Libation Bearers: Character Profiles
Aegisthus is now king of Argos. He is the son of Thyestes, bent on avenging on the son of Atreus the wrong done Thyestes by Atreus. His readiness to set himself up as a tyrant and his brutality toward the Chorus make him contemptible, even if he is not as complete a coward as the Chorus say he is. At the least, we can say that he has none of Clytemnestra’s force of character.
Chorus and Chorus Leader
By tradition one actor, the Chorus Leader, speaks for the Chorus during scenes that involve dialogue, but that character is not otherwise distinguished from the Chorus as a whole. This Chorus is made up of slave-women who feel a strong allegiance to the royal house and bitterly resent the usurpers responsible for the death of the king. They first appear in the play as bearers of libations sent by Clytemnestra in a vain attempt to appease the spirit of Agamemnon; thus the play takes its name from the Chorus, as is often the case in Greek drama. They are older than Electra and appear worthy of respect.
Cilissa is the woman, now old, who took over the care and nursing of Orestes after he was born. She is almost comic in her longwinded reminiscences about Orestes’ infancy, although also pathetic in her grief for him.
Clytemnestra is Helen’s sister, or half-sister, depending on which version of the story one follows. She is the daughter of a king, and clearly a powerful and confident woman, embittered by long years of brooding on Agamemnon’s sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigeneia. So far is she from the Greek notion of what women are like that she is in several places spoken of as thinking like a man, and she resents anyone who dismisses her as womanish.
Electra is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Since her father’s death, she has been leading the life of a slave in the palace. She is filled with hatred for those who killed her father, especially for the mother who is no mother to her, and with longing for the return of Orestes. At the same time, she longs to be unlike her mother, to be reverent toward the gods and a right-minded human being. She is somewhat older than Orestes, bitter, earnest, and capable of great love, which all flows toward Orestes. Once she has welcomed Orestes home and joined him in calling up the power of their father’s spirit, she has no further role to play.
Orestes is the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. In the Agamemnon, Clytemnestra explains to Agamemnon that their son is not there to welcome him home because she sent him to stay with an ally, the king of Phocis, in case any disorder happened while Agamemnon was away. Apollo has ordered him, through the Delphic Oracle (which was located in Phocian territory), to return home to kill his mother in order to avenge his father. The whole trilogy of plays takes its name, Oresteia, from this character, who has the duty of carrying out revenge for a crime that will involve him in perhaps an even worse crime. How exactly he should be played on stage is a matter of some debate, but he should certainly be young and very much in earnest.
Pylades is the son of the king of Phocis, with whom Orestes has been living for many years, and a steadfast friend of Orestes, with whom he has grown up. Given that the Delphic Oracle was located on Phocian territory, it seems appropriate that the one speech uttered by Pylades reminds Orestes of Apollo’s orders.