Dr. Sunni Thibodeau
World Literature to 1650
14 March 2013
Revenge in The Orestia (Agamemnon), Oedipus, and Medea
In the three tragedies of Agamemnon, Oedipus, and Medea, readers get a strong sense of revenge. It may seem tragic that so many people die but it often leads back to the actions of others and their desire for revenge. Throughout the tragedies, though, the revenge and forms of punishment change. The revenge and justice evolves from one story to the other. In the tale of Agamemnon there is a lot more death and blood. Then in Oedipus there is more of an exile punishment. In Medea she ends up having a monetary retribution.
The tragedy of Agamemnon is a story that holds true for the saying, an eye for an eye. The saying normally goes along with actions that people take against the ones who have wronged them. It is their own form of revenge. In Agamemnon, the sense of betrayal starts during the Trojan War. “From the outset of the trilogy, we are immersed in a world already full of the misery of the Trojan War and stained by the murderous House of Atreus. In each generation, there have been acts of violence and retribution, intermingling the private and public realms, that have called forth further vendettas in a seemingly endless chain. The facts in each case are indisputable: Agamemnon has sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia ten years earlier to advance his campaign against Troy” (The Oresteia, n.d.). It is when Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter that the tale begins to take a different route. His wife, Clytaemnestra, is hurt since it was her daughter as well. When she finds out about what he had done she plots her revenge. The tragedy and revenge does not stop there, however. Their son Orestes feels that it is his job to extract revenge for his father. In turn he kills his own mother for killing Agamemnon.
Each of the characters believe in what they done. They believed that what they done was correct and justified. Justified or not, people died for previous actions and resent motives. Each of them end up with blood on their hands because of the pain they felt of the death of another and their need for revenge or personal justice.
In the next tragedy, Oedipus, the revenge is fairly different. In the story there is a prophecy about the king having a son who would in turn kill him and marry the mother. They believed that it had never come to pass. However later it is revealed that it indeed did happen. Oedipus thought that it was Creon who killed the king. They finally realize that Oedipus is the one in the prophecy and it had came true. Horrified at what had happened, Jocasta kills herself. In turn, the grief stricken Oedipus gouges out his eyes. The kingdom is then left in Creons care. Creon exiles Oedipus for his actions. At the end of the tale there is also some explanation about Oedipus’s children, in which are not seen again and the house of Oedipus is gone.
Like in the tale of Agamemnon, there is death. Death plays a large part in the roles of revenge in the stories. Unlike in Agamemnon, where they killed the others for their revenge, there is only really suicide and then exile. Oedipus does not die for his crime against the king but instead harms himself and must live as an exile. Exile can be seen as a more humane form of punishment then death.
The last of the these three tragedies is Medea. Medea is a really interesting woman. She takes her anger and pain to what some might think a new level. “The Medea tells the story of the jealousy and revenge of a woman betrayed by her husband. She has left home and father for Jason’s sake, and he, after she has borne him children, forsakes her, and betroths himself to Glauce, the daughter of Kreon, ruler of Corinth.” (Bates n.d.). Medea is a woman who feels betrayed. It is likely that the saying hell has no fury like a womans scorn, came from her tale. Because of the betrayal of her husband Medea ends up killing her own children. She doesn’t stop there, either. Medea is powerful and sly, and continues until she gets what she wants. Later in the tale she sends some gifts to Jasons wife. Of course the gifts were not normal. The gifts were poisoned and she dies a horrible death.
The revenge that Medea is put threw is that she ends up erecting a shrine of them and holds a festival every year. She does not die for her actions or get exiled, but that does not mean that she does not have to live with what she had done for the rest of her life. In the end Medea pays, but in a different way then the other two tragedies.
Revenge can be seen in all three of the tragedies of Agamemnon, Oedipus, and Medea. The characters believe that they are right in what they do, and that it is justified. If it is or is not would probably be a matter of opinion. The three tragedies show changes in the way that society deals with revenge or justice. It shows the movement from killing and blood, to anguish and exile, to ones own retribution because of the deeds. The actions tend to get more humane down the line of the tragedies. It slowly shows how beliefs and actions changed over time while still keeping the tales tragic and engulfing.
Bates, Alfred. “Medea.” Medea. Theare History, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.
“The Oresteia.” The Oresteia. The Great Books Foundation, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.