Gender takes on a very important role in The Furies. In one of the two stories prefacing this one, the death of Iphigenia is the first death in the immediate family. Iphigenia is one of Agamemnon’s two daughters and she is the first to suffer death in the family. After her death comes the vengeful death of Agamemnon committed by his wife over her rage that he sacrificed their daughter. Now, does this not seem to be an eye for an eye? A life for a life? Yet, Oreste takes it upon himself to avenge his father’s death by killing his mother. This totals the family deaths out to 3. The saying is not an eye for an eye for an eye. This death of his mother brings a sort of imbalance in the way women’s deaths are treated vs. the way men are. It goes to say that one man’s death equals the death of two women. And if Oreste had killed his father, the ruling may have been more straightforward and to the point. His father was a mighty warrior and his mother was just that; a mother. Athena even takes the side of Oreste and her vote is what saves him from being the 4th death in his family. Because she was born from the head of Zeus and has no mother, she sympathizes with Oreste.
The furies themselves are also women and seen as old detesting hags. This gives another harsh perspective on older women and categorizes them as grotesque creatures. Their names being “the furies” shows an anger and ill temper in women, as if they are always seemingly furious. Because these furies have never bore children, which is what it seems that every mortal woman’s purpose is, they are now hags. Women who never did their one duty in life and they are now cast out of society and seen as evil, relentless women.
Gender matters very much in this play because there is an obvious power struggle between the killings of daughters, husbands, and mothers. Yet, the mother is the only one who did not kill someone of her same bloodline. The female deaths vs. the male deaths definitely send a message of inferiority and unimportance in women and superiority and power with men.
The role of gender varies in The Furies. Works of literature written during this time period typically are reflective of the way women were viewed and seen as during the time and this is not any different. A lot of gender stereotypes are upheld in this play. On the other hand, a woman does have the most power in the courtroom and was able to speak up.
Clytemnestra is portrayed as a crazy woman set on revenge. She is frantic and determined to get the Furies help in making sure that Orestes pays for what he did. Agamemnon is painted as a saint and that him being murdered is the worst thing that could happen. No one seems to side or even try to understand Clytemnestra and where she is coming from. Her husband sacrificed their daughter and the only one people are blaming is Clytemnestra because she retaliated. Agamemnon did not die in battle but died at the hands of the woman and that is a sin. Apollo nor Orestes have any respect for the Furies, who are older women goddesses. Apollo describes them in harsh words and even takes a stab at their virginity, which is not relevant in any sense. He questions their authority, though they are older and just as powerful. When the Furies were questioning Orestes in court, Orestes seemed to respond with surprise that he shared blood with his mother. It is apparent to Orestes, Apollo, and even Athena that being a mother does not even begin to compare to being a father. Apollo claims that there is only one parent and it is the father, “the one named mother is not the child’s true parent but the nurturer of the newly sown seed” (Aeschylus 145). Motherhood is downgraded time and time again. Even Athena says she is a child of her father and not her mother.
Orestes turned to Apollo for help and he sent him Athena’s way. Athena has the ultimate power when it comes to Orestes case. She is essentially the judge. Her vote is the one that broke the tie after the jurors voted so in the end, Orestes’ fate rested in her hands and she sided with him, “I cannot give precedence to the woman’s death” she murdered her husband, the guardian of the House’ if the vote is split Orestes will be the winner” (Aeschylus 148). Athena also offered the Furies a position of power, in which they would be worshipped and in return, be expected to do good things. Though Athena was the woman of power in the courtroom, she did say that this case was too much for her to decide so she chose her finest men to be the jurors and preside in the case.
Ultimately gender norms are more or less prevalent in this play. Athena may be a woman of power, but that is the only case in which there is any respect for women by men in the play. Even Athena has misogynist ways and in the end, men are seen as the superior gender.
The story of The Furies in the play we read in class ends on a very interesting note that raises many questions I don’t really know how to answer. In the end, Orestes is acquitted of the charge of matricide when the vote of the Athenian mortals is split evenly and Athena’s deciding vote falls in his favor. Orestes swears the everlasting devotion of himself and his people to Athena and Apollo and his friendship to the people of Athens, and then exits the stage.
Remaining for the conclusion of the play and the final act in the drama is the goddess Athena and The Furies. Their exchange is strange to me. Athena is the patron goddess of Athens. She represents culture, wisdom, strategic warfare, and the arts. In a symbolic sense, Athena IS Athens. She is the embodied spirit of the city and it’s people and the ideals they (literally) deify.
So the goddess, the spirit of the city conceptualized and embodied, has sat as high arbiter of the dispute and has ruled in favor of Orestes. And yet The Furies demand for their right of vengeance is something she cannot deny and instead must appease. Just as Athena symbolically represents the ideals of wisdom and culture/civilization, The Furies are the embodied representations of hatred, pain, and vengeance. Rather than rebuking and banishing The Furies, the play ends with Athena acknowledging their right and appeasing them by giving them a position of high honor in the city.
The play is carried out by these larger than life, mythological symbolical figures. So what does it mean that the embodied spirit of wisdom, the embodied spirit of the city itself, decides to acknowledge the right of vengeance and exalt it and honor it within the city?
Vengeance is in the end thwarted at the hands of Wisdom, but is given a high and honored position within the city in order to secure peace. I believe this is the theory of the play; the supposition it is making about the nature of justice. The play believes that vengeance is real and powerful and cannot be denied. It must be respected and honored if peace is to be secured, but it must always be ruled over by wisdom, and cannot always be indulged if the proper conditions for redemption and mercy have been met, as they were by the sacrifices of Orestes.
Gender is an important topic that comes up constantly in The Furies. To begin with, in general the time period in which this piece takes place (the Archaic period) did not favor women or their opinions. Government was not meant to include women or slaves opinions, ideas, and feelings about any topic. Women were unable to vote, inherit fortune, own land, etc., and in general their main purpose was solely to take care of the home and the family, as is prevalent in many generations to follow. Discussing a specific example of gender inequality and how women were considered to be less valuable than man that occurs in The Furies is the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Agamemnon has upset Poseidon, whose assistance is needed in the commencement of the war. Because of this, Agamemmnon is required to sacrifice his daughter. This sacrifice explores the idea of gender inequality because of the sole fact that it was Iphigenia that was the one chosen to be sacrificed. After some deeper research about Greek Mythology and Iphigenia’s family, I found that she had a brother named Oreste. This means that Agamemnon had a daughter and a son. Ultimately, either one of his children could have been chosen to be sacrificed; but of course, the female was chosen. This is most likely because of how women were thought to be of lesser superiority and value than men were, so Iphigenia being sacrificed would be less drastic to society than Oreste.
This is where you’ll publish your eight required blog posts, find out what your classmates are thinking about the reading, and do whatever else you feel like to create a vibrant online community to supplement our in-class time. We’ll do a WordPress tutorial in class next week.
The syllabus contains detailed information about what I’m looking for in your posts. A couple of technical instructions: Please do make use of the categories I’ve created, one for each major text or topic we’re covering; if you write a post about The Furies you should select the Furies category before you publish. This will make it easy for me and your classmates to search for all posts on a particular text or topic. Please also make use of tags to identify some keywords that might usefully be associated with what you’re writing about. So if you’re really focused on gender in The Furies, for example, you might create (or select, if it’s been created already) a “gender” tag for your post. Tags will help us draw connections across texts and contexts.
The idea of having you publish your writing on a blog rather than, say, just write me response papers or complete in-class quizzes is to encourage you to really engage your classmates – write for them and also read their writing to help enrich your experience with the material. I encourage (but do not require) you to regularly comment on each other’s posts.