Orestes in the Modern World

The play Libation Bearers follows Agamemnon and tells the story of Orestes’ revenge on the murder of his father.  He had been commanded by Apollo through the Oracle at Delphi to return the act on his mother, or he would be inflicted with unspeakable pain.  She killed Agamemnon because he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia in the hopes of getting favorable winds on the voyage to Troy.  Orestes murdered his mother and additionally Aegisthus (the strange man he found in charge of the house when he returned), obeying the will of Apollo though he resented the concept of it.  Greek culture viewed this as acceptable.

Had this story taken place in the modern world, the proper course of action would have been to try his mother in court with a jury and evidence.  Then Orestes could have lived without fear of the justice of the gods.  If Orestes still committed the deed in present-day, he would also have been viewed as a criminal and punished for his crime as well as his mother.  As stated in the play, Orestes killed his mother and was afterwards being hunted down by her Furies.  But, had he not, his father’s Furies and the wrath of Apollo would have come upon him.  It’s a never-ending cycle of bloodshed and revenge in ancient Greece.  Furies are gods of revenge.  They chase down murderers and destroy them.

Clytaemnestra, Orestes mother, would have been condemned in a trial of the court had this taken place in the modern world for her murder of Agamemnon.  Agamemnon would have been accused and condemned of killing his daughter had this been present-day.  The family was composed of murderers and avengers who ought to have been punished for their despicable acts in a civilized manner.  Orestes was only doing what he deduced as best.  Though he shouldn’t be defended, he was torn apart by a decision: murder his mother and escape the wrath of Apollo and his father’s Furies, or take no action and receive what was described as (paraphrase) ultimate torment and pain.  It was a vicious trap set in a lose/lose situation.

The chorus in the play invokes Orestes to follow and obey the will of Apollo.  Pylades, Orestes’ friend, recommended the same thing.  Influence may have eased the indecision for Orestes.  Resistance to the thought of killing his mother was present in his mind, it seems.  Nevertheless, murder is not acceptable in the modern world.  Orestes avenging his father does not help the case.  Had he gone and reported the act of his mother, in the present-day, the authorities would have apprehended the murderess and put her on trial.  With substantial evidence she would be judged as guilty and sentenced to prison.  This is revenge enough in the modern day.  In ancient Greece, much more savage behavior is obviously encouraged.

So in the end, Orestes did what was acceptable in his time.  He did what is not acceptable in our time.  This fact concludes that the world has changed for the better in situations like Orestes’.


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