curse.

I understood Orestes's anger; by killing Agamemnon and allowing Aegisthus to rule Mycenea, Clytemnestra took away her son's birthright, leaving him homeless and without a place of honor. It took me a minute to understand Electra's anger, though. Electra (and Orestes) would have been small children when their father left for Troy, and neither would have really known Agamemnon. While Orestes was raised in Phocis, Electra would have been raised in Mycenea with her mother and would, I would have thought, have sympathy for her mother's actions, particularly since her father, Agamemnon, sacrificed Iphigenia. 

After I re-read the graveyard scene, I began to understand. The status of both children depended upon the status of their father, Agamemnon. Had Agamemnon died gloriously in battle at Troy, his children's honor and position would be intact. But he didn't. He was killed in the bathtub by his wife, who then put her lover on the throne, and that death caused a significant loss of glory and honor for Agamemnon, which in turn, took recognition and status from her children. Electra was now facing the life of a serving woman rather than the life of a high-ranking woman and political pawn.  

I'm not sure why Apollo cared one way or the other. Apollo had no love for Agamemnon, who had kidnapped the daughter of his priest Chryses in the Illiad. I can't see where Apollo would have a particular beef with Aegisthus (other than Aegisthus was kind of a weasel and doesn't appear to be "manly," especially according to the standards of the time) Of course, Clytemnestra killed Cassandra, a priestess of Apollo, when she killed Agamemnon and so, Apollo's anger at Clytemnestra made a little more sense.

I still have a lot of sympathy for Clytemnestra. Her main motive for killing Agamemnon has always been in retribution for the death of Iphigenia, with Aegisthus taking advantage of the situation. So I was a little happy to see that the Furies took exception to Orestes killing his mother. 

Orestes becomes the king of Mycenae, but it is an empty victory. He has to flee to Delphi with the Furies in pursuit. Electra's status and her marriage prospects remain unknown. 

We will see what happens next in The Eumenides.

xoxo a.d. elliott 


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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