The Eumenides

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Athena Character Analysis

The goddess of wisdom, civilization, justice, and skill, and a daughter of Zeus. Athena is the patron of Athens and the judge in Orestes’ trial. She strives for justice, but at the same time feels a duty to protect her city. In contrast to the raging Furies and the often arrogant Apollo, Athena is a voice of reason and clarity. She does not believe in vengeance, and displays diplomacy and thoughtfulness at all times.

Athena Quotes in The Eumenides

The The Eumenides quotes below are all either spoken by Athena or refer to Athena. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Eumenides published in 1975.
Lines 235-566 Quotes

Queen Athena,
Under Apollo’s orders I have come.
Receive me kindly. Curst and an outcast,
No suppliant for purging…my hands are clean.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Athena, Apollo
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 232-235
Explanation and Analysis:

Having reached Athens and the temple of Athena, Orestes begs the goddess to shelter him from the avenging Furies. His prayer illustrates his deep faith in both Apollo and Athena, demonstrating the immense power of the gods over human life within this play—and presenting Orestes as a worthy hero because of his piety. 

Orestes' claim that his "hands are clean," meanwhile, allows us to understand that Orestes does not view himself as guilty of his mother's murder. He has followed divine orders, and carried out what he believes to be justice, and is therefore free of sin or corruption. At the same time, however, Orestes considers himself to be unfairly "curst" by the actions of the Furies. 

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Two sides are here, and only half is heard.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), Orestes, The Furies
Page Number: 440
Explanation and Analysis:

The Furies and Orestes turn to Athena for judgement, and the goddess agrees to hear both sides of the story. Her measured, balanced language contrasts with that of the Furies, who utterly reject logic and moderation. Athena also differs from Apollo, who is clearly biased in Orestes' favor.

In short, in both her language and her actions, Athena exemplifies justice personified. She is determined to render a fair judgment, and will do so by learning as much as she can about both the Furies' and Orestes' points of view. More broadly, Athena's logic and fairness represent the system of values that sit at the core of the city of Athens (as the Athenian Aeschylus portrays it). A city known for its enlightenment and intellect, Athens here represents a place where justice and reason will always prevail. 

ATHENA: …you are set
On the name of justice rather than the act.

LEADER: How? Teach us. You have a genius for refinements.

ATHENA: Injustice, I mean, should never triumph thanks to oaths.

LEADER: Then examine him yourself, judge him fairly.

ATHENA: You would turn over responsibility to me,
To reach the final verdict?

LEADER: Certainly.
We respect you. You show us respect.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), The Furies (speaker), Orestes
Page Number: 442-449
Explanation and Analysis:

The Furies try to convince Athena that they are in the right, but she quickly explains to them that she is interested in justice rather than simply shows of justice. Flattered that the goddess has shown them "respect," the Furies agree to abide by whatever she decides.

This moment is a crucial one within the play. Up until now, the Furies have remained convinced that only they can decide Orestes' fate. Impressed and placated by Athena, however, they have given that power over to her. In essence, the Furies--embodiments of vengeance--have acknowledged the authority of Athena, an embodiment of (relatively) unbiased justice. This shift from vengeance to justice will continue to gain momentum as the play continues, and parallels Aeschylus' praise of the ideals of Athens itself.

But were we just or not? Judge us now.
My fate is in your hands. Stand or fall
I shall accept your verdict.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Athena
Page Number: 482-484
Explanation and Analysis:

With the Furies having agreed to accept Athena's verdict, Orestes does the same. Up until now, he has maintained his innocence. Now, however, he admits that perhaps he and Apollo were wrong to seek Clytemnestra's death, and leaves it up to Athena to decide. With Orestes' agreement, the trial begins, and Athena becomes a judge. 

As this passage makes clear, the shift from vengeance to justice is rapidly occurring. The Furies, agents of vengeance, have agreed to follow Athena's judgement, and Orestes, who himself has carried out bloody vengeance, has done the same, even admitting that his original act may have been wrong.

Embrace the one? Expel the other? It defeats me.
I will appoint the judges of manslaughter,
Swear them in, and found a tribunal here
For all time to come.
My contestants,
Summon your trusted witnesses and proofs,
Your defenders under oath to help your cause.
And I will pick the finest men of Athens,
Return and decide the issue fairly, truly—
Bound to our oaths, our spirits bent on justice.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), Orestes, The Furies
Page Number: 496-505
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Athena is the all-powerful goddess of wisdom, she admits that she alone cannot decide whether Orestes or the Furies are correct. Instead, she decides to create a trial by jury--in Greek myth, the first trial by jury to ever take place, setting a precedent "for all time to come."

The action that Athena takes here is emblematic of Athenian values. Athenians believed in justice, but also found the ideas of community and democracy to be equally important. Even though Athena is the patron goddess of the city, she still does not consider herself entitled to judge Orestes' fate. This decision illustrates Athena's fairness and rationality, while also emphasizing the importance of central Athenian values. 

Lines 567-1043 Quotes

And now
If you would hear my law, you men of Greece,
You who will judge the first trial of bloodshed.
Now and forever more, for Aegeus’ people
This will be the court where judges reign.

Here from the heights, terror and reverence,
My people’s kindred powers
Will hold them from injustice through the day
And through the mild night.

Untouched by lust for spoil, this court of law
Majestic, swift to fury, rising above you
As you sleep, our night watch always wakeful,
Guardian of our land—I found it here and now.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker)
Page Number: 692-721
Explanation and Analysis:

Before the Athenian judges cast their lots in the case of Orestes v. the Furies, Athena notes the historic importance of this moment. She decrees that she has founded the first ever trial-by-jury court in history, and that Athens will be a city of justice and fairness forevermore.

It's vital to remember that The Eumenides is a deeply nationalistic piece, as well as a religious one; at its heart is not simply loyalty to the gods, but also loyalty to the city of Athens. In writing the play, Aeschylus seeks not only to tell a compelling story, but to explain how Athens became the pinnacle of reason and civilization that it was in his day.

The Eumenides tells the story of justice overcoming vengeance, and is also the origin story of Athens. This fair and enlightened city is embodied both by Athena and her judges, whom the audience members and readers are meant to see as paragons of virtue and wisdom. 

Beware. Our united force can break your land.
Never wound our pride, I tell you, never.

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Athena
Page Number: 726-727
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Athenian judges begin to cast their impartial votes, the Furies attempt to sway the outcome of the trial, threatening to "break" Athens if the verdict doesn't go their way. This moment illustrates how little the Furies understand justice. Although they believe that they are in fact carrying out just punishments, their attempt to tip the scales in their favor through violence and threats shows that they are not in fact agents of justice.

Further, the Furies' threat here is essentially a threat of vengeance--if Athenian citizens insult them, then the goddesses will "break" Athens itself. As readers, we now fully comprehend how opposed vengeance actually is to justice. In this moment, the Furies have actually set up vengeance as an obstacle to justice, demonstrating how invested they are in the former at the expense of the latter. 

Orestes,
I will cast my lot for you.
No mother gave me birth.
I honour the male, in all things but marriage.
Yes, with all my heart I am my Father’s child.
I cannot set more store by the woman’s death—
She killed her husband, guardian of their house.
Even if the vote is equal, Orestes wins.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), Orestes, The ghost of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Zeus
Page Number: 750-756
Explanation and Analysis:

With the jury split down the middle, Athena casts the deciding vote for Orestes. Greek myth has it that the goddess was born from her father Zeus' head, hence her statement that, "No mother gave me birth." Although she is a woman, Athena still believes that children belong to their fathers, and views men as the dominant gender.

Given these facts, Apollo's argument--that a father matters more to a child than a mother--has been successful, and Orestes wins. Although modern readers may view this reasoning as appallingly sexist, ancient audiences would have approved of it as traditional and correct.

It is important, too, that Athena casts the dividing vote in the trial. The Athenian court is as even-handed as the justice that it serves: blind and impartial. They have clearly understood the difficulties of the case, and it is up to Athena, a god, to make the final decision. The brand-new Athenian court is a fair and balanced one.

You, you younger gods!—
You have ridden down
The ancient laws, wrenched them from my grasp—
And I, robbed of my birthright, suffering, great with wrath,
I loose my poison over the soil, aieee!
Poison to match my grief comes pouring out my heart,
Cursing the land to burn it sterile and now
Rising up from its roots a cancer blasting leaf and child,
Now for Justice, Justice!—cross the face of the earth
The bloody tide comes hurling, all mankind destroyed.

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Athena, Apollo
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 820-828
Explanation and Analysis:

Learning that they have lost the trial, the Furies launch into a horrifying and vengeful rant, vowing to pay back all those who have wronged them. In reality, the ancient goddesses are terrified. In losing the trial, they have essentially lost their identity--unable to punish someone whom they believe deserves vengeance, they have been robbed of their purpose in life. The only recourse, in their understanding of the world, is to wreak vengeance on those who have decided against them. They are essentially portrayed as being unwilling to admit that they have been usurped by the "younger gods" and the polis of Athens itself.

Once again, the Furies imply that since vengeance has been thwarted, justice has as well. They truly do not understand that the two concepts are different, and can even exist in opposition to each other. Rather than understanding that in this instance justice has defeated vengeance, the Furies instead believe that justice on earth has come to an end, and destruction is near. 

And now you’d vent your anger, hurt the land?
Consider a moment. Calm yourself. Never
Render us barren, raining your potent showers
Down like spears, consuming every seed.
By all my rights I promise you your seat
In the depths of earth, yours by all rights—
Stationed at hearths equipped with glistening thrones,
Covered with praise! My people will revere you.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), The Furies
Page Number: 812-819
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Athenian court has rendered a verdict against the Furies, Athena seeks to appease the older goddesses, begging them not to harm Athens. Forever wise and rational, Athena offers the Furies an alternative to taking vengeance on her city, promising that if they do not, she will make them honored, patron goddesses.

This passage shows Athena's devotion to her city, as well as her deep understanding of the Furies. Despite having voted against them in the trial, Athena clearly sees that the Furies have been stripped of their purpose in life. By offering them the position of patron goddesses of Athens, she is essentially offering them a new role in the world. Instead of being feared and despised, they will instead be revered and worshipped.

This is the life I offer,
It is yours to take.
Do great things, feel greatness, greatly honoured.
Share this country cherished by the gods.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), The Furies
Page Number: 876-878
Explanation and Analysis:

In order to appease the enraged Furies after they have lost in court, Athena offers them a place as patron goddesses of Athens. Ever tactful and insightful, Athena offers the Furies a chance to leave behind their identity as despised and feared agents of vengeance. Instead, she prophecies that they will be honored, and will do great things for Athens.

The story of The Eumenides, we must remember, is also the story of the rise of Athens. As patron goddesses, Athenian citizens believed, the Furies gave the city prosperity and greatness which helped it rise to the pinnacle of the known Greek world. Thus by showing how the Furies came to love and protect Athens (and in doing so became the Eumenides, "the kindly ones"), Aeschylus is also illustrating how Athens' rise to greatness began. 

Your magic is working…I can feel the hate,
The fury slip away…

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Athena
Page Number: 908-909
Explanation and Analysis:

Trying to protect her city, Athena works to entice the Furies away from their vengeful plan, and to convince them to become patron goddesses of Athens. Although they are initially skeptical and hostile, the Furies gradually come to accept Athena's offer.

This passage is a crucial one, as the Furies finally let go of their identities as wrathful goddesses of vengeance, instead becoming kindly deities of protection. The feeling of their fury "slip[ping] away" is a kind of transformation as they exchange one identity for the other. Officially, they have now changed from the Erinyes (furies) to the Eumenides (kindly ones).

I will embrace
One home with you, Athena,
Never fail the city

Spirit of Athens, hear my words, my prayer,
Like a prophet’s warm and kind,
That the rare good things of life
Come rising crest on crest,
Sprung from the rich black earth and
Gleaming with the bursting flash of sun.

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Athena
Page Number: 927-938
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Furies sing a prayer for Athens' prosperity, the play begins to come to a close. While before these goddesses were barren monsters of vengeance, now they sing a chant of fertility, harvest, and peace. Through Athena's generous offer and kind words, the Furies have essentially transformed. Although robbed of their identities as embodiments of vengeance, they have instead found different roles in this new world of justice, reason, and hope.

It is vital to note that this play ends with a prayer for the prosperity of Athens. Plays in Ancient Greece were exercises in both piety and nationalism, and with this scene, Aeschylus touches on both topics. He depicts the full extent of the gods' power and generosity, while also praising and praying for Athens, his home city.

Do you hear how Fury sounds her blessings forth,
How Fury finds the way?
Shining out of the terror of their faces
I can see great gains for you, my people.
Hold them kindly, kind as they are to you.
Exalt them always, you exalt your land,
Your city straight and just –
Its light goes through the world.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), The Furies
Page Number: 997-1004
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play draws to a close, Athena sums up what has happened: the Furies have ceased to be, and in their places are the Eumenides, kindly goddesses who will help Athens to attain greatness and fame. Athena's prophecy would have been tremendously moving for Aeschylus' audiences, who truly believed themselves to be living in a city blessed and protected by the goddess of wisdom.

It is also important to understand the references to justice that Athena makes within this passage. She clearly understands that huge "gains" have been made within this play, and urges her people to continue to act justly and fairly, as she has taught them to do. If they follow her command, she says, then Athens will prove a "light" that will shine "through the world," providing an example of dignity and fairness to all other nations. 

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Athena Character Timeline in The Eumenides

The timeline below shows where the character Athena appears in The Eumenides. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-63
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
The Power of the Polis Theme Icon
...Apollo, along with Zeus, for bringing civilization to a savage land. She also prays to Athena, the goddess of wisdom; Dionysus, the god of revelry and wine; and Poseidon, the god... (full context)
Lines 64-234
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
The Power of the Polis Theme Icon
...men. He urges Orestes to continue running from them until he reaches the citadel of Athena in Athens. The goddess Athena will then judge his case and decide whether or not... (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
...lack of respect for marriage, calling their hunt for Orestes “unjust” and telling them that Athena will determine Orestes’ guilt. The Furies, in response, say that they will never let Orestes... (full context)
Lines 235-566
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
The Power of the Polis Theme Icon
...to the Acropolis, the main square of Athens, where Orestes kneels before the shrine of Athena and prays for her to shield him from the Furies. He explains that Apollo has... (full context)
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Familial Bonds Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
...and how he can feel his mother’s blood fading from his hands. He calls upon Athena once again, asking her to come in peace and save him from the wrath of... (full context)
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Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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The leader of the Furies spits back that neither Apollo nor Athena will be able to save Orestes. She waits for him to reply, but he prays... (full context)
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Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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Athena enters, armed for combat, and sees Orestes and the Furies at her altar. She asks... (full context)
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Athena then turns to Orestes, asking him to tell her his story, and whether he has... (full context)
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Athena contemplates the difficult decision before her: on one hand, she acknowledges that Orestes has come... (full context)
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After Athena exits, the chorus of Furies begins to worry that Orestes will be found innocent. They... (full context)
Lines 567-1043
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The scene shifts to a court within Athens. Athena enters, along with the ten citizens whom she has chosen as members of the jury.... (full context)
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Orestes enters, and Athena directs him to the Stone of Outrage. The Furies enter, and Athena places them at... (full context)
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Apollo enters, and Athena questions why he is there. Apollo responds that he has come as a witness for... (full context)
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The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
Proclaiming that the trial has begun, Athena offers the Furies—the “prosecution”—the first speech. The leader of the Furies starts to question Orestes,... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
...Zeus would care more about a father’s murder than a mother’s. They remind Apollo and Athena that Zeus defeated his own father, Kronos, in order to gain control over Mt. Olympus. (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
...He goes on to say that a father can create children without a mother, using Athena (who famously was born out of Zeus’s head) as an example. He then attempts to... (full context)
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Athena asks the Furies if they have anything else to say, and they respond that they... (full context)
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Athena comes forward to cast her ballot, and announces that she has been swayed in Orestes’... (full context)
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The votes have been counted, and the lots are equal— therefore, Athena announces, Orestes will go free. Overwhelmed, Orestes cries that Athena has saved his house, and... (full context)
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The diplomatic Athena, however, has another solution. She reminds the Furies that they are not disgraced, as the... (full context)
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Too wrathful to hear Athena’s words, the Furies again curse the younger gods for their lack of respect for “the... (full context)
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...humiliated by their disgrace, calling out to their mother Night for their lost, ancient powers. Athena, however, speaks to them respectfully, telling the Furies that they are older and wiser than... (full context)
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As the Furies repeat their lament once more, Athena again tells them that they are gifted and valuable, and that she respects them. She... (full context)
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Interested at last, the leader of the Furies asks Athena if she will really share her home with them. The goddess responds that no home... (full context)
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The Furies continue their prayer, promising fertility and prosperity for the land of Athens. Athena praises the blessings of the Furies and commands all Athenians to do the same. The... (full context)
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...war will never touch Athens, and that only joy and love will rule the city. Athena is overjoyed that even these embodiments of rage can be transformed, and urges her citizens... (full context)
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...they will be offered gifts and sacrifices. The Furies sing the praises of Athens and Athena, and imagine the prayers and reverence that they will receive. Athena’s entourage brings forward crimson... (full context)