The Eumenides by Aeschylus (ed. Cambridge, 1926) is the tale related as Athena spares Orestes from destruction at the Furies hands. Greek tragedy always had a public component, and here the dramatic balance must be found between the need for public order in the polis & the private turmoil of family honor. As Orestes is seen as a murderer first, the public (chorus) call for his blood. In the end, in a sort of trial, Athena (at the behest of Apollo) appoints the Three Furies to be 'protectors' (as opposed to vindicators) of women. Orestes is severely rebuked, but spared.

The Eumenides completes a vengeance cycle of tragedies by Aeschylus, and details just how the Furies pursue Orestes, and bring him before a tribunal presided over by Athena. She, in turn, will determine if he should be ripped limb from limb for all eternity (or something like that) for avenging Agamemnon, by slaying his own mother. He manages to get off the hook, with the intervention of Apollo, but it's still pretty harrowing. Here's the super creepy part, as Clytemnestra's ghost calls down the Furies of Erinyes* on her murderer & son (hell hath no wrath...):

Sleep on! Aha! Yet what need is there of sleepers? It is due to you that I am thus dishonored among the other dead; because of those I killed the dead never cease to reproach me, and I wander in disgrace. I tell you that I am most greatly accused by them. And yet, although I have suffered cruelly in this way from my nearest kin, no divine power is angry on my behalf, slaughtered as I have been by the hands of a matricide. See these gashes in my heart, and from where they came! For the sleeping mind has clear vision, but in the daytime the fate of mortals is unforeseeable.

Truly, you have lapped up many of my offerings--wineless libations, a sober appeasement; and I have banquets of sacrifice in the solemn night upon a hearth of fire at an hour unshared by any god. I see all this trampled under foot. But he has escaped and is gone, like a fawn; lightly indeed, from the middle of snares, he has rushed away mocking at you. Hear me, since I plead for my life, awake to consciousness, goddesses of the underworld! For in a dream I, Clytaemestra, now invoke you.

Whine, if you will! But the man is gone, fled far away. For he has friends that are not like mine! You are too drowsy and do not pity my suffering. Orestes, the murderer of me, his mother, is gone! You moan, you drowse--will you not get up at once? Is it your destiny to do anything other than cause harm? Sleep and toil, effective conspirators, have destroyed the force of the dreadful dragoness.

In a dream you are hunting your prey, and are barking like a dog that never leaves off its keenness for the work. What are you doing? Get up; do not let fatigue overpower you, and do not ignore my misery because you have been softened by sleep. Sting your heart with merited reproaches; for reproach becomes a spur to the right-minded. Send after him a gust of bloody breath, shrivel him with the vapor, the fire from your guts, follow him, wither him with fresh pursuit!


Notes:

* Quick recap: Clytemnestra had killed Orestes' dad, Agamemnon, as revenge for his sacrifice of their daughter to Mars before setting out for the Trojar War. When the murder is discovered, Elektra freaks, and convinces Orestes that Mom has to die too for justice to be done, so they kill her. So, the Furies descend.

† "Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion" by artist Francis Bacon (http://www.francis-bacon.cx/triptychs/three_studies.html) is said to be based on his interpretation of the Eumenides.

Literally it means, "Friendly Ones," perhaps in reference to the outcome of the play. Although, as Gone Jackal pointed out to me, it was more likely simply another name for the Furies to avoid having to say their actual name. Nothing like analyzing a work of fiction until even a paranoid conspiracy-mad nutcase would say you're reaching.

Furies:

Rejoice!-
rejoice - the joy resounds -
all those who dwell in Athens,
spirts and mortals, come,
govern Athena's city well,
revere us well, we are your guests;
you will near to praise your Furies,
you will praise the fortunes of your lives.

No, I don't know why the above text was centered. My translation was typeset by a drunken monkey. If anyone knows why Robert Fagel's translation of Aeschylus's Orestia is typeset by a drunken monkey please, please, please, let me know.

Eu*men"i*des (?), n. pl. [L., from Gr. lit., gracious goddesses.] Class. Myth.

A euphemistic name for the Furies of Erinyes.

 

© Webster 1913.

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