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Libation Bearers

Libation Bearers

by Aeschylus

Gender Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

(Electra): "That Orestes may come here through some fortune is my prayer to you; and you must hear me, father! Grant me also to be much more chaste than my mother, and my hands to have greater piety." (129-131, 138-141)

As you may remember from Agamemnon (if you've read it, that is), Clytemnestra gets roundly blamed for not conforming to traditional gender roles. Part of this stems from the fact that she is not faithful to her husband while he is off fighting at Troy. (Now, you might just say that it's bad for anybody to cheat on their spouse, but the thing is that Agamemnon also sleeps around, but nobody seems to have a problem with that.) In contrast, Electra wishes to be virtuous, which for her means adhering to stricter norms of female conduct.

Quote #2

(Orestes): "Many desires are falling together into one; there are the gods' commands, and my great grief for my father; besides, it oppresses me to be deprived of my property, so that our citizens, who have the finest glory among men, and honour for their heart in sacking Troy, should not be subjects like this of a pair of women. Why, the man is effeminate at heart; and if he is not, he shall soon find out!" (299-305)

These lines by Orestes also bring back echoes of Agamemnon, the first play in the Oresteia. There, Aegisthus was often derided for being unmanly because he stayed home while others fought at Troy, and, eventually, because he used deception (and relied on Clytemnestra) in his plot against Agamemnon instead of fighting face-to-face as a man was expected to. In Agamemnon, the idea got floated that Clytemnestra was somewhat manly because of her mental power and ability to take charge. Orestes doesn't use that idea here. He instead expresses his horror at the idea that Argos should be ruled by two women – Aegisthus and his mother Clytemnestra. This is not the only time in the play when Orestes expresses what could be regarded as misogynistic sentiments. Can you think of others?

Quote #3

(Chorus): "Now take your friends through the rest, ordering action for some, and for others to do nothing."
(Orestes): "It's simply said: Electra here is to go inside [a line missing]." (552-554)

It seems oddly appropriate that a line is missing in the manuscript at this point. That's because there doesn't really seem to be much for Electra to do. Whereas Orestes takes charge and plays an active role, he orders his sister simply to keep quiet and wait things out. In fact, once she heads inside shortly after these lines, she disappears for the rest of the play. In the contrast between the roles of Orestes and Electra, who are otherwise so similar in their feelings (and even in their physiques – they have the same shoe size, remember), we see traditional Greek gender roles in action.

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