Friday, May 08, 2020

There will be blood: Vengeance beforehand

The Furies in hot pursuit of Orestes arrive at the temple of Athena sniffing:

εἶεντόδ᾽ ἐστὶ τἀνδρὸς ἐκφανὲς τέκμαρ.
245ἕπου δὲ μηνυτῆρος ἀφθέγκτου φραδαῖς.
τετραυματισμένον γὰρ ὡς κύων νεβρὸν
πρὸς αἷμα καὶ σταλαγμὸν ἐκματεύομεν.

Aha! This is a clear sign of the man. [245] Follow the hints of a voiceless informer. For as a hound tracks a wounded fawn, so we track him by the drops of blood.
Soon they spot the young man in the temple, embracing the wooden image of Athena Polias. His pursuers speak of the spilled blood of mother, difficult to recall from the earth, and describe with appetite how they will "slurp" (ῥοφέω) thick red blood from Orestes' living limbs, then

καὶ ζῶντά σ᾽ ἰσχνάνασ᾽ ἀπάξομαι κάτω,
ἀντίποιν᾽ ὡς τίνῃς ματροφόνου δύας.
ὄψει δὲ κεἴ τις ἄλλος ἤλιτεν βροτῶν
270 θεὸν  ξένον
τιν᾽ ἀσεβῶν†  τοκέας φίλους,
ἔχονθ᾽ ἕκαστον τῆς δίκης ἐπάξια.
μέγας γὰρ Ἅιδης ἐστὶν εὔθυνος βροτῶν
ἔνερθε χθονός,
275δελτογράφῳ δὲ πάντ᾽ ἐπωπᾷ φρενί.
I will wither you alive and drag you down, so that you pay atonement for your murdered mother's agony. 
And you will see there such other mortals who have acted profanely towards a god or a stranger [270] or dear parents, each having what satisifies justice (δίκης).
For Hades is mighty in holding mortals to account beneath the earth; he watches (ἐπωπᾷ) all things and inscribes them on a tablet (δελτογράφῳwithin his mind. [275]
Clearly they have in mind the most illustrious transgressors -- Tantalos the fountainhead of the House of Atreus, Sisyphus, so clever he cheated death, and Ixion, the suppliant whom Zeus pardoned only to observe him trying to replace the Father of gods and men in Hera's arms.

Orestes belongs with these famed damned louts, say the Furies, and draining his blood, withering him and dragging him to Hades will fix him forever in that god's eternal book.

In a few verses, they've captured their entire role -- for them it's a great role -- the excitement of the chase, the vampiric feast, all in the service of Justice, helping balance the ledger of the god of the underworld.

You can set up a city's legal framework alongside this bloody realm, but it will take some convincing for anyone to accept that a court of law can quench the appetite for commensurate vengeance seething at the heart of things.

Everything Clytemnestra's image urged upon the Erinyes reflects this desire to balance the score. Apollo is clearly not up to it. This has to be Athena's task.

Orestes killing Clytemnestra

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