Serpents and snakes are complex and double-edged symbols within The Libation Bearers. Early in the play, we learn that Clytemnestra has had a dream that she gave birth to a snake only to have it maul her. Orestes explains to us that the snake represents him, and that he will need to use deception and violence against his mother in order to avenge his father’s murder. Clytemnestra confirms this reading, realizing (moments from her death), that her dream foretold Orestes’ return. Later in the play, however, both Orestes and the Chorus refer to the treacherous Clytemnestra and Aegisthus as serpents, thus turning a symbol that was once seemingly positive into a negative one. Orestes’ connection with snakes and serpents, therefore, is more slippery than originally thought—he has taken on serpent-like qualities (such as deception, disguise, and betrayal) in order to carry out a divinely sanctioned act, but perhaps has also sinned gravely in the process.
The Libation Bearers
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The timeline below shows where the symbol Serpents and Snakes appears in The Libation Bearers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...too, prays to Zeus, comparing the dead Agamemnon to an eagle killed by a treacherous snake. They once again compare their enslaved state to that of Electra, and praise Agamemnon for... (full context)
...remains resolute, refuting all of her arguments. At last Clytemnestra realizes that Orestes is the serpent she dreamt of—at this, Orestes drags her into the palace, shutting the doors behind him. (full context)