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Chorus of Slave Women in “Libation Bearers” Essay

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Updated: Dec 2nd, 2021

Aeschylus, who is believed to be one of the most prominent Greek playwrights, changes the functions of chorus in his tragedies. First, it is worth mentioning that the chorus is an inseparable part of any ancient tragedy, but it can play different parts. As a rule, it acts as a guide of the audience, which makes the reader or the spectator form a certain conclusion. In addition to that, ancient dramaturges tried to make this collective character socially diverse, which means that it consisted of people belonging to various layers of society. Aeschylus tragedies “Oresteia” and particularly “the Libation Bearers” drastically differ from this distinct pattern.

First, it should be taken into account that “Libation Bearers” is composed of slave women. Furthermore, traditionally, in ancient tragedies, the chorus never interacts with other characters; on the contrary, they only express the authors opinion. In his turn, Aeschylus transforms these people from passive observers (or renderers of the playwright’s beliefs) into active participants, who might easily affect the behavior of the main characters. To a certain degree, the chorus in the authors tragedies is the orthodox views or public onion, but it implicitly conveys Aeschyluss ideas.

Moreover, the chorus often utters prophetic words, particularly these women they foretell the death of Clytemnestra, though in a very implicit manner. The main message that Aeschylus wants to convey through them is cruelty and violence always create a vicious circle, which is almost impossible to break. These women warn Orestes (though in a very implicit manner) by saying that any person who unsheathes his “sword” may die from this very sword (Aeschylus, 184).

This is one of the main ideas of Aeschylus tragedy. The author stresses this idea throughout the play, especially through the chorus; for instance slave women say

“It is the law: when the blood of slaughter.
Wets the ground it wants more blood” (Aeschylus, 195)

One should take into consideration that primarily, these words are addresses to Orestes, urging him to avenge, to sill the blood, but they also represent the main idea of this text.

Nevertheless, Orestes follows the advice or even urges of the chorus and revenge his fathers death on Clytemnestra, his mother. The continuity of evil is noticeable in the development of the plot. It is also quite possible for us to say that there is a certain inconsistency in the actions of the chorus. On the one hand, they warn Orestes that evil can beget only evil. However, they also do not want to prevent him from committing this murder. In fact, these women even assist Orestes, for they believe that he implements the will of Olympic gods.

Apart from that, at the outset of the play, the chorus expresses quite different views; particularly, slave women say that the Agamemnon must be prevented. They are firmly convinced that Clytemnestra deserves death for the slaughter of her husband and even master, to be more exact. It should be taken into account that this chorus is composed of slave women, and Agamemnon was the owner and master. Therefore they believe that Clytemnestra should have been as loyal to Agamemnon as they are. In the opening lines, the chorus says that the revenge will be an act of “justice” (Aeschylus, 182).

.The chorus induces Orestes to kill his mother, though he still may harbor some doubts about the morality or immorality of such action, they say Clytemnestra “made Orestes life a hell” (Aeschylus, 196). Actually, such conduct can be termed as instigation. Only when the main character kills his mother is the chorus content, for they believe that it is a triumph of justice over evil. Nevertheless, they soon understand that they are gravely mistaken in their judgment because Orestes is pursued by the Furies, or goddesses of vengeance, who want Orestes to pay for matricide. Again, we may speak about the continuity of evil. At the very start, the chorus predicts it, but these slave women do it almost subconsciously.

Additionally, through the chorus, the author proves that people should never be firmly convinced of their rectitude. The slave women view the revenge only as of the fulfillment of Gods will, though it does not even occur to them that this murder may eventually incur their wrath. The chorus regrets Orestes action only when they see that he is punished by Erinyes, but they appear to have no compassion for Clytemnestra, his mother.

Therefore, it is quite possible for us to arrive at the following conclusions: first, in Aeschylus play, the chorus does not only guides the spectator or reader but influences the behavior of other characters as well. On the one hand, the chorus renders the authors opinion, but on the other, it represents views typical of that period. Its actions contradict each other because these women warn Orestes against the murder, and at the same time, they compel him to revenge upon his mother. The main idea that Aeschylus renders through the chorus is the continuity of evil, which can beget only evil. Apart from that, the chorus exemplifies the erroneousness of human nature.


Aeschylus, Robert Fagles, William Bedell Stanford. “The Oresteia” Penguin Classics, 1984.

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