As in Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers before it, The Eumenides contains numerous mentions of and prayers to the gods by its mortal characters, all of whom clearly fear and revere divine power. The Eumenides, however, contains a crucial difference: in this play the gods themselves become physically-present characters. Their conflicts and decisions are of titanic proportions, and have huge consequences on the humans and civilizations around them, creating a sense of scale that fully emphasizes just how powerful they really are.
Both Apollo and Athena generate displays of godly power within the play. Apollo acts as Orestes’ champion, shielding and defending him at every turn. Athena, meanwhile, is the protector of an entire city, Athens. She understands that every decision she makes will drastically affect the city that she cares for, and acts carefully and cautiously as a result. These gods symbolize beneficial divine power, creating a sense of order and righteousness within the often tangled and terrible world of Greek drama.
In contrast, the Chorus of Furies represents the more malignant and destructive aspects of divine power. Obsessed with punishing Orestes, the Furies will stop at nothing to make his life a living hell, even threatening all of Athens if it tries to stop them. Their ability to potentially curse Athens, and to pursue and torment the long-suffering Orestes—despite the fact that he committed his crime, matricide, only on Apollo’s orders—just how senseless and cruel divine power can sometimes be.
When opposed against each other, however, the Olympians—Athena and Apollo—prevail over the older yet weaker Furies. In other words, one divine power defeats the other. It is this act that allows the Furies to change into the Eumenides, quite literally transforming destructive divine power into protective divine power. The order and care symbolized by Apollo and Athena spreads to the once-fearsome Furies, creating a feeling of greater divine order in the universe.
Of course, there is one god who is absent from the proceedings, though he is often invoked: Zeus, god of thunder, and king of the Olympians. This absence, however, only serves to augment our sense of Zeus’s power. So omnipotent and omnipresent is he that even other gods invoke his name and pray to him (he is also Apollo and Athena’s father, again emphasizing the importance the Greeks placed on a father’s sovereignty). The ultimate emblem of divine might, Zeus exists more as a symbol than a character in The Eumenides, demonstrating the constant presence of divine power—even when it cannot be tangibly sensed.
The Power of the Gods ThemeTracker
The Power of the Gods 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.
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!
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.
Under Apollo’s orders I have come.
Receive me kindly. Curst and an outcast,
No suppliant for purging…my hands are clean.
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.
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!
Two sides are here, and only half is heard.
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?
We respect you. You show us respect.
But were we just or not? Judge us now.
My fate is in your hands. Stand or fall
I shall accept your verdict.
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?
If you would hear my law, you men of Greece,
You who will judge the first trial of bloodshed.
Now and forever more, for Aegeus’ people
This will be the court where judges reign.
Here from the heights, terror and reverence,
My people’s kindred powers
Will hold them from injustice through the day
And through the mild night.
Untouched by lust for spoil, this court of law
Majestic, swift to fury, rising above you
As you sleep, our night watch always wakeful,
Guardian of our land—I found it here and now.
Beware. Our united force can break your land.
Never wound our pride, I tell you, never.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Your magic is working…I can feel the hate,
The fury slip away…
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.
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.