Essay about Eumenides - Importance of Gender in Aeschylus' Oresteia

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The Importance of Gender in Aeschylus' Oresteia

Gender is made explicit as a theme throughout the Oresteia through a series of male-female conflicts and incorrectly gendered characters dominated by the figure of Clytemnestra, a woman out of place. This opposition of gender then engenders all the other oppositions of the trilogy; conflicts of oikos and polis, chthonic and Olympian, old and young can be assigned to female and male spheres respectively. In this essay I will look at how the polis examines itself in terms of gender by focusing on the Eumenides' exploration of the myth of matriarchy, issues of the conflict between oikos and polis and the use of speech within the polis. I will then look at how these themes are
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Not only has the sex of the owners changed but also so has that of the source of the inspiration 'but it is Zeus that Apollo speaks for' (Eum. 19). This transition to a world ordered by men is complemented by images of Apollo's journey to Delphi; the manly god of fire Hephaestos civilizes this female 'savage country' (Eum. 14) which has been bequeathed by the female deities and a male head of state, Delphos (Eum. 16), who is there to welcome Apollo and his new male order. The play opens with a hopeful precedent for a return to a proper patriarchal society.

The Eumenides brings to mind other myths, Zeitlin notices that the trial scene has strong connections with another Athenian myth of a trial that also is very concerned with gender. Athena had to compete with Poseidon for the city of Athens and this was decided by a vote. This was during a time when women had the right to vote, and lead promiscuous lives and no one knew who his father was. The women side with Athena and they out number the men by one and so Athena wins. The women however must be punished for the use of their power and so patriarchal society is installed.1 Whether Athenians felt at all uncomfortable with this founding myth of their female patron deity is debateable but Athena's famous speech (Eum. 750-756) has been interpreted as a returning of the favour. Athena may be siding with the male here but we are reminded of her ties

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