Orestes (mythology)

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Orestês, (English /ɔ'ɹɛsti:z/ Greek Ὀρέστης) in Greek legend, was the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. He is the subject of several Ancient Greek plays and of various legends connected with his madness and purification.

Contents

[edit] Greek Literature

[edit] Homer

Homeric story, Orestes, part of the doomed house of Atreus which is directly related to Tantalus and Niobe, was absent from Mycenae when his father returned from the Trojan War and was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra with an ax. Eight years later, Orestes returned from Athens and with his sister Elektra, avenged his father's death by slaying his mother. According to Pindar, Orestes was saved by his nurse Arsinoe or his sister Electra, who conveyed him out of the country when Clytemnestra wished to kill him. He escaped to Phanote on Mount Parnassus, where King Strophius took charge of him.

In his twentieth year, he was ordered by the Delphic oracle to return home and avenge his father's death. He returned home along with his friend Pylades, Strophius's son. According to Aeschylus, he met his sister Electra before the tomb of Agamemnon, where both had gone to perform rites to the dead; a recognition takes place, and they arrange how Orestes shall accomplish his revenge. The same basic story is told differently by Sophocles and Euripides in their Electra plays.

[edit] Greek Drama

Image:Electra and Orestes - Project Gutenberg eText 14994.png
Electra and Orestes, from an 1897 Stories from the Greek Tragedians, by Alfred Church

The story of Orestes was the subject of the Oresteia of Aeschylus (Agamemnon, Choephori, Eumenides), of the Electra of Sophocles, and of the Electra, Iphigeneia in Tauris, and Orestes, of Euripides.

In Aeschylus's Eumenides, Orestes goes mad after the deed and is pursued by the Erinyes, whose duty it is to punish any violation of the ties of family piety. He takes refuge in the temple at Delphi; but, even though Apollo had ordered him to do the deed, he is powerless to protect Orestes from the consequences. At last Athena receives him on the acropolis of Athens and arranges a formal trial of the case before twelve Attic judges. The Erinyes demand their victim; he pleads the orders of Apollo; the votes of the judges are equally divided, and Athena gives her casting vote for acquittal. The Erinyes are propitiated by a new ritual, in which they are worshipped as Eumenides, and Orestes dedicates an altar to Athena Areia.

As Aeschylus tells it, the punishment ended here, but according to Euripides, in order to escape the persecutions of the Erinyes, Orestes was ordered by Apollo to go to Tauris, carry off the statue of Artemis which had fallen from heaven, and to bring it to Athens. He went to Tauris with Pylades, and the pair are at once imprisoned by the people, among whom the custom was to sacrifice all Greek strangers to Artemis. The priestess of Artemis, whose duty it was to perform the sacrifice, was Orestes' sister Iphigenia. She offered to release him if he would carry home a letter from her to Greece; he refused to go, but bids Pylades to take the letter while he himself stayed and was slain. After a conflict of mutual affection, Pylades at last yielded, but the letter brought about a recognition between brother and sister, and all three escaped together, carrying with them the image of Artemis. After his return to Greece, Orestes took possession of his father's kingdom of Mycenae (killing Aegisthus' son, Alete), to which were added Argos and Laconia. He was said to have died of a snakebite in Arcadia. His body was conveyed to Sparta for burial (where he was the object of a cult), or, according to an Italian legend, to Aricia, when it was removed to Rome (Servius on Aeneid, ii. 116).

[edit] Other Literature

Before the Trojan War, Orestes had been engaged to his cousin through Menelaus, Hermione. Afterwards, Menelaus wanted her to marry Neoptolemus. Orestes and Neoptolemus fought, and Neoptolemus was killed. Marrying Hermione and seizing Argos and Arcadia after their thrones had become vacant, Orestes became ruler of all the Peloponnesus. His son, Tisamenus, was later killed by the Heracleidae.

There is extant a Latin epic poem, consisting of about 1000 hexameters, called Orestes Tragoedia, which has been ascribed to Dracontius of Carthage.

Orestes appears also as a shown to all persons whose crime is mitigated by extenuating circumstances. These legends belong to an age when higher ideas of law and of social duty were being established; the implacable blood-feud of primitive society gives place to a fair trial, and in Athens, when the votes of the judges are evenly divided, mercy prevails.

In one version of the story of Telephus, Orestes was held captive by King Telephus, demanding that Achilles heal him.

According to some sources, Orestes fathered Penthilus by his half-sister, Erigone.

In The History by Herodotus, the Oracle of Delphi fortold that the Spartans could not defeat the Tegeans until they moved the bones of Orestes to Sparta. Lichas discovered the body, which measured 7 cubits long.

[edit] Trivia

  • American Rock Band A Perfect Circle have a song entitled "Orestes" inspired by Orestes' revenge and downward spiral into madness after the killings.


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This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.da:Orestes de:Orestes el:Ορέστης es:Orestes fr:Oreste it:Oreste (mitologia) he:אורסטס lt:Orestas hu:Oresztész (mitológia) nl:Orestes (mythologie) pl:Orestes (mitologia) pt:Orestes ru:Орест sv:Orestes uk:Орест

Orestes (mythology)

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