Eumenides: Metaphor Analysis
The most powerful images in the play are the gods themselves, especially the Furies. Everything about them has a meaning beyond the literal meaning, and some of the most powerful metaphors and similes of the play are used to describe them. In the beginning they are utterly repellent. The Pythia compares them to Gorgons and Harpies, but says they are worse than either, with their stinking snores, their eyes oozing blood, their black rags for clothes. Later they are compared to hounds on the track; they are trying to trap Orestes with a net as though he were an animal, just as Clytemnestra caught Agamemnon in a net. They even whine in their sleep like hounds. Apollo dwells on their sucking of blood from their victims, and so do they. Their home under the ground is seen as a dark prison and place of torture.
Apollo himself is not described, but we know from other works and from statues how the Greeks saw him: a young man at the height of strength and beauty, full of light. Simply to have Apollo on stage at the same time as the Furies is to create a powerful image of the contrast between darkness and light, between the chthonian gods and the Olympians, between all that is rational, male, on the side of progress, and all that is instinctive, female, attached to what is old and deep—and, in the beginning, ugly and threatening.
Then Athena appears, and again we know from statues and descriptions in other poems and plays how the Greeks loved to see her: a slender and beautiful young woman, wearing the helmet and breastplate of a warrior. Kind and terrible. Luminous, full of energy, yet calm. The new calmness of the Furies provides an image of the way her presence immediately begins to transform them, and the imagery she uses reinforces its effect. To take one example, after they have been stirred to rage again by the acquittal of Orestes, she urges them to “lull to repose the bitter force of your black wave of anger” (832).
And of course the final procession is one great image of transformation and reconciliation. The Furies are clothed anew in crimson cloaks, the perfect image of the energy they embody, now available for growth and fertility. The underground area they are going to is no prison; it is described as “earth’s primeval caverns” (1036), and it will soon be lit by the light of the torches, as light and darkness, no longer polarized, unite, and Athena leads the procession.