AP English Literature 4, Period 3
5 October 2018
“I shall cast this vote of mine for Orestes”:
An Argument for Upholding the Patriarchy
In Greek society, women were viewed as less than men. Women were expected to bear children, and women were not given a say or power in government. In Agamemnon, it seems as if Aeschylus is supporting women in roles of power as he tells of Clytemnestra’s rise to power. Even her domination of the male chorus is impressive considering that the male elders were supposed to be the town’s wisest. The revolutionary idea of reversing gender roles is quickly thrown out when Orestes and ultimately Athena have to fix the chaos caused by the actions of Clytemnestra. Aeschylus’ use of Clytemnestra as a woman in power begins to suggests that he supports a gender reversal of man and woman; however, the fact that the masculine figures must reverse the chaos caused by Clytemnestra suggests that females in power lead to chaos and the patriarchy should be upheld.
In Agamemnon, Clytemnestra is superior to any male figure, but her power creates chaos. When it came time to kill Agamemnon, Aegisthus is nowhere to be found. Even the chorus realizes Aegisthus’ lack of manhood, saying “you woman!” (Aeschylus 45). Traditionally, the male usurps the throne while the woman stays in the background, but Clytemnestra seems to challenge and reserve this idea by being the driving force behind the killing of Agamemnon while Aegisthus sits in the background. After Agamemnon and Cassandra are murdered, the imagery of Clytemnestra standing above the male chorus at the palace doors underlines Aeschylus' theme of female power. “Aeschylus is mounting an early and deliberate ‘feminist’ platform with this Clytemnestra, who is pointedly signaled at once as usurping the male role and ‘whose heart in its hope plans like a man’” (Collard xxvii). Clytemnestra asserts her superiority over the frail old men through her stance in front of the palace and through her threats. Even though Clytemnestra calls the new throne a “twin mastery,” Clytemnestra truly rules the city (Aeschylus 47). At first, the imagery of Clytemnestra’s superior power in the face of male characters seems to challenge the patriarchy, but Clytemnestra creates chaos that ripples through the kingdom.
The chaos caused by Clytemnestra must be fixed by Athena who is a very masculine figure. Orestes does his best to restore order, but the impacts of Clytemnestra proves too much. The throne is left empty with Furies chasing Orestes. The chaos in Argos is eventually brought to Athens. Athena comes in to resolve the chaos once and for all. When it comes to a final vote after a very rational and orderly court proceeding filled with men, Athena casts her vote. She says, “I approve the masculine in everything...I am very much my father’s” (Aeschylus 105). Although she is a woman, Athena represents a very masculine figure that restores order and the patriarchy in Argos. “[Athena] is on her father’s side as a male and as head of his house, as the murdered Agamemnon was head” (Collard 221). Athena’s court and final verdict remove the chaos originally started by Clytemnestra’s murder. Athena restores the patriarchy while restoring the order. Athena calms down angered women Furies. Trying to use reason at first, Athena quickly realizes that the Furies will only be satisfied by a consolation prize. Athena removes the last of the chaos by offering Clytemnestra’s feminine Furies the opportunity to be Eumenides. The masculine Athena restores order to the patriarchy by reasonably clearing Orestes name and removing the threat of Clytemnestra’s Furies.
In Agamemnon, Aeschylus uses Clytemnestra and her rise to power to present a progressive idea of women in power. However, in Eumenides, the masculine Athena must remove the chaos caused by Clytemnestra. The idea that women should be put in positions of power is a relatively new and progressive idea, and Aeschylus is no exception. After a female destroys order and the patriarchy in Argos by usurping the throne, order is only brought back by a masculine figure, suggesting that women should not be given positions of power in a patriarchal society such as Greece.
Aeschylus. Oresteia. Translated by Christopher Collard, Oxford UP, 2008.
Collard, Christopher. Introduction and Notes. Oresteia, by Aeschylus, Oxford UP, 2008, pp.
xi-lxii, pp. 114-228.
...(download the rest of the essay above)