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The Flies

The Flies


by Jean-Paul Sartre

Zeus Timeline and Summary

  • Zeus tiptoes around in the background, trying to spy on Orestes and the Tutor.
  • The men comment on his appearance; the Tutor thinks his beard looks like that of Zeus and that it's odd that they've seen this guy so frequently on their travels.
  • Finally Zeus approaches and introduces himself as Demetrios, from Athens. He gives them a run-down of the history of Argos, noting Orestes's reaction at the mention of King Agamemnon.
  • They debate whether or not the gods should have intervened in the name of divine justice.
  • Zeus gives Orestes "hypothetical" advice to leave Argos, which Orestes seems prepared to take.
  • Zeus departs and returns some time later, ready to escort Orestes out of Argos.
  • But by now, Orestes has spent some time with Electra and decided to stay in Argos.
  • In that case, says Zeus, he'd like to act as a guide for the young man.
  • Zeus alludes to the story of Mentor (Athena) and Telemachus, which is a big flashing "I'm a god" sign.
  • Zeus accompanies Orestes to the Ceremony of the Dead and restrains him when he moves to intervene.
  • When Electra pulls her rebel act and asks for a sign, Zeus obliges and smashes the large boulder into the temple steps below her.
  • Later, he points out the outcome of the afternoon to Orestes as an example: the good were rewarded while the bad were punished, he says.
  • In the throne room, while Orestes and Electra are in hiding, Zeus converses with Aegisthus. He wants the King to throw the two in jail to prevent the crime.
  • He explains the difference between the two murders (Agamemnon's fifteen years ago, and the one that might be committed soon).
  • The gods like repentance and atonement, and a remorseless crime is no good to them.
  • Because Orestes will feel no remorse, Zeus would rather keep Aegisthus in power. This is also the reason for his condoning the murder fifteen years ago.
  • Zeus adds that he committed the first crime when he chose to make man mortal; he essentially murdered everyone by doing so.
  • This means that, when men kill each other, they aren't so much murdering as hastening an inevitable death.
  • Agamemnon, for instance, would have died a few months later anyway of natural causes.
  • This conversation moves to the topic of freedom. Zeus believes Orestes is dangerous because he knows he is free.
  • Once a man is conscious of his freedom, Zeus explains, the gods are powerless against him. That is why he needs Aegisthus to act.
  • They two kings also discuss the similarities they share as rulers.
  • Both act in order to instill and preserve order, both are slaves to their images, and both have a hard time differentiating between who they really are and the awesome, fearsome image their subjects hold of them.
  • Lastly, both men share a burden – the burden of knowing that man is free.
  • Zeus again commands Aegisthus to prevent the murder, and then exits.
  • Later that night, Zeus shows up at the temple of Apollo and calls the furies off Electra.
  • He admits that he is torn between compassion and anger, and he offers the siblings the chance to cut a deal. If they spend their lives repenting, and he'll instill them in the throne of Argos.
  • Zeus proceeds to fight with Orestes over Electra.
  • While Orestes encourages his sister to own up to her actions, Zeus encourages a flight into bad faith.
  • Zeus tries to convince Electra that she never really wanted the royal couple dead in the first place, and that it wasn't really her fault this all happened.
  • Then he and Orestes really start going at it.
  • Zeus gets into his "I'm a God and you're a puny mortal" routine by splitting apart the walls of the temple and putting on a solid lightning show.
  • But Orestes isn't impressed.
  • Zeus might be the king of the universe, but he is not the king of man. He made a mistake in making man free.
  • This leads into a debate as to the nature of freedom. Zeus thinks it's ridiculous for a man exiled and clinging to a safe haven to flaunt his freedom.
  • Orestes makes it clear that freedom is a state of mind. Even a slave on the cross is free.
  • Zeus admits that he's beaten and leaves Orestes alone.
  • However, the god does manage to get Electra on his side before he leaves.