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Religious Beliefs in Aeschylus' Oresteia, Homer’s Iliad, and Sophocles’ Electra

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Religious Beliefs in Aeschylus' Oresteia, Homer’s Iliad, and Sophocles’ Electra


The final and definitive defeat of the Persian army at the battle of Plataea represented the end of an age-long threat to Athens. But the victory was also a miracle, as all the odds were against the Athenians at the onset of the war. While Pericles took charge of Athens after the war and started the advance of democracy, religion also thrived. The rebuilding of the Acropolis and the construction of the Parthenon and its great statue of Athene under Pericles' rule signified the height of religious belief among Athenians. However, the shift in power from the aristocrats to the common men in the new democracy, and the Peloponnesian War and Great Plague that followed the shift, all contributed to a general decline in religious belief. Only a few decades after reaching its peak, it reached an all-time low. This change in attitude among Athenians can be observed by comparing the works of two tragedians, Aeschylus and Sophocles, whose plays were performed in each of these two periods. But even with this dramatic shift, it is clear that Athenians remained believers throughout these periods, because religion was, and always has been, a huge part of their culture.

The religious view of Athenians before the Peloponnesian War can be best demonstrated by the portrayal of interaction between men and Gods in Aeschylus’ work, The Eumenides. From the first scene, when “The doors of the temple open and show Orestes surrounded by the sleeping Furies, Apollo and Hermes beside him” (Aeschylus, 137), one can see that in Aeschylus’ eyes, Gods and Goddesses are not something distant and unreachable, but instead, they are “real” figures who will at times stand by our s...


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...ardless of how "good" or "bad" they were, and despite constant worship the Gods did not intervene. Having witnessed such horrors, it is understandable that people of those times, such as Sophocles, would have taken a step back and wondered if the Gods were actually there. Having gone through a period as such, it is only natural for even the most faithful to doubt a little, which was evident from the absence of interaction between Gods and men in Sophocles’ work, Electra. However, it is clear as had been previously pointed out, that while belief in the literal truth of the myths was suppressed, the Gods did live on in the hearts of the Athenians.

Works Cited

Aeschylus. “Aeschylus I / Oresteia”. The University of Chicago Press, 1983: 131 – 171.

Homer. “The Iliad”. Penguin Books, 1998: 128 - 143

Sophocles. “Electra”. Oxford University Press, 2001: 50 – 111


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