Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

selections from


(525-456 BCE)

excerpts from

The Eumenides

[The Kindly Ones]

(Part 3 of the Oresteia Trilogy, 458 BCE)

Omitted scenes or speeches are indicated by

 . . . . . .


The Oresteia Trilogy (458BCE) For the dramatic competition in Athens in 458 BCE, Aeschylus wrote three plays about the House of Atreus after the Trojan War:

1. Agamemnon: When Agamemnon returns to Argos in triumph from the Trojan War, Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus murder him and his slave, the prophetess Cassandra.

2. The Libation Bearers: Agamemnon’s daughter Electra drives Orestes to avenge their father’s death by murdering Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus.

3. The Eumenides (a.k.a. The Furies): Furies or vengeful spirits of the dead driven by Clytaemnestra’s ghost pursue Orestes, who takes refuge in the temple of Athena; Athena leads a jury of twelve Athenians to pardon Orestes. The Furies are appeased with a new name: the Eumenides or “Kindly Ones.”

Eugene O’Neill’s trilogy Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) restages the Oresteia in New England after the American Civil War (instead of the Trojan War).

As a single play, The Eumenides is noteworthy for a few extraordinary features:

Courtroom scene in ancient Athens: civic institutions under divine guidance resolve persistent social and moral conflicts.

Orestes's trial is proclaimed as the first trial for murder.

Cycle of perpetual revenge is converted to compromise and restitution leading to peaceful coexistence. 

Dramatis Personae

Priestess: prophetic priestess (the Pythia) of Apollo at Delphi
Apollo: divine son of Zeus, god of prophecy
Orestes: son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, brother of Electra
Clytemnestra: mother of Orestes, appearing as a ghost after her murder
Chorus of Furies, goddesses of blood revenge
Athena: divine daughter of Zeus who was born fully grown from his head (without a mother)
Athenian citizens

Scene: The play opens in front of the temple of Apollo at Delphi

ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi


location of Delphi (circled yellow star on left)



[Enter the Pythia, the Priestess of Apollo]

Pythia was “the oracle at Delphi,” a priestess at Apollo’s temple who pronounced divine but obscure messages for their human subjects to interpret.

The name “Pythia” derives from Pytho, an earlier name for Delphi, and Python, the dragon-god slain by Apollo there.

Ancient Greeks regarded Delphi as the center or navel of the world.

Painting at right >

Oracle at Delphi (1891) by John Collier

The fumes rising from cracks in the earthen floor indicate gases whose inhalation may have inspired the oracle's speech.


Scene: The play opens in front of the temple of Apollo at Delphi

[Enter the Pythia, the Priestess of Apollo]

PRIESTESS: In my prayer, I hold Earth in highest honor,  [Earth=Gaia, goddess of Earth whom Apollo defended]
as the first of prophets among all gods.
Then, after her came Themis. That goddess,   
[Themis = goddess of nature’s order]
so the legend goes, followed her mother
at this seat of prophecy. Third in line,
another Titan, Phoebe, child of Earth,          
[grandmother of Apollo & Artemis]
was then assigned to occupy this throne.       
[throne = prophet’s office]
There was no force—Themis approved the change.
Phoebe then gave it as a birthday gift
to the god who takes his name from her,                                                
Phoebus Apollo.
                           He left the island Delos,    
[He = Apollo, Delos = birthplace of Apollo]     
moving from his lake and ridge to Pallas,          
[Pallas = Athens?]
to those shores where ships sail in to trade.
Then he came to live on Mount Parnassus.        
[Mountain sacred to Apollo, home of the Muses, near Delphi in central Greece]
A reverential escort came with him—
children of the fire god, Hephaestus,                  
[Greek god of technology, blacksmiths, volcanoes, fire; Roman Vulcan]
highway builders who tame the wilderness
and civilize the land. As he marched here,
people came out in droves to worship him,
including their king and helmsman, Delphus.              
[son of Apollo, after whom Delphi is named]             20

Then Zeus inspired in him prophetic skills,
and set him on this throne as fourth in line.
Here Apollo speaks for Zeus, his father. 
My prayers begin with preludes to these gods.

My words also give special prominence
to the goddess who stands outside the shrine,
Pallas Athena. I revere those nymphs                           [Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom, patroness of Athens]
inhabiting Corycia's rocky caves,
where flocks of birds delight to congregate,
where holy spirits roam. I don't forget                                           
how Dionysus, ruler of this land,                    [god of grape harvest, winemaking, wine]
divine commander of those Bacchic women,         
[ecstatic maenads, followers of Bacchus or Dionysus]
ripped Pentheus apart, as if he were                     
[King of Thebes, killed by Bacchic women in Euripedes's The Bacchae]
a cornered rabbit. I also call upon
the streams of Pleistus and Poseidon's power,
and Zeus most high, who fulfills all things.

I'll take my seat now on the prophet's throne.
May I be fortunate, above the rest,   

to see far more than previous attempts.
If any Greeks are in attendance here,                                              
let them draw lots and enter, each in turn,
as is our custom. I will prophesy,
following directions from the god.

[The Priestess enters the temple, only to return immediately, very agitated. She collapses onto her hands and knees]

It's horrible!
Too horrible to say . . . awful to see.
It drives me back . . . out of Apollo's shrine.
My strength is gone . . . I can't stand up.
I have to crawl on hands and knees—my legs
just buckle under me . . . An old woman
overcome with fear is nothing, a child.
No more . . .  

[The Priestess gathers herself together and stands with great difficulty, holding onto the temple doors for support]

As I was entering the inner shrine—                                                 50
the part covered up with wreaths—I saw him,             [him = Orestes]
right on the central navel stone, a man
the gods despise, sitting there, in the seat
reserved for suppliants, hands dripping blood.
He'd drawn his sword, but held an olive branch.
It had a tuft of wool on top, a mark 
of reverence—a large one, really white.
I saw all that distinctly. But then I saw
in front of him something astonishing,
on the benches groups of women sleeping—       [i.e., the Furies]                  
well, they weren't exactly women,
I'd say more like Gorgons—then again,     [Gorgons=3 sisters with snake-hair whose look turned men to stone]
not much like Gorgons either. Years ago
I once saw a picture of some monsters
snatching a feast away from Phineas.         [Phineas = Phoenician king of Thrace, turned to stone by Gorgons]

But the ones inside here have no wings—
I checked. They're black and totally repulsive,
with loud rasping snorts that terrify me.
Disgusting pus comes oozing from their eyes.
As for their clothing—quite inappropriate  
to wear before the statues of the gods,
or even in men's homes. I've never seen
a tribe which could produce this company,
a country which would admit with pride
that it had raised them without paying a price,
without regretting all the pain they cost.
Where does this end? That is Apollo's work.  

Let that be his concern. His force is strong—
what he reveals has healing power.                   [Apollow as god of medicine & healing]
He reads the omens and can purify
the home, his own and other men's.

[The scene changes to the inside of the temple, with Orestes clutching the central stone (the navel stone) and the Furies asleep in front of him.

[Apollo enters from the back of the temple (the inner shrine). Apollo moves to stand near Orestes]

APOLLO: I'll not leave you—no, I'll stand beside you,                  [you = Orestes]
your protector till the end. Close at hand
or far away, I'll show no gentleness
towards your enemies. Right now you see
these frenzied creatures overcome with sleep,                 [creatures = Furies]
just lying there, these loathsome maidens,
ancient children, hags. No god or man    

or animal has intercourse with them.
They're born for evil. That's why they live                           90

within the blackest gloom of Tartarus,                               [Tartarus = underworld]
under the earth. Olympian gods and men
despise them. But you should still keep going.
Do not give up. They'll chase you everywhere,
as you move along well-traveled ground,
across wide continents, beyond the seas,
through cities with the ocean all around.
Don't grow weary brooding on your pain.
And then, once you reach Athena's city,
sit down, and wrap your arms around her,            [her = Athena]          
embrace her image. With people there
to judge your cause and with the force of speech,
the spell-binding power in words, we'll find
a way to free you from misfortune.
For I was the one who urged you on
to kill your mother.

Apollo, god of the sun, healing, poetry & the arts
(Roman copy of a Greek statue)

ORESTES: My lord Apollo,
you have no knowledge how to be unjust.
That being the case, now learn compassion, too.
Your power to do good is strong enough.

APOLLO: Remember this—don't let fear defeat you                             110
by conquering your spirit. And you, Hermes,                 [Hermes = Greek gods' messenger & guide]
my own blood brother from a common father,
protect this man. Live up to that name of yours,
and be his guide. Since he's my suppliant,
lead him as if you were his shepherd
remember Zeus respects an outcast's rights—
with you to show the way, he'll get better,
and quickly come among men once again.       [come among men = be accepted into human society]

[Exit Orestes. Apollo moves back into the inner sanctuary. Enter the Ghost of Clytaemnestra]

GHOST OF CLYTAEMNESTRA [addressing the sleeping chorus]
Ah, you may be fast asleep, but now
what use is sleeping? On account of you,                    
I alone among the dead lack honor
The ghosts of those I killed revile me—
they never stop. I wander in disgrace.
They charge me with the most horrific crimes.
But I, too, suffered cruelty from those    

most dear to me. And yet, although I died
at the hands of one who killed his mother,
no spirit is enraged on my behalf.
Look here—you see these slashes on my heart?
How did they get there? While it's asleep                      130

the mind can see, but in the light of day
we have no vision of men's destiny.
You've licked up many of my offerings,
soothing milk and honey without wine.
I've given many sacrificial gifts
with fire in my hearth at solemn banquets,
in that night hour no god will ever share.
I see all that being trampled underfoot.  

He's gone, eluded you—just like a fawn,
he's jumped the centre of your nets with ease.               140

He mocks your efforts as he moves away.
Listen to me. I'm speaking of my soul.
So rouse yourselves! Wake up, you goddesses             [Furies]
from underground. While you dream on I call—
now Clytaemnestra summons you!

[The members of the Chorus [of Furies] begin to make strange sounds and to mutter in their sleep]

You may well moan—the man's escaped. He's gone.  
He's flown a long way off. The friends he has
are stronger than my own. You sleep on there
so heavily, no sense of my distress.
Orestes, the man who killed his mother,                             150

has run off! You mutter, but keep sleeping.
On your feet!. Why won't you get up? What work
has fate assigned you if not causing pain?
Sleep and hard work, two apt confederates,
have made these fearsome dragons impotent,
draining all their rage.

CHORUS MEMBER [muttering in her sleep]
Seize him! 
Seize him! Seize him! Seize that man! Look out!   

GHOST OF CLYTAEMNESTRA: You hunt your prey, but only in your dreams,
whimpering like hounds who never lose
their keenness for the hunt. But you don't act!               
Get up! Don't let exhaustion beat you down.
Sleep makes you soft—you overlook my pain.
Let my reproaches justly prick your hearts,
a spur for those who act with righteousness.
Blow your blood-filled breath all over him.
Let those fires in your bodies shrivel him.
Go on! Drive him to a fresh pursuit. Go!

[The Furies wake up slowly, one after the other. As they rise, the Ghost of Clytaemnestra exits]

CHORUS LEADER [waking up and rousing the other Furies]
Wake up! Come on, I'll wake you up.
Now do the same for her. Still sleeping?
Stand up. Wipe that sleep out of your eyes.         170

Let's chant our prelude—that should take effect.

[The Furies, now awake, gather as a group, moving around to find Orestes or smell his track.  . . . ]

 . . . . . .

[In this scene, Orestes has arrived in Athens, where the Furies catch up to him.]

[The Chorus of Furies catch sight of Orestes and crowd around him]

CHORUS [different individuals]
He's over there! Claiming sanctuary,
at that statue of the eternal goddess,                [eternal goddess = Athena]
embracing it. He must want a trial,
a judgment on his murderous violence.  

Impossible! A mother's blood, once shed,
soaks in the earth and can't come back again—
the flowing stream moves through the ground,
then disappears forever.

No. You must pay me back.
I'll suck your blood.
Drinking your living bones sustains me—
I feed upon your pain.

Though it wears me out, I'll drag you down,
still living, to the world below. And there 
you'll pay for murdering your mother.

You'll see there other human criminals
who've failed to honor gods and strangers,    

who've abused the parents they should love.
They all receive the justice they deserve.

Hades, mighty god of all the dead,                                      330
judges mortal men below the ground.
His perceptive mind records all things.

Erinyes or Furies pursuing Orestes

ORESTES: My misery has been my teacher—        [tragedy as learning; suffering > wisdom]
I know that men are cleansed in many ways,
that sometimes it's appropriate to speak,
sometimes to stay silent. And in this case
a wise master has ordered me to speak.
Blood on my hands is dormant now, fading—

polluting stains from my mother's murder
have been washed away. When they were fresh,
Apollo in his temple cleansed my guilt—
slaughtering pigs to make me pure again.
It's a long story to describe for you,
right from the start, all the men I've seen,
ones I've stayed with, then left unharmed.
Time destroys all things which age with time.
Now, with full reverence and holy speech,
I invoke Athena, this country' s queen.
I beg her help. Let her appear unarmed.
She'll win true allies in me, my land,                               
the Argive people. We'll trust her forever.
No matter where she is—in Libya,
in some region by the springs of Triton,
her birthplace, with her covered feet at rest
or on the move, assisting those she loves,
or whether, like some bold commander
in the Phelegraean plain, battle site
of gods and giants, she surveys the field—
I pray she'll come, for she's a goddess
and hears me, even though she's far away.                      360

May she come here. May she deliver me.

CHORUS LEADER: But Apollo's power will not save you—
nor will Athena's. You're slated to die    
abandoned and alone, without a sense
of heartfelt joy, a bloodless criminal
sucked dry by demons, just a shade—no more.

[Orestes makes no answer]

What? You ignore my words and won't reply,
you, a victim fattened up for me,
my consecrated gift? You'll not perish
on any altar—no, I'll eat you alive.                                

[Orestes continues to remain silent]

All right then, hear our song, a spell to chain you. . . .

[Enter Athena]

ATHENA: I heard someone summon me from far away.
I was in Troy, by the Scamander's banks,                  [Scamander = river by Troy]
taking ownership of new property,
a gift from ruling leaders of Achaea,                           [region of Greek states]
a major part of what their spears had won,                     
assigned to me entirely and forever,
a splendid gift for Theseus' sons.                                [Theseus's sons = Athenians; Theseus = founding king of Athens]
I've come from there at my untiring pace,
not flying on wings, but on this whirling cape,
a chariot yoked to horses in their prime.
Here I see an unfamiliar crowd,
strangers to this place, nothing I fear,
but astonishing to see. Who are you?
I'm talking to all those assembled here—
the stranger crouching there beside my statue,          [Orestes]         520

and those of you like no one ever born,                        [The Furies]
creatures no god has seen in goddesses,
in form a thing unknown to mortal men.
But to say such things about one's neighbour
who's done no wrong is far from just
and contravenes our customs.                       [our = citizens of Athens, who would have watched this play]

Athena, for whom Athens is named, was a virgin goddess
 of civilization, wisdom, and justice.

The Parthenon on Athens's Acropolis was built in her honor.

CHORUS LEADER: Daughter of Zeus,
you'll find out everything—and briefly, too.
We are immortal children of the Night.
Below ground, where we have our homes,
we're called the Curses.

ATHENA: Now I know your race                                      530
I know what people call you.*             

[*Instructor's note: In ancient religions, naming or calling directly on gods or demons is a delicate business, especially when the spirits are, like the Furies, sensitive to any dishonor or injustice.]

CHORUS LEADER: But our powers—
these you'll quickly ascertain as well.

ATHENA: Those I'd like to learn. Please state them clearly.   

CHORUS LEADER: We hound out of their homes all those who kill.

ATHENA: Once the killer flees, where does he finally go?

CHORUS LEADER: Where no one thinks of joy, for there is none.

ATHENA: Your screams would drive this man to such a flight?

CHORUS LEADER: Yes—he thought it right to kill his mother.

ATHENA: Why? Was he forced to do it? Did he fear
another person's anger?

CHORUS LEADER: Where's the urge
so strong to force a man to kill his mother?

ATHENA: There are two sides to this dispute. I've heard              540
only one half the argument.

 . . . . . .

[The scene shifts to the Areopagus, the high court of Athens. Athena enters with a herald and ten citizens, the jury she has selected. A crowd of citizens enters with her. Orestes moves to the place where the accused stands]

ATHENA: Herald, blow the call for order in this court.                             720
Raise that Etruscan trumpet, fill your lungs,
let these people hear an ear-piercing blast.
As they crowd into this court of judgment
it's better to have silence. The whole city
can listen to my laws, which are eternal.
So can these litigants. Then all will see
the justice in our verdict for themselves.

[Enter Apollo. He moves to stand behind Orestes]

Lord Apollo, you have your own domain.
What's your role here? Announce that to us.

APOLLO: I've come here as a witness. That man,                                                  730
the accused, according to our customs,
came a suppliant to my shrine, my hearth.
I purified him of the blood he spilled.
As his advocate, I share the blame
arising from his mother's murder.

Start the trial. You understand procedure.
Confirm that with a just decision.

ATHENA [addressing the Furies]
Then I'll begin the trial. You speak up first.
The plaintiff opens our proceedings.
Tell us the facts. Begin at the beginning—                                
inform us clearly of the issues here.

CHORUS LEADER: There are many of us, but we'll keep
our speeches brief.  

[Turning to interrogate Orestes]

  Answer our questions,
as we put them one by one. First, tell us—
did you kill your mother?

ORESTES: Yes, I killed her.
I don't deny the fact.

CHORUS LEADER:  We take first fall.
Three falls wins the match.

ORESTES: You gloat,
but your opponent isn't pinned down yet.

CHORUS LEADER: Now you must describe the murder for us.
How did you kill her?

ORESTES: I'll tell you—                                                                           750
I drew my sword and slit her throat.

CHORUS LEADER: Who persuaded you to do this? Whose advice?

ORESTES: The orders of this god. He is my witness.              [this god = Apollo]

CHORUS LEADER: The prophet ordered you to kill your mother?

ORESTES: He did. And to this moment I have no regrets.

CHORUS LEADER: But if the verdict lays its hands on you,
you'll change your story soon enough.

ORESTES: I'm confident. My father from his grave
will send the help I need.

CHORUS LEADER: So you trust the dead,
and yet you killed your mother?   

ORESTES: I do, for she was guilty of two crimes.    

 . . . . . .

ATHENA: You citizens of Athens, you judges
at the first trial ever held for murder,
hear what I decree. Now and forever   
this court of judges will be set up here
to serve Aegeus's people. This place,                   [Aegeus = founding king of Athens, father of Theseus]
this Mount of Ares, is where Amazons,                    [the Areopagus = "Mars Hill" or Mount of Ares]
once marched in force, enraged at Theseus.         [Theseus, another king of Athens, appears in Oedipus at Colonus & Hippolytos]
Here they pitched their tents. Then they built
a new city on the heights, with lofty walls
to match his own, making a sacrifice
to Ares, god of war, from whom this rock
derives its name, the Mount of Ares.      

From this hill Reverence and Terror,                           880
two kindred rulers of my citizens,
will guarantee they don't commit injustice,
by day or night, unless the citizens
pollute the laws with evil innovations.
Once limpid waters are stained with mud,
you'll never find a drink. My people,
avoid both anarchy and tyranny.                  [Athens as modern state, organizing democracy but avoiding oppression]
I urge you to uphold this principle.
Show it due reverence. As for terror,
don't banish it completely from the city.                      
What mortal man is truly righteous 
without being afraid? Those who sense the fear     

revere what's right. With citizens like these
your country and your city will be safe,
stronger than anything possessed by men
in Pelops' country or in Scythia.
So here I now establish this tribunal,        [tribunal = court]
incorruptible, magnificent,
swift in punishment—it stands above you,
your country's guardian as you lie asleep.    
I've gone through this at length to urge you on,
my citizens, today and in the future.
But now you must get up, cast your ballots,
decide this case, while honoring your oath.   

I'm finished—that's all I have to say. 

[The members of the tribunal begin to step forward and cast their votes into the urns]

 . . . . . .

ATHENA: It's now my task to give my final verdict.
And I award my ballot to Orestes.
No mother gave me birth—that's why
in everything but marriage I support
the man with all my heart, a true child
of my father Zeus. Thus, that woman's death
I won't consider more significant.
She killed her husband, guardian of their home.      
If the votes are equal, Orestes wins.
Now, members of the jury, do your job.
Shake the ballots from the urns—and quickly.

[The urns are emptied and the ballots counted]

ORESTES: O Phoebus Apollo, how did they vote?

CHORUS: O black mother Night, are you watching this?

ORESTES: Now for the result. Either I hang
or live on to see the light of day.

CHORUS: Either we're finished or our honor thrives.

APOLLO: Shake out all ballots, friends. Count them fairly.                            950
Divide them with due care. Make no mistakes.
Errors in judgment now can mean disaster.   
A single ballot cast can save this house.

[The ballots are shown to Athena]

ATHENA: The numbers of the votes are equal—thus,
this man's acquitted of the murder charge.

ORESTES: O Pallas Athena, you've saved my house.               [house = family]
I'd lost my homeland—now you give it back,
and anyone in Greece can say, "This man
is once again an Argive, occupying
his father's property, thanks to Pallas,                                        960

thanks to Apollo, and thanks to Zeus,
third god and all-fulfilling saviour."   

Faced with these pleaders for my mother's cause,
Zeus chose to honor my father's death.
Now I'll go home. But first I make this oath
to your land and people for all time to come—
never will an Argive leader march in here          [Argive = from Argos, Athens's rival]
with spears arrayed against you. If he does,
in violation of this oath of mine, 
from the grave we'll see his effort fails.
We'll bring him bad luck, trouble on the march,    
send birds of evil omen over him.
He'll regret the pains his campaign brings him.
But all those who keep this oath, who honor
for all time Athena's city, allies
who fight on its behalf, such citizens
we'll treat with greater favour and good will.
And so farewell to you, Athena,
farewell to those who guard your city.  
In struggles with your enemies, I hope                                       
you catch them in a stranglehold, win out,
and gain the spear denoting victory.

[Apollo and Orestes leave. The Furies move to surround Athena]

CHORUS: You younger gods, you've wrenched our ancient laws [Apollo & Athena are Olympic gods, whom the Furies predate]
out of my grasp, then stamped them underfoot.
You heap on us dishonorable contempt.

Now my anger turns against this land
I'll spread my poisons—how it's going to pay,
when I release this venom in my heart
to ease my grief. I'll saturate this ground.
It won't survive. From it disease will grow,
infecting leaves and children—that's justice.
Sterility will spread across the land,
contaminate the soil, destroy mankind.              [cf. disease, blight imagery in Oedipus Rex and Hamlet]
What can I do now but scream out in pain?
The citizens make fun of us, the Furies. 
How can we put up with such indignity,
daughters of Night disgracefully abused,
dishonored, shamed, our powers cast aside?

ATHENA: Let me persuade you not to spurn this trial.
You've not been beaten—the votes were fair,
the numbers equal, no disgrace to you.
But we received clear evidence from Zeus.
The one who spoke the oracle declared
Orestes should not suffer for his act.
So don't be vengeful, breathing anger

on this land and drenching it with showers,
whose drops, like spears, will kill the seeds,
and blast its fruitfulness. I promise you
in all righteousness you'll have your place,
a subterranean cavern, yours by right.                             1010

Beside the hearth you'll sit on glittering thrones,
worshipped with reverence by my citizens.

CHORUS: You younger gods, you've wrenched our ancient laws
out of my grasp, then stamped them underfoot.
You heap on us dishonorable contempt.

Now my anger turns against this land.
I'll spread my poisons—how it's going to pay,
when I release this venom in my heart
to ease my grief. I'll saturate this ground.
It won't survive. From it disease will grow,                            
infecting leaves and children—that's justice.
Sterility will spread across the land,
contaminate the soil, destroy mankind.
What can I do now but scream out in pain?
The citizens make fun of us, the Furies.
How can we put up with such indignity, 
daughters of Night disgracefully abused,
shamed, dishonored, our powers cast aside? . . .

 . . . . . .

ATHENA: I'll bear with your rage, for you are older,        [your, you = the Furies]
and thus your wisdom far exceeds my own.    
But Zeus gave me a fine intelligence as well.                               [Athena = goddess of reason]
So let me tell you this—if you leave here,
for this land you'll feel a lover's yearning.
As time goes on, my citizens will win
increasing honor, and you, on your thrones,
seated outside the house of Erechtheus,
a place of honor, will win more respect
from lines of men and women filing past
than you could find in all the world beyond.
So cast no stones for bloodshed on this land, 
my realm. Do not corrupt our youthful hearts,
intoxicating them with rage, like wine,    
or rip the heart out of a fighting cock
to set it in my people, giving them
a thirst for reckless internecine war.
Let them fight wars abroad, without restraint
in those men driven by a lust for fame.
I want no birds who fight their wars at home.
That's what I offer you. It's yours to take.
Do good things, receive good things in honor.                            1080

Take your place in a land the gods all love. . . .

 . . . . . .

CHORUS LEADER: Queen Athena, this place you say is ours,                                1110
what exactly is it?

ATHENA: One free of pain,
without anxieties. Why not accept?

CHORUS LEADER: If I do, what honors would I get?

ATHENA: Without you no house can thrive.

CHORUS LEADER: You'd do this? You'd grant me that much power?

ATHENA: I will. Together we'll enrich the lives
of all who worship us.

CHORUS LEADER: This promise you make—
you'll hold to it forever?

ATHENA: Yes. I don't say anything I don't fulfill.                                     1120

CHORUS LEADER: Your magic's doing its work, it seems—  
I feel my rage diminish.

ATHENA: Then stay.
In this land you'll win more friends.

CHORUS LEADER: Let me speak out a blessing on the land.
Tell me what I might say.

ATHENA: Speak nothing
of brutal victories—only blessings
stemming from the earth, the ocean depths,
the heavens. Let gusting winds caress the land
in glorious sunlight, our herds and harvests
overflow with plenty, so they never fail    
our citizens in time to come, whose seed
will last forever. Let their prosperity 

match how well they worship you. I love
these righteous men, the way a gardener loves
his growing plants, this race now free of grief.
These things are yours to give. For my part,
I'll see this city wins triumphal fame
in deadly wars where men seek glory,
so all men celebrate victorious Athens.

CHORUS: Then we'll accept this home                                                                       1140
and live here with Athena.
We'll never harm a place
which she and Ares
and all-powerful Zeus
hold as a fortress of the gods,
this glorious altar, the shield
for all the gods of Greece.   

I make this prayer for Athens,
prophesying fine things for her—
bounteous happy harvests    
bursting from the earth,
beneath a radiant sun.

ATHENA: To all my citizens I'll act with kindness,
setting in place these goddesses among them—
powerful divinities, implacable—
whose office is to guide all mortals' lives 

in everything they do. If there's a man
who's never felt their weight, he's ignorant
of where life's blows arise. His father's crimes
drag him before these goddesses, and there,                                     
for all his boasting, his destruction comes— 
dread silent anger crushing him to dust.

CHORUS: Hear me speak my blessing—
let no winds destroy the trees
nor scorching desert heat move in    
to shrivel budding plants,
no festering blight kill off the fruit.
May Pan foster fertility
and make the flocks increase,
to every ewe twin lambs,
all born in season, and in Athens
may the earth be rich in treasure,
paying fine gifts to Hermes,                          
god of unexpected luck.

ATHENA: Do you hear that, you guardians of my city?
The blessings they will bring? They're powerful,
the sacred Furies, among immortal gods,   

among the dead below. With mortal men
it's clear they work their wills decisively,
for some a life of song, for others lives of tears.

CHORUS: I forbid those deadly accidents
which cut men down before their time.
And all you gods with rightful powers,
let our lovely girls all live      
to find a husband. Hear our prayers,
you sacred Fates, our sisters,
you children of the Night,
who apportion all things justly, 
who have a place in every home,
whose righteous visitations   
at all times carry weight, everywhere
most honored of the gods.

ATHENA: I rejoice to hear these love-filled blessings
conferred upon this land. It pleases me   
Persuasion kept watch on my tongue and lips,
when I met their fierce refusal. But Zeus,
the patron god of our assemblies, 
has triumphed. Our struggle here for justice
has left us victorious forever.

 . . . . . .

[Enter a group citizens to lead Athena's procession, some bearing unlit torches, some robes, and some leading animals for sacrifice]

ATHENA: And you too rejoice. I must lead the way,
show you to your rooms, by sacred torchlight
carried by your escort. Now you can go—                                   
move with speed under the earth, and there
with sacred sacrificial blood hold down
what would destroy my land and send above
what brings prosperity, so that our city
may prove victorious. And now you citizens,
you children of Cranaus, king of this rock,                                   

lead our new residents for life away.
May all citizens look on with favour
at those who bring such favours to them.

CHORUS: Farewell, once more farewell,                                                    1240
all those who live in Athens,
gods and men, inhabitants
of Pallas' city. Pay us respect,
while we live here among you—
you'll have cause to celebrate
the fortunes of your lives.     

ATHENA: My thanks to you for these words of blessing.
Now I'll send you down by blazing torchlight
to your homes beneath the earth, with this escort
of those duty-bound to guard my statue.                                     
That seems right. For the most precious part
of all the land of Theseus will come out,
a splendid throng of girls and mothers,
groups of older women.

[From the processional company some women bearing scarlet robes move forward to place the robes on the Furies.

[Athena speaks directly to them]

Invest these Furies
with their special crimson robes. Honor them.                       [ritual, honor]
Then, move on with the torches, so this group,    
our fellow residents, can show the love
they bear this land, and for all time to come
bring our city strength and great good fortune.

[The women dress the Furies in the scarlet robes and sing the final song of joy and thanks, as the entire procession of Athena, Furies, and citizens moves off stage]

THE WOMEN OF ATHENS: Move on with your loyal escort,                                1260
you mighty children of the Night,
children without children, no longer young,
yet glorious in your honors.
You citizens, nothing but blessings in your songs.

Deep in those primeval caverns
far underground, our sacrifices,
the sacred honors we bestow on you
will maintain our city's reverence.
All of you, nothing but blessings in your songs.

Come forward, sacred goddesses,                                                                           1270
benevolent and gracious to our land,
come forward with the flaming torches,
rejoicing as we move along our way.
Now raise triumphal cries to crown our song!

Peace now reigns forevermore
between Athena's people and their guests.
For all-seeing Zeus and Fate herself
have worked together for this ending.
Now raise triumphal cries to crown our song!

[The entire group moves off singing and dancing]

[Instructor's note: Compare the conclusion of the Oresteia trilogy to the end of a comedy narrative: "The concluding action of a comedy is easy to identify. Characters join in marriage, song, dance, or a party, demonstrating a restoration of unity. (TV "situation comedies" like Friends or How I Met Your Mother end with the characters re-uniting in a living room or some other common space.)"

[Compare / contrast the more or less standard ending for Tragedy: "The tragic narrative concludes with resolution of the problem and restoration of justice, often accompanied by the death, banishment, or quieting of the tragic hero."]


The Oresteia