The Libation Bearers

Orestes Character Analysis

The son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, Orestes is the crown prince of Argos, but has been banished from his homeland for many years, ever since his mother killed his father with the help of her lover, Aegisthus. Although a noble, pious man (and even gentle and loving in his interactions with his sister Electra), Orestes is obsessed with the idea of vengeance. Enraged by Clytemnestra’ murder of Agamemnon, he is determined to kill both her and Aegisthus in order to avenge his father’s death.

Orestes Quotes in The Libation Bearers

The The Libation Bearers 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 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

Dear god, let me avenge my father’s murder—fight beside me now with all your might!

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 21-22
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Your pain is mine.
If I laugh at yours, I only laugh at mine.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Electra
Related Symbols: The Hair and Footprints of Orestes and Electra
Page Number: 223-224
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Apollo will never fail me, no,
his tremendous power, his oracle charges me
to see this trial through.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Apollo
Page Number: 273-275
Explanation and Analysis:

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If the serpent came from the same place as I,
and slept in the bands that swaddled me, and its jaws
spread wide for the breast that nursed me into life
and clots stained the milk, mother’s milk,
and she cried in fear and agony—so be it.
As she bred this sign, this violent prodigy
so she dies by violence. I turn serpent,
I kill her. So the vision says.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra
Related Symbols: Serpents and Snakes
Page Number: 530-537
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 653-718 Quotes

Slave, the slave!—
where is he? Hear me pounding the gates?
Is there a man inside the house?
For the third time, come out of the halls!
If Aegisthus has them welcome friendly guests.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Aegisthus, Pylades
Page Number: 633-637
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 719-1065 Quotes

Oh god,
the life is hard. The old griefs, the memories
mixing, cups of pain, so much pain in the halls of
the house of Atreus…

Related Characters: Cilissa (speaker), Orestes, Atreus
Page Number: 728-731
Explanation and Analysis:

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The butcher comes. Wipe out death with death.

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

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Clytemnestra: Wait, my son—no respect for this, my child?
The breast you held, drowsing away the hours,
soft gums tugging the milk that made you grow?
Orestes: What will I do, Pylades?—I dread to kill my mother!
Pylades: What of the future? What of the Prophet God Apollo,
the Delphic voice, the faith and oaths we swear?
Make all mankind your enemy, not the gods.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra (speaker), Pylades (speaker), Apollo
Page Number: 883-889
Explanation and Analysis:

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Clytemnestra: Watch out—the hounds of a mother’s curse will hunt you down.
Orestes: But how to escape a father’s if I fail?

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra (speaker), Agamemnon, The Furies
Page Number: 911-912
Explanation and Analysis:

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But she who plotted this horror against her husband,
she carried his children, growing in her womb
and she—I loved her once
and now I loathe, I have to loathe—what is she?
Some moray eel, some viper born to rot her mate
with a single touch, no fang to strike him
just the wrong, the reckless fury in her heart!

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Serpents and Snakes
Page Number: 983-989
Explanation and Analysis:

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Live with such a woman, marry her? Sooner
the gods destroy me—die without an heir!

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra
Page Number: 999-1000
Explanation and Analysis:

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I embrace you…you,
My victory, are my guilt, my curse, and still—

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker)
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 1012-1013
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Orestes Character Timeline in The Libation Bearers

The timeline below shows where the character Orestes appears in The Libation Bearers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-585
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
The play opens at Agamemnon’s burial mound in Argos, before which stand Orestes (Agamemnon’s son) and his faithful companion Pylades. Orestes, who has been exiled from Argos for... (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
As Orestes prays, Electra enters with the Chorus, a group of slave women who attend her. They... (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
...she is entirely alone except for the Chorus, but the leader urges her to remember Orestes. She goes on to instruct Electra to pray that either a “god or man” punish... (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
...to hear her plea. She asks the spirit of Agamemnon to pity both her and Orestes, whom she feels her mother Clytemnestra has sold in exchange for her murderous lover Aegisthus.... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Having finished her prayer, Electra spots Orestes’ locks of hair on the ground. She notes that the hair is identical to her... (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Within moments, Electra spots Orestes’ footprints in the dirt (as well as Pylades’). Comparing the tracks to her own feet,... (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 put them... (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 that he is... (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... (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 house” while Electra begs... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Before leaving, Orestes wonders why Clytemnestra sent libations to Agamemnon’s tomb, considering her impiety and her hatred of... (full context)
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Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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Orestes wonders if he himself is the serpent, and if this dream has in fact predicted... (full context)
Lines 586-652
Revenge Theme Icon
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Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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...the gods detest such women. They then predict that Justice and Fate—in the form of Orestes—will soon punish Clytemnestra, and that he will at last wipe clean the “stain of blood”... (full context)
Lines 653-718
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Orestes and Pylades (both now disguised) reenter. As Orestes predicted, Aegisthus makes the two knock three... (full context)
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Clytemnestra enters, attended by Electra, and offers Pylades and Orestes a place to stay for the night, adding, “the eyes of Justice look on all... (full context)
Lines 719-1065
Gender Roles Theme Icon
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The Chorus reassembles and wonders when they will be able to help Orestes. They pray to Mother Earth and to Hermes to guide him, before noticing Cilissa, Orestes’... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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...that Clytemnestra has told Aegisthus to 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... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
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Alone onstage again, the Chorus prays to Zeus, begging him to grant Orestes good fortune, and asserting that they are on the side of justice. Calling Orestes an... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Aegisthus, having heard that Orestes is dead, worries that this terrible news may destabilize his kingdom even further than it... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
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The doors of the palace open to reveal Orestes and Pylades with the body of Aegisthus. Giving Clytemnestra no time to mourn, Orestes drags... (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
Turning back to Clytemnestra, Orestes tells her that he will kill her on top of Aegisthus’ body. She continues to... (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 wonders at this mixture of mourning with justice and vengeance. They sing of Orestes’ triumph, and of the cleansing of Agamemnon’s house. Although Orestes’ purpose was one of vengeance... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
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Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
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Orestes and Pylades reemerge, standing over the bodies of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Orestes remembers how the... (full context)
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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
Still obsessed with the shroud, Orestes looks at his father’s dried blood before burying his face in the robes and weeping.... (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
In a frenzy, Orestes describes his manic state of mind, and his terror. He states that he killed Clytemnestra... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Orestes begs the land of Argos to remember why these actions came to pass, but adds... (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: horrific women... (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 a whole observes that... (full context)