Summary and Analysis
The Choephori, or The Libation Bearers:
Fourth Episode (Lines 837-933)
Aegisthus enters. He doubts the news of Orestes' death and is eager to interrogate the two strangers. He enters the palace. A moment later, his screams are heard. A servant rushes out, shouting that Aegisthus is dead. Clytaemestra appears, hears the news, and immediately realizes that Orestes is back and has tricked her. She sends the servant to get her a weapon.
As the servant goes out, Orestes and Pylades enter with drawn swords. At last the mother and son confront each other. You are next, Orestes says. Clytaemestra orders Orestes to stand back, then appeals to him to remember that she is the mother who gave him life and raised him in infancy. Orestes hesitates in confusion and turns to Pylades for advice. His friend reminds him of Apollo's command to avenge Agamemnon and says, "Count all men hateful to you rather than the gods."
Orestes agrees that Pylades is right. He sternly orders Clytaemestra into the palace and says that he intends to kill her alongside the body of her dead lover. Clytaemestra begins to plead for mercy. She reminds Orestes that she saved his life by sending him to Phocis and claims that she was justified in killing Agamemnon. When she sees that Orestes is not swayed by this appeal, Clytaemestra warns that her curse will torment him forever if he kills her. Orestes replies that he will be tormented by his father's curse if he spares her. Clytaemestra realizes with horror that Orestes is the serpent to whom she gave birth in her dream and loses all hope. Orestes takes her by the arm and drags her into the palace.
Aeschylus has weakened Clytaemestra's defense in this scene in order to make the matricide more palatable and to prepare the audience for the acquittal of Orestes in The Eumenides. She does not, for example, mention the sacrifice of Iphigenia when she attempts to justify the murder of Agamemnon. Much of Clytaemestra's old strength is still apparent. She uses all her wiles to deter Orestes and dies in dignified silence, unlike Agamemnon and Aegisthus.
Orestes' appeal for advice and Pylades' answer have great dramatic effect because Pylades has been silent throughout the play until this point. In his answer, Pylades cites the authority of Apollo and gives a kind of divine sanction to the murder of Clytaemestra. Orestes' appeal does not denote any lack of resolution. It reflects a temporary emotional reaction to Clytaemestra in their first meeting since before Agamemnon's death.