Study Guide

The Eumenides Family

By Aeschylus

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You might have to watch something family-positive (Parenthood? Modern Family?) after reading The Eumenides. The trial of Orestes hinges on an argument—put forth by Apollo—that mothers are just incubators for their children and aren't necessarily related to them. The god says that the father is the only real parent.

What might be the consequences for society if Apollo's sexist views on childbirth became widespread? Well, if only parents are fathers, the importance of the family unit decreases as a whole. And by decreasing the importance of other family members and increasing the power of men as fathers, Apollo's argument paves the way for the patriarchal rule by a council of men that is established at the play's finish.

Questions About Family

  1. There are numerous moments in the play when characters get into questions of who is related to whom "by blood." But do family-relations in the play exist only "by blood"? If there are other types of family relationships, how do they fit into the scheme of things in The Eumenides?
  2. Why is the theme of generational conflict so important to the play?
  3. Is there any similarity between a city such as Athens (as it is described in the play) and a family? In thinking about this question, you might want to compare the descriptions of cities in The Eumenides with descriptions of households from the other plays in the Oresteia trilogy.

Chew on This

Aeschylus uses the motif of generational conflict as a way of shedding light on historical change.

The city of Athens, which is dominated by men, resembles the family structure of the end of the play, when the family has been reinterpreted so that only fathers are parents. The city is different from the family structure of the beginning of the play, in which mothers and fathers are equally considered parents, and thus (to some degree) are both in control.

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