Study Guide

Libation Bearers Memory and the Past

By Aeschylus

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Memory and the Past

Basically by definition, revenge makes you live in the past and try to make the past present. If you're out for revenge, that means you're preoccupied by a wrong that happened a while ago; thus, Orestes and Electra are both preoccupied with the murder of their father Agamemnon by Clytemnestra. By trying to get payback, you're basically making the past present, as Orestes intends to do by doing the same thing back to Clytemnestra that she did to Agamemnon. There are a number of obvious problems with this idea. Most basic is: What gets solved? If you keep living in the past and making the past present, how does one ever escape from the cycle of revenge? This is one of the big questions that the Oresteia as a whole wants us to ask.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How does the theme of "Memory and the Past" relate to the themes of "Revenge" and "Justice and Judgment"?
  2. In Aeschylus's Agamemnon, the Chorus is a group of old men who fill us in on important details from long before the play begins. In Libation Bearers, the Chorus is a group of slave-women, who are not native to Argos. Although they have some knowledge about the distant past, it is not nearly as detailed as that of the Chorus from Agamemnon. In what way (if any) does this difference in the Chorus's connection to the past affect Libation Bearers as a play?
  3. Because Libation Bearers is Part 2 of a trilogy, we, as the audience, already know some of its past because we have seen it performed, in Part 3. How much does our understanding of Libation Bearers depend upon the knowledge of the past provided to us by Agamemnon? Would the play still make sense if it wasn't part of a trilogy? If so, in what ways (if any) would our interpretation of it be different?
  4. Many characters in this play seem to be living in the past. Are there any characters who are more focused on the future, and would rather forget the past? Who fits into which category (remember, one person could fit into more than one), and why?

Chew on This

The original audience of Libation Bearers would have seen it performed right after Agamemnon. This insight into her and Agamemnon's past would have made them more sympathetic to Clytemnestra than they would have been otherwise.

Libation Bearers shows that knowledge and ignorance about the past are equally dangerous.

Libation Bearers Memory and the Past Study Group

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