The Oresteia and Greek Mythology with Will Freiert

Posted on January 7th, 2013 by

The Oresteia is a trilogy among Greek tragedies.  The three plays, entitled Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and Eumenides, are centered around the themes of justice and revenge.

In Agamemnon, Queen Clytemnestra seeks to avenge her daughter, Iphigenia’s murder.  Iphigenia was sacrificed by her own father/Clytemnestra’s husband, King Agamemnon.  Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia in order to get favorable winds so his army could return home from battle.  Clytemnestra clearly was not pleased with this.  When Agamemnon returned home from war, Clytemnestra “warmly” welcomed him home, but promptly murdered him and mistress, Cassandra, a Trojan princess and prophetess.  In this play, Clytemnestra seeks justice and revenge and her motivation/justification for her actions stem from her own emotions.

Libation Bearers begins with Electra, Clytemnestra and Agamemnon’s daughter, bringing libations to her father’s grave.  She does so on the order of her mother to stop Clytemnestra’s nightmares.  While at her father’s grave, Electra meets her brother Orestes.   Orestes receives an oracle from Apollo, god of wisdom, truth, music and light, to seek avenge for his father by killing his mother, Clytemnestra.  Orestes and Electra go to their mother’s house and pose as travelers.  They tell Clytemnestra that her son, Orestes, is dead and ask to be guests for the night.  Eventually, Orestes and Electra kill Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus, according to Apollo’s wishes.  The murder was emotional and dramatic and the overarching themes of justice and revenge were continued.

In Eumenides, Orestes is put on trial for his mother’s murder by a jury of Athenians.  Athena, goddess of wisdom, institutes this new method of trial where a jury makes the decision rather than a God or ruler making the decisions.  The trial ends in a tie, so Athena casts the deciding vote.  She decides in favor of Orestes.  The Furies are upset by the ruling, but Athena convinces them to stay in Athens where they are treated highly and are known as the Eumenides, which means “kindly ones.”  Orestes returns to his home, where his father used to rule and becomes king.


Will Freiert, professor in Classics at Gustavus for 40 years, was the guest speaker in our class today. He chose The Oresteia, a trilogy of Greek tragedies, for our class after hearing about our trip and every where we will be site seeing. The trilogy gave us an brief overview to Greek myth, including introducing us to several gods. Another reason he chose this book was because of a large number of the places we will be visiting took part in this book; such as Delphi and Athens which were both a large part of the third book in the trilogy, Eumindes (The Furies). Another place we will be visiting is Mycenae; which is where Agamemnon’s death took place during the first book of the trilogy, Agamemnon. During his presentation, Will introduced us to the history and meaning of myth.   We discussed each of the three plays in The Oresteia to uncover themes and symbolism and to gain a better understanding of what was going on in this difficult read.  He also explained the connections/family relations between characters/Gods to help us better understand the three tragedies.  The PowerPoints that were shown in class displayed pictures of some of the places we will visit on our trip that are settings for some of the Greek tragedies we studied in The Oresteia and in class.

-Maggie King, Molly King, Grace Henke-Raatz


Comments are closed.