Orestes (mythology)

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In Greek mythology, Orestes (English pronunciation: /ɒˈrɛstiːz/; Greek: Ὀρέστης [oˈrestɛːs]) was the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. He is the subject of several Ancient Greek plays and of various myths connected with his madness and purification, which retain obscure threads of much older ones.[1]

Orestes has a root in ὄρος (óros), "mountain". The metaphoric meaning of the name is the person "who can conquer mountains".

Contents

Greek literature

Homer

In the Homeric story,[2] Orestes was a member of the doomed house of Atreus which is descended from Tantalus and Niobe. Orestes was absent from Mycenae when his father, Agamemnon, returned from the Trojan War with the Trojan princess Cassandra as his concubine, and thus not present for Agamemnon's murder by his wife, Clytemnestra, in retribution for his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia to obtain favorable winds during the Greek voyage to Troy. Eight years later, Orestes returned from Athens and with his sister Electra avenged his father's death by slaying his mother and her lover Aegisthus.

According to Pindar, the young Orestes was saved by his nurse Arsinoe or his sister Electra, who conveyed him out of the country when Clytemnestra wished to kill him. In the familiar theme of the hero's early eclipse and exile, he escaped to Phanote on Mount Parnassus, where King Strophius took charge of him. In his twentieth year, he was urged by Electra to return home and avenge his father's death. He returned home along with his friend Pylades, Strophius's son.

The same myth is told differently by Sophocles and Euripides in their Electra plays.[3]

In the Odyssey, Orestes is held up as a favorable example to Telemachus, whose mother Penelope is plagued by suitors.

In The Greek Myths the mythographer and poet, Robert Graves, translates and interprets the legends and myth fragments about Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, and Orestes, as suggesting a ritual killing of a "king" (Agamemnon) in very early religious ceremonies that were suppressed when patriarchy replaced the matriarchies of very ancient Greece. Graves asserts that the sacrilege for which the Erinyes pursued Orestes, was actually the killing of his mother, who represented matriarchy. He explains that worship of Athena was retained as a cult because it was too strong to be suppressed, but she was recast as a child of Zeus in new myths, even given the previously incomprehensible role of justifying what would have been a horrific crime against the old religious customs. Graves, and many other mythographers, were influenced by The Golden Bough of James Frazer, and since it was published many myths have been reinterpreted to reveal clues to ancient religious practices that were kept as secret rituals.

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