Orestes, Electra, and the Eumenides — these characters come from the same story in Greek mythology. Orestes was the only son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon and brother of Electra and Iphigenia. After the murder of Agamemnon by Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, Orestes — who was still a boy — was sent to live in exile. Since it was the duty of the senior male in the house to punish the murderers, Orestes was commanded by Apollo to avenge the crime. With the assistance of Electra and his friend Pylades, Orestes killed his mother and her lover. After this he was haunted by the Furies (Erinyes) until he reached Athens. He was tried and acquitted by the Areopagus, the tribunal of Athenian judges. Not all the Furies accepted the verdict; to win full expiation from his crime, he was told to steal the sacred image of Artemis from Tauris. At Tauris he was reunited with Iphigenia and with her assistance stole the image and safely returned to Greece. It is said that he later married Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus and Helen.

The Furies were the three daughters of Mother Earth, conceived from the blood of Uranus when Kronos castrated him. They were powerful godesses who personified conscience and punished crimes against kindred blood, especially matricide. They were usually represented as winged women with serpent hair. Their names were Megaera [jealous], Tisiphone [blood avenger], and Alecto [unceasing in pursuit]. When called upon to act, they hounded their victims until they died of madness or in torment. In the myth of Orestes they appear as Clytemnestra's agents of revenge. After Athena absolved Orestes of guilt in the murder of his mother, she gave the Furies a grotto at Athens where they received sacrifices and libations, and became known as the Eumenides (the kindly ones)


Victorian Overview Before  Victoria Thomas DeQuincey

Last modified 22 January 2002