Sleep Imagery in The Oresteia Essay examples

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Sleep Imagery in The Oresteia

Sleep—it's what divides the day and the night; the conscious and the subconscious; the aware and the unaware. It's image, then, is a powerful tool for polarizing such extremes. In his trilogy, The Oresteia, Aeschylus utilizes sleep imagery to divide between those who are aware and those who aren't. Though sleep's meaning changes throughout the plays, Clytaemestra is always able to use it to her aid. Her story accompanies a shift in a justice system that defines right and wrong. Throughout the trilogy, the meaning of sleep evolves from a clear division into a more indefinite one as the definition of right and wrong becomes increasingly ambiguous. "…fear in sleep's place stands forever
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In the second play, "The Libation Bearers", awareness occurs during sleep rather than during waking hours. When Clytaemestra dreams Orestes is a snake that draws blood from her breast, the chorus says, "She woke screaming out of her sleep, shaky with fear…" (The Libation Bearers 535) Her fear came as a result of the realization that Orestes, her son, would harm her. This image of evil came to her in sleep, rather than while she was awake. Because she was aware of potential harm, Clytaemestra was able to act more cautiously. But despite efforts to protect herself, Orestes ultimately takes his revenge on Clytaemestra. Though dreams are not representative of perception in the first play, in the second part of the trilogy, they are seen as a definite type of awareness. Although contrary to the original meaning of sleep, a clear division is still shown between consciousness and ignorance.
Though sleep serves as a division between awareness and obliviousness in the first two plays, in the final play of The Oresteia, "The Eumenides", the role of sleep becomes more ambiguous. The ghost of Clytaemestra evokes the Furies from their sleep. She addresses them, "You would sleep then? And what use are you, if you sleep?" (The Eumenides 94) Clytaemestra makes them aware of her matricide though they sleep, and as she wakes them, the Furies are still aware of the existing situation. Thus sleep no longer sets the

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