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The Libation Bearers

  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Symbols

Main Ideas Symbols

Serpents

There are a total of six references to serpents in The Libation Bearers, each of which is significant to the development of the plot. The serpent is associated with the net metaphor, as a serpent kills by constricting its coils. Serpents in Greek c ulture were viewed with much the same mixture of suspicion and reverence as they are today. They were strange creatures that were associated with the divine. In this play, Clytamnestra is associated with the serpent because she killed her husband with her twisting plots. Her dream that she bears a snake that bites her when she feeds it is the reason behind her decision to send Electra and the chorus to Agamemnon's grave. Orestes then lays claim to this serpent image, announcing that he is the snake at his mother's breast, and that he will not hesitate to bite. Clytamnestra brings on her death when she recognizes Orestes as the serpent from her dream. At this moment, he actualizes the vision of himself that he had prophesized and strikes Cl ytamnestra dead.

Eagle

While the eagle is mentioned only once in The Libation Bearers, it is an important symbol in the context of the whole myth. On their way to Troy, Agamemnon and Menaleus see an omen that bodes ill. Two eagles swoop down upon a pregnant hare and tear her to shreds. The eagles represent the warrior kings, and the hare represents Troy. While they will be victorious, they will do so by committing bloody acts that are sure to bring retribution. Artemis ensures that Agamemnon will pay for his crimes, forcing him to sacrifice his daughter in order to get to Troy, thus condemning him to death at Clytamnestra's hands. In his first long prayer in The Libation Bearers, Orestes refers to Agamemnon as "the noble eagle father" who has "died in the coils, the viper's dark embrace." The eagle is the symbol of Zeus, the bird of victory and freedom. However, no matter how noble a king Agamemnon was or how glorious his exploits were, he still dies in the nets of Clytamnestra's plotting. While the ea gle may have temporarily gotten away with spearing the hare, the viper will strangle him in turn.

Agamemnon's robes

After murdering Clytamnestra and Aigisthos, Orestes inexplicably produces the bloody robes in which his father dies and wraps them around his victims as a sign of the justice of his act. These robes represent both the devious plots of Clytamne stra, as they coil like the snake, and the presence of Agamemnon's spirit as a witness to Orestes's fulfillment of his duty. We know that blood can only be washed away with blood. By wrapping Agamemnon's robes around his murderers, Orestes substitutes the ir blood for that of his father, so that his father can finally rest in peace.