Article Title

Orestes and the Light of Day


Robert S. Miola


The paradoxes of Orestes are further discussed in relation to Macbeth’s in this article. In Aeschylus’ss Agamemnon the Chorus will not grant to Aegisthus the title he has earned, τύραννος (1633, tyrant), here meaning ruler as well as usurper; they ask, Ὀρέστης ἆρά που βλέπει φάος (1646, does Orestes somewhere see the light of day?). The question haunts Aeschylus’ss Agamemnon and Choephoroi as the tyrant fears retribution for Agamemnon’s murder from Orestes, the revenger who will slay the tyrant, or tyrants, if one includes Clytemnestra. This paper explores the figure of Orestes as he appears in these plays, which dramatize the inscrutable, often contradictory, dictates of the gods. The exploration provides revealing points of comparison and contrast to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, wherein the tyrant must fear Duncan’s orphaned son, Malcolm, who leads the English army into Scotland. But Shakespeare transforms this fear and the revenge action, assigning the retribution finally to a very different figure, Macduff. And he complicates the ancient myth further by portraying Lady Macbeth as a transfigured Clytemnestra, as another queen-mother who orchestrates the killing of the king and then suffers terrible, but radically different, retribution. The tragedy of Macbeth, moreover, occurs in a world far apart from that of the Atrean house; characters in this play live and die in a Christianized moral universe, where evil forces confront an almighty and omniscient God.

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