Essay On The Eumenides
Women often try to tamp down those qualities that we’re told violate “natural” femininity. * The Furies are also called the Eumenides, the Kindly Ones, but nobody thinks they’re kind.
That meant learning to recognize the smell of mistreatment, to see it and name it and recognize it as a cause for anger and not for deprecation or self-blame.Their real names are Tisiphone, Alecto, and Megaera: Avenger of Murder, Unceasing Anger, and Jealousy. But the title Eumenides holds a deeper truth: Their vengeance is a mercy, a deserved and necessary cleansing fire.They hunt down the wicked and punish them, both in life and after death, but the wrath of the Furies is not capricious.They are fearsome-looking creatures, unsmiling, uncrying (except, Ovid tells us, when Orpheus plays). This grotesque image might seem to be at odds with a righteous heart. I stumbled into it ridiculously late for a women’s college graduate, not until my mid-twenties—a time when I was hauling around a lot of pain and confusion, awkwardly, like a person trying to carry groceries without a cart.They bristle with snakes—in their hair, wreathing their limbs, fastening their garments, held in their hands like whips. But for anyone who might not be blameless, anger with reason and purpose and a will of iron is even more frightening than tumultuous, flailing which the titular goddesses doggedly pursue Agamemnon’s son Orestes from Argos to Delphi and all the way to Athens, makes clear the deeply principled nature of their wrath. Feminism was the bag that fit my baggage; it showed me how experiences that had hurt and bewildered me were actually part of a vast, lofty structure of wrongs, much larger than my tiny griefs.The Furies’ quest is not for cruelty but for retribution: Orestes must be punished for murdering his mother, Clytemnestra, who in turn murdered his father. Fifteen years ago, my mother passed out from altitude sickness, hit her head, and temporarily lost her sense of smell.But the majority of the play is taken up with a court case arguing whether Orestes should be held responsible for Clytemnestra’s death. The problem wasn’t damage to her nose, or to her brain.In Homer, they are curses made flesh, released upon those who commit a crime or threaten the natural order.Seneca the Younger calls them “they who with awful brows investigate men’s crimes and sift out ancient wrongs.” In Ovid, they are the chthonic guards of souls judged too wicked for paradise.I prided myself on being different from other girls.“Different” meant “not as angry.” Girlfriends had expectations, got jealous, got their feelings hurt. We never objected to casual misogyny; it was the coin of the realm, and we paid our dues.