The Chorus in The Eumenides
The Chorus in The Eumenides evolve further in their role within the play, unlike Agamemnon or Libation Bearers, the chorus take on the role of a unified character and sustains the character throughout the entirety of the performance. Within The Eumenides, the chorus embodies the character of the Furies, fearsome and loathsome goddesses of the underworld who punishes those who commit crimes against the world’s natural order. This section of the website will explore the mythology behind the Furies, Descriptions and their function within The Eumenides.
The Furies have been noted as being “ ancient, chthonic divinities, who demand revenge for the maternal blood of Clytemenestra” (Newton, 1999). The furies originated from the myths of Erinyes, three other worldly goddesses who are said to have worked with Hades and Persephone in looking over the Dungeon of the Damned. The dead were judged and it was the Furies job either to purify the good or bring the bad to the dungeon. They also guarded this jail and were in charge of the prisoner’s torture (Todd, 2010). But the Furies didn’t just stay in the underworld, they also avenged crimes perpetrated by the living and were particularly damning of those who commit Patricide or Matricide (Like Orestes, after killing his mother). The punishment for such a crime would usually entail the infliction of torturous madness. The wrath of the Erinyes could only be lifted through “ritual purification” (Atsma, 2000-2011), which in Orestes case is offering his sins up to a jury to decide his fate.
The Furies have been seen in other Greek myths and stories when a character calls upon the Furies in a moment of anger, most notably The Iliad, the Odyssey and The Aeneid. (Todd, 2010)
The Furies are described in this quote following:
“I won’t say they were women, but Gorgons;
No, not that, either; their shapes did not seem to me like Gorgons’ shapes.
I saw a picture, once, of those, as they brought
The feast for Phineus, but these I saw now
Were wingless, black and utterly repulsive.
They snored, the smell of their breaths
Was not to be borne,
And from their eyes there trickled a loathsome gum.
Their gear was not fit to wear
Before God’s image, nor within men’s houses.” (The Eumenides, pg 136)
This description of the Furies highlights the repulsive and grotesque appearance of these creatures, this elaborately disgusting depiction is used to remind the audience of the extent that the Gods will punish them if they do wrong. In some ways it can be seen that the use of the chorus within The Eumenides is to make an example of Orestes to deter the audience from breaking the law. Although Orestes is finally redeemed it can be seen that the road to redemption is not an easy one and that even though he didn’t have to pay with his life (the traditional punishment for breaking the oath of blood kin in Ancient Greece), he still suffered which might re-assure audience members that the new judicial proceeding were no less damning than blood revenge.
Also this ferocious depiction of strong female characters can be seen to reinforce the societal norm about men’s fears of women and by making them so physically unattractive, the furies become a symbol to society of how evil and corrupt women can be.
Other Descriptions: The Furies are often described as having snakes for hair, eyes either dripping with blood or burning with madness, wings(in some accounts) , long black robes and sometimes carrying a whip or chains in one hand and a torch in the other. (Alchin, 2011)
“Within the structure of the three plays of the Oresteia, Aeschylus charts the mythic quantum leap of the Athenian Greeks as they replaced sacrificial ritual with judicial law as a preferred means of controlling violence.” – A Guide to Ancient Greek Drama, Ian C. Storey and Arlene Allan
This quote sums up nicely, the role that the chorus take within Eumenides, the final play in the trilogy which is The Oresteia. As previously mentioned in the history of Greek chorus page, the chorus take on many roles within the narrative of the Oresteia and it is within Eumenides that the chorus take on a character of its own, The Furies.
Their grotesque appearance also ties into the key function of the Furies within The Eumenides. It has been said that the Furies had punished the Wicked since the beginning of time and that fear, they believed, was the key to holding back anarchy (The Eumenides Characters, 2014). The Furies therefore can be seen to represent a symbol of a more brutal, vengeful judicial system (The Eumenides Characters, 2014) and it is this traditional belief of blood revenge that lays the foundation of the allegorical message of Eumenides. The representation of the old style of Greek justice allows Aeschylus to represent the new style of judicial proceedings for the Greek society; the democratic court. The Furies resignation not too “relieve my hearts pain, drops on the earth, poison, overbearing poison.” (The Eumenides, 812-813) and to find residences in Athens allows the audience to see that even the people filled with most hatred can find alternatives to the urge to seek revenge against those who wronged them.
Aeschylus. ‘The Eumenides’. The Oresteia. Edited by David Greene and Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. London: The University of Chicago Press.1989. Press.
Anonymous. The Eumenides Characters. Web. 21 /02/2014.
Alchin, Linda. ‘The Furies’. 2011. Web. 17/03/2014
Atsma, Aaron J. ‘Erinyes 1’.2000-2011. Web. 17/03/2014
Available at: http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Erinyes.html
Newton, George. Vengeance Is His: Justice in The Oresteia. Academic Search Elite. .1999. Web. 4th March 2014.
Storey, Ian C and Allen, Arlene. A Guide to Ancient Greek Drama
Todd, Elizabeth. ‘Primal vengeance: The Furies in Greek Mythology’.2010.Web. 14/03/2014