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Suffering In The Oresteia Essay

1007 words - 4 pages

In the Greek play, the Oresteia, suffering acts as a vital role in the lives of the main characters. One character, the chorus, discusses suffering at great length. The chorus is made up of old men who were too old to fight against Troy, and who often give the audience an inside view to the actions happening on stage.

The chorus sites hubris, the Greek word referring to mortal pride or arrogance, as being the cause of many bad fates. Someone guilty of hubris aspires to be more and do more than what the gods allow, resulting in severe punishment and a tragic destiny. As an example, the chorus recites the story of Ouranus in lines 168-175 of Agamemnon. They tell of his pride and arrogance, and how both ultimately led to his fall. They continue to list two of his successors who suffered the same fate. Hubris is also discussed in lines 461-470, explaining that, "The gods are not blind to men who... unjustly prosper." The chorus views this arrogance as a terrible offense to the gods, and warns all those who dare set themselves beyond Justice to limit their belongings to what they need and what the gods allot them. They offer this warning so that all people might "avoid this suffering," (Agamemnon, lines 370-381).

But once someone commits hubris or any other offense towards the gods, can their fate be changed? The chorus suggests that one's destiny is set and unchanging, leading to a great deal of suffering. In lines 67-72 of Agamemnon, they chant, "It is the way of Destiny/ that what will be, will be,/ and neither by burning offerings on high,/ nor pouring sacred wine below,/ can you calm the relentless rage." Nearly as often as Destiny is discussed, pain and suffering are included. In line 130, the chorus speaks of Troy as, "doomed to Destiny's death." The chorus never speaks of fate nor destiny in a positive manner, because they view both as the fundamental causes of human suffering. This idea is especially apparent in lines 1535-1536 when they sing, "The sword of Justice is being sharpened/ on the grindstone of Destiny to cut more pain." The chorus views Justice and Destiny as cause and effect. In their view, when someone commits hubris, the justice they receive shapes their destiny.

Knowledge of one's destiny, however, appears to be the greatest cause of suffering to the chorus. In line 253 of Agamemnon, they state that "to know the future is to bring sorrow in advance." This statement is proven later on when the chorus speaks with Cassandra, a slave woman who becomes aware of her own death; to occur that very day. One member says to her, "I am gripped with deadly pain,/ it breaks my heart to know/ your fearful fortune..." (lines 1164-1166). The chorus has already expressed their contempt for fate as the being the root of all suffering, so it is rational that they would consider knowledge of this fate all the more horrendous. If one...

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