The War-of the-Sexes in Eumenides
In this essay I will examine the war-of the-sexes taking place in The Eumenides, the final play of The Oresteia. The plot of The Eumenides pits Orestes and Apollo (representing the male gods and, to a certain extent, male values in general) against the ghost of Clytemnestra and the Furies (equally representative of female values.) Of more vital importance, however, is whether Athene sides with the males or females throughout the play.
The character of Orestes is somewhat down-played in The Eumenides and in fact his role is far less significant than that of Apollo. Our first sight of Orestes sees him in a contradictory stance at Delphi, "Orestes holds a suppliant's branch in one hand, wreathed with a shining, pious tuft of wool, but in the other hand a bloody sword - bloody from his mother's wounds or from Apollo's purges, or both, since purging contaminates the purger and Apollo's shrine is polluted either way." (Fagles, R., The Serpent and the Eagle, p. 73, Penguin Classics, 1977.) Orestes admits his guilt (with no small amount of rationalization) but also attempts to place the bulk of the blame on Apollo, "And Apollo shares the guilt - he spurred me on, he warned of the pains I'd feel unless I acted, brought the guilty down." (Aeschylus, The Eumenides, Robert Fagles Trans., lines 479 - 481, Penguin Classics, 1977.) Apollo is representative of the new gods and, more particularly, of Zeus. "In the rapid succession of scenes at Delphi the representatives of the male and female divine forces appear before our eyes in bitter enmity with each other. And, they are indeed only representatives. Apollo speaks with the voice of Zeus... and hence of the Olympian patriarchy..." (Harington, J., Aeschylus, Yale University Press, 1986.) He is brash and insensitive, particularly in his defence of Orestes, when speaking with the Leader of the Furies, "You commanded the guest to kill his mother... - Commanded him to avenge his father, what of it?" (Aeschylus, The Eumenides, Robert Fagles Trans., lines 200 - 201, Penguin Classics, 1977.) Throughout the play the character of Apollo is used to draw attention to the physical discrepancies between the male and the female with his references to light and darkness but more importantly with the vital question of birth, "I give you proof that all I say is true. The father can father forth without a mother. Here she stands, our living witness. Look - (Exhibiting Athena) Child sprung full-blown from Olympian Zeus, never bred in the darkness of the womb but such a stock no goddess could conceive!" (Aeschylus, The Eumenides, RobertFagles Trans., lines 672 - 677, Penguin Classics, 1977.)
The Furies provide the stark contrast to Apollo's character. He is the new god, he stands for patriarchy, light and politically he is far more liberal. "(Orestes) O God of the light, Apollo, how will the verdict go? (Leader) O Night, dark mother, are you watching now?" (Aeschylus, The...