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Libation Bearers

Libation Bearers


by Aeschylus

Libation Bearers Fate and Free Will Quotes

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

Quote #1

(Chorus): "And for myself – because the gods brought
my city its fate by siege, and from my father's house
led me into the lot of a slave – ,
right or wrong, it is proper I accept
a rule over my life in violence to my heart,
and conquer my bitter loathing […]." (75-81)

The Chorus of serving women here use the word "fate" and they talk about something like "free will," but not in the way you might expect. Although elsewhere in the Oresteia you'll find a more exalted, divine notion of fate, here they might just mean the word in a more colloquial sense, as in "what happened to" their city of origin. (Whether "what happens to" or the "fate" of an individual city is dependent on the designs of more high-and-mighty, divine FATE is another question entirely.) Also, when they're talking about limitations on their free will, they don't mean in the highfalutin, cosmic sense of whether everything in the universe is determined in advance. Instead, they just mean that their free will is constricted because they are now slaves, subordinated to the domination of other (mortal) masters. Why do you think Aeschylus chose to emphasize the fact that the Chorus women are slaves and thus constricted in this manner?

Quote #2

(Electra): "Share the responsibility for this decision, my friends; why, inside the house we share hatred as a habit! Don't keep things hidden in your heart through fear of anyone: what is destined waits for the free as well as for those subjected to another's hand." (100-104)

These words by Electra provide an interesting contrast to the quotation above. Here Electra says, "Sure, you guys are slaves, but that doesn't really matter in the great scheme of things: what counts is destiny." So, basically, she is saying that the high-and-mighty, divine kind of FATE is really what calls the shots. Do you accept Electra's interpretation? Or is it still relevant to consider that she is "free" and the women of the Chorus are enslaved? Think about the play as a whole: does the fact that they are enslaved mean that the Chorus women have no agency?

Quote #3

(Orestes): "Are not such oracles to be trusted? Even if I do not trust them, the deed has to be done." (297-298)

Let's break down what Orestes is saying here. The oracle of Apollo that he is referring to has told him that if he doesn't avenge his father's death, he will suffer horrible consequences. On the other hand, if he does avenge his father's death, he will also suffer horrible consequences. But then Orestes says that, even if he doesn't believe that oracle, he still has to avenge his father. As things turn out, Orestes does get revenge for Agamemnon, and he does suffer horrible consequences (the whole going crazy and running off to Delphi bit). Does this mean that the oracle was true? If so, does that mean that what happened was destined to happen and, if so, does that mean that there's no free will? Or was it all just coincidence? But what's coincidence?

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