Essay on The Role of the Chorus in Ancient Greek Tragedies

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The chorus’s perspective of justice works differently in Euripides’ Medea and Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers. In both The Libation Bearers and Medea, the driving force of vengeance links the chorus to each of the play’s protagonists. For both plays, the choruses begin with a strong support of their heroes with a belief that the course of action that those characters are pursuing for the sake of avenging the wrongs done to them or their families is just and right. The chorus of Medea, however, moves away from that original conviction in the moral justification of revenge. Over the course of The Libation Bearers, the chorus also begins to express doubt in the validity of the true value in the cycle of deaths that the system of revenge …show more content…

The chorus supports Orestes’ revenge against his mother Clytemnestra for killing his father primarily because a successful outcome of an action against Clytemnestra and Aegisthus would eliminate some of their cause for suffering. However, Orestes’ revenge against his mother and Aegisthus also meets the justice of the law of retribution, which the chorus defines: Justice turns the wheel.
‘Word for word, curse for curse be born now,’ Justice thunders, hungry for retribution,
‘stroke for bloody stroke be paid. The one who acts must suffer.’ (Libation Bearers 192)

The law of retribution describes true justice as revenge, without very much in the way of logical moderation or consideration. This concept of justice shows the reasoning of Medea’s actions. By this system, the pain that Jason’s betrayal gave her necessarily must be repaid by an equal or greater pain that Medea would inflict on Jason.
The chorus of both The Libation Bearers and Medea experience similar shifts in perspective once their protagonists have properly decided to take action against those characters who have wronged them in some manner. Directly following the prayers of Orestes and Electra in The Libation Bearers, the chorus says, “The flesh crawls to hear them pray./ The hour of doom has waited long” (Libation Bearers 197), clearly showing that the chorus, despite having urged Orestes on in taking

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