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Libation Bearers

Libation Bearers


by Aeschylus

Libation Bearers Family Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.

Quote #4

(Electra): "There is no one except myself who would cut it off."
(Chorus): "No, because those with a duty to offer hair in mourning are enemies."
(Electra): "See here, too! To look at it, this strand seems very like…"
(Chorus): "Whose hair? This is what I want to know."
(Electra): "…my own; it's very close, to look at it."
(Chorus): "You surely don't think this is a secret gift from Orestes?"
(Electra): "It's his hair which it resembles!" (172-176)

The way in which Electra and the Chorus realize that the hair on the tomb belongs to Orestes parallels the two options we came up with for thinking about how Orestes recognizes Electra (family resemblance and behavior). In this case, the two options happen in the reverse order from the way Orestes figures out his sister's identity. First, Electra thinks of behavior appropriate to family relationships, saying that no one except herself would have cut off this lock of hair. Even though the Chorus starts off by saying "No" to her, they are actually agreeing with her; what they mean is, "You're right, no one other than you would have cut off this hair because the only other person who would, Clytemnestra, is Agamemnon's enemy." Then, Aeschylus lets us see the wheels turning in their heads as Electra and the Chorus of women both start thinking that, actually, there IS somebody else who would have been bound by family relationships to behave in this way – Orestes!

Electra and the Chorus come to this conclusion at about the same time; then, Electra takes the next step (what we called Option 2 when talking about Orestes) of connecting the hair with her brother on the basis of family resemblance: "It's his hair which it resembles!" Is there any significance to the fact that Orestes and his sister (and the Chorus) follow similar reasoning, but in a different order?

Quote #5

(Electra): "And I swear it wasn't she, the killer, who cut it off either – yes, my own mother, quite untrue to that name because of the godless thoughts she possesses towards her children. […] Oh! If only it had a voice and intelligence in it, like a messenger, so that I wasn't shaking with uncertainty, and it was quite clear whether to reject this lock of hair, with loathing, if it really has been cut from an enemy's head – or as a kinsman's it could share my sorrow, a glory for this tomb and an honour for my father!" (189-191, 195-200)

Here Electra continues along a similar line of thinking to what we saw in the previous quotation. Now we see that she is still stuck on the question of whether her mother could have been the one to send the lock of hair. Sure, she starts off by saying that it "wasn't she, the killer, who cut it off," but clearly she has her doubts, because a little while later she's still worried about not knowing "whether to reject this lock of hair, with loathing, if it really has been cut from an enemy's head […]." (The "enemy" would have to be either Clytemnestra or Aegisthus.)

In the previous quotation, we saw that Electra finally decided that the lock of hair on the tomb "resembles" that of Orestes. To make that conclusion, she must have decided that the hair resembled either (a) her own hair, (b) that of her mother, (c) that of her dead father, or (d) some combination of these. If Electra can't decide whether the hair belongs to Clytemnestra or not, that means that Clytemnestra's hair must resemble either (a) that of Electra, (b) that of Orestes, or (c) both. (We know this is a little tricky, but it should make sense if you think about it.)

This brings us back to the same basic problem we looked at in the first quotation for this theme: are families based more on resemblances or behavior? It looks like Electra engages with this problem, but doesn't solve it. Sure, her words on the lock of hair argue for "resemblance," but what about when she says that her mother was "quite untrue to that name because of the godless thoughts she possesses towards her children"? That sounds more like behavior is what counts, right? Let's keep an eye on this theme; it will be extremely important for the rest of the play.

Quote #6

(Electra): "Oh! Brutal, you were brutal,
mother, so cruel with the funeral then,
cruel enough to bury the king
with his people not there, your husband
without mourning, with no lament!" (429-433)

Here, Electra continues to criticize her mother for not acting in accordance with appropriate family behavior. Not only did Clytemnestra violate the appropriate behavior of a wife by killing her husband, she didn't even throw him a proper funeral either. Yikes.

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