The Eumenides

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The Furies Character Analysis

Ancient goddesses of vengeance, the Furies (or Erinyes) pursue and punish those who have sworn false oaths or betrayed sacred laws. In The Eumenides, they seek to punish Orestes for having killed his mother, Clytemnestra. They are monstrous to behold, and frequently work themselves up into fits of rage. Envious of the power and prestige that the Olympian gods possess (the Furies are of an “older generation” of gods), the Furies seek to protect their right to avenge. At the end of The Eumenides, Athena uses a mixture of persuasion and threats to convince the Furies to give up their bloodthirsty role, and instead become defenders of justice and of Athens itself. From then on, the Furies are referred to as “Eumenides,” or “Kindly Ones”—and it is from this that the play gets its title.

The Furies Quotes in The Eumenides

The The Eumenides quotes below are all either spoken by The Furies or refer to The Furies. 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 64-234 Quotes

They disgust me.
These grey, ancient children never touched
By god, man, or beast—the eternal virgins.
Born for destruction only, the dark pit,
They range the bowels of Earth, the world of death,
Loathed by men and the gods who hold Olympus.

Related Characters: Apollo (speaker), The Furies
Page Number: 71-76
Explanation and Analysis:

Apollo visits his protectee, Orestes, who has been tormented by the Furies for killing his mother, Clytemnestra. Reassuring Orestes that he has more power than the Furies, Apollo then turns his anger on the goddesses themselves, voicing his contempt and "disgust" for them, and mocking their ugliness and age.

Apollo's attitude towards the Furies reveals the deep hatred that the Olympian gods feel for the Furies, despite the fact that they carry out the necessary function of avenging interfamilial murders. This mindset towards the Furies, embodiments of vengeance, reveals a change in Apollo since this play's prequel, The Libation Bearers. In that drama, Apollo urges Orestes to avenge his father, and acts as a force that pushes vengeance forward. Here, however, he has turned away from vengeance and violence--a change that indicates a drastic difference in this play's worldview, as opposed to its bloody predecessors.

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You—how can you sleep?
Awake, awake—what use are sleepers now?
I go stripped of honour, thanks to you,
Alone among the dead. And for those I killed
The charges of the dead will never cease, never—
I wander in disgrace, I feel the guilt, I tell you,
Withering guilt from all the outraged dead!
But I suffered too, terribly, from dear ones,
And none of my spirits rages to avenge me.
I was slaughtered by his matricidal hand.
See these gashes—Carve them in your heart!

Related Characters: The ghost of Clytemnestra (speaker), Orestes, The Furies
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 97-107
Explanation and Analysis:

The Furies sleep, exhausted from chasing Orestes, even as their prey is spirited away by Apollo and Hermes. As they slumber, however, the ghost of the murdered Clytemnestra emerges and berates them for failing in their task.

Her speech helps audiences and readers to understand the Furies' motivation, and their purpose in life. In their worldview, the dead cannot rest until they are avenged. Clytemnestra is a tortured ghost precisely because her murderer (and son) still lives, unpunished, despite having corrupted his familial bond with his mother.

Clytemnestra's appearance also emphasizes the vivid presence of the dead in The Eumenides, a fact that is true in many Greek dramas. To the characters in the play, the dead are still an active and powerful presence, and letting them down or going against their wishes can have terrible consequences. 

Lord Apollo, now it is your turn to listen.
You are no mere accomplice in this crime.
You did it all, and all the guilt is yours.

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Apollo
Page Number: 196-198
Explanation and Analysis:

Apollo and the Furies confront each other; Apollo tells the Furies that they have no right to torment Orestes, while the Furies retort that Apollo, too, is at fault. It is important to note that in the prequel to this play, The Libation Bearers, Apollo ordered Orestes to kill his mother, and then promised to protect him after the deed was done. The Furies believe, therefore, that Apollo is at fault as well as Orestes.

This quote emphasizes the Furies' obsession with vengeance, as well as the power that the gods wield within this narrative. Even though the Furies know that Apollo was the driving force behind the plan to kill Clytemnestra, they can only punish his mortal instrument, Orestes.

While the Furies cannot actually harm Apollo, however, they do call attention to what they view as his hypocrisy at punishing Clytemnestra for murdering her husband, but protecting Orestes for murdering his mother. This debate highlights the tangled and often contradictory web that vengeance creates, particularly within the House of Atreus.

Marriage of man and wife is Fate itself,
Stronger than oaths, and Justice guards its life.

I say your manhunt of Orestes is unjust.
Some things stir your rage, I see. Others,
Atrocious crimes, lull your will to act.

Related Characters: Apollo (speaker), Orestes, The Furies, The ghost of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Page Number: 215-221
Explanation and Analysis:

As Apollo and the Furies continue their debate, they touch on the difference between the bonds of mother and child, and those of man and wife. The Furies argue that because Orestes killed his own flesh and blood, he is at fault. Apollo, however, responds that the connection between a husband and a wife is fated to be, and that their bond is guarded by "Justice" itself. (Implicit in these arguments is also the sexism that undergirds Greek society at the time—Apollo is seen as more "correct" here because Clytemnestra not only violated a sacred bond in killing her husband, but also acted distinctly un-feminine.) This debate illustrates the tangled web of allegiances that vengeance creates. Although Apollo and the Furies are each trying to convince the other, they will never actually agree on who is in the right.

Apollo also brings up another crucial concept: the idea of justice. In accusing the Furies--goddesses of vengeance--of being unjust, he is implying that there is a difference between vengeance and justice. This attitude differs from Apollo's beliefs in The Eumenides' prequel, The Libation Bearers, in which he commands Orestes to perform an act of vengeance (killing his mother) in order to bring about justice. This shift highlights the evolution in The Eumenides towards a system of justice, rather than a system of vengeance.

Lines 235-566 Quotes

You’ll give me blood for blood, you must!
Out of your living marrow I will drain
My red libation, out of your veins I suck my food,
My raw, brutal cups—
Wither you alive,
Drag you down and there you pay, agony
For mother-killing agony!
And there you will see them all.
Every mortal who outraged god or guest or loving parent:
Each receives the pain his pains exact.

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Orestes, The ghost of Clytemnestra
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 262-269
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Furies find Orestes cowering at the shrine of Athena, they threaten him, demanding their vengeance. Their brutal, bloody language vividly illustrates their violent worldview. The language they use also illuminates their eye-for-an-eye mentality. The Furies' logic is very simple: since Orestes has shed his mother's blood, his blood must be shed in turn. Or in their words: "Each receives the pain his pains exact."

This point of view contrasts with that of Apollo and Orestes, who believe that since Orestes was avenging his father, he does not deserve to be punished for his own murder of his mother. It is this debate that will become central as the play continues. 

Hold out your hands, if they are clean
No fury of ours will stalk you,
You will go through life unscathed.
But show us the guilty—one like this
Who hides his reeking hands,
And up from the outraged dead we rise,
Witness bound to avenge their blood
We rise in flames against him to the end!

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Orestes
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 313-320
Explanation and Analysis:

Having confronted Orestes in Athena's temple, the Furies weave a spell in order to trap him there. As they do so, they explain the rules under which they carry out their grim task, promising not to harm anyone innocent of sin. Their only purpose, they say, is to punish the guilty, especially those (like Orestes) who hide among the innocent.

During their chant, the Furies also make clear the close ties that they have to the dead, explaining how they "rise" from "the outraged dead" in order to exact vengeance. To the Furies, the dead (such as Clytemnestra) are just as important as the living (like Orestes). They believe that it is their duty to put the dead to rest, and that the only way to do so is through bloody and violent vengeance. 

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.

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. 

Oh I can hear the father now
Or the mother sob with pain
At the pain’s onset…hopeless now,
The house of Justice falls.

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker)
Page Number: 525-528
Explanation and Analysis:

As the trial begins, the Furies take the stand first and begin to testify. They do so by painting a picture of a world without justice, referencing fathers and mothers betrayed by their offspring, and the "fall" of the "house of Justice."

This argument, though vivid, also illustrates the Furies' fundamental failure of understanding. They believe that justice and vengeance are the same thing, and that a world without vengeance is the same thing as a world without justice. In contrast, Athena understands that justice is fair and rational, while vengeance is bloody and senseless. The Furies, however, come from an older world, one without courts of law, judges, or juries. Having devoted their whole existence to vengeance, they are unable to understand a world in which reason and justice would prevail but vengeance would fall by the wayside. 

Lines 567-1043 Quotes

So
You’d force this man’s acquittal? Behold, Justice!
Can a son spill his mother’s blood on the ground,
Then settle into his father’s halls in Argos?

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Orestes, Apollo, The ghost of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 659-662
Explanation and Analysis:

After Apollo has testified in Orestes' favor, the Furies once again take the stand, mocking what the god has just said. While Apollo has argued that Orestes in fact carried out justice by killing his mother, the Furies find this argument laughable. To them, the fact that Orestes has killed his mother is unforgivable. They believe that he should be cast out of society altogether, rather than eventually take his father Agamemnon's place as king of Argos. 

The Furies' powerful argument illustrates the true difficulty of this case. Although Orestes seeks justice, he himself is a murderer, and an agent of vengeance. Apollo calls for justice, but the Furies point out his hypocrisy, given his investment in vengeance in this play's prequel, The Libation Bearers.

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. 

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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The Furies Character Timeline in The Eumenides

The timeline below shows where the character The Furies appears in The Eumenides. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-63
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...Navelstone (thought to be the center of the Earth). Around the man, monstrous women (the Furies) are sleeping, whose appearance drives Pythia to tears. She prays to the god Apollo to... (full context)
Lines 64-234
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The doors to the temple open, revealing Orestes, who prays as the Furies sleep. The god Hermes watches as Apollo appears, swearing to protect Orestes and to destroy... (full context)
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The ghost of Clytemnestra appears on top of the Navelstone, cursing the Furies for their laziness. She tells them that they have disgraced her in death, and that... (full context)
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The Furies awake, and their leader commands them to search for Orestes—they are appalled to find that... (full context)
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Apollo emerges from his temple with his bow and arrow to drive back the Furies. He commands them to flee his temple, and threatens to shoot them. He once again... (full context)
Lines 235-566
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...kneels before the shrine of Athena and prays for her to shield him from the Furies. He explains that Apollo has sent him to her, and says that he will await... (full context)
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The Furies enter, exulting that they have found Orestes at last. Noting that he has hurt himself... (full context)
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...again, asking her to come in peace and save him from the wrath of the Furies. (full context)
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The leader of the Furies spits back that neither Apollo nor Athena will be able to save Orestes. She waits... (full context)
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Athena enters, armed for combat, and sees Orestes and the Furies at her altar. She asks who they are, and the Furies explain that they are... (full context)
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...that she should show him mercy. On the other hand, she fears that if the Furies do not win the trial, they will attack Athens, spreading venom and disease wherever they... (full context)
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After Athena exits, the chorus of Furies begins to worry that Orestes will be found innocent. They imagine a world in which... (full context)
Lines 567-1043
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Orestes enters, and Athena directs him to the Stone of Outrage. The Furies enter, and Athena places them at the Stone of Unmercifulness. She herself stands between two... (full context)
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Proclaiming that the trial has begun, Athena offers the Furies—the “prosecution”—the first speech. The leader of the Furies starts to question Orestes, asking if he... (full context)
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...fact doing the will of Zeus, the omnipotent “Olympian Father,” who is always just. The Furies are scornful, unable to believe that Zeus would order a son to murder his mother.... (full context)
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The Furies are skeptical that Zeus would care more about a father’s murder than a mother’s. They... (full context)
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Apollo, outraged by the Furies, insults them once again, hissing that the gods “detest” them, and threatening them with the... (full context)
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Apollo rebuts the Furies’ claim that mothers are as important as fathers. He claims that while women may carry... (full context)
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Athena asks the Furies if they have anything else to say, and they respond that they do not. Apollo... (full context)
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As the citizens cast their ballots, the Furies grow anxious, threatening that they can curse Athens if they choose. Apollo shoots back that... (full context)
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...the ballots are tallied up, Orestes prays to Apollo and wonders what will happen. The Furies, meanwhile, pray to their Mother Night. Apollo again reminds the Athenians to “honor Justice.” (full context)
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Both enraged and terrified, the Furies curse the “younger gods” for violating the “ancient laws” of vengeance, and robbing them of... (full context)
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The diplomatic Athena, however, has another solution. She reminds the Furies that they are not disgraced, as the vote was tied. The real outcome, she asserts,... (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 ancient laws.” They... (full context)
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The Furies begin to calm down, but are still humiliated by their disgrace, calling out to their... (full context)
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As the Furies repeat their lament once more, Athena again tells them that they are gifted and valuable,... (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... (full context)
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The Furies continue their prayer, promising fertility and prosperity for the land of Athens. Athena praises the... (full context)
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The Furies pray that war will never touch Athens, and that only joy and love will rule... (full context)
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An entourage of Athenian women enters in order to lead the way to the Furies’ temples below the earth, where they will be offered gifts and sacrifices. The Furies sing... (full context)