Translated by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, British Columbia, CA; published by Richer Resources Publications; adapted with Mr. Johnston’s permission.
Instructor’s note on text: To simplify reading, changes in Johnston’s online edition include modernization or Americanization of spelling; division of long speeches; annotations by instructor in brackets [ ] and smaller font. Line numbers are those of Johnston’s translation; see original online for Greek line numbers.
reading the entire play may be counter-productive, these selections provide
dramatic highlights to show the consequences of the trilogy's first play, Agamemnon, and
preview its final installment,
Since reading the entire play may be counter-productive, these selections provide dramatic highlights to show the consequences of the trilogy's first play, Agamemnon, and preview its final installment, The Eumenides.
Omitted scenes or speeches are indicated by
. . . . . .
For psychology and popular culture, Libation Bearers is most famous for representing in its character Electra the so-called Electra Complex, the theoretical opposite of the Oedipal Complex.
The Electra Complex has never been taken very seriously by psychologists and has been superceded by more sophisticated feminist psychologies, but such is the power of the Oedipal Complex and its narrative that a female correlation retains some imaginative appeal.
Another support for Freudian psychological readings in this play is the presence of dreams and interpretation of their symbols, as in the opening scene's report of Clytaemnestra's dream of a snake, which Orestes identifies as himself. Like the Greeks and other ancient peoples, Freudian psychologists interpreted dreams as narratives and symbols that drove human behavior and made it meaningful (for good or ill). (In Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche speculates that all storytelling began with dreams.)
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): 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).
Dramatis Personae: The Libation Bearers
son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, brother of Electra.
Scene: Argos, the tomb of Agamemnon some years after his murder by Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus. Behind the tomb stands the royal palace of the sons of Atreus.
[Instructor's note: The
Chorus of slave women
brought from Troy has been sent out by Clytaemnestra with Electra to pour
Agamemnon's tomb to pacify the spirits outraged by his murder and dishonor.]
[Instructor's note: The Chorus of slave women brought from Troy has been sent out by Clytaemnestra with Electra to pour libations at Agamemnon's tomb to pacify the spirits outraged by his murder and dishonor.]
. . . . . .
[Electra, at her father Agamemnon's tomb, finds a lock of hair that looks like the hair of her long-lost brother Orestes]
. . . ELECTRA: Look at this . . . It looks just like . . . [It = lock of hair left by Orestes, Electra’s long-lost brother]
ELECTRA: Like mine. It looks identical. [compare themes of family resemblance (and curse) in O'Neill's Homecoming]
Perhaps Orestes? Did he place it here,
It really looks like his . . .
CHORUS: But how could he come back?
He sent it here, a token of respect
Over my heart, too, breaks a bitter wave.
[Instructor's note re Electra's speech above:
Electra Complex in which daughter
feels antagonistic to mother.]
[Instructor's note re Electra's speech above: Electra Complex in which daughter feels antagonistic to mother.]
ELECTRA: Oh cruel and reckless mother, [Electra
vs Mom / Clytaemnestra]
Antigone, whose action follows the lack of honorable burial for Antigone's
[compare Sophocles's Antigone, whose action follows the lack of honorable burial for Antigone's brother Polyneices]
Alas. As you say, totally disgraced.
And let me tell you this—
You describe my father's death,
My child, I know—I was there.
gifts" = libations to appease vengeful
spirits of dead]
["these gifts" = libations to appease vengeful spirits of dead]
Do you know the nature of her dreams?
She'd given birth, 660
ORESTES: How did the dream end up? What happened?
She set it
in bed wrapped
in swaddling clothes,
And that newborn snake,
CHORUS LEADER: She dreamt she offered it her breasts.
ORESTES: Didn't the monster bite her nipple?
CHORUS LEADER: No. But with her milk it sucked out clots of blood.
ORESTES: It's an omen. Her vision means a man. . . .
She woke up with a scream, quite terrified.
I pray to Earth and to my father's tomb
Your reading of her dream seems right to me.
Greeks like Freudian psychoanalysts interpret dreams]
My plan is simple. First, Electra here [cf. "net" imagery in
Agamemnon, lines 433, 435, 966, 1023, 1236,1315-16, 1626, 1633, 1899;
Libation Bearers l. 277]
[cf. "net" imagery in Agamemnon, lines 433, 435, 966, 1023, 1236,1315-16, 1626, 1633, 1899; Libation Bearers l. 277]
= Clytaemnestra's lover, Agamemnon's cousin]
[Aegisthus enters] [Aegisthus = Clytaemnestra's lover, Agamemnon's cousin]
I want to see this messenger* and check
messenger": in omitted scenes, Orestes was reported dead; the
"messenger" who has appeared is Orestes himself]
[*"This messenger": in omitted scenes, Orestes was reported dead; the "messenger" who has appeared is Orestes himself]
[Exit Aegisthus into the palace]
Zeus, O Zeus,
[Chorus = slave women captured from Troy]
[Aegisthus screams in pain from inside the palace]
CHORUS MEMBERS [speaking
[Some members of the Chorus start to move towards the palace doors]
[A servant emerges through the palace doors]
Oh, it's horrible—my master's killed!
[master = Aegisthus]
[Enter Clytaemnestra through the main palace doors]
What's happening? Why are you shouting
I'm telling you
I see. I understand your paradox. [Clytaemnestra
bends gender roles again]
[Clytaemnestra bends gender roles again]
[Exit servant into the palace]
Let's see now if we win through or lose.
[The palace doors open to reveal the dead body of Aegisthus with Orestes
standing over it. Pylades
is beside Orestes]
The very one I seek. This fellow here
I seek" = Clytaemnestra]
["one I seek" = Clytaemnestra]
No, not Aegisthus,
You loved this man? Then you'll find your rest
[tragic character is mixed, complicated]
CLYTAEMNESTRA: Hold off, my son, my child. Take pity
Pylades, what do I do?
What then becomes of what Apollo said,
= Orestes's companion]
[cf. Antigone, Bacchae]
[Pylades = Orestes's companion]
[cf. Antigone, Bacchae]
That's good advice. As judge in this debate
[Orestes turns on Clytaemnestra, pulls her towards the body of Aegisthus]
CLYTAEMNESTRA: I brought you up. Let me grow old with you.
ORESTES: What? Kill my father and then live with me? 1130
CLYTAEMNESTRA: My child, in this our fate's to blame. . . .
My father's destiny has marked you out.
Alas for me! [compare
[compare lines 660-1]
Yes. That terror in
your dream foretold the truth.
[Orestes pushes Clytaemnestra inside the palace
doors. Pylades goes with them. The doors close behind them]
[The palace doors are thrown open, revealing Orestes standing above the bodies of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. Pylades stands beside Orestes. With them are attendants holding the bloodstained robes of Agamemnon]
Here you see them—this pair of tyrants.
[Orestes starts unfurling the robes in which Agamemnon was killed] . . .
Alas for this horrific act,
[contrast romance narrative; not just a
[contrast romance narrative; not just a revenge story]
[Orestes is suddenly overpowered with fear by a vision of his mother's Furies (avenging spirits) coming after him]
No . . . They're here . . . [compare
lines 660-1, 1135]
[compare lines 660-1, 1135]
CHORUS: The third storm has broken on the palace, [preview
for The Eumenides]
[preview for The Eumenides]
Agamemnon < [Libation Bearers] > Eumenides