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Lecture 6A -- Eumenides Lecture


The Greek gods of vengeance are the Furies. 

Ἐρῑνύες (Erinyes) is the Greek word translated 'Furies.'  But the word is ill-omened.  To speak it aloud meant that you risked drawing their attention.  A similar feeling is expressed by the English proverb, "Speak of the devil, and he surely shall appear."  This fear lead to a euphemism to use in place of the dangerous word: Εὐμενίδες (Eumenides), the Gracious Ones or the Kindly Ones. 

The sight of the Furies overwhelmed early audiences. Sent pregnant women into labor. The Chorus is the chief character of the drama. Furies clash with Apollo--conflicting divine judgments (Lattimore 87).

Apollo purifies Orestes. The Furies will have none of it. They accuse Apollo of injustice (162-163), as he does them (217-222).

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

Agonistic (αγων, agōn.  'contest') form of justice. New venue for the contest. Trial by persuading jury rather than by combat. How can both sides agree? Must compete before impartial jury. Δίκη expressed in a court of law (δικαι, dikai). Legal justice.

Levels of struggle in Eumenides

  1. Struggle between offices. Furies have an office (λάχος) to perform. Apollo interferes.
  2. Old order vs new order. New gods (150, 162, 731, 778f) Athena respects their age (848, 882ff). 3.
  3. τιμή vs ἀτιμία. (timē vs atimia, honor vs dishonor) Apollo dishonors them (227, 324, 721f). Athena sees it as a new kind of honor (795-796, 824, 833, 854-5, 890-5, 916-7, 992-3).
  4. Mutterrecht vs Vaterrecht.  Mother-right vs father-right.  Matriarchy vs patriarchy. Female vs male. (Bachofen)
  5. Greek vs barbarian (Lattimore 87). Apollo especially sees the Furies are barbaric.

Furies are older, therefore more childish & barbarian than Apollo and Athena. Furies stand for woman's right to act. They represent the Greeks' pre-Hellenic barbarism, archaic strictness & cruelty. The blood on Orestes' hands matters; his reasons don't. Motive irrelevant. (Cf. Oedipus' "crimes") (Lattimore 87-88). They are primeval goddesses, daughters of Night, mercilessly & automatically punish. (Hammond 94).

Apollo stands for Hellenism, civilization, intellect, enlightenment. Is male and young. He's as ruthless as the furies, but despises cruelty for its own sake. Olympians are fighting their own past (Lattimore 88). Furies criticize the way Zeus took over (Eumenides p. 10 col. 1). Apollo more aesthetically pleasing. Beautiful rather than monstrous in appearance. Concerned with form.


Hammond, N. G. L. "Personal Freedom and Its Limitations in the Oresteia." Aeschylus: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Marsh H. McCall, Jr. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972. 90-105.

Lattimore, Richmond. "Introduction to the Oresteia." Aeschylus: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Marsh H. McCall, Jr. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972. 73-89.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Die Geburt der Tragödie. Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe in 15 Bänden. Ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzina Montinari. Vol. 1. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1980. 9-156. 15 vols.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. Ed. Oscar Levy. Trans. William A. Haussmann. Vol. 1. The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche. 1909-1911. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964. 18 vols.

Podlecki, Anthony J. The Political Background of Aeschylean Tragedy. Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan P.,1966.

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