Oresteia and Plato’s Republic

The poet Aeschylus of the Oresteia attempts to explain how justice came to be in human society, or polis. Aeschylus expresses his views on how truth emerged in the community in a variety of ways. Aeschylus depicts this evolution on a personal level, with individuals’ actions representing various aspects of the rise of justice in the community. It will bring together and demonstrate how justice came into being based on one’s own efforts. This paper will attempt to explain the imagery and characters found in the Oresteia. The Oresteia contains trilogy of dramas by an ancient dramatist known as Aeschylus; its first performance was in 458 BC. This was his last work, and in Greek scenes, it is the only complete trilogy that has survived. The Oresteia consists of three trilogies, Agamemnon, The Libation bearer, and The Eumenides.
Agamemnon portrays when Agamemnon comes back from troy having with him two slaves. Clytemnestra, his wife, persuades him to walk on a red carpet that symbolizes hubris and she kills him together with the Cassandra the slave while he is in his bath.

The libation bearer is about Orestes revenging the murder of his father. He kills Aegisthus, but he was reluctant to kill Clytemnestra, his mother. Apollo the god of light appears to him and assures that it is the right to do. By killing his mother he will be the last Atreides, this means that there will be no one to take revenge on him. This is unacceptable to the gods, however. The Erinyes or furies instead take revenge on him. The Erinyes symbolized the image of revenge in the Greek mythology. This torments Orestes for the rest of his life.
Eumenides, it opens at the point where Orestes has taken sanctuary from the furies at the Apollos shrine at Delphi. The Delphic Oracle commands Orestes to go and stand trial for the murder. The goddess Athena and a jury of citizens organize the trial. Apollo is his advocate and the furies his accusers. The jury gets divided in its vote; Athena directs the tie-breaking vote for Oreste’s release. The Furies turn their anger against the city, Athena convinces them in return for a home and cult to bless Athens instead and stay there as the Eumenides of the play title. The trilogy ends with an end of vengeful bloodshed closed and displaced by the rule of law and justice of the state.

Aeschylus gives different patterns of an image to describe how justice came into existence in the community or polis, images he used include, light, and dark, hunting, tapestries and nets, animals (snakes, deer, birds), blood and family ties.

Aeschylus use of light darkness as a constant image in the Oresteia shows a development from evil to goodness, from disorderly ways to orderly ways. In the Oresteia, a situation exists humans who have gone out of control, in the house of Atreus the rate of deaths has risen. In the story a divine disorder also lives among mortals who have to be resolved: the wraths, a generation which is older, are in disagreement with the Olympian gods who are younger because they have been refused ancient rights to avenge the deaths of their family members. In the Oresteia, two parallel conflicts are presented, in which both of them must be resolved if harmony is desired. As it is expected battles, always have resolutions, and the images of light and dark accompany the progression and hence putting emphasis on movement from evil to good.
Use of darkness imagery is used in one example of Agamemnon. First play of the trilogy, it depicts the cycle of death beginning with the murder of Thyestes’ children and continued with the murder of Agamemnon and Cassandra by Clytaemestra. Agamemnon death more expands darkness present at the beginning of the story. It is shown when Clytaemestra says, “Thus he [Agamemnon] went down, and the life struggled out of him. And as he died he spattered me with the dark red and violent, driven rain of bitter savored blood” (lines 1388-1390) in this incidence she has murdered her husband thus the image of dark blood. Darkness is illustrative of evil which has entered the house of Atreus and persisted with the murder of Agamemnon. Aeschylus shows that through these killings it was nothing else but pure crime and as long as these incidences occur the darkness will not leave the house of Atreus it will only continue to emerge. Light has not yet been seen in the Oresteia.
Light begins to progress in the second play of the trilogy, The Libation Bearers. Orestes is the beacon signaling end of evil in the house of Atreus Orestes avenges his father’s death by killing Clytaemestra, his mother. Darkness is expected from such an act, but Aeschylus provides Orestes with a defense for his actions in the form of an oracle from Apollo. Orestes killing differ from how his mother is killing because it can be seen as a more significant crime because of blood ties Aeschylus must include the order from Apollo who is the god of light. With the support from Apollo Orestes is beginning goodness and order in the Oresteia. Later in The Libation Bearers, there is an example of light introduction by Orestes. The chorus describes the dream that Clytemnestra had of giving birth to a serpent, which symbolizes Orestes. Chorus sings of Clytemnestra fear as she wakes from a nightmare: “She woke screaming out of her sleep, shaky with fear, as torches kindled all about the house, out of the blind dark that had been on them” (lines 535-537). In this play, justice is portrayed when Orestes kills his mother as retribution for killing his father.

In the image of blood it represents pain and death; also it stands for family (blood family). In Agamemnon, he illustrates the feud system of justice that brings about the despair and suffering. Blood stands for the dominant direct drive of the Atreidae family curse, where there are betrayal and killings of each other in the family. The flow of blood shows the self-continuing nature of the curse. Blood is also used to symbolize guilt and grief, and even standing for emotional ties and uncontrollable forces. Agamemnon clothing’s had blood on them Orestes used them to demonstrates how his father suffered. In the Oresteia, there is a change in the use of blood imagery by Aeschylus.

In The Libation Bearers, he continually uses the imagery as a cycle of blood continues and also uses it to show the beginning of search on deliverance from the bloodshed. In the Eumenides he indicates a change in imagery blood pattern, he explains the liberation and maturity brought by a new order that breaks the cycle of bloodshed. In this imagery, Aeschylus shows how by the end of bloodshed justice is symbolized.

In the net imagery, a net is an essential metaphor that is depicted in the Oresteia. It is used to show confusion, treason, and entrapment. Nets’ joining powers connects them with snakes, in which its victims die from being strangled to death. In a vision, Cassandra saw Clytaemnestra herself surrounding her prey. The net is also used to depict the previous idea of people being forced into a single path for them to escape bonds that were tying them down. When Clytaemnestra heard of Agamemnon wounds, she says if the rumors were true then he would have many holes than a net (line 1517). Later after she killed Agamemnon, she says she threw a robe to him like an endless web, as by some fisher strung (line 2496). An “a spider thing, ” (line 2681, 2716) is what the chorus refers her to, turning her from a person to a scary creature.
In the imagery of animals dog and lion is used. External motivation is associated with the dog, and the lion divides characters into crimes and same family committing crimes against each other. In line with the imagery of dog and lion, the image of the dog is used, ‘crouched like a dog’ the watchful guard illustrates himself in such a manner. When he was giving a speech and making a complaint about the ruling of the land, being submissive is associated with a dog of which the guard is, he protests about Clytemnestra, and yet he continues to carry orders from her.
‘A great Ox stands on my tongue’this shows oppression that the sentry cannot speak for himself because of fear. Instead, the house speaks for itself. The eagle is compared to Agamemnon who is commonly referred to a majestic animal. Two eagles are devouring a pregnant rabbit this is an indication telling them to go to war. Menelaus and Agamemnon are the eagles, and the rabbit is troy. Hence, this creates an image that Agamemnon and Menelaus will have the victory, but it will come with a lot of bloodshed and destruction.
The use of snakes portrays betrayal and self-interest. The nature of snakes or vipers is to poison its victims quickly and silently. In the case of Orestes and Clytaemnestra, a snake is used to show the parody of mother and son relationship where the mother and son attack each other instead of showing love to each other. They both see each other as the snake. Clytaemnestra is over and over compared to a viper by his son Orestes. Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus are referred to as “two serpents,” who in the house are the most power hungry and selfish rulers. In a dream, Clytaemnestra sees Orestes as a stealthy snake masked as an infant that is hungry. By seeking shelter in the palace, this proves the dream when Orestes is after her. Snakes are also linked to the furies who are the goddesses of the underworld who will avenge the death of Clytaemnestra. Orestes will see them as “hundreds of writhing snakes” this will make him see that he is doomed. Another metaphor used to show how many murders are committed throughout the trilogy is the image of serpents which kill by twisting and constricting. Clytemnestra and Orestes are characters that are used in comparison to this imagery, they coil around their loved ones sneakily, with plots of killing them and are with no fear of biting (The Libation Bearers, pages 132-133, lines 1045-1064).

Goldhill, Simon. “The Oresteia.” Landmarks of World Literature (New) Aeschylus: The Oresteia, pp. 20–84., doi:10.1017/ccol0521832292.002.
Conacher, D. J. “Aeschylus Oresteia.” 1987, doi:10.3138/9781442670679.

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