Study Guide

Libation Bearers Gender

By Aeschylus

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When Libation Bearers begins, the conservative gender norms of the ancient Greek world have already been violated. Clytemnestra, a woman, is in power along with her new boy-toy, Aegisthus, who everybody thinks is a wimp because he stayed home from the war. Many of the other characters express a determination to put an end to the ruling couple's violations of gender norms. Orestes is disgusted with what he sees as Aegisthus's effeminacy, while Electra prays to the spirit of her father to make her more "chaste" (141) than her mother. Notions of what is appropriate and inappropriate for women come to the forefront during Orestes's final debate with his mother. There, Orestes acts as a hardline defender of traditional, patriarchal values, with all the double standards they imply, while Clytemnestra defends a more liberal approach that sees things from a woman's point of view. Who wins the argument? Is it the same person who wins by force?

Questions About Gender

  1. Which character in Libation Bearers poses the biggest challenge to traditional gender roles?
  2. Which generation in Libation Bearers is more conservative in its approach to gender: the older generation or the younger one?
  3. At some points in the play, Orestes utters opinions that seem sexist or even misogynistic. Does the play encourage us to accept any of these opinions as legitimate? If it encourages us to accept any of them, does it encourage us to accept all of them? Do Orestes's views pose a challenge for modern readers in coming to grips with the play?
  4. Who is a stronger female character, Clytemnestra or Electra?

Chew on This

Even though he criticizes Aegisthus and Clytemnestra for violating traditional gender roles, Orestes does not live up to his own standard of maleness.

Electra and Clytemnestra are equally strong characters, even though they take opposite approaches to the issue of gender.

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