Conflict Between Obligations in Oresteia

April 3, 2022 by Essay Writer

One of the most prominent and widely recognized dramatists of the ancient time, Aeschylus was a master of the depiction of conflicting situations. His works always perform the main function of the drama work in terms of touching the mind and emotions of the spectator and giving them a chance to experience catharsis. One of his most famous and widely read works is the Oresteia trilogy which consists of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides and raises the questions that are still of high relevance to the modern society. One of the topics that are vividly depicted in the trilogy is the conflict of obligations to which the ancient people were subjected. Each of the parts of the trilogy is based on a conflict between the obligations which leads to the further conflict and seems to create an endless chain of problems which resulted from the obligation of revenge.

The two major types of conflicts that arise in the trilogy include the dilemma between the military power and leadership and the family ties as well as between the need to revenge and satisfy Gods’ requirements and the family ties. While Agamemnon first activates the curse by choosing the military fame over his family, the further conflicts of duties arise on the basis of revenge for the family member and the actual need to revenge to a family member. The prehistory of the drama involves the curse that is placed on Agamemnon’s family, and this curse is the reason for the upcoming of the first conflict of duties. The mere conflict that arises is Agamemnon’s knowledge that the decision to go to war against Troy would result in the activation of a curse. As it was said by Aeschylus, “so then the leader of the Achaean ships/ … / gave in to fortune’s sudden blows” (13). He was seeking for the military fame and the victory rather than thinking of the possible consequences of his actions.

With respect to this, the first conflict of duties was resolved so that it would cause the next conflicts and contribute to the realization of the curse that was prepared by the Gods in the case of Agamemnon’s preference of the military duty over the family duty. Another conflict that was vividly highlighted in the Aeschylus’ trilogy was the conflict between “obligations to the city and obligations to blood types” (Goldhill 47). As the leader of his people and of his militia, Agamemnon was responsible for the successful outcomes of the campaign that they started to avenge Helena. At the same time, the anger of Artemis was a strong barrier to the victory, and the offered solution of the problem made the ruler choose “between the failure of the whole Trojan enterprise and the life of his daughter” (Fuller 466). The goddess required a sacrifice, “So Agamemnon steeled his heart/ to make his own daughter a sacrifice” (Aeschylus 14). In this way, he had prioritized the governance over the family and the whole people over a single life. Under the mentioned circumstances, one life for the numerous lives seemed not a large sacrifice. Nevertheless, putting the city over the family resulted in the range of further conflicts and ultimately led to the growing tragedy of the family story.

The further conflict of obligations appeared in the case of Clytaemnestra and her decision to murder her own husband. On the one hand, her actions are easily justified in terms of the family revenge idea since Agamemnon killed her daughter. Nevertheless, this decision is also quite contradictory and comes as a result of the conflict between the revenge obligation and the idea of being a wife. In the Greek society living by the principles of the patriarchal tradition, for the people it was “outrageous – the woman kills her man” (Aeschylus 50). Her obligation to her husband was to stay true to him and to support any of his deeds. However, the obligation of delivering the revenge wins over the family connections and the social principles. Fueled by the feelings to another man and “the duty incumbent upon a mother to avenge the murder of her child” (Fuller 468). Hence, the obligation to the common law has overcome the social norms and gained the victory over the relationship with the husband. This was the second conflict solution that has lead to the further conflict intensification.

The next step in the range of the conflicts of obligations was Orestes’ decision to conduct revenge for the death of his father. When he learned about the way in which his father was killed, he had to solve a respective dilemma. As a son of Agamemnon, he should have avenged the death of his father and punish the murderer, which was his direct obligation according to the laws. However, the situation appeared problematic in terms of the fact that the murderer was Orestes’ mother. In this situation, he was obliged to her with his life, and it was actually wrong and complicated to kill the mother. Nevertheless, the obligation to the duty of revenge won in this case again. Besides, this decision was also supported by the obligation to perform the God’s words and to follow the god’s injunctions (Goldhill 22). As it was implemented by Aeschylus in the words of Pylades, “What then becomes of what Apollo said,/ what he foretold at Delphi?/ We made an oath” (Aeschylus 105). The obligation to the god as well as the saint obligation to conduct a revenge hence united and resulted in the murder of the mother. In conclusion, the Aeschylus’ is widely recognized as the dramatist who raised the important for his time issues which still stay present in the modern society.

One of the major topics of his trilogy Oresteia is the depiction of the problem of the conflicting obligations that a person should overcome. In essence, the whole problem of the conflicting obligations is connected with the idea of revenge which was the cause of all events and the driving force behind the actions of the major characters. The dilemmas include the necessity to choose between the military fame and risking the family, between the blood ties and the success of the whole campaign, between the need to revenge and the social order, as well as between the need to revenge and obligation to god and the obligation to a person who gave birth. The full spectrum of emotions is involved in the trilogy. Furthermore, the mastery with which the author delivered to the readers and the viewers the tragedy of a single family cannot leave anyone indifferent. It provides the actual feeling of catharsis achieved due to the harsh reality of the plays and the deep emotional appeal to the audience.

Works Cited

Aeschylus. The Oresteia. Transl. by Ian Johnson. Arlington, Virginia: Richer Resource Publication, 2007. Print.

Fuller, Benjamin Apthorp Gould. “The Conflict Of Moral Obligation In The Trilogy Of Aeschylus”. Harvard Theological Review 8.04 (1915): 459-479. Web.

Goldhill, Simon. Aeschylus, The Oresteia. 2nd ed. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.

Read more