The Eumenides

Orestes Character Analysis

The son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, Orestes is in exile from his home city of Argos because he killed his mother (who herself killed his father). Pious and moral, Orestes is hounded by the Furies for what they consider to be an unforgivable crime against his mother, despite the fact that Orestes was ordered to kill Clytemnestra by the god Apollo. Orestes’ trial eventually becomes the centerpiece of the play, as Athena and the citizens of Athens strive to determine whether or not he should be punished for his divinely sanctioned murder.

Orestes Quotes in The Eumenides

The The Eumenides quotes below are all either spoken by Orestes or refer to Orestes. 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

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

Related Characters: Apollo (speaker), Orestes, The ghost of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Page Number: 666-669
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Orestes Character Timeline in The Eumenides

The timeline below shows where the character Orestes appears in The Eumenides. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-63
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
...unseen horror. She describes how she walked into the sanctuary only to find a man (Orestes) inside waiting to be purified at her altar. He is covered in blood, but holding... (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
The doors to the temple open, revealing Orestes, who prays as the Furies sleep. The god Hermes watches as Apollo appears, swearing to... (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
...she killed are taunting her. Showing them the ghostly gashes on her skin made by Orestes’ blade, she begs them to seek vengeance. Clytemnestra then recounts how she used to make... (full context)
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Gender Roles Theme Icon
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The Furies awake, and their leader commands them to search for Orestes—they are appalled to find that he has fled. They describe the pain that they are... (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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...The leader of the Furies, however, fires back, telling Apollo that he is responsible for Orestes’ crime of matricide. They ask why he dares to stop them when they are doing... (full context)
Lines 235-566
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The scene changes 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... (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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The Furies enter, exulting that they have found Orestes at last. Noting that he has hurt himself in his flight, they vow to continue... (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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In response, Orestes explains that suffering has made him wise. He describes how Apollo has purged him of... (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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...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 in silence—full of rage, the Fury... (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... (full context)
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Athena then turns to Orestes, asking him to tell her his story, and whether he has come to her to... (full context)
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Athena contemplates the difficult decision before her: on one hand, she acknowledges that Orestes has come to her as a suppliant, and that she should show him mercy. On... (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 they are powerless, and fear... (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... (full context)
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...responds that he has come as a witness for the defense, explaining that he commanded Orestes to kill Clytemnestra, and subsequently purged the mortal of all guilt. He urges Athena to... (full context)
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...Athena offers the Furies—the “prosecution”—the first speech. The leader of the Furies starts to question Orestes, asking if he killed his mother. He agrees that he did. They ask how he... (full context)
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Orestes begs Apollo to explain to the jury why he killed Clytemnestra, adding that his murder... (full context)
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...out of Zeus’s head) as an example. He then attempts to flatter Athena, saying that Orestes and his kin will honor her for generations. (full context)
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Athena comes forward to cast her ballot, and announces that she has been swayed in Orestes’ favor. She explains that she will always honor men above women, since she was born... (full context)
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As the ballots are tallied up, Orestes prays to Apollo and wonders what will happen. The Furies, meanwhile, pray to their Mother... (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 returned him... (full context)