Gender roles play an active part in The Eumenides, and the divide between the sexes is vividly depicted in a series of conflicts. The first of these clashes comes between the female Chorus of Furies and the male Apollo. The lord of light and prophecy, Apollo is outraged that the irrational, vengeful, female Furies dare to defy him. The Furies, in contrast, react with scorn and wrath at the idea of Apollo infringing on their realm of vengeance and punishment. This tension continues when the Furies and Apollo both take the stand at Orestes’ trial, each side trying to convince Athena to turn against the other.
At the trial, a second opposition emerges: one between Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, who now represent the roles of mother and father. Orestes is being tried, after all, for matricide, which the Furies consider a terrible sin. Apollo, who ordered Orestes to commit the murder in the first place, feels quite differently, however. He asserts that since Clytemnestra (Orestes’ mother) killed Agamemnon (Orestes’ father)—thus violating the bonds between husband and wife—she thereby released her son of any allegiance to her. Essentially, Apollo is arguing that the life of the woman is worth less than the life of a man.
Apollo then goes even further, asserting that men alone are responsible for the creation of children. As an example, he uses Athena herself, who (so the myth goes) sprang fully-grown from her father Zeus’s head. Her very existence, Apollo states, proves that men alone can conceive children, which means that men deserve their children’s fealty to a greater degree than women do.
Within this complicated web, Athena is a strange and even contradictory figure. On one hand, she is a strong and independent woman—a rare thing within a Greek drama. On the other hand, she sides with the masculine Apollo and Orestes and helps to defeat the female Furies. She states that she is “my Father’s child” and that she will “honour the male, in all things but marriage” (Athena was famously a virgin goddess). Although she is a symbol of feminine power, even the fierce Athena ultimately bows before the patriarchy.
Because of this strict divide between characters and ideas, The Eumenides as a tale of justice and civilization prevailing over vengeance and savagery can also be seen as a story of men prevailing over women. This equation of men with positive aspects and women with negative aspects was a common part of Classical Greek culture, and is found throughout most Greek tragedies.
Gender Roles ThemeTracker
Gender Roles Quotes in The Eumenides
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.
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.
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?
The woman you call the mother of the child
Is not the parent, just a nurse to the seed,
The new-sown seed that grows and swells inside her.
The man is the source of life—the one who mounts.
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.