Libation Bearers Religion Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
(Orestes): "Pray for the future and success! Tell the gods, your prayers are now fulfilled!" (Electra): "Why, what help am I getting thanks to the gods at this moment?" (Orestes): "You have come in sight of the very persons you were praying for just now." (Electra): "And which among men was I calling for? How can you be aware of him?" (Orestes): "I am aware that you are wonderfully intent upon Orestes." (Electra): "And just how have I obtained my prayers?" (Orestes): "Here: here I am! Seek for no one more dear to you than me." (212-219)
Orestes has just been listening in on Electra's prayers, in which she asked the gods and the spirit of Agamemnon to bring him home. Now, when he makes himself known, Orestes acts as if Electra's prayers were fulfilled. Is he joking or being serious? If he's joking, is that an insult to the gods?
(Orestes): "Zeus, Zeus! Observe our circumstances here! See the brood bereft of their eagle father, killed in the twisted coils of a dreadful viper! Starving hunger presses hard on the orphans, for they are not grown enough to bring a father's prey to the nest. This is the state in which you can see myself and her, I mean Electra, children deprived of their father, both of us in the same exile from our house. If you destroy these nestlings of the father who made the famous sacrifice and did you great honour, where will you get the tribute of rich feasting from such a hand as this? You could never again send mankind trustworthy signs if you destroyed the eagle's nestlings, just as the royal root-stock, once it is all withered, will not help at your altars on days of ox-sacrifice." (246-263)
Now we see that mortals have some power over the gods. Here, Orestes is actually threatening Zeus, saying, "You better help us out, otherwise no more sacrifices for you." Although this sounds kind of funny to us, it isn't that different from the typical way in which the ancient Greeks related to their gods. This relationship was usually understood as being based on contracts, otherwise known as the concept of "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Typically, the gods were asked to perform services for mortals; in return, mortals offered them prayers and promised them various sacrifices.
(Orestes): "Father, your death was not kingly; grant me now I ask it the power over your house." (Electra): "Father, I too have such a request from you, to escape from great [misery] by inflicting it on Aegisthus." (Orestes): "Yes, because if this were so, men would establish regular banquets for you; otherwise you will be without honour beside those who feast well when the earth gets its savoury burnt sacrifices." (479-485)
Here we see more hero-cult-type behavior in action (see our note on the third quotation from this section), this time combined with the sort of "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" thinking that we saw in the previous quotation. Orestes tells the spirit of his dad Agamemnon that he'll offer feasts and other goodies in his honor, if he just gets some help with his revenge project.