The Libation Bearers

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The Chorus Character Analysis

As is traditional for the tragic Greek chorus, this character is comprised of a group of actors who interact with the main characters and also comment on the events of the play. In this case the Chorus is made up of a group of slave women who accompany Electra to Agamemnon’s tomb with gifts and offerings. While choruses sometimes warn characters against their intended actions (as is the case in Oedipus Rex, another Greek tragedy), the Chorus seems convinced that Electra and Orestes are in the right in their vengeful crusade against Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.

The Chorus Quotes in The Libation Bearers

The The Libation Bearers quotes below are all either spoken by The Chorus or refer to The Chorus. 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 Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Libation Bearers published in 1966.
Lines 1-585 Quotes

The proud dead stir under the earth,

They rage against the ones who took their lives…

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Electra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 44-45
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Chorus of libation-bearing women enters, along with Electra, they recall the terrifying events of the night before, remembering how a mysterious voice warned them that the dead were coming to avenge themselves upon the living. In Greek drama, dreams and prophecies often prove true, as is most definitely the case in this moment. 

The quote also explains why the queen, Clytemnestra, has sent them out to tend to the grave of her husband (whom she loathed and murdered). Although Clytemnestra may put on a show of piety, this is clearly because fear rather than actual reverence. She is worried about what the voice in the night might prophecy, rather than actually regretful about murdering her husband.

We also can understand from this quote the influence of the dead within this narrative. Rather than being considered gone and at peace, the dead are a constant presence for all the characters on the stage. Although they may no longer be alive, their power has not waned; through Orestes' matricide, the spirit of Agamemnon is essentially avenging himself from beyond the grave. 

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What to say when I pour the cup of sorrow?
What kindness, what prayer can touch my father?
Shall I say I bring him love for love, a woman’s
love for her husband? My mother, love from her?
I’ve no taste for that, no words to say
as I run the honeyed oil on father’s tomb.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), The Chorus, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 86-91
Explanation and Analysis:

As Electra worships at the tomb of her father along with the libation-bearing slaves, she struggles to find words to express her sorrow. Unlike the hypocritical Clytemnestra, Electra is pious and dutiful. Although her father is dead and gone, she is still loyal to him, and feels conflicted about bringing meaningless offerings from her mother. 

This passage also illustrates the complex gender politics at work within The Libation Bearers. Although a woman, Electra identifies far more strongly with her father than with her mother, and believes that her allegiance lies firmly with him. She scorns the queen for having betrayed "a woman's love for her husband," and believes that Clytemnestra has failed in her duties as both a wife and a mother. 

Lastly, Electra's near-obsession with her father helps readers to understand how present he still is for her, despite his death. To Electra, her father is still a powerful force within her life, and she will do whatever it takes to ensure that his memory is honored and his death avenged. 

For our enemies I say,
raise up your avenger, into the light, my father—
kill the killers in return, with justice!
So in the midst of prayers for good I place
this curse for them.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Orestes, The Chorus, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 147-151
Explanation and Analysis:

After being unable to pray for peace for her father's spirit, Electra instead, at the prompting of the chorus, begs the gods for vengeance. Her prayer highlights the close bond within The Libation Bearers between piety and vengeance. Although most of Electra's words involve "prayers for good" for herself and her brother, she also includes curses for Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. This mixture of good wishes and bad is not contradictory to Electra or the Chorus—they believe that both vengeance and reverence can exist within a truly pious and reverent person, because part of the holy law is vengeance. 

It is also significant that Electra prays not to the gods, but to her father. To this abandoned daughter, Agamemnon has become like a god; although he is buried, she still considers him powerful enough to avenge his own murder, through the actions of his descendants.

In the midst of this deeply vengeful prayer, it is important to note that Electra has made no attempts to kill her mother herself. This lack of action is illustrative of the role of women within this type of Greek drama. Although Electra may hope for her mother's death, as a pious and proper Greek woman, she would never carry out the deed herself (in contrast to the murderous and bloody Clytemnestra, who overstepped the bounds of her gender in taking action against her husband). 

You light to my eyes, four loves in one!
I have to call you father, it is fate;
and I turn to you the love I gave my mother—
I despise her, she deserves it, yes,
and the love I gave my sister, sacrificed
on the cruel sword, I turn to you.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Orestes, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia
Page Number: 240-245
Explanation and Analysis:

After being reunited, Electra and Orestes vow to be loyal to each other, in clear contrast to their treacherous mother. Here Electra tells Orestes that she loves him more than other sisters do their brothers, because he must also serve the roles of father, mother, and sister for her. She is referring to the murder of her father Agamemnon, the sacrifice of her sister Iphigenia (who was murdered by Agamemnon's "cruel sword," presenting a seeming conflict of interest for Electra), and the imminent death of her mother Clytemnestra. 

Once again Aeschylus makes clear that the ties between Electra and Orestes can never be broken. They are wholly committed to each other, exemplifying the purity and strength of true familial bonds. As Electra promises her love for her brother, we also witness traditional Greek gender roles at work. Considered weaker because of her gender, Electra places herself under her brother's protection, giving him not just the love of a sibling, but also the respect of a daughter for her parents. 

Justice turns the wheel.
‘Word for word, curse for curse
be born now,’ Justice thunders,
hungry for retribution.
‘stroke for bloody stroke be paid.
The one who acts must suffer.’

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 315-320
Explanation and Analysis:

After Electra and Orestes have resolved to murder their mother, the Chorus approvingly comments upon their actions. Although this quote speaks of "Justice," it could just as easily refer to vengeance—proof of how closely the Greeks related these two concepts. For the characters in the play, the idea of justice is fairly simple—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, "word for word," and "curse for curse." They believe, quite simply, that those who sin must be paid in kind.

It is also important to note how closely aligned the idea of justice is with violent acts. The world in which the characters live is dangerous and bloody. Justice is not measured and restrained, but bloody and murderous. They believe that justice means answering violence with violence, and that only by avenging their father and killing their mother can the siblings "turn the wheel" and right their fortunes. 

Lines 586-652 Quotes

Oh but a man’s high daring spirit,
who can account for that? Or woman’s
desperate passion daring past all bounds?
She couples with every form of ruin known to mortals.
Woman, frenzied, driven wild with lust,
twists the dark, warm harness
of wedded love—tortures man and beast!

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Clytemnestra
Page Number: 579-585
Explanation and Analysis:

Electra and Orestes leave to carry out the beginning of their vengeance plot; the Chorus, meanwhile, stays behind, taking on their traditional role of commenting on the action (rather than taking part in it). Taking a broader view of the events, they marvel at the differences between a man and a woman. Men, they say, carry out deeds of "daring," while women carry out those of "desperate passion." They then go on to condemn women's passion and lust, accusing women of torturing all those around them with their malicious desires.

This passage clearly illustrates the dark and disturbing view that the ancient Greeks had of womanhood. Although women like Electra are pious, obedient, and pure, women like Clytemnestra—who acted on her desires and seized power for herself—are considered forces of evil and destruction. Although the Chorus never names Clytemnestra, they are clearly referring to her, emphasizing what a negative example the character of Clytemnestra is meant to be for audiences—however justified her actions might seem to be to modern readers.

Lines 719-1065 Quotes

The butcher comes. Wipe out death with death.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Orestes, Aegisthus
Page Number: 823
Explanation and Analysis:

As the murderous plan of Orestes and Electra begins to work, Aegisthus enters, believing Orestes to be dead and exulting in that fact. The Chorus calls him a "butcher," proof of their contempt for him, before urging Orestes to "[w]ipe out death with death."

This quote displays the difference in opinion that the Chorus has of Aegisthus versus Orestes. They think of Aegisthus as nothing more than a butcher, even though in killing Agamemnon, he was in fact avenging the deaths of his own brothers at the hands of Agamemnon's father. Meanwhile the Chorus reveres Orestes, despite the fact that he too means to kill out of revenge. To them, Orestes' act will be holy and purifying, whereas Aegisthus' was a desecration.

The difference between the two men is one of piety. Orestes' act is commanded by the gods; he is carrying out their orders. Aegisthus, meanwhile, helped to murder Agamemnon for selfish reasons, and since then has not acted as a pious or proper Greek or king. 

Aye, trouble is now,
and trouble still to come.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 1016-1017
Explanation and Analysis:

As Orestes mourns his father, the Chorus warns that his struggles are not over. This is a fascinating change in tone for the Chorus: throughout the narrative, they have encouraged Orestes, egging him on and attempting to hasten his matricide. Here, however, they seem far more apprehensive, explaining to Orestes that he will face more trials in the future.

This change in attitude of the Chorus illustrates the double-edged nature of revenge. On one hand, Orestes has fulfilled his destiny; a giant weight off his shoulders. On the other hand, by doing so, Orestes has brought a new series of troubles on himself and his family, despite the fact that he was ordered to do so by the gods. Although exacting vengeance may in fact have been the correct course of action, the Chorus makes both Orestes and the audience understand that doing so may have brought about a terrible cost. 

Where will it end?
Where will it sink to sleep and rest,
this murderous hate,
This Fury?

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Orestes, The Furies
Page Number: 1075-1077
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play comes to an end, Orestes descends into madness and is chased offstage by the Furies, vengeful spirits determined to punish him for killing his mother. While he flees, the Chorus reflects back on the cycle of violence that The Libation Bearers has continued. Although at first the Chorus supported Orestes' mission of vengeance, now they seem to have changed their tune. They see "murderous hate" as a never-ending pattern, and wonder only when it will end. 

The quote also serves as an excellent set-up for The Libation Bearers' sequel, The Eumenides. While the first play extends the cycle of violence, the second play puts a stop to it once and for all, essentially answering the question that the Chorus here plaintively asks. 

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The Chorus Character Timeline in The Libation Bearers

The timeline below shows where the character The Chorus appears in The Libation Bearers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-585
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
As Orestes prays, Electra enters with the Chorus, a group of slave women who attend her. They are dressed in mourning, and bring... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The Chorus describes their rituals of mourning—scratching their cheeks with their own fingernails, beating their breasts, and... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Electra praises the Chorus, thanking them for accompanying her to Agamemnon’s grave. She begins to lament her father’s death,... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The leader of the Chorus tells Electra that she should say a prayer for “those who love you…[and] hate Aegisthus.”... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Electra then calls upon the Chorus to add their prayers to hers. The group of women laments the death of Agamemnon,... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...ground. She notes that the hair is identical to her own, and she and the Chorus wonder whether it signifies the presence of Orestes. Electra believes that Orestes sent the lock... (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
As the Chorus rejoices, Orestes warns his sister not to give herself to joy, since his arrival has... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The Chorus, too, prays to Zeus, comparing the dead Agamemnon to an eagle killed by a treacherous... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The Chorus leader warns Orestes and Electra to be wary of Aegisthus’ and Clytemnestra’s spies. Orestes responds... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Orestes, Electra, and the Chorus gather to pray at the grave. The Chorus invokes the Fates and Zeus, praying that... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The Chorus leaves Electra and Orestes at the grave. Orestes prays for the power “to rule our... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...tomb, considering her impiety and her hatred of her dead husband. The leader of the Chorus explains that Clytemnestra was shaken by a bad dream in which she gave birth to... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...this dream has in fact predicted Clytemnestra’s death at his hands. The leader of the Chorus encourages him to share his plan with them. He replies that it is simple: Electra... (full context)
Lines 586-652
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Alone onstage, the Chorus states that of all the world’s marvels, the most mysterious and unaccountable are “a man’s... (full context)
Lines 719-1065
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
The Chorus reassembles and wonders when they will be able to help Orestes. They pray to Mother... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...bring his bodyguards with him when he talks to Orestes, but the leader of the Chorus orders her to lie, and to tell Aegisthus to come alone. Confused, Cilissa asks why... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Alone onstage again, the Chorus prays to Zeus, begging him to grant Orestes good fortune, and asserting that they are... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...or whether it’s merely “woman’s panic.” For confirmation, he turns to the leader of the Chorus, who urges him to get the news directly from Orestes himself. Aegisthus wonders whether the... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
With Aegisthus gone, the Chorus prays to Zeus once more, begging the god for Orestes’ success. They compare him to... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...Clytemnestra, but failing at that, he calls out her name until she emerges. As the Chorus ominously warns that Clytemnestra’s doom is next, the queen orders the servant to bring her... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Alone, the Chorus wonders at this mixture of mourning with justice and vengeance. They sing of Orestes’ triumph,... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The Chorus ominously states that although Clytemnestra is dead, Orestes’ suffering has only just begun. (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...hails the robe as a remnant of his father, conflating his “victory” with “guilt.” The Chorus, meanwhile, adds that Orestes’ trouble is not yet over. (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...that he must leave as an exile because of the murder that he’s committed. The Chorus, meanwhile, tries to reassure him that he’s done the right thing, asserting that he’s freed... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
As the Chorus speaks, Orestes suddenly screams in terror. He sees what the audience and Chorus do not:... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The leader of the Chorus bids farewell to Orestes, praying that Apollo will guide and protect him. The Chorus as... (full context)