The Libation Bearers

The Chorus in The Libation Bearers

Description

In The Libation Bearers (Aeschylus, 1989), the chorus are elderly slave women, who at the beginning of the text, pour libations on Agamemnon’s grave.

“You can see our sharp fingernails are weary

From plowing new furrows on our cheeks

Till they’re torn and bloody.

Always the heart finds it meat in endless lamentation.

The robes at our breasts torn to linen shreds,

The sound of the tearing rags speak our grief.

But we are stricken with sorrow for what happens,

And our faces laugh no more.” (pg. 96, 25- 32)

This description of the female chorus in The Libation Bearers, shows the idea of Argos being in turmoil after the death of Agamemnon, represented by their ragged and ruined appearance. Also the chorus being made up of women could represent the reversal of male dominant leadership, and the grotesque description of the chorus members can be seen as the negative feelings associated with this enhanced female power.

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Function:

The chorus of Libation bearers not only differs from that of the Agamemnon but also develops. As well as taking on a traditional choric role of being passive commentators on the action, they also become active participants in the development of the narrative (Storey and Allan, 2005). This duality of the role they partake within the play is represented in the contrast between spoken word and song. When the Chorus is commenting upon the action they do so through song and music. However when the chorus embodies a role within the narrative they speak like the other characters (Storey and Allan, 2005). There embodiment of a character can be seen on our audio recording page which depicts a dialogue between the Chorus and the Nurse. This speech shows the chorus intervening within the plot as they tell the Nurse to not let Aegisthus bring his bodyguards, which leads to his eventually demise (Storey and Allen, 2005).

Another example of the chorus intervening, maybe not as much as our previous example, can be seen in this quote with Electra:

“Electra: Whom shall I address as that, amongst his friends?

Chorus: First yourself, and then whoever hates Aegisthus.

Electra: So my prayer will be for me and for you?

Chorus: You know this yourself; speak it immediately.

Electra: Whom shall I add besides, to our faction?

Chorus: Remember Orestes, even if he is not here.

Electra: Good, Good! How well do you instruct me.

Chorus: Then remember- “On those guilty of the murder-“

Electra: What shall I say? I don’t know. Tell me.

Chorus: Pray that on them there come a god or a man-

Electra: As judge or as avenger? Which shall I say?

Chorus: Say simply,” Who will kill to answer killing?”

Electra: Can I with piety ask the gods for that?

Chorus: Yes, giving evil for evil to an enemy.” (pg.98, 110- 123)

This quote shows the chorus partaking in a more minor intervention of the narrative but as this is seen at the beginning of the play, it can be seen as an introduction to the chorus’ future, more significant, intervention.

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Bibliography

Aeschylus. The Libation Bearers. The Oresteia. Edited by David Greene and Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. London: The University of Chicago Press. 1989.  Print.

 

Storey, Ian C and Allan, Arlene. A Guide to Ancient Greek Drama. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 2005. Print.

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