Eumenides: Character Profiles

In the Agamemnon we hear of Apollo as the god who gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy when she promised to sleep with him; when she did not keep her promise, he added the doom that her prophecies should never be believed. In The Libation Bearers, we hear of Apollo as the god whose oracles threatened Orestes with terrible sufferings at the hands of his father’s Furies if he did not avenge his father’s death by killing Aegisthus and his mother. In The Eumenides, we finally see Apollo, young, beautiful, confident, and utterly scornful of the aged and repulsive Furies.

Athena Athena
is the patron goddess of Athens, often portrayed as a delicate, slender woman dressed in the armor of a man. Balanced between male and female, ready to use force if necessary but favoring persuasion.

Clytemnestra’s Ghost
Clytemnestra is Helen’s sister, or half-sister, depending on which version of the story one follows. She is the daughter of a king, and clearly a powerful and confident woman in the earlier plays. Whatever conflicting feelings Clytemnestra may have felt in The Libation Bearers, her ghost is single-minded in hounding the Furies on to destroy her son and murderer, Orestes.

Chorus and Chorus Leader
By tradition one actor, the Chorus Leader, speaks for the Chorus during scenes that involve dialogue, but that character is not otherwise distinguished from the Chorus as a whole. This Chorus is made up of the Furies, often spoken of in the first two plays of the Oresteia, but here appearing on stage for the first time. They should be portrayed as hideous, almost monstrous hags with blood-dripping eyes and clothed in black. In the first part of the play they should be frenzied and bitter, but under Athena’s influence they should become far more dignified and even worthy of reverence. Aeschylus never actually uses the name Eumenides, “Gracious Goddesses,” or “Kindly Ones,” in the text, and that name may have been given to the play later, but the play is often described as showing the transformation of the Furies into the Eumenides—so they were often called, as a way of gaining their favor.

It is not clear from the text exactly who composes the escort that sing the joyful final choral ode, as they conduct the Furies/Eumenides to their home deep in the earth. Certainly it includes women and girls of all ages, as Athena says, and may well have included the judges who have just cast their votes in the trial.

Orestes is the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. He has somehow come out of the insanity that followed on his killing of his mother in the second play in the trilogy.

The priestess of Apollo who serves in his shrine at Delphi, receiving the god’s oracles and transmitting them to all who come. Her name derives from “Pythian,” an adjective applied to Apollo because he founded the Pythian games to commemorate his victory over the monstrous serpent that had terrorized the area before Apollo slew her. In Aeschylus’ play, she is at first a dignified old woman, then a terrified and tottering one.