Eumenides: Lines 140-234
The ghost leaves, and the Furies become visible. They chant a choral ode, first urging each other to wake up, then lamenting that their prey has escaped while they slept. They call Apollo a thief, and speak of the pain they felt when reproached by Clytemnestra. The younger gods have done this; Apollo has stained his altar with blood and destroyed “the ancient dispensations of the fates” (172). Orestes will never be free of “the guilt of murder” (176).
Apollo enters and commands them to leave, or he will pierce them with one of his arrows. They don’t belong in Apollo’s temple, they belong in torture chambers, and the gods all hate them. The Furies accuse Apollo of deserving the blame for Orestes’ action. It was his oracle that told Orestes to kill his mother. Apollo sees no problem with that—it was vengeance for his father. Then, the Furies say accusingly, Apollo told Orestes to come to him with fresh blood on his hands, and how can he blame them for coming too? It’s their duty to persecute killers of mothers. Apollo wants to know why they don’t persecute women who kill their husbands, and they answer that that doesn’t involve shedding one’s own blood. Apollo answers indignantly that they are dishonoring the tie of marriage, Aphrodite, and the marriage bed. If you don’t punish those who kill their spouses, it’s not just to pursue Orestes. Athena will “review this case” (224). The Furies reiterate their determination to pursue Orestes, and Apollo vows to protect him.
The story goes that when the Furies appeared on stage, women fainted and pregnant women miscarried, so horrible did they appear. In any performance, so horrible must their appearance be that it almost justifies Apollo’s repugnance. Their choral ode and the dialogue with Apollo that follows it have much that justifies repugnance too—they are hunting down Orestes as though he were a beast, and they are blind to all other murders but those that involve shedding one’s own blood—that is, the blood of close kin. It is a very narrow definition of justice. But the duty they are carrying out is their ancient duty, and they naturally resent the young gods who are trying to thwart them. Apollo can see nothing good in them at all and sees himself as completely superior to them and justified in reviling them. This is the sort of Apollo who would naturally have taken his seat of prophecy by force, destroying the ancient holder of the seat as a destructive monster.