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The Orestes By Trinity Sibylline Priestess
The word prehistory means before written historic record thus the cultures and events that predate are left to be sorted out through archaeological sciences. These sciences give us back the remains of the cities, temples, art, and dwellings of our ancestors. Yet they can not serve as an unbiased interpreter to human thought and belief.
Those whose embrace the historical theories of Matriarchies societies have a difficult time in a world where writing is king. Culture and belief is open for interpretation. However it may be that there are written records, echoes of the past in the writings of other cultures that followed in their wake inheriting culture, myth, and even strife. Through myth, overlapping accounts, and unusual bias or inconsistencies we may yet learn some of what these earlier cultures were like through the eyes of those who witnesses their demise.
One such beacon in written records is 'propaganda' where stories of extreme events, illogical actions, contrary commentary, hateful descriptions, and demeaning verbiage gives insight into deep rooted fears often times caused by a fear of change, efforts to subdue remaining vestiges of past events, or a struggle of power and control. To support the theory of a shift in the societal structure between men and women we look for written records where the ripples of power shifts remain and speak through altered voices. There is no better source than the Greek trilogy The Oresteia.
Written by Euripides in 458 B.C.E Orestes is the climatic story of the doomed House of Atreus. In short Orestes is being hounded and terrorized by the Furies for the blood crime of matricide. Orestes killed his mother Clytemnestra, who murdered his father Agamemnon, who sacrificed his youngest sister Iphiginea.
Our focus is the third play; The Eumenides. The strife between two worlds and two sets of laws is forefront in this play. The Furies haunt the guilty with screams and anger, driving the murderer, in this case Atreus, insane and to their death. It is the playwright's words of the Gods themselves and ultimate outcome that give us insight into the cultural aftershocks.
In the opening Apollo, god of reason and logic, has deflected the Furies and rendered them unconscious. They are described as
The words voice hatred and disgust for their power. Yet the power structure of the Gods changes even in antiquity. Olympian Gods were predated by the Titans but the Furies are not Titans. They are something different.
How ancient are the Furies? The word 'ancient' is part of their general description - either by the Furies themselves or the other Gods. They are untouched and beyond the hold of the Olympian gods; Virgins by choice. They wield justice in a wild force, uncontrolled by Apollo - champion of law, society and balance. To them, Apollo is viewed as a youth who has no rights to cast judgment or interfere with their divine justice. It may suggest that power structure and justice had been far different.
The ruling pantheon of Olympus is ruled by a male god Zeus, where Queen of the Gods Hera, Goddess of of marriage and women, is frequently portrayed as spiteful and vengeful. Though she is the Queen of Olympus she holds very little sway over the actions of her husband Zeus. Hers is also a story of frustration and loss of power.
The Furies are a last bastion of female power and independence. They represent a female force both in power and in deed ~ they defend family bonds, and in particular the sacredness of motherhood. The question becomes who is kin? According to the Furies Clytemnestra did not shed the blood of her kin.
Clytemnestra killed for blood vengeance. Yet the murder by the father/victim is not addressed, Iphiginea was a sacrifice to the gods for favored winds to carry Agamemnon to Troy and wage war. The sacrifice of a female promised to the temple of the Goddess Artemis - virginal independent wild-woman - as well as the revenge of a mother upon the murderer of her child being a 'non-issue' in this play. It is viewed by the culture of the time as acceptable.
If one is to take a highly feminist stance the sacrifice of the daughter could be viewed as feminine power and inheritance ~ the link of mother to daughter. The recurrence of the feminine being used as a tool for war is also exemplified by warring over Helen when historically it is believed that she was an excuse for claiming trade route. This play is about the role of women and their rites.
Orestes places the key question smack in the face of the audience.
Now we can start to see the two forces facing off. The Furies representing the old ways with reverence to the mysteries and powers of motherhood (possibly reminisces of matriarchies) and the new ways of Apollo; reason, logic, structure. But why point at this play as a turning point for Women's power rather than a shift from tribal law - an eye for an eye - to the laws of society?
The play outlines for the audience how the mother is not blood to the child. She is like the soil to the seed. This idea may seem absurd to 'modern' senses but this was the prevailing science of the day. It is Aristotle who states that the semen is a complete being while the womb is akin to an oven, offering nutrients and a safe place but nothing more. A mother, therefore, is not blood to a child, only the father is. Thus the murder of Clytemnestra is not a blood murder.
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