Aeschylus, The Oresteia, Part III: The Eumenides

Study Questions

1) Are the Furies within Orestes, or outside him? (Or both?)  Think about what kind of "inspiration" they represent and how they might relate to Cassandra's experience in the "Agamemnon."  What does Aeschylus do with their gender?

2) What is the leader of the Furies' argument against Apollo? (166-169) 

3) Compare the makeup of the three primary Choruses of the Orestia (the old men of Argos, the captive Trojan slaves in Clytemnestra's and Aegisthos' household, and the Furies).   What do they represent, and what is the dramatic effect of having them in the plot?  Note that the last two choruses are female.  Again, how does that affect the gender dynamic Aeschylus is setting up?   (Also see 9 below.)

4) What is the central cultural crisis of this play? What is there to lose in letting Orestes go free from the Furies' vengeance?

5) What do you think of Athena's reasoning about her vote (190)? What does it mean to say that Athena was not born of woman, but given birth to by her father?  This reasoning was a commonplace in classical Greek medical writing, but how does its logic affect women's powers and the domain of their activities?

6) What threat is implied in the Furies' curse (repeated, 192-193 in Strophe 1 and Antistrophe 1)?

7) When the goddess Athena makes the Furies the Eumenides, how would you interpret the significance of that transformation and its agent? What does Athena mean when she says to them, "No single house shall thrive except by you"?

8) How is the end of the play a political anthem? What are Aeschylus' goals for Athenian culture?

9) How do you interpret the introduction of a second chorus, "The Athenian Women" into the dramatic structure of this play? How does it relate to the gender conflict underlying the Orestia?

10) Greek drama has been described as closely linked to sacred ritual, and as the practical tool of a playwrite acting as a social engineer. How does the end of The Eumenides support both ideas?

11)  According to an Alexandrian-era biography of Aeschylus, the apparition of the Furies in this play was so terribly convincing that women in the audience fled in terror and had miscarriages.  What is the biographer up to?  (Many modern scholars doubt women were allowed by custom to attend the theatre, though this is in debate.)