Not women, but Gorgons I call them;
no, not even to the shape of Gorgons can I compare them.
. . . . . . . . . . These appear wingless,
black, altogether hateful in their ways;
and they snore with a blast unapproachable,
and from their eyes they drip a loathsome liquid.
And their attire is such as one should not bring
near to the statures of the gods nor into the houses of men.
The Pythia has just stumbled out of the temple of Apollo in horror, having seen the Furies for the first time. Here she describes the Furies, as they lie snoring around Orestes inside the temple.
Out of this house with all speed, I command you!
. . . . . . . .
The den of a blood-lapping lion
should be the habitation of such creatures; you should not in this place
of oracle rub off contagion on those near you.
Be off, a flock without a shepherd!
Such a herd is loved by none among the gods.
Apollo orders the Furies to leave his temple, which they pollute by their presence.
The glories of men, for all their splendor beneath the light of day,
wither away and vanish below the earth, dishonored,
before the onslaught of our black raiment and the dancing
of our feet, instinct with malice.
For in truth leaping
from on high, with heavy fall
I bring down my foot;
my legs trip the runner,
swift though he be, with an irresistible doom.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Unhonored and unesteemed is the office
we pursue, apart from the gods
in the sunless slime.
These passages come toward the end of the maddening, spellbinding song the Furies sing around Orestes, as he holds fast to the statue of Athena.
But to speak ill of others who are free of blame
is far from Justice, and Right will have none of it.
In answer to Orestes’ prayer, Athena has returned to her temple and wonders at the strange sight of the Furies, who are like no other goddesses or mortals. But she stops herself from saying anything negative about them.
There is a place where what is terrible is good
and must abide, seated there
to keep watch upon men’s minds;
it is good for them
to learn wisdom under constraint.
And what city or what man
that in the light of the heart
fostered no dread could have the same
reverence for Justice?
Neither a life of anarchy
nor a life under a despot
should you praise.
To all that lies in the middle has a god given excellence.
The Furies have just expressed their fear that the new court Athena is about to establish will exonerate Orestes, and then they will no longer fulfill their role, and wronged parents will not be able to call on them. Here they sing far more calmly than in the choral ode quoted above, explaining their role in reasonable terms.
Neither anarchy nor tyranny shall the citizens defend and respect, if they follow my counsel;
and they shall not cast out altogether from the city what is to be feared.
For who among mortals that fears nothing is just?
Athena is establishing the new court of the Areopagus, and giving her citizens good advice that echoes the words of the Furies amazingly closely.
I, for my part, have trust in Zeus, and—why need I speak of it?—
I alone among the gods know the keys of the house
wherein is sealed the lightning.
But there is no need of it; let me persuade you.
Athena is trying to persuade the Furies to accept the place of honor she offers them in Athens and not to blight the land in their rage at the acquittal of Orestes. She alludes to her power to use violence, but immediately rejects that way in favor of persuasion.
I shall not weary of telling you of the good things I offer,
that you may never say that by me, who am younger,
and by the mortals who hold this city, you, an ancient goddess,
were driven off dishonored, an exile from this land.
No! If you revere Persuasion’s majesty,
the power to charm and soothe that sits upon my tongue,
then you should remain!
Despite the Furies’ stubbornness, who so far have given no sign of hearing her words, Athena persists in persuasion.
I will embrace
one home with you, Athena,
never fail the city
you and Zeus almighty, you and Ares
hold as the fortress of the gods, the shield
of the high Greek altars, glory of the powers.
Spirit of Athens, hear my words, my prayer
like a prophet’s warm and kind,
that the rare good things of life
come rising crest on crest,
sprung from the rich black earth and
gleaming with the bursting flash of sun.
(927-39; from The Oresteia, translation by Robert Fagles, published by Penguin in 1975)
Finally the Furies accept Athena’s offers, and the good things they promise Athens spring from a union of the earth and the sun.
Home, home, o high, o aspiring
Daughters of Night, aged children, in blithe processional.
bless them, all here, with silence
In the primeval dark of earth-hollows
held in high veneration with rights sacrificial
bless them, all people, with silence.
Gracious be, wish what the land wishes,
follow, grave goddesses, flushed in the flamesprung
torchlight gay on your journey.
Singing all follow our footsteps.
There shall be peace forever between these people
of Pallas and their guests. Zeus the all seeing
met with Destiny to confirm it.
Singing all follow our footsteps.
(1033-47; from Oresteia, translation by Richmond Lattimore, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1953)
The final choral ode of the play, sung by the escort who with flaming torches are conducting the Furies to their home deep in the earth.