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Vengeance in Oresteia Essay

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Vengeance in Oresteia

From the beginning of time vengeance or retribution has been part of the human condition. This is especially true in Aeschylus's trilogy the Oresteia. One of the underlying themes in these works is Oculo pro oculo or an eye for an eye. According to the plays introduction by Richmond Lattimore, the history behind this blood feud of vengeance begins with Atreus and Thyestes. Atreus tricks his brother Thyestes into partaking of his own children (another possible Hannibal sequel). It is then that Agamemnon, next generation to Atreus and Aegisthus, only surviving son of Thyestes opens up this series of misfortunate events as seen in the trilogy. The series of events takes on a heightened role as Agamemnon is brutally killed by his wife, Clytaemestra and in turn her son Orestes kills her. This series of events would continue if not for the goddess Athenes' intervention and it is through the gods that humanity displays its utter dependence for divine assistance. Aeschylus's Oresteia portrays mankind's frailty through characters such as Clytaemestra, Aegisthus, Orestes and Agamemnon; such is the greatness of these characters vengeful natures that only through the divine is there an end to this violent circle of vengeful retribution.
It is through the chorus of the Argive Elders that one begins to see the significance of the increasing role of vengeance as an underlying theme in the trilogy. In volume one the chorus speaks of "Atreus' sons and their quarrels" (18) and the discontent of the citizens because "their voice is dull with hatred" (18). Already the outsider begins to understand the setting of events for which this trilogy will exemplify. King Agamemnon in volume one departs for Troy because ...


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...blem of vengeance is resolved. This curse of vengeance is heightened in each play and the resolution is given through the god's assistance. Though it is the pre-disposition of man or woman to submit to the violent tendency of vengeance, it is only through the divine that they can overcome this tendency. The Oresteia contains many themes; perhaps one of the most important is man's reliance on the divine. Thus, the bloody feuds of vengeance are ended through Athene's intercession and even the intervention of Apollo. Without the mediation of these two gods there would have been no conclusion. Apollo implies that man cannot escape his own nature. On the other hand, Athene says the same but it is only through her power, her ambition that man finds hope. Therefore mankind finds peace through the divine and the all-seeing Zeus "met with Destiny to confirm it" (41).


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